Day 28 – Tiraspol (Transnistria) to Odessa (Ukraine) – 103km

Odessa!

Much more than on previous trips, this time I really didn’t know whether I’d make it to the end. Even over the last couple of days I had a lot of doubts. Not because it was physically tough, all up, this trip probably required less stamina than most others. The difficulty here was all to do with there being a lot of unknowns and going through parts of the world that don’t see a lot of tourists, but world champion levels of red tape.

Transnistria, due to its unrecognised status, throws up some oddities of its own. Such as not being properly connected to international banking, so hotels can only accept cash. Although ATMs seem to work with international cards.

Getting out of Tiraspol was remarkably easy though. It really is quite a sleepy town. Still, I had expected that the road to Odessa would probably be the busiest in the country, but it was practically empty! A quality highway all to myself. It wasn’t exactly all that interesting though. Very straight, practically unpopulated, flat and with a fair bit of headwind. Whenever I get towards a border I’ve never crossed before, I keep an eye out for number plates of cars passing me. Just to get a feel of how busy the border is. Lots of international plates is usually a good thing because it means that, for one, the border is open, but also that it’s likely going to be relatively efficient and easy to cross. But here, on the entire stretch from Tiraspol I saw practically no foreign number plates. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

It was also only about 30km to the border. Transnistria is about 300km tall, but only ever about 30km wide. Just before the border there was a petrol station with a shop. Heaven sent! The weather had finally gotten hot, sunny and dry. The way I like it, but it also means you go through a tonne of drinks.

Petrol station radio is toeing the party line

The small amount of traffic thankfully also meant that there wasn’t a big queue at customs. Although surprisingly, given how there were practically no towns for the last 30km, there was quite a lot of foot traffic. There must have been a bus to the border. But foot traffic is excellent, that means it’s possible to cross by bike. Not something that is always possible in this part of the world.

The Transnistrian exit customs collected my 24h visa sheet and sent me onwards. Over a small bridge towards the Ukrainian customs. There was quite a queue in front of the pedestrian customs counter, but it still was a fairly straight-forward affair. With a stamp in my passport I was now officially in the Ukraine! The final country on this trip and also the final border that I expected to be difficult. Ultimately it was an easier border crossing than I had expected. Really, the only difficult one had been Romania to Moldova, and to a degree Moldova to Transnistria, but only because I rolled up to the wrong border first up.

Border selfies are mandatory

There were quite a few shops at the other side of the border. I tried to get more drinks, but none of them accepted my Transnistrian Leu. I half expected to be stuck with a bunch of money that is impossible to exchange anywhere, but eventually I found a small money exchange bureau that exchanged it to the fairly unpronouncable Ukrainian Hryvna.

Just across the border into the Ukraine

The change from Transnistria to the Ukraine is startling. Where Transnistria seemed wealthy and everything was immaculately kept, the Ukraine looked poor on a level I didn’t think existed in Europe. Of course it’s way too early to judge this, having seen all of 500 metres of the country. But the difference is nevertheless startling. Everything was in disrepair and cheaply put together.

After getting another drink, I took off for the final 70km to Odessa. The road quality here was significantly worse than in Transnistria. Worse than Moldova and Romania too. Possibly even worse than Hungary which had the worst roads I’d seen so far on this trip.

The landscape was still very flat, although less so than in Transnistria, there were a fair few small hills I had to climb up. With the heat and the fairly heavy headwind, I found this much harder going than I expected. Maybe it’s also because this is the last stretch and I can just about see the end point, after over 2800km, but going through this desolate stretch of Ukrainian plain today was really tough. My legs were quite sore by now too.

Ukraine really is very much in disrepair. I knew it wasn’t a rich country, even though historically it had been. But a lot of external factors have conspired against the country. From Stalin “starving” the Ukraine to the recent troubles with Russia which robbed it of its major export market. But the country side looks very, very poor. In a way, this is much more startling to me because the Ukrainians basically look like Germans. As terrible as this sounds, you don’t normally see “blonde” kids in poor environments like this. It’s the sort of thing you associate with Asia, or at best, Latin America.

Kamyanka Bus Stop

There were very few towns along the way. Unlike heavily populated Romania, or even to a lesser degree Moldova, the Ukraine felt very empty. Huge fields, but there was only a small town about once every 30km or so.

That also meant that it wasn’t easy finding anywhere to have lunch. Luckily one thing the Ukraine has over Moldova is that there are more petrol stations and they pretty much always have a decently stocked shop (with free wifi!). So I ended up with a microwaved petrol station hamburger. Not the best introduction to food in this country, but it’ll have to do.

