Moldova // MolDOGva

Why is it that I sleep better on a tiny couchette in a rattling train through Romania and Moldova than I do in an actual bed in an actual home? Even with the 3am passport control and changing of the fucking train wheels?

I don’t know, but I do.

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Not going to lie, Moldova was a slightly pointless stopover. And I knew it would be, so I didn’t really care, but it was there, and on the way to Ukraine, so, you know, fuck it, I spent the day/night in Chisinau. Which I also still don’t know how to pronounce.

My hostel was full of a group where everyone knew each other already, so I basically just slothed around my bed, chatted with the host a bit — in French! which was nice because yes, I can actually still speak French, even if not amazingly well — and hung out with this most excellent specimen of canine delight.

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I also had my first experience with being shouted at by men in cars since I’d been in eastern Europe, which was a bit unsettling. Except then I realized they were just trying to tell me that I’d dropped my scarf on the other side of the street, which I would never have noticed and would have been really sad to lose it.

So yeah, I don’t have anything insightful to say about Moldova except the dogs are A+ and the people are really nice.

(Although the weird bus to Ukraine was hella fucking sketch, but that’s for the next post.)

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Bucaresti // interlude

How to start your stay in Bucharest? Probably hanging out with two dudes you met in the back of a minivan from Bulgaria, because that’s not how people die or anything.

(Full disclosure, they’re really awesome guys. My mom’s all like, you meet so many good-looking people in your travels! But it’s still a funny byline for a story: back of a minivan from Bulgaria, because why the fuck not.)

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I’ve been to Romania once before, on a weekend trip to Timisoara which I still can’t pronounce when I was working in Serbia — which was a neat but not terribly exciting town. I kind of only was interested in Bucharest because the name is so romantic — Bucharest — but it’s a really cool city. Amazing history and architecture, good food, not very expensive. I stayed at the Podstel Doors hostel, which is pretty new so not perfect, but overall great and definitely recommend.

There were even hostel kitties there, and I got to hang out with my friendly guys’ hostel dog, which always makes my day. 😀

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God, I love dogs.

(Please don’t tell my cat.)

In conclusion: a day in Bucharest.

(Moldova is next and the blog post will be even more boring, because I did literally nothing in Chisinau. I’m sorry.)

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Varna // sick-sabbatical

This is pretty much my entire takeaway from Varna, Bulgaria: a massive bruise that resulted only from my purse banging against my knee as I wandered lost, sick and despairing in the pre-dawn; a creepy-ass cologne ad in the drugstore; some pretty fountains; porno.

Which is not the city’s fault at all, really. I was still so sick I actually considered — gasp — seeing a doctor, since I (think I?) have travel insurance, but didn’t, of course. The last decade of my medical history is basically just like, I don’t have any STDs and my liver is already side-eyeing me. So, one for two, I guess.

But yeah, I got into town on the bus from Istanbul at fuck-all o’clock in the morning, and my phone hates Google Maps so I pretty much spent two hours asking random people on the street for help, slowly circling closer to the hostel.

There was a great dog at the hostel, and it illustrates how sick I was that I did not take even one single picture of the dog. I got a private room for once, to avoid inflicting plague on roommates, and pretty much slept all day and left in the morning.

Sorry, Varna; I could not give you a chance.

 

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So like in Istanbul, the everpresent travel-cold that had been with me basically this entire trip finally abruptly devolved into oh-fuck-I’m-really-sick, so this is mostly just a photodump since I tried to avoid interacting with people as much as I could.

Against everyone’s advice, I decided to take the night train from Plovdiv to Istanbul. This route has only been re-opened since February 2017, so most of the information about it is outdated, but what information there is pretty much is like do not do this. The hostel workers in Plovdiv were like do not do this. So naturally, I did this.

And honestly, it was completely fine. The train was utterly empty, and I don’t think a single person except the border guard spoke any English, but the conductor and even the passport dudes were perfectly friendly. I was alone in my sleeping compartment (because again, empty), and shit, I slept better than I do in real beds. They give you two sheets and a blanket, a pillow and a pillowcase, and it’s quite cozy. Especially because the door locks from the inside.

Border control at 3-4am is never fun, but what can you do.

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And then, yeah, once I got settled in Istanbul, my cough and runny nose became oh god I’m dying. Fortunately my hostel was right in the old city, like five minutes from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and you could chill on the rooftop terrace bar overlooking the Sea of Marmara, so I dragged myself out for a couple hours every day, more or less.

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I did at least, barely, muster up the wherewithal to take the ferry across the Bosphorus River to the Asian side of Istanbul, so I can say I have been to Asia. It’s totally cheating, but like, it’s not a lie.

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And there are, of course, excellent street kitties in Istanbul.

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Especially orange ones, I guess.

