Thursday, July 28, 2011

From NJ to Moldova: My Moldovan Adventures

From NJ to Moldova: My Moldovan Adventures

TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2011

This morning, I had this can of fruit that I planned to eat for breakfast but it proved to be far more difficult to eat this fruit than I had anticipated.

Now, to be fair, the woman I live with does not have a can opener that looks like ANY can opener I have ever seen. Of course, back in the US I have one of those little hand held electronic can openers. It is wonderful, really. You place the opener on the can, push a button and it opens the can for you and, get this, without any sharp edges!

So about 2 weeks ago, I needed to open a can and had NO idea what to do. The 71 year old woman that I live with LAUGHED at me and then opened my can. So this morning I found that strange can opener device and tried to open my own can without her help!

It didn't end up too well and as you can see from the picture, I only made ithalf way through!

Of course, I quickly hid the evidence of my shortcomings on the bottom of the trash can

MONDAY, JULY 25, 2011


I went on vacation to the Crimea last week and loved it.

Seriously, the Black Sea is beautiful!

But be forewarned, the bus ride there is long, hot and overcrowded.

Our old second hand German bus actually broke down in the middle of Nowhere, Ukraine at 3 am but from what I hear, I don't think that this is too uncommon.

Yalta though was superb. Most of the tourist sites are actually outside of Yalta about 30 minutes or so by maxitaxi and they are definitely worth the visit. The unfortunate part about traveling there is that NO ONE speaks English. Yalta is incredibly touristy but all of these tourists are Russian speaking.

The bus ride from Yalta to Sevastopol was so pretty too. And BALAKLAVA is gorgeous! My pictures don't do it justice. In Balaklava, there is an old secret Soviet submarine/nuclear site. There were no English tours though and everything is written in either Ukrainian or Russian...

AND in Sevastopol, there is aШоколадница! It is just a cafe from Moscow but I am obsessed. OBSESSED. Needless to say, I was beyond excited when I saw it and I are there everyday I was in Sevastopol. Yep, obsessed (get the blini with ham, cheese and sour cream and a chocolate cappuccino).

However, the maxitaxi and bus service in Sevastopol is confusing. I was literally always lost. And every map that I had was old, outdated and written in either German or Russian. SO definitely bring your own map!

A popular thing to do in the Crimea is to hike and camp from Sevastopol to Sudak (or even further maybe). These backpackers were EVERYWHERE. I have never seen so many backpackers!

But 6 days definitely is not enough time to spend there. I feel like I didn't get to see all that much of the Crimea so I guess this just means that I will have to go back and maybe spend a whole summer there living it up on the beach and exploring...

TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2011

Tidbits of Random Information

After traveling through Russia and Eastern Europe for a few months, these are my tidbits of random information about the region:

1. If you plan on staying for some time, don't forget to bring house shoes! House shoes are imperative to Russians and especially to the Russian babushkas. House shoes are generally slippers or sandals of some sort.
I once had a friend scolded for her lack of house shoes in the kitchen by the old woman that was the dorm mother in our Russian dormitory. The Russian babushka proceeded to bring my friend house shoes so that she has something appropriate to wear in the kitchen. House shoes are THAT important!
And as I wrote earlier, to go to the gym you must have gym only shoes. Even some men that are at the gym lifting and working out wear their house shoes to the gym!

2. Flowers, flowers, flowers! Eastern European women love their flowers. You will see flower stands everywhere. If you were invited to someone's house for dinner, it is definitely appropriate to bring flowers.

3. The marshrutka. Public transportation in Eastern Europe is pretty cheap but don't expect anything high quality. In Moldova, the marshrutkas, vans renovated to be a form of mass public transit, are the main means of transportation. They have anywhere from 12-16 seats but during the morning commute to work, there are usually around 30 people crammed inside one.

4. Fruit here is seasonal. The thought that I couldn't eat a strawberry year round never occurred to me until I arrived here. But eat the fruit here and buy it at the markets! The fruit and vegetables at the market are significantly better than the fruit or vegetables in the grocery store (and cheaper too!).

