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.