Much of the country looks quite abandoned

By early afternoon I reached the outskirts of Odessa. With that, traffic, which had been heavier from the border already, increased again. It was now busier than anything I’d seen since Chisinau. On a negative note, Ukrainian drivers don’t really get top marks from me. In general, drivers in most countries have been ok. The only issue really were that Romania and Moldova are the countries of the insane passing maneuvres. I constantly came across cars passing each other without paying any notice of me. It’s not a lot of fun when you see two cars, side by side, coming head-on towards you at 100km/h on a narrow road.

Drivers in the Ukraine did that too, but they also often passed scarily close when they passed me from behind. Something that wasn’t an issue elsewhere. I got extra careful, I really didn’t fancy getting into an accident so close to the finish now.

Nearly there

Hello Odessa!

The outskirts of Odessa, just like the country side, looked incredibly run-down and poor. It actually reminded me of Bolivia! But the closer I got to the city centre, the better it looked. While it never looked really rich, there definitely is a massive difference between rich and poor here.

That said, Odessa’s centre looked incredible! This really showed off how historically important this city has been. It’s also full of live, unlike the countryside (at least the small bit I’ve seen) which looked quite dead.

Odessa is yet another “Paris of the …” city, but it is an apt description

Odessa

Catherine the Great, who proclaimed the city.

I believe some movie was shot here…

Odessa

Odessa

Odessa Opera House

Grafitti outside my hotel room

Since this is the last stop, and I felt I earned it, I decided to splash a bit on a hotel and ended up in this incredibly nice place right in the centre.

Odessa is a very lively city. It does give off a bit of an impression of being a fun city to live in if you have money, but a terrible one if you don’t. It certainly looks modern, wealthy and lively. A world away from the countryside or outskirts of town.

I always find it fascinating what countries go to visit each other. There are always some really unexpected ones. Being on the road so much, you see lots of number plates. In Romania for example there were a lot of French, UK and Italian ones, which isn’t that unusual, they’re big countries. But surprisingly, probably the one I saw most there were Belgian number plates. Here in the Ukraine there’s an even bigger oddity. While there are very few foreign plates overall here, there is one exception. There are lots and lots of Lithuanians here! A country that doesn’t even border the Ukraine and only has a bit over 2 million people living there, but it feels like about one in ten cars has Lithuanian number plates.

Now I had to find a way to get back to Switzerland. Because I was so unsure about making it here at all, I hadn’t even really looked into options of how to get back. I had thought about getting the train back, but this would require huge detours and there is a big risk that I wouldn’t be able to get the bike on the train in some parts. The train would also take about two or three days. There is an international airport here, with flights seemingly mainly going to Istanbul or Vienna. Going to a local bike shop, I got an old cardboard bike box and packed up my bike, so it’s ready to be put on a plane. With that, I’m off to Vienna and then Zurich!

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Day 27 – Chisinau (Moldova) – Tiraspol (Transnistria) – 85km

This would have to be one of the most exciting days I’ve ever had traveling. I’m now in a country that officially doesn’t even exist! Getting there had some complications, but ultimately it was a lot easier than I expected. Much easier even than getting into Moldova had been.

I woke up to surprisingly nice weather. Still a little overcast but this looked like I finally could get a decent weather day, after about two weeks of rain and clouds.

Getting out of Chisinau isn’t particularly difficult, but also not a whole lot of fun, especially in peak hour traffic. But it did afford me the first road sign to Odessa, after 2700km on the road!

All roads lead to…

Gradually the traffic eased off somewhat, the further I got from Chisinau. But it was still far busier than the road from Ungheni had been. Thankfully the road, after the first 10 or so kilometers got fairly wide with lots of room for the bike. It wasn’t all that interesting though, at least at first. This part of the country feels a lot more industrialised than the rural country I came through yesterday. But here too, again like yesterday, it all looks like someone back in the 50’s took a sledgehammer to everything and built it from scratch, then neglected it completely. Everything looks around the same age and it’s all outdated and quite dilapidated. There’s also nothing that looks truly old or interesting. The landscape is very pretty though.

Moldova

Just before lunchtime I spotted a “shortcut” to Bender, which I assumed was the last town in Moldova proper. Despite the bad experience I made with shortcuts yesterday, I was keen to get off this somewhat dull highway.

Right away this led me through a steep downhill road into the small town of Hirbovat.

This country is absolutely filled with roadside shrines

Getting out of town meant a steep uphill. It was very hot by now and totally cloudless, I was dripping with sweat by the time I’d made that 100 metre uphill stretch. Then suddenly I got to a big iron gate with a police in a small hut next to it. Similar to the National Park I went through yesterday. I briefly stopped but the policeman had zero interest in me, so I took off again. Going through a field for about 500 metres, I spotted another set of gates, these ones closed. Turns out that I was already at the Transnistrian border! I hadn’t realised that the town of Bender is already part of it, even though it’s on this side of the Dnjestr river.

