Chisinau, capital of the Republic of Moldova, doesn’t have a ton to attract tourists but is a pleasant city. Like most hostels in Eastern Europe, the one I stayed at (I’m not really sure there are others in town) was an old house near the city center. The rooms were all converted to dorms, and the front courtyard was decked out with tables, chairs, and some cat that seemed to live there. It definitely had a backpacker vibe.
Every street had wide sidewalks with green trees providing shade, which made it a nice place to walk around. The Republic of Moldova was even cheaper than Bucharest, and I spent an inordinate amount of time drinking fruit smoothies in trendy cafes.
Before coming to Chisinau, I’d never met anyone who had been here. The vast majority of backpackers at the Tapok Hostel were passing through to or from Ukraine, with almost everyone stopping in Chisinau to visit the weird Soviet police state of Transnistria. The Moldovan hostel workers seemed a bit peeved with all of the questions regarding visiting the separatist Russian state, and continuously insisted it was part of the Republic of Moldova. One of the hostel workers showed me that my Transnistrian coins had the old Soviet hammer and sickle on them.
Train is by far the most comfortable way to travel in this part of the world, but the only daily rail link between the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine left Chisinau around 7am. Buses leave every hour or so, and rather than wake up super early to make the long trek to the train station I opted to take a bus.
Chisinau to Odessa is only 100 miles (160km), but we had to bypass Transnistria so as not to be bogged down by an extra set of border crossings. Driving through the back roads and fields of crops made the journey five hours. We were pulled over by the police in the Republic of Moldova, and an officer came on board to yell at the driver. We slowed down for five minutes and then were back up to breakneck speed.
The border crossing was easy and didn’t take more than an hour. The Ukrainian side was much more militarized, but we were waved past most of the checkpoints once we got our entry stamps. The Ukrainian border guard asked me something about my bag, but I don’t speak Ukrainian so that ended pretty fast. He then stamped my passport in the very back of my passport, which isn’t supposed to get any visa stamps. As long as I don’t get married and change my last name anytime soon it shouldn’t be an issue.
I was expecting and bracing for the chaos of the Chisinau bus station, but the Odessa terminal was surprisingly nice and tranquil. Even at 9pm in full darkness I felt completely safe catching the number 5 trolley to the Babushka Grand Hostel downtown.