Follow by Email

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A COUNTRY WITHIN A COUNTRY


Well another new country. It is amazing how different each country can be. Here in Moldova there are the same horse & carts but fewer villages & huge cropped areas looking more like collective farms. And now each village has wells with buckets instead of pumps. That will definitely make getting water more interesting!

We head across country to the Gypsy Capital of the world – Socora. We have been told to drive past the amazing showpiece homes the gypsies have built overlooking the river. Gosh they are amazing – all huge and very showy. Many are empty and nowhere near completed. Then down to the riverfront to look at the lovely restored fortress. It is one of those circular fairy-tale fortresses with 4 turrets. Not much else happening in town, so we head out and find (after much hunting) a tiny lake to camp beside.

In the morning we continue south to the next tourist attraction – the Saharna Monastery. It is a busy place with lots of monks & nuns living here & lots of locals visiting (It is Saturday after all) We plod up the hill for views, look at the monk’s caves & swimming hole/cold bath for the nuns. Inside the cathedral a baptismal service for babies is happening. Time to move on to the next monastery at Tipova – this is a monastery carved out of the limestone cliffs above the Dniestr River. Not too much to gawp at, but it looks like a great spot to camp, but in the end, we decide to carry on (we have run out of milk & I would really miss it at breakfast time), so we head to the city of Orhei & get our groceries. While in town some friendly local guys find John another no plate to tack to the side of GR2. There is not a lot of space left! It is now getting late so head to our 3rd monastery at Orheiul Vechi & find a spot by the river for the night.

This is another Cave monastery set on a lovely bend in the river. It is the setting, rather than the caves that is so interesting (well we hope so as the caves don’t open until 11am so we give them a miss). As we head to Chisinau we see lots of locals have set up stalls to sell their grapes. Can’t resist getting a bag full, plus more yummy plums. Before we leave this wine growing area we stop to look at Chateau Yartely – a gorgeous winery (rather like Siromet back home). Tours are fully booked, but the guy we chat to gives us a quick look around. Then time to head in to the city (Sunday of course – our favourite day to drive in to a city) It is a surprisingly pretty place with lots of parks & heaps of locals out enjoying the sunshine. John as usual spends time chatting to a few locals – end result: A TV interview arranged & an address for a truck workshop as GR2 is again due for a grease & oil change. By evening we head to the workshop & stay in their secure yard overnight – ready for an early start on GR2 tomorrow (we hope) 

Maintenance day today. Grease & oil change done & a few other vehicle related jobs completed. Then time to meet up with Loretta for another interview… (you can find the link on: mobi.protv.md) Dinner at a local restaurant & then the pleasure of finding a spot in the dark. Not one of our best ideas!

We have been trying, very unsuccessfully, to book a tour of the famous Cricova Winery.  Loretta manages to book one for us this afternoon, so we head back in to the city to look around the excellent History Museum before crossing town for our tour. We are taken on those oversized golf buggies through some of the extensive network of roads (120km of roadways apparently) within the limestone caves where the wine is stored and natural champagne is made. After a fun wine tasting session, we are taken back outside. Time now to head to our “country within a country” – the non-existent country of Transdniestria. Moldova thinks of it as part of their country, no other country officially recognises it, except Russia of course. They speak Russian & there are lots of Russian troops here supporting the country.  Of course, we have been warned – people always love to give gloom & doom stories, but the crossing is easy and they give us 2 days (not the usual 10 hours). Actually, we have booked at a camping hostel in case they needed to see a booking.  We head straight to Tiraspol & the Red Star Hostel where we can be registered. It is a great spot – we can park in their yard & walk to the city.

So, the next day is spent wandering around the city. The weather is perfect. It is a warm welcoming place with not too many sights – heaps of statues, a distillery that produces the cheapest brandy in the world (we think.) Later in the day we cross the river on the barge so we can visit the Noul Neamt Monastery – definitely a highlight with some lovely churches & a friendly monk who shows us around. We leave with a huge bag of grapes (these ones won’t be going in to the vats for communion wine). Again, we overnight at Red Star – we highly recommend it to other travellers. Dimitri is very welcoming & has excellent English. He is busy setting up space for more Overland vehicles.

Today it is the army’s day for war games & guns are going off. We even see Russian tanks driving through town, and there are 2 at each border we pass through. Actually, it really wasn’t all that long ago (1992) that there was fighting here when Transdniestria broke away from Moldova and a lot of lives were lost. We have time for a visit to the fortress at Bender before we leave. We must be out before 17.55 to be precise. Again, an easy crossing back in to Moldova – only slip up – we still have some local currency left & the bank at the border won’t change it. Now we are stuck with some crazy monopoly money (equivalent to $1.50 so John was heartbroken.)

Back in Moldova we head south & find ourselves in another Autonomous region within Moldova - Gagauzia. At least there are no guns & no borders. By the end of the day we find a spot beside a lake.  

The next morning, we head to the border. It is just a small one, but as we already have our insurance and vignette it should be easy. Right! But there is always something. They are convinced our Machina Passport (registration papers) are copies. We insist they are original. After all we got in to the country OK. In the end our guy drives over to Romania to get the big boss there to check. He OK’s it all which then makes the Romanian side a breeze. We are now back in the EU and on our last leg of this trip through central Romania & back to Germany.