When I rolled up to the gates, a puzzled Russian soldier came over. He then grabbed his two companions, all of whom only spoke Russian. And all of whom were thoroughly puzzled and intrigued by this guy on a bicycle rolling up to their deserted border post. They were super-friendly too. One of them, using an iPhone translator app, let me know that apparently this border crossing is only for the locals from the towns around it and that they’re not equipped to handle tourists. I had to head back to the highway and then go via the main border crossing. They even gave me a 1 1/2 litre bottle of water! Despite not getting through the border, this was one of the nicer customs experiences I’ve ever had.

But now I had to head back downhill into town, and then uphill again to the highway. It may only be a 100 metre hill, but it was insanely steep and in 35 degree heat, that water I got from customs came in very handy!

My new favourite number plate

The highway took a lot longer to get to the border, it was a good 15km or so until I suddenly came through a Moldovan police post, who just waved me through, and then about 500 metres further on the Transnistrian customs. The queue wasn’t as horrible as I expected, but it turned out that there is a separate office for foot (including bikes) traffic. The officer here also only spoke Russian, but he gave me a 24h transit visa and I was good to go!

Considering that I was crossing a civil war border, this was remarkably painless. Mind you, hostilities have stopped nearly 25 years ago and while there’s been no resolution, relations between Moldova proper and Transnistria are not all that bad at the moment. I sort of expected crossing wouldn’t be too much of an issue, I’d seen lots of cars with Transnistrian number plates in Moldova which certainly didn’t make it look like an active conflict. One oddity is that since Moldova doesn’t recognise Transnistria, it also doesn’t have exit customs, so I’m technically still in Moldova.

But crossing the border could hardly have been a bigger change of environment. I really didn’t know what to expect, but what I got would have been about the last thing I had in mind. Everything is in Russian and cyrillic now for one. There isn’t even a hint of Romanian anymore, while in Moldova you saw lots of both languages. But the bigger change is how everything looked. I wouldn’t have been surprised by an even more rural backwater than Moldova, but got the complete opposite! Right away from the border the roads were immaculate, coming into the first town, Bender, was like taking a sudden and massive step into modernity. Everything was brand-new, spotless, huge, and as modern as tomorrow. This felt more like Dubai than the rural backwater I expected!

Bender

Russia very obviously has been buttering plenty of money into this region to make it look impressive. And I have to admit I was impressed. There are signs of being in a (dormant) conflict zone everywhere though. From soldiers everywhere to some of the monuments…

Tank!

It was about another 10km further to Tiraspol, the capital and where I was going to spend the night. Transnistria is really the place where the Soviet Union survived. There are hammer and sickle insignia everywhere, including the country’s flag.

CCCP

More Russian than Russia…

Tiraspol itself is a somewhat sleepy town though. It looks like this is the historical regional capital and while it has been renovated and rejuvenated, to really impress, the town of Bender was built instead from scratch.

Even Lenin survives, in front of Tiraspol’s government palace

Tiraspol

This feels and looks totally like being in Russia now, something that Moldova had only hinted at occasionally.

Shoplifters of the world unite!

This really is about the oddest and most unexpected place I’ve ever been to! For all the trouble I had getting into Moldova, and somewhat less getting into Transnistria, I’m really glad I didn’t skip these! I had been contemplating going directly from Romania to the Ukraine, which seemed a lot easier. But those two really have been an experience!

So tomorrow it’s off to the final stop, Odessa. Which means another border crossing that sounds a bit like it could be a red-tape nightmare. And then I have to try and find a way back to Switzerland, with a bike in tow. Fun times.

Day 26 – Ungheni to Chisinau – 105km

Holy mother of god! I expected today to be one of the easier rides. It’s a relatively short one, going from one reasonably sized city to the country’s largest one, in a country that is relatively flat. Sounds easy. It was quite possibly the hardest day I’ve ever had on a bike!

There is a highway that runs straight from Ungheni to Chisinau. Well, not straight, it first heads north for about 20km before circling back south towards Chisinau. I was using a mapping application that suggested that there’s a direct route though, making a shortcut through that big circle and saving me about 30 or 40km. Sounds good to me. So, for the first few kilometres I’d follow the highway, which was remarkably good quality and yet had very little traffic.

Bye Ungheni…

Straight away I got onto unpaved roads. Well, the mapping app suggested that there are a few short unpaved sections. I’m sure I’ll be back on paved roads before long…

That road was very rough though, it also went uphill at quite a gradient. So much so that I ended up having to push the bike up, with a loaded bike on a gravel road, the rear wheel was just spinning. It wasn’t far to the top of the hill, but I was dripping with sweat by the time I got there. It went downhill towards a small town. The downhill was almost worse on a road like this. I could still only do about walking pace.

