We are going to Moldova

This website is supposed to be about Ukraine, but this summer will be spent outside Ukraine. I am from Denmark and I have a daughter that is almost one year old, and except from my parents, none of her Danish relatives have met her yet.

So we are going to Denmark. We could fly, but that is just so boring 😊 Instead we will make a road trip out of it. I can do most of my work online so the office has to do without me for two month this summer – I will go to Denmark and see my family and work remotely.

Our car is a 33-year-old Volkswagen T3 Bus. It is equipped with a bed, a kitchen, solar system and a toilet. So we have everything we need for a road trip. On the other hand it is an old car and who knows if it can handle the trip to Denmark and back (each way is about 1800 km if we take the direct route – which we won’t, so it will probably be more like 6000 km in total). So we have decided to make a test drive first. We are going to Moldova. In the 5 years I have lived in Ukraine, I have always wanted to visit Moldova. The main reason is that I have never been there and the second reason is that the boarder is very close to where I live. It is only about 150 km away. All Ukrainians I have asked about Moldova have answered more or less unison “Moldova! Why go there? There is nothing to see or do there”. My wife has said the same, but the last year her opinion has changed. It started when she found an article about lavender fields in Moldova. So now we have planned a 4 day trip to Moldova. To find lavender fields, test the car and the camping setup and to see if everything is ready for the long trip to Denmark.

The first and really only thing we had to prepare was insurance for us as well as for the car. Travel insurance is obvious. If we get ill, we want to go to a doctor or a hospital. In Moldova we probably could afford to pay for a doctor ourselves, but when we go to Denmark this is not an option. Also the car needs to be insured. Car insurance in Ukraine is very cheap, about 20 USD for basic minimum coverage – per year! But this insurance does not cover outside Ukraine so we need to get “the green card” that covers in Europe and several other countries.

We start a Thursday evening, my wife, our (almost) one-year-old daughter and my wife’s sister. The first stop is a village about 70 km from the Moldovan border, where my wife’s grandmother lives and where we spend the night. The next morning we say goodbye to grandmother and carry on the trip. In the nearest town we stop to buy some food. Inside the little shop, I hear chirping of birds. First I thought that wild birds have found their way into the shop, but then I see a red plastic back on the floor. The plastic back is moving – and out comes a little chicken. It starts to walk around on the floor until the customer (who probably bought the living chickens on the market) breaks off her food shopping and catch the chicken and put it back in the box to its friends 😊

With the food shopping done, we head for the border. The roads are pretty bad. At some point I get a little confused and make a wrong turn, and we end up on a brand-new road that on one side has something that looks like a dike with a fence on the top. With few hundred meters distance there are signs that show that it is forbidden to stop. There is no one else to see at this new road, so I make a turn and go back to the “good old” broken road. We drive up hill for about a km and from there, we can see that behind the dike there is a big lake. Google maps shows that the road continues all the way around the lake.

We are a bit puzzled about this big and clearly man-made lake, until my wife says that she has read about a system here to “store” electricity. The lake is a reservoir. When there is too much electricity in the grid (new clear power, or solar power), water is pumped into the reservoir, and when electricity is needed, the water from the reservoir is used to power turbines that generate electricity. A very ambitious project.

We get to the border, but there is no border crossing so we continue on a road that is located directly on the border. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we see an armed border guard, but he just ignores us and then we see the border. The border between Poland and Ukraine is “famous” for its long line of cars and crazy long waiting time to cross the border, but we are at the Moldovan border in the middle of nowhere and there are only two cars waiting to get back to Moldova. We join the line and get out to stretch our legs when the border guard approaches us and asks for our documents (passport, technical passport for the car and do we have the “green card” insurance? Yes we have Mr. Officer). After a while, he comes back and says that he has to check the identity of the car, so can I please show him the VIN number of the car. The VIN number in a VW T3 is located under the car on the frame behind the right front wheel. One-and-a-half year ago, I had two guys fixing my car. They replaced the rusty metal with new and painted the car underneath and since then, I haven’t seen the VIN number. So first I just pretend that I don’t know where it is located and let the border guy look for it himself. But after a few minutes of searching, the border guy makes it pretty clear that if we can’t show him a VIN number that matches the one in the technical passport for the car, the trip is over and we will not leave Ukraine. So I tell him where it is and he looks and says that he can’t see anything (I knew that 😊 ). He leaves and comes back with a big screwdriver and tells me to remove the paint so he can see the number. I find a piece of sandpaper together with my tools and climb under the car and starts to remove the generous fat layer of black paint – Oh what a great holiday…. The first minutes of work doesn’t give any result, but then, finally, I can see a part of the VIN number and after another minute of work, the number is completely visible, the border guard is happy and we can move on to the Moldovan side of the border.

