Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

'NOROC!"

Congratulations! You have just learned your first word in Moldovan: “Cheers!” It’s a word I find useful everywhere I travel, as all I have to do is go into a bar anywhere in the world, order a beer, raise my glass to anyone sitting at the bar with me and say “Cheers!” in the local language, and I’ve made a new friend. And that’s the way it was in Chisinau, Moldova. Pronounced, “Kee–shee–know,” this capital city of the poorest country in Europe is also one of the most welcoming. Moldova is a former Soviet republic, squeezed into a tiny area between Ukraine and Romania. With a population of around 790,000 out of the 3.7 million in the country as a whole, this small eastern European city (Chişinău – in Russian Kishinyov; in Ukrainian Kishiniv; and in something else Kiszyniow) – doesn’t really have much to recommend it to tourists; a few museums, some cathedrals, a nice park or two, some big government buildings. But when the sun goes down, the city’s nightlife takes on a whole new turn.

So, let’s start at the beginning. Thursday, December 8, 2016, I left Budapest for Warsaw, then transferred to Chisinau, arriving around 5 PM on a dark, not-too-cold winter evening. Got a taxi from the airport to my hotel in the center of town for only 5 euro – such a deal! Checked in easily (all prepaid through Expedia) and it was out on the town to see what I could find for Happy Hour and dinner. As it turned out, there were three restaurant/bars within 20 meters of my hotel, so my choices were close and varied. I chose the Robin Pub, as I’d read about it on Trip Advisor and it sounded like a fun place. And it was!
I walked across the cobblestone street and entered the pub’s warmth. It’s an olde-English style place, lots of dark wood and brass and even a reindeer head hanging on one wall. I had a couple of Chisinau beers and some caviar-filled crepes as an appetizer and then headed up the street to the Old Bus restaurant. Another interesting place. Dinner was in order, so I chose the veal medallions with side dishes, along with another great local beer. It was very tasty, but not quite hot enough, although still enjoyable. Back across the street again to Beraria Chisinau bar/restaurant/music club for an after-dinner beer and some tunes from a local DJ. By this time it appeared Chisinau might turn out to be an OK place to visit and I was ready for whatever the weekend might hold.
Friday morning dawned grey and cloudy, but not that cold. After a nice breakfast at the restaurant adjacent to the hotel, I set out to see Chisinau. I walked the nearby city park, with its church and steeple, and then headed down Stefan cei Mare, the main street of town. I walked about one kilometer looking for shops, flea markets, souvenir booths, etc. Not a whole lot there – at least, that I could see. I walked back uptown along Bucuresti strada to find the night spots I’d researched: Déjà Vu, Eli Peli, etc. And I found them all, after some searching, so I knew how to get back to them at night.

I looked forward to lunch at the York pub, maybe some roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, but it was not to be; the York Pub opened at 4 PM. But nearby was a place called La Placinte, a popular local chain that served all sorts of interesting goodies, so I settled in there for a warm lunch away from the cold outdoors. I had three separate rolls of chicken and pork, rolled in fried dough, plus a drink, for about $2.50 US. Chisinau may actually have Budapest beat when it comes to prices.

After lunch, another stroll along the main and adjacent streets, looking for various parks, monuments, statues, arches of triumph, cathedrals and museums. Found them all and the afternoon eased by. But I did make it back to the much-anticipated York Pub by 5 PM, only to find that, once again, my anticipation far exceeded the actual event. Yep, the York pub was a small downstairs bar, no real food and catered to the local hookah smokers. The damn place was full of water pipe smoke, cloudy and foggy. I downed one small beer quickly and headed out for more salubrious climes.
The Carlsberg Pub was near all of the other night spots I wanted to visit later, so I stopped in for, what else, a Carlsberg and carpaccio appetizer. Friendly people and a comfortable atmosphere in this small pub helped while away the happy hours until the other places opened, usually either 9 or 10 PM. I found the Military Pub first, but it didn’t open until 10 PM, so I vowed to return (which, of course, I never did). Next was Eli Peli Karaoke Club, which was deserted the first time I checked then started to fill up around 10 PM or so. I hung out and watched the Chisinauians (is that a word?) start their evening’s festivities. I drank my beer and looked on as a few brave souls sang some local songs, in Romanian and Russian, then decided to give the party a jolt and hit them with Great Balls of Fire. Well, they loved it!