The town was a bit of a revelation too. I thought towns in Romania were rural, but this is a whole other level! There were no paved roads anywhere in town, from the couple of water wells I came past it looks like there’s no running water either. There were farm animals everywhere, right in the middle of the roads. This is rural, the likes of which I didn’t think still existed in Europe!

The road out of town went uphill again and was even worse than the one I’d come in on. Well, I was sure that I’d be back on paved roads before long. How much worse could it get.

This much worse…

But even this was far from the worst I was to encounter today. Some of the parts of this road were completely soaked in liquid mud and I had to carry the bike through the surrounding forrest. Eventually I got to the top of a hill and another very rural town.

Jesus guards their water well

Not as many horse and carts here as in Romania, but they’re still around too.

Initially the road out of town improved a bit, I was already expecting that this would be the end of terrible roads now. That was a bit premature! Within about a kilometre, the road became a mud soaked dirt path again. But even that wasn’t the worst yet. Suddenly the “road” disappeared and the mapping app suggested I had to do a left turn through what it labelled “hiking path”. There was the barest suggestion that maybe someone had walked up that hill before, so I followed that. First it went through grass land with a thin track, but eventually even that disappeared. The app indicated going straight ahead and there was no other direction with a path anyway. The only two choices were to push ahead or to head back all the way to Ungheni and start again on the highway instead.

So I pushed ahead. Before long I had to fight my way through thick undergrowth, thorn bushes and steep uphill stretches. My arms were bleeding all over the place from being scratched by thorns. It would have been difficult just hiking through there, but pushing a loaded bike didn’t exactly made it easier.

Eventually I got to the top of the hill and there was a road (e.g. mud track) again. It even looked rideable, but I’d picked up a puncture! Probable from some of those thorn bushes, those thorns were incredibly sharp, long and hard. With that fixed, I took off again and within about a kilometre I hit an actual road! Still just gravel and very rough, but a damn sight better than what I had just come through. There were even road signs along the way!

At the first intersection the mapping app directed me left, which looked ok initially. But I also looked on Google Maps and Via Michellin and left would mean getting onto another section where these don’t show any roads. This looked very much like another stretch like the one I’d just come from. No thanks!

The road leading right was at least marked on Via Michellin and showed it joining up with the main highway again some 15km further on. So that was an easy choice. First it went up to the town of Radenii Vechi, which was very steep uphill, but the main street in town was actually paved!

Moldova’s highest point is only 430m above sea level, but I reckon I hit every one of its highest peaks today! Halfway through town, the road became gravel again, and then suddenly I saw a couple of massive iron gates closing off the road in front of me. There was a guard house next to them. Turns out I was entering a national park. The guard gave me the ok to go through and off I went. Even though the road was still gravel, the quality was a long way better than the earlier gravel roads I’d been on. The park was very pretty too.

At long last I made it back to the highway! I felt like kissing the pavement. I’d done all of 30 kilometres and it took me four hours.

Just like out of Ungheni, the highway was remarkably good quality and with hardly any traffic. At the first larger town, Calarasi, I stopped for lunch. Thankfully the restaurant had a menu with pictures. People here speak either Romanian or Russian. English, French or German don’t get you anywhere.

Shortly after taking off again my rear wheel got flat again. The repair job I made didn’t hold. So I swapped out the tube instead.

The weather today was better than it had been in some time. Still mostly cloudy and very hot and humid, but at least it didn’t look like it was about to start raining any minute. After all the delays with puncture repairs and terrible roads, I was now finally making a bit of progress now. Once I got to Straseni, about 25km out from Chisinau, the traffic picked up markedly. It still wasn’t terrible and the road was wide enough that it felt safe to ride on.

Just as I got to the outskirts of Chisinau, thinking that remarkably I managed to days in a row without getting soaked, there appeared some very black clouds on the horizon. Within a couple of minutes there was thunder, lightning and rain like the apocalypse had started. Luckily just as it was about to start raining I spotted a petrol station with a cafe, so I decided to wait out the rain there. It took about 20 minutes before I ran out of patience and decided to head off, but just as I went outside the rain stopped!

However, like Romania, Moldova doesn’t do irrigation. Any rain means flooded streets. With rain this heavy, there weren’t just puddles on the road, there were some that were completely under water! Not easy to navigate on a bike. I had to avoid crashing into one of the many potholes which were now invisible under water, try not getting my feet completely under water and also time any ride through one of the many lakes to make sure there wasn’t a car coming through and splashing me all over. Not an easy task, it was now rush hour and traffic got very heavy.

