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Day 1: Home to Chișinău via Iași

We don't normally go on holiday in March, but we have other commitments which mean we're not going away for May Bank Holiday, so at some point last year I started looking at flights for a compensatory trip in March or April. The timing of Easter meant that March flights seemed a lot cheaper than April and I ended up finding an absolute bargain: return flights to Iași in Romania for £33 each. Iași is probably not a place which is on most people's bucket lists. It is, however, located on the eastern side of Romania, not far from the border with Moldova. And Moldova