On the other side, the atmosphere and the mood are much more relaxed. The Moldovan border guard searches our car and finds a sausage that we just bought. He says that we can’t bring it in to Moldova. We have to eat it or leave it, but he says it with a big smile and in the end, we are allowed to keep it. He also asks what we are going to do in Moldova, and my wife and her sister tell him about out search for lavender fields. He says that there is a field close to his village and we compare coordinates, because I have stored some towns in my Google maps where there should be fields according to a one-year-old internet article… His female colleague spoils the fun a little bit when she asks if we have bought the Vignette that is compulsory if you want to use Moldovan roads. We pay around 5$ for 8 days and I make a joke to my wife about my high expectations to the Moldovan roads since I have to pay to use them. The main roads actually turns out to be decent except for two that I will show pictures of later.

Armed with a few locations in my Google maps, we start the hunt. Since I just have the town name, but no specific address it isn’t so easy. We drive through the first town on our list and neither before nor after, do we see the beautiful purple fields that we are looking for.

We turn around and drive back to the town. It is hard to locate the “Downtown”, but we stop outside a bar/shop. My wife goes in there and comes out again none the wiser. Then she sees an elderly woman who sells flowers from a table on the road side. She points in a direction, we haven’t been yet, and says that we should just continue in that direction. After getting just a little lost, we see the field. It is very beautiful, but disappointingly small. I have brought the drone along, but decide that this field is too small for drone shots. The girls apparently have planned for this and start to get out dresses and hats from the bag packs, and so it is clear to me that this will not be a short stop because now it is time for what seems to be the favorite hobby of every female Ukrainian with a smartphone: Photo shooting! 😊

First my daughter is also a part of the photo shooting (and so am I, but only behind the camera), but soon we are both excused and we can start to discover things without a lens in front of our eyes. The field is small, but it is beautiful and there is a very pleasant smell of lavender. The butterflies also seem to like it here, and I have never seen so many in one place.

When the girls finally finish their photo shooting, we decide to head for the next potential location, but there we don’t find any field.

We spend the night at a little parking lot next to a lake. There is trash container that hasn’t been emptied for a while and it is not a pretty sight. The parking lot also seems to be a rendezvous for (outdoor)lovers, but we can’t find another location to camp, so we decide to stay. Despite our pessimistic predictions, we have a calm night.

The next day we decide to go south to check out a third location in our search for lavender, as well as visit the 2nd largest town in Moldova called Bălți with about 100,000 inhabitants. This time we also can’t find any fields no matter how many locals we ask, so we decide to give up that part of the journey and instead check out Bălți.

It is a very warm day, we are burning in the sun and one-year-old-baby-girl wants some exercise so we find a little park and take a rest.

We don’t find anything particular interesting in the town, only the town square is a bit fascinating. It is so huge that it could fit half of the town’s population.

Next to the park there is a building with those 3 guys on.

It seems like Moldova is very relaxed about its communistic inheritance.

We had talked about going through Romania on the way home, but my wife wisely says that she doesn’t want to add an extra border crossing to the trip, so instead we decide to go to a place where the River Prut, that is the border between Moldova and Romania, is very wide and looks more like a lake. I am attracted to water and I assume that with so much water there should also be a nice spot.

On the way there we get to the worst roads that we see on our trip. One of them is an old tarmac road that has been given up and covered with gravel. It is actually in a good shape for a gravel road, I was just surprised that a “major road” was made of just gravel.

The other road, that is located parallel to the Rumanian border, looks more like a stair than a road and after a while we turn around and find another way.

We arrive at a town that is located next to the river Prut. It is situated on a hill so we can’t get close to the water, but from up there we can see that cars are parked next to the river. We find a gravel road that seems to lead in the right direction. It turns out to be right and we end up next to the river. We are not the only ones that have gotten this idea, but we find a good spot with no direct neighbors.

We setup our camp and go for a walk to see the area and discover this, that seems to be an old ferry.

The next day it is time to go home so we head north. On the way we stop in a village to get an ice cream. I make a photo of this guy.

It looks a bit funny, because the fundament seems to be way too big for this little bust.

And I can’t help thinking that it used to be a big Stalin statue that was standing here, but maybe that was too much after all so they replaced it with a little Lenin. What do I know? But it seems like Moldova hasn’t been through the same decommunization as Ukraine.

We choose another border crossing back to Ukraine. The trip there as well as the border crossing goes without problems. In the afternoon we arrive in Khotyn in Ukraine. Khotyn is famous for its well-preserved mediaeval castle. We have visited it before, and it is also a part of the Ukraine Inside Out app Android App / Itunes App, but this time I want to make a drone video of it. We are looking for a place to camp that can also be used as a takeoff space for the drone. Thanks to the help of an old man who knows the area, we find a perfect camp spot (but I won’t tell you where 😊 ) The result of the drone footage you can see below. 

Next time we will go the European Union while discovering a part of Ukraine on the way.