Surprisingly I made it to a hotel relatively dry, although the bike is completely filthy now.

Chisinau is the first real city I’ve encountered in Moldova. Everything else were just villages. Even the country towns didn’t really feel and look like cities. But Chisinau does feel like a metropolitan city. It also totally looks like it was built mainly during the Soviet era. The Russian influence here is very heavy. There’s not much to see, but I reckon the city does have a bit of an odd charm to it. It’s certainly a long way from some of those rural towns I came through today.

Moldovan Parliament – Chisinau

Tomorrow it’s off to Transnistria! Even though there’s the unknown factor of crossing a border into a country that isn’t recognised by any UN member countries, I still think that unlike today, tomorrow is actually going to be an easy day now.

Day 25 – Vaslui (Romania) to Ungheni (Moldova) – 115km

Damn, how bloody hard is it to get into Moldova!

After discarding the route via Husi which I’d initially planned, I headed north instead, more or less parallel to the border, for 65km. There were no border crossings in between. I had to rush it too because I had to be in Iasi to catch the train across the border. So I barely put any stops in along the way. The weather was totally overcast anyway, so that made it easy to just rush through without doing a lot of sight-seeing.

I got to Iasi at lunch time and headed straight for the train station. The woman at the counter didn’t speak any English, but when I asked for a ticket and pointed to the bike, she said “No!”. #$%^ I could have murdered her, even if she seemed nice enough. But WTF, no bikes allowed on the train? That would be understandable if there was a road or pedestrian crossing over the border, but there isn’t. Despite this being the second largest city in Romania and Ungheni, just across the border being one of the larger cities in Moldova, there is no road crossing. The only border crossing here is on the train, and they won’t let me on it.

The nearest border crossing is 25km further north. For reasons I cannot comprehend. Here you have two population centres on either side of the border that total nearly half a million people, and yet the only border crossing is 25km away in the middle of absolutely nowhere. So, with not being able to get on the train, I have to do a 50km detour.

I was so annoyed with the idiocy of it all, I wasn’t even in the mood to at least have a look around Iasi, even though it seems like a very nice city. Instead I took off north, not even knowing whether I would be able to cross the border with a bike there. Apparently many Moldovan border crossings don’t allow bikes. So I might end up having to head back to Iasi to camp overnight and consider my options.

I was even contemplating leaving the bike in Iasi and taking the train/bus to Odessa, then heading back to Iasi and fly back to Switzerland from there.

But about an hour and a half later I arrived at the border crossing at Sculeni. I was hoping there would be at least a small Romanian town there where I could eat lunch and also get rid of some of my remaining Romanian Leu. But no such luck. There was nothing there, of course the border crossing is in the middle of nowhere rather than near any population centres or even near any roads or natural features that would make it sensible to have the border here, but the location might as well have been picked by throwing darts at a map.

Even though there hadn’t been a lot of traffic going up to the border, there was a queue of cars extending hundres of metres back. That’s a good indication that the crossing is not going to be straight-forward! Having learnt from the Balkans, a few years ago, bikes are more or less expected to just ride past the queue and head right to the front. At least I was hoping that would be the case, otherwise it might be a good three or four hours before I get to the customs. I still didn’t even know if bikes were allowed across here, although I did see a couple of elderly locals on bikes, so that’s a good sign. I did get stopped by a Romanian customs official at one point, telling me I needed a fluorescent vest and helmet to get across the border. I had neither. Nor had I ever seen anyone in Romania wearing either a vest or a helmet. Except for the couple of locals here who put them on just before heading towards the customs office. In yet another completely inexplicable rule, a fluorescent vest is required to cross the border on a bike. It is needed to cross 50 metres of terrain, and nowhere else in either country! Seriously!

When I told the customs officer that I didn’t have one, he asked “why not?”. The correct answer would have been, “because I’ve never heard of such an idiotic requirement and why would I get a vest that I need for 50 metres on a 2500km trip?”. But this is customs, where how you respond has a huge impact on how smooth your trip is going to be, so I just said I didn’t know, and he let me continue on. Eventually I got to the passport control, where I got send from one control hut to the other, for reasons that are beyond me. They both did the same job. Then they passed me on to customs, who luckily just waved me through.

That was Romanian customs, only half the job done. After crossing the small bridge over the Prut River I reached Moldovan customs. I nearly rode right past it, the road straight ahead was clear and there was no indication that this wasn’t the right one. Until a truck driver who was waiting to get through customs in the opposite direction told me that I was going the wrong way. So I had to turn around, then do a left turn to get to the customs. There were all sorts of customs officers walking up and down the queue, talking to people in cars, collecting passports and forms, inspecting cars and luggage, but all completely ignoring me. Eventually I just pushed my passport onto one who took it to a small office, and after a few minutes handed it back to me.