MOLDOVA & TRANSDNIESTR - PHOTOS


So many wells - all with buckets supplied


Our first church in Moldova

Soroca Fortress

From the fortress - overlooking Ukraine. Car ferry across

Some unfinished homes


Looking down on Saharna Monastery

Cave Monastery at Tipova

Orheiul Vechi


River views near Orheiul Vechi

Looking out over the cave monastery


Grapes for sale at harvest time

Chateau Yartley

Chisinau city

Chisinau's Arc de Triumph


Wine stored in the caves

Our visas in to Transdniestr - exit time clearly stated

Tirasopol - Nothing of great excitement

There are lots of statues

The Bell Tower at Noul Neamt Monastery

The ferry crossing

John & Dimitri at Red Star Hostel

Can you see the tank hiding there - photo snuck near border

Bender Fortress

Monday, September 17, 2018

RETURNING TO ROMANIA


The plan is to slip through the next 3 countries as quickly as possible without touching the toll roads. So, the next few days are mainly driving, but of course we can’t resist a stop at the cute market town of Zamosc in Poland. The old town is encompassed by red brick walls, the buildings brightly painted and the central plaza pulsing with people. There is a wedding happening on one side, a concert on the other and restaurants are brimming with people. After meandering around we head off to find a camp spot. Success! A Cathedral carpark – even have our own alarm when church bells chime & locals flock in for the 8.30 am service. It is amazing how busy all the village churches are as we cruise by. We also note how affluent Polish homes seem after Russia & Belarus.

But on across the open border (therefore no annoying crossing) to Slovakia. Here the houses look poorer & there are more hills & forestry. A quick stop for food before crossing to Hungary – and again an open border YAY!! We have decided to revisit the lovely town of Tokaji, but on a Sunday evening the wine caves are shut. Oh well we find a nice camp spot beside the river with a few other motorhomes. Time to explore & eat out.

This morning we head to the border of Romania. (We visited years ago but shortened our visit as GR1 didn’t like the roads. At that time we promised ourselves we would return again.) But oh bother – they have a border control. The fast queue is for EU vehicles, which sadly we are not! We wait in our line for over 2 hours. Then it takes all of 5 minutes to get stamped out of Hungary & in to Romania. Crazy. But we are finally free to explore – so we head to Satu Mare- a surprisingly lovely city – to get some cash & a Sim.  Time to head to the Maramure region. We pass loads of villages – and these are way fancier than they were over 10 years ago. The housing & lifestyle here has definitely improved. The day is nearly over so we find a spot right on the river bed overlooking Ukraine (the closest we will get on this trip)

In the morning our first stop is at Sapanta to see “The Merry Crosses”. We now are definitely on the tourist trail when we see a tour group of 20 motorhomes parked around town. The decorated crosses are a special feature here – each one is unique to each person’s grave – a lot of fun to look at. Then on to the town of Sighetu Marmatiei to explore. We wander the bright streets & stop at the Museum of Arrested Thought set in the old prison – it is almost all in Romanian – so much info about people who died here. What a truly terrible place it was, anyone who defied Ceausecu was sent here. Feeling depressed we head out for food, finding some great hole in the wall shops with awesome fresh pretzels, croissants & pastries. Finally, we head out to follow a few scenic back roads to see the real Maramures. Lots of wooden churches, lots of amazing carved wooden gates, lots of horse & buggies, lots of crazy haystacks & lots of flash new houses. By now we are practically old wooden churched out and as it is nearing evening we pull over beside a tiny lake. Perfect for a camp fire.

Back in to the fray. After more time exploring back roads and yet another Monastery full of lovely wooden buildings (all pretty new) at Barana we decide it is time to head back to the main road at Borgas & on in to the Moldavian region and the mountainous Prislop Pass. At the top there is, yes, another church to gawp at. The mountain views are pretty stunning too. As we head down through more villages we discover the house style has changed. They are more heavily decorated with metal roof with metal lacework. Even the wells & gates are decorated. We are heading to the famous painted monasteries. I have chosen 3 to visit – John thinks it will be more than enough. First up is Moldovita Monastery and it is pretty amazing. No photos inside, but really it is the painted exterior that is the best. Some of the scenes are pretty gruesome, but we can see lots of Bible stories amid the blood & gore. Enough for one day – we stop beside the river that runs beside the town.

The remaining 2 painted monasteries today. First up – Sucevita with its totally renovated walled compound. This one is on the tourist trail as well, so again busy. Then on to Humor Monastery. It’s not far to a few more, but we are done (especially John), so we head on to the city of Suceava. Not too much to see except the castle. A bit disappointing as it is so “renovated” and rather a maze inside. Time to head off to find a spot beside a lake not too far from the Moldova border.

This morning is earmarked for our next border crossing. John has already checked with border police that we can cross at Radauti-Prat, so we arrive bight & early. The queue is short & customs very efficient, but they suggest that Moldova will not let us in. We try & they are correct. It is only a car border & they don’t have insurance offices etc here, so with 3 extra stamps in our passports we head to the next border that they assure us we can use. And yes, we can. Finally, we are in Moldova with car insurance & road taxes paid. We will be back to finish exploring Romania in about a week.    


ROMANIA PHOTOS

Gorgeous Zamosc

Camping in Tokaji

In Satu Mare

The bridge to Ukraine where we camped

Some of the Merry Crosses

At the Old Prison - now Museum of Arrested Thought

Getting a blessing for our back road drive





Another old wooden church - one of many


The wooden Monastery at Barsana






Love the mountains

Moldovita Monastery




Sucevita Monastery


Humor Monastery

Amazing gates & well houses

The restored castle in Suceava

Camping beside the lake

On our way to our second border