Because of the death-plague, I did not end up going a Turkish bath, because it seems kind of rude to go to a public bath where you’re coughing yourself into near-vomit 24/7. But the plague has by now dwindled into a mildly annoying lingering cough, so tomorrow I am going to one of the baths here in Budapest, and I have even booked a deep-tissue massage to try to ease some of the remnant Albanian back-fuckery, so I have to actually get off my ass and go.

…Hopefully.

Varna, Bucharest, Odessa, Kiev and now Budapest are still languishing here but I’m working on catching up. Slowly.

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Пловдив // Plovdiv (not in the snow)

I had no idea what to expect from Plovdiv. The name sounds so heavy and gloomy — because of plodding, I’m sure, but it’s one of the oldest cities in the world, so, you know, why not.

And as often happens with places for which I’ve zero expectations, I loved it. Like, so much ancient history, but then it’s also like, okay, how do I get to the H&M to buy a pair of shorts? Oh, just walk past the mall over the Roman Stadium from the 2nd century AD and it’ll be on your left.

I kind of wished I’d paid to go down into the Roman Theater — it’s only like 7 leva/~$4 USD, so it wasn’t the money, only that I still don’t have my stupid debit card and therefore access to my actual cash, so just straight up didn’t have the leva, and didn’t want to change more before I left.

But even from above, it really makes the skin crawl. Especially as events are still held there today, sitting in the exact same seats occupied for shows in the fucking Roman Empire.

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So cool, but as an American, where 500 year old St. Augustine is considered mind-blowingly old, it’s beautifully unsettling.

And Plovdiv, as well, really likes its fountains.

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Huh, I think I thought I (saaaaaw yooou cryyyy) took more pictures, but apparently not. Have some tombs and shadows and rampant greenery.

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Also, the hostel I stayed at was amazing, which always affects the experience of a city; I highly recommend Hostel Old Plovdiv — beautiful interior, huge and amazingly comfortable rooms, and the whole place is kept running smoothly by a cat with an iron paw.

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And making friends with your hostel roommates always makes for a better time. (Not pictured: the other girl named C/Kat (more or less), out of the five people in the dorm.)

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From there I took a night train to Istanbul (because how romantic does that sound?) so hopefully I can get that massive amount of photos sorted and updated soon.

Maybe.

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Софья в снегу // sofia in the snow

Yes, I Google-translated that. Obviously. But at least my toddler-level Russian has helped me out in both Bulgaria and Ukraine so far.

So yeah, it was warm in Skopje when I left, like jeans and tank top weather. And it snowed in Sofia. Twice.

🙂

I am a weather god.

It was very clearly spring, though, and I love juxtapositions like that — the green and the bright flowers under the falling snow; it’s part of the reason why I loved the change of seasons in Milwaukee.

My hostel was a bit out of the way, though, and Sofia was where the death-plague that’s haunted me through four countries and two continents took root, so I really only spent one day wandering around very much downtown, and this is basically just a photodump.

But like. You walk out of the central fucking metro station and it’s like oh, here, have some ruins of 4th century baths right outside, nbd.

Also, Bulgaria in general really loves its fountains.

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macedonia: skopje // city of statues

Skopje was pretty refreshing, really. I had a rough couple weeks and was a bit downhearted, but I really just liked Skopje.

It’s a weird city, no doubt. If you know anything of Skopje, you probably know of the bizarre government initiative in the early 2010s or so to just like… build statues. And monuments. And fountains. Like… a lot of them.

Understandably, a lot of Macedonians were and remain pretty pissed that this is what the government decided to dump money into, instead of, you  know, jobs or infrastructure. But it does make it a unique place to visit, I will give it that. And a lot of them are kinda cool.

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And Skopje is just a cool city. I’d be lying if I didn’t rejoice a little bit in things like huge shopping malls and ordering pizza online. And I loved my hostel, the Shanti Hostel, and it’s amazing how much that in itself can factor into your impression of a city — at least if you’re like me, and tend to spend a fair bit of time (for various reasons) in the hostel.

I am a huge sucker for fountains, though, so even the most over-the-top installations were awesome to me as long as they involved water. Or lots of green space, of which there is a lot in Skopje.

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And the old bazaar is huge, holy shit, and old, dating back until at least the 12th century AD. I wasn’t really expecting how massive and labyrinthine it is, like every corner you turn, there’s another six or seven endless streets spiralling out. I’d guess it’s even bigger than the sprawling souks of Marrakech — though definitely not even in the same stratosphere of intensity.

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And also there’s this, which, well.

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Yeah, I got nothing.

And as a bonus, the Vero Center mall has a ball pit in the play area. Fuck you if you wouldn’t be tempted to jump in. I didn’t, but I definitely thought about it.

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So yeah. I like Macedonia. 😀

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