Odd as it was, but it looked like I had cleared customs and was now in Moldova! I rode off before one of them changed their mind.

There was a small shop and cafe right after the border. I stopped there to try and change some money and also get something to eat. I still hadn’t had any lunch. No luck on the lunch front, but I got my money changed. I also found a couple of biscuits in the shop, that would have to do for lunch.

Taking off from there, I got my first proper glimpse of Moldova. It is both, the poorest and least visited country in Europe. No wonder no one visits if it’s this complicated to get into the country! I immediately felt like a novelty there. In the Romanian countryside I occasionally got some odd stares and receptions, but it probably wasn’t that unusual to get someone coming through there on a bike. But here it seems like that’s almost unheard of. I got some sort of reaction from just about everyone I came past, sometimes a “hello”, or a wave, other times odd stares.

While the landscape here still looks very similar to what I had just come through in Romania, the country still looked different. Even though most people here are ethnic Romanians and speak Romanian (albeit with seemingly a few small differences), the country looks somewhat more “orderly” than Romania. At least the little bit that I’ve seen. In Romania, much of it felt somewhat randomly developed over centuries while here it was quite evident that the country went through a couple of decades of Soviet planning.

Like in Romania, roadside shrines are everywhere here

A bit over an hour after taking off from customs, I arrived in Ungheni. From looking at the map, this is one of the larger towns in this part of Moldova. I could also see it from distance away. There were apartment blocks and factories you could see from a long way before getting into town. But when I finally got into the town centre, I nearly missed it. There’s basically nothing there!

I checked into the seemingly only hotel and went out exploring again. Eventually I found a few shops and some life, but this city really seems like it was planned for way more people than actually live here. Or maybe it used to have a much higher population. It’s got a bit of a “Life after People” feel to it. There are grand boulevards and wide streets, but often nothing alongside it, or some long abandoned buildings. There are also some very new and shiny supermarkets, coffee shops, mobile phone shops, etc. in the mix. It’s a really odd combination.

There is a surprising amount of Russian spoken here too and many shops advertise in Russian.

r/abandonedporn

Ungheni

Russian WWII Memorial

Right next to the international train station. This is one of the first buildings you see arriving in the country.

I have a feeling that this is one of the major hurdles in getting to Odessa sorted now. If things go right, I should be there in three days now. For some reason I don’t expect any of the border crossings to be as bad as this one, even though one is going into a country, Transnistria, that doesn’t officially exist.

Day 24 – Bacau to Vaslui – 88km

I’m in a bit of a pickle now…

My plan was to get to Husi today, the last sizeable town in Romania and only about 20km from the border with Moldova. But more importantly, the last town that appears to have a hotel for well over 100km, all the way to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital. There is however only one hotel there too, and it doesn’t allow online booking, over even have a website. So one of two things was likely to happen. I get to Husi, find the hotel, they have a room, I stay overnight and then, the next day, ride to Chisinau. The second option is, I get to Husi, there are no rooms left and I’m stuck there with nowhere to stay and the nearest hotel some 50km back to where I just came from. Not the sort of thing I’d fancy, especially after having already done 140km on the same day.

So once I got to Vaslui, where I wanted to have lunch, I had to make a decision, stay here or risk continuing on to Husi? If I stayed here, then I’d have an enormously long day tomorrow though. So while I was at Vaslui I tried finding a phone number for the hotel in Husi, which wasn’t an easy undertaking. But eventually, after about 5 false starts, I finally got through on a number I found on the web. The person who answered didn’t speak English, but we managed to get enough communication going for her to tell me that there are no rooms today. So no point in continuing on today. I went to find a hotel and plan the next steps.

I really didn’t fancy doing a gigantic long day tomorrow, one that includes a potentially difficult border crossing and is running over lots and lots of hills. The other problem is that there are not a lot of border crossings into Moldova, and apparently many of them don’t allow bikes to cross. Looking at the map, the best option seems to be if I do a detour and ride up north to Iasi, the second largest town in Romania and also just a few km from the border. There seems to be a train from there that goes to Ungheni, just across the border in Moldova. That means at least one extra day, but it should be an easy enough option.

But all that is for tomorrow. Today I got up and for the first time in forever, it was sunny! Makes me all the more keen to get underway. Getting out of Bacau was fairly straight forward, and it being Saturday morning, there wasn’t a whole lot of traffic either. It’s amazing though, within a kilometre or two out of the city, it felt like I was in very remote countryside again. Although the small towns around here don’t feel quite as rural as they did in the Western Carpathians, they still feel like a step back in time. Other than some “modern” cars, e.g. cars that are only about 20 years old, it doesn’t look like some of those towns have changed in 80 years or so.