It seems that every time I sing this song at any karaoke club anywhere in the world, no matter what songs have come before or what the audience is doing, they all jump up and dance. Such is the enduring power of American rock and roll. The evening progressed from there, with more songs and some of the English speakers even buying me beer and tequila shots. I was a hit in Moldova. I didn’t find out until my third song that we had to pay to sing! Damn, shades of Tokyo! OK, it was only a dollar per song, but still – they should have paid us for the entertainment. All in all, it was a fun group, and I left around 1 AM reluctantly, but I had to walk back to the hotel along very uneven sidewalks and cobblestones. Made it safely and fell into bed, satisfied that I had survived yet another successful Friday night at the pubs.
Saturday was another walking tour of Chisinau, this time to see the Parliament building and the President’s rather unassuming house on a residential side street and more parks and statues. I whiled and walked away the morning and had a light lunch at a small eatery until my afternoon pickup for my tour of the world-famous Cricova Winery, of which, of course, I had never heard. The Cricova Winery stores its Moldovan wines in more than 100 kilometers of tunnels beneath the Moldovan hills, about 15 kilometers from Chisinau. Electric carts are used to get around to visit the huge tuns of wine and the many thousands of barrels (called “barriques” in Moldovan) in the vast underground wine city. There are also five tasting rooms for visitors and tours. In addition, the complex houses a huge collection (20,000 bottles?) of special and rare wines, including some from Herman Goering’s collection. There are also unique wines from other countries. There is one wine in the collection, Jerusalem de Paste (Easter Jerusalem), that was produced from a single lot in 1902.

I asked our tour guide if anyone ever drank any of these rare wines, and she replied, with an astonished gasp, “Oh, no!” She also said most of these wines cannot even be drunk due to age, rot, etc. So I wondered, since wine is meant to be drunk and to make people happy, what is the purpose of keeping these wines if no one ever drinks them?

Anyway, our tour of around 20 thirsty folks from around the world boarded our tram and scooted off to the tunnels, checking out the long underground passages. We viewed the collection mentioned above and ended up at the Tasting Rooms, where we were treated to four of the winery’s ‘best’ wines; this tasting was included in our 55-euro visit. Immediately after our tasting, and before returning to the surface world, we were ushered into the ‘gift store,’ where we were allowed to purchase various wines and other souvenirs. Those crafty Moldovans weren’t born yesterday; they know that wine loosens tongues and wallets and that after imbibing several glasses, visitors are much more likely to buy a few bottles to take home. I succumbed and picked up a wonderful bottle of Zeus after-dinner wine, nectar on the tongue. I knew I’d have to check my carry-on suitcase to get the wine back home, but it was worth it.

I was in such a good mood after the tour and tasting that I asked my driver to drop me off at one of the local restaurants I’d intended to visit during the weekend, Vatra Neamului, just around the corner from the Déjà Vu music club. What an experience. It was a perfect dinner, from my welcome at the entrance by my waiter for the evening, Ruslan, all the way through to the complimentary homemade cherry vodka digestif. I was hungry, as I’d only had a light lunch hours ago, so started with an appetizer of chicken in cheese sauce, then went for the rabbit with side dishes of mashed potato and grated cheese with a startlingly-spicy red pepper. Yum! And accompanied by a lovely white wine (Purcari, but the restaurant didn’t offer Cricova!). Dessert was a pear in wine sauce with ice cream.

I was even honored by a dinner conversation with the shift manager, Svetlana, a beautiful Moldovan woman who had worked in the US for some years and spoke perfect English. I waddled out of the place and strolled blurrily back to my hotel. I could go back to Chisinau just to repeat this experience.

Sunday I was determined to find the central market that had eluded me on Friday, so I set out on Stefan cei Mare with a will and lo and behold, there it was, just off the main street, no signs or anything, and jammed – packed – seething – with weekend shoppers. Unfortunately, this central market is a commercial market, which means it has mainly household items, such as kitchen ware, electronics, clothes, shoes, coats, hats, bedding, etc. Basically no souvenirs. Bummer. I searched all over and fought the crowds with knees and elbows, but to no avail. No souvenirs,
However, I did get to have lunch at the Smokehouse BBQ nearby, which was a nice change. I had the pulled pork served on a bed of fries and covered with a fried egg and served in a clay pot. Wonderful. Since it was just after noon, I also ordered a mimosa – orange juice and champagne. What the heck, a day to splurge. Well, the waiter brought me a champagne glass and a pitcher – yep, a pitcher! – of mimosa. I managed half of it and then tried to find the exit. What a happy city.

A little more strolling among the holiday crowds and small amusement rides set up for the kids, around the Arch of Triumph (I never did find out what the triumph was), then an afternoon rest. I decided not to stray too far from the hotel for dinner, so walked across the street to the Robin Pub, where I had yet another amazing feed. Along with more Purcari rosé wine, I had veal in flaming brandy, accompanied by mushrooms and two small baked potatoes. The splurging continued after dinner with a dessert of crepes suzettes covered with more flaming oranges and brandy mascarpone. Topped off with a Sambuca, it was enough to see me through the night.
And Monday it was back to Budapest. Managed to sleep in and get to the airport early afternoon. Caught my flight to Vienna, then a four-hour layover and finally home around 10 PM. Chisinau may not be the most exciting city I’ve ever visited, but it was certainly one of the best culinary experiences in recent years. And the prices are still extremely reasonable.

So no more travels planned for a while, but will check my maps and see what’s available. I need to start saving up for my gigantic summer trip in 2017; more on that later.

Until then, Happy Holidays, Merry Xmas, Happy New Year, Safe Travels and Happy Trails to one and all. See you next year.

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