Recover from Traumatic Border Crossings with Cheap Pancakes
Pancakes in Chisinau
At the London Pub in Chisinau, capital of Moldova, they try hard for that expensive steak house feel.
It’s dimly lit, with little lamps on the tables. The menu is extraordinary, the waiters neat, if taciturn. It’s somewhat spoiled by the big-screen TV that blasts Top 40 videos, but I suppose that’s how the Moldovans like it. I find it hard to concentrate on my food or conversation with Katy Perry at that volume.
Still, it’s worth it. For just 35 lei (about $2) they have big breakfasts with coffee and tea, of both the American and Moldovan varieties. I got cottage cheese pancakes, wrapped up and fried like egg rolls, delicious. We ate three Moldovan breakfasts in a row here.
We had only planned to be in Chisinau for a weekend, long enough to visit the Cricova wine caves and then move on to Ukraine. But you know what they say about the best laid plans.
On Sunday, we caught the 8:10 a.m. train out of Chisinau to Odessa, with no trouble. Customs didn’t even look at our passports, just asked us where we were from—Canada and New Zealand—and said, “Goodbye.”
At about 10:45 we got to the border. The Captain of the Border Patrol—who appear to be a branch of the military and all carry AK-47s and wear camo outfits—asked the Kiwi, my wife Jo, for her visa. She said she didn’t need one, we had checked. He called his boss, and he said she did. We were told to get our bags and follow him, off the train.
We sat in a little room outside the train tracks while some phone calls were made, and the captain made it clear we were going back to Moldova. They packed us into a Jeep and took us to the border. We were waved through a long line of Moldovans and Ukrainians, and then the captain pointed to the other side of a bridge—Moldova.
We didn’t enjoy being frog-marched off a train and detained, but we have to admit the Ukrainians were perfectly professional. The captain said something in Ukrainian about getting a taxi and bus on the other side, then bade us goodbye with a couple of handshakes.
Were it so simple. The other side of the border isn’t actually Moldova, but the breakaway republic of Transnistria. You won’t find this place on any map and it is unrecognized by any UN nation or body. But it has its own government, passport control, and frightening hammer- and-sickle flag and coat of arms.
Instead of stamping our passports, we got a slip of paper with “Transit visa” written on it. In town, we tried to find someone to drive us to Chisinau, since there are no buses there.
We eventually found an old man who would do it for 40 euros. He trundled us into his smoke-belching ca. 1975 Lada, and drove us to the real Moldovan border. There we switched cars and drivers, and someone, I guess with proper paperwork, drove us through Immigration and finally to Chisinau.
As soon as we got some internet, we checked Ukrainian passport control online. Turns out, New Zealanders can get visas on arrival—at the airport. Now we’re stuck here until Thursday, when we get our flight to Minsk. At least we’ve got London Pub.