Even though I’m out of the mountains, today involved some really hefty climbs. It’s very hilly around here and some of those hills pack a real punch! It’s beautiful when you get to the top, but it takes a lot of work. And usually behind every hill there’s another, bigger hill.

Romania really is far prettier than I would have guessed!

The view is great, but man that was hard work getting up there!

Even though there were no sizeable towns along the way today, I still came through a village every few kilometres. Romania is far more densely populated than any of its neighbours. The other day I read up a bit on the Romanian Revolution of 1989, which I still vividly remembered, although I didn’t know as much of the background as I thought I did. One thing I wasn’t aware of was that Ceausescu had the idea of a “big Romania” with a large population. To achieve this, not just was abortion illegal, but even any sort of birth control was outlawed. So one of the many triggers behind the revolution was a rapidly growing population, but where the government didn’t make the additional infrastructure investments to cope with this.

Infrastructure is still lagging behind, although I doubt it’s anywhere near as bad as it used to be. There is a massive difference between city and country though. While the cities do not look rich, they at least have a somewhat modern feel to it, but in country towns time really stood still. Farm work is still done mainly by hand. For every tractor I’ve seen, I would have seen 20 horse and carts. There is just about no farming machinery here, but lots of people with scythes or other tools that I hadn’t seen used in decades. Or ancient manually operated wells…

Water wells

I got to Vaslui without getting rained on! Feels almost like a novelty. But as it turned out, the only reason I didn’t get drenched today was because the day ended up being shorter than planned. Within a few minutes of checking into a hotel here, there was a massive rainstorm coming through.

So, with a bit of luck, tomorrow I should be in Moldova!

Day 23 – Miercurea Ciuc to Bacau – 140km

There is currently an almost unprecedented heatwave in Europe. But I’m in a corner of the continent where it’s been raining every day for about the last two weeks! It’s been ages since I had a day where it’s been dry. To be fair, almost every has had sunshine, but also every day has had showers and occasionally even heavy storms. Normally this wouldn’t be so bad but on the bike it means I get soaked and then spend the rest of the day in wet clothes. Apparently this sort of weather is quite unusual here. The receptionist at the hotel I stayed last night reckoned it’s “English Weather”

Weather aside, this was another good day. Romania really has turned out to be an unexpectedly beautiful country!

Carpathians

Today it wasn’t just back into the mountains, but also over a pass. I was somewhat needlessly worried about that one though. I made it a lot easier than I expected. Either I’m fitter than normal at the moment, or these mountains in Romania are just not as steep as in Switzerland.

After that pass it was only a short downhill stretch into the first town. But for the next 80(!) kilometers the road was going slightly downhill as it snaked itself out of this very long valley. Awesome!

When you are on a bike and don’t have any distractions, other than traffic of course, your mind can get occupied by the weirdest thoughts and things. Often it’s songs, usually this has to do with something fairly unrelated you picked up. As an example, I came through a town called Agas early on, and for the next two hours I had this stuck in my head. You’re welcome.

I bloody dare ya!

Going slightly downhill on a road with very little traffic, I moved a lot quicker than I generally had been in Romania, so by lunchtime I had already made it to Comanesti, a town I had considered making the overnight stop. It’s not a particularly pretty or large town, so I just had lunch there instead.

Although the next larger town was a full 60km away, so today would be quite a long day. Probably the longest on this trip.

While I had lunch in Comanesti, it started raining, but my mind was already made up and I took off anyway. But the whole rest of the way was a mix between bright sunshine and rain.

Romania doesn’t exactly have a working irrigation system, so as soon as it starts raining, the roads get flooded and muddy. I keep getting splashed with dirt, so both, the bike and me are pretty much permanently filthy!

I tried to wait out some of the rain storms, which meant that I got to Bacau quite late, at 6pm. I didn’t just want to rush through town, besides, today had been a long day, and I still have plenty of time left, so even before I arrived I made a decision to make tomorrow a rest day.

Although this is probably not the best place to do so. While Bacau is quite a large town, it is definitely the ugliest town I’ve seen in Romania so far. It looks like it was all built in quite possibly the worst period for architecture, Eastern Europe in the 70’s. It’s all hideous, badly kept and there is literally nothing to see here. There are a surprising amount of casinos here though.

The hotel I’m staying fits right into this. Hideous but huge 70’s brutalist bunker that has seen much better days. With furniture and interior wood panelling decor to match. Like most 70’s Eastern European architecture, it’s both hideous and kind of cool at the same time. Even the receptionist at the hotel fits right in, with her massive amounts of 70’s make-up that would make ABBA blush. She was exceptionally helpful and nice though.

At least with nothing to see, I don’t have to feel guilty about doing pretty much nothing all day. The weather is quite terrible too, still.

No church is complete without a MIG fighter jet

Well I did something. My brake pads are completely worn. The first bike shop I went to didn’t have the right replacement pads, which makes me think these may be somewhat specialised and hard to find. When I got to the second bike shop and showed the mechanic the pads and asked if they sold these, he literally had the exact same ones in his hand at the time!

I thought it best to replace them myself so that if I have to do this again on the road I’ll know what to do. Took a bit of effort and trial and error, but I have a fully functioning bike again!

The way it looks, I’ll have another full day in Romania ahead tomorrow before heading into Moldova. That is likely going to be a culture shock! Moldova is the least visited country in Europe. Romania and Hungary were somewhat difficult to travel at times, but I expect Moldova to be multitudes harder! I’ll likely only have two days there at most though.

Day 22 – Sighisoara to Miercurea Ciuc – 100km

Well this was the toughest day in a while, but not without fun bits either. I’m back in the mountains now, although that wasn’t really the tough bit, what made today somewhat hard was the weather. Once again, like it’s been for the last four or five days, the skies were completely overcast when I got up this morning. Thankfully it wasn’t raining, last night there was a massive thunderstorm and it was raining all through the night.

For the first few kilometres out of Sighisoara I had to follow a really ugly road through some industrial areas with lots of traffic. A world away from the old-world charm of Sighisoara’s centre. Before though I once again found a detour and in an instant things improved with some quiet roads through much nicer areas. Surprisingly, before long it even got sunny!

Oddly merged panorama shot, but nice landscape

It got so nicely sunny that I was just about to get my sunscreen out, but just like the last few days, that sun didn’t last. Before long, there were some really dark clouds on the horizon, of course right in the direction I was heading. The rain wasn’t far behind either. Initially I was hoping it would just be a quick shower and tried to wait it out, first under a bus stop, then at a petrol station. But every time I took off, the rain got heavier again.

When I got to Odorheiu Secuiesc, a surprisingly large and pretty town, I decided to try to wait out the rain during lunch. Surprisingly the language here switched back to Hungarian. I knew there were ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, but I assumed they would be close to the border. But in fact, most live around here, right in the centre of the country and hundreds of kilometres away from Hungary.

Hungarian is completely alien to me. But Romanian is a lot easier to pick up than I had imagined. It’s much closer to French and Italian than I had anticipated and I can read quite a bit of it and pick up the odd word here and there when people talk. But it looks like for the next while I’m going to have to live with Hungarian again.

Although I spent nearly two hours in Odorheiu Secuisec, the rain just got heavier. Might as well face it and take off. The heavy rain had completely flooded the town, so I was getting splashed from all sides.

It was the oddest thing though. Shortly after getting out of town and heading up the first mountain, the rain stopped and it wasn’t long before it got sunny again. The uphill stretch wasn’t quite as bad as I feared either. Shortly after hitting the first peak, I suddenly found myself in a ski resort town.

Ski Resort!

There were lots more peaks to come though, and once again, it wasn’t long before I rode into some very dark skies and heavy rain. I tried to wait it out again at a petrol station. Just as it cleared up a little and I was about to take off, a flat tyre. I had been amazed by well the bike has held up. Last year on a similar trip it felt like I had a puncture seemingly every day, but this time none at all, until now. There was quite a big glass splinter in the tyre. By the time I’d fixed this, the rain was back again too.

For the next 20km it was peak after peak until I got up to 1000 metres, but thankfully relatively little rain.

Miurcurea Ciud – At least for once it’s sunny where I’m going

After the last, and highest, peak, it was downhill into a small valley that contained Miurcurea Ciud, my overnight stop. This is quite an industrial city, probably more than any other I’ve seen in Romania so far. It also seems somewhat wealthier than most, in fact pretty much all of the sizeable towns I’ve come across today seemed wealthier and better maintained than any I’ve seen so far. They also felt more modern, at least in comparison to some of the towns I’ve come through a few days ago.

Miurcurea Ciud looks a bit like the “Socialist Model City”. It’s all wide boulevard, large squares, monumental government buildings, brutalist apartment blocks. But despite all that, it’s not an ugly city either. Like in Odorheiu Secuiesc, the language here is still Hungarian.

Miurcurea Ciud

It feels good having made a bit of progress over the last couple of days. Romania is a bigger country than I anticipated and I’m only just gone past the centre of it. Ever since leaving Budapest I’ve either had short days or been zig-zagging so that it felt that I wasn’t really moving much. But now it feels like I am not that far from Odessa anymore.