5.Eastern European woman are always dressed well. In my opinion, it is not shirts with English words written on them that will make you stand out but it is the way you dress, especially Americans. Don't bring a hoodie, sweatpants or baggy clothing because then you will stand out. Also, Eastern European woman LOVE their high heels. I have even seen woman security guards inhigh heels so dress well!

6.Always carry small bills. ALWAYS. I don't know why the ATM dispenses only large bills because no one is willing to accept them. I went to the ATM to take out cash the other day and received all 200 lei notes when what I really needed was money for the marshrutka which only costs 3 lei. That didn't go over well.

7. Be be prepared, there are homeless wild dogs everywhere. They aren't mean but they don't trust people and don't interact with people. You do your thing and they do their own thing.

8. Tea. Tea. Tea. Eastern Europeans love their tea!

9. Always specify if you want carbonated or non-carbonated water.

10. Notebooks here are filled with graph paper. Students take their notes on graph paper and not college-ruled lined paper. It annoyed me all semester.

11. At most stores there will be lockers. Put your stuff in your locker before shopping or else you may end having to pay for your items again!

12.Pedestrians have no right of way. Always look both ways and never expect a car to stop for you (most likely they will swerve around you angrily). Horns here are also way over used. To a foreign observer, there seems to be no traffic laws.

13. Vegetarians be warned as Eastern Europe is for the carnivores. These Eastern Europeans love their pork products and the shelves of the grocery stores are filled with all sorts of pork- salami, ham, pepperoni, etc. There is not much variety so come prepared to eat pork, pork and more pork!

14. Along the same lines as point 13, the American version of salad is not common here. Salads in Eastern Europe are always mixes of various vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, etc.) and maybe some ham and ALWAYS smothered in mayo. If you want a salad with lettuce then order a Caesar salad otherwise be prepared to eat a lettuce-less salad.

15. Often women are greeted with kisses on the cheek and men greet each other with handshakes. It is also not usual to see women holding hands and walking down the street together.

16. SQUAT toilets. Yep, they are everywhere. I recommend coming prepared with your own pack of tissues or toilet paper and hand sanitizer (the one pictured is a particularly nice one and not the norm).

17. Get a cell phone with a flashlightor bring a cell phone with a built in flashlight. There are few street lights once you get off the main road and in order to see where you are walking, sometimes a flashlight may be useful.

18. Most old Soviet buildings look alike. It is true. It can be really confusing to figure out your apartment building so pay close attention upon arrival!

MONDAY, JULY 4, 2011


Tiraspol was my brief brush with history and the closest that I will ever be to the USSR

For those of you who don't know about Tiraspol, it is the capital city of Transnistria. Transnistria is thebreakaway region of Moldova which has declared itself a state. Russia is one of the only (if not the only?) state that recognizes Transnistria as a state.

There was actually a war between Moldova and Transnistria from 1990-1992. Now they are two separate countries with their own currencies, flags and even a bit of a language barrier. However, to cross the Moldovan border is nothing. I swear the Moldovan border guards get paid to sit there and watch the cars drive by.

The Transnistrian border guards, on the other hand, are very stringent about their border. They collect your passport and go through the bus and look at people and their belongings. They take your information and make you fill out immigration papers. And be forewarned, there is no such thing as a line at this border crossing. My recommendation is to use your elbows and push your way up to the window or you will wait FOREVER like me. And then a fight might pursue on your bus between an old Russian woman yourself because you took too long like me. So push your way through to that window!

But Tiraspol is a neat town but very small. You are only permitted a few hours to visit by the border guards but that really isn't too much of an issue. There really is not too much around nor are there very many people (or cars for that matter).

There are quite a few statues and memorials to see. And of course there are old soviet communist buildings to see like the House of the Soviets and the House of Culture. As for food or shopping, there isn't much choice so don't be picky! There is, however, an Andy's Pizza which is incredibly popular in Chisinau.

And when you are driving in, make sure that you pay attention out your window because you don't want to miss the HUGE soccer stadium! It is truly a modern site to see in this poor communist country. But the bus from Chisinau to Tiraspol is pretty inexpensive and it is an interesting way to spend the day! And of course, you can't leave without purchasing some cognac from KVint!

MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2011

Mat and I ran in the Orange 4k yesterday

It was different than any race that I had run in before because it was just for fun so it wasn't timed or anything. I was surprised to see people running in jeans and even people carrying bags during the race. I hate wearing jeans in the rain, much less running in jeans in the rain! sounds so uncomfortable
And if people could take short cuts and run off the route and through the grass then they did.

An old woman on the side of the road even started yelling at us telling us that we looked ridiculous. hahaa

I even met a girl at the registration table who had done the work/study exchange program to the US in a town near me! I can tell that that exchange program is really popular here because I have met quite a few people who have done it

But it was a good time and I got a free t-shirt so now I don't need to buy any souvenirs. perfect.

Looking good after the cold cold race in the freezing rain-->
<--The advertising campaign starring an unstoppable old man running with his cane. In case you were wondering, I never saw this old man. I was disappointed.

FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2011

Orheiul Vechi

Orheiul Vechi is this archaeological site in the middle of No Where, Moldova BUT it isabsolutely beautiful there!

A friend of my boss acted as our tour guide and all around Moldovan expert for this excursion.

This site essentially looks like a large crater hole in the middle of the country in Moldova. Our tour guide explained that at one point in time, it was actually a body of water and that is the reason for this seemingly crater-induced valley.

Well, either way, it is beautiful.

There is a tiny town in the middle of this valley. In this tiny town, we stopped at a well and got our own water. We literally just stuck the bucket down the well, pulled up the water and then drank the water straight from the bucket! I have never done anything like that.

All the roads in this tiny town were dirt roads, of course. Our tour said that this town is so small that there are maybe only 4 or 5 children that actually go to school in the town.

Also, most people that live in villages in Moldova don't have indoor running water (hence the wells). They all have out houses and they go to the bathroom there! I could not imagine that.

Then we ate freshly pickedapricots that literally were just picked straight from the tree. My family has an apple tree back home in the US but my parents decided that it is just easier to purchase apples from the store so our apple tree remains wild and well, not maintained.

Also, there is a church at the top of hill. It was recently redone and now it has a beautiful garden.

And there is a cave monastery with one lonely and slightly grumpy monk living there all alone. He has the BEST balcony though, it is a rock balcony built into the caves!

There used to be 12 monks living in this cave monasteryand they all slept in one room. This room was divided into 12 sections by rock walls. This room was so short that even I couldn't stand up straight and I am pretty short. I would never live like that but I guess not many people can.

On the way back, we stopped and ate pizza in some town. I ate a whole personal size pizza for the equivalent of $2.50. Seriously. Moldova is SO cheap for a foreigner!


I joined a gym!

This is the gym I joined, it is called Heracles-->

And the best part is that I did it all in Russian!
Well, my Russian isn't very good so it was a combination of Russian and hand gestures but no English was involved.

But I love the gym, it is such a great place. However, gyms in Moldova arevery different than gyms in the US.

You are not allowed to show up at the gym in your workout clothes and tennis shoes. And you have to haveseparate tennis shoes to wear in the gym (indoor gym shoes and outdoor gym shoes!).

But that is how it is in Eastern Europe, you have to have separate house shoes. You HAVE to!

Also, all the girls look so pretty while they are at the gym. Seriously. They don't break a sweat! And no girl actually runs on the treadmill, they only walk.

Then afterwards, you have to shower and change before you leave. It is not acceptable to leave the gym without a shower and without changing into proper shoes and clothes. Most girls even blow dry their hair and put on make-up.

Back home, I always just went home and took a shower. I never cared about walking out of the gym looking like a hot mess. But here it is different.

However, it makes me feel so much better to work out! I like living at this apartment with my Russian grandmother but I have no TV and no internet so the gym is a great way to spend my time! Also, my grandmother/host LOVESto fry all of her food so this is a good way to counteract all that oil and fried bread/meat!

Maybe I will even be lucky enough to meet a cute Moldovan there? I am here for 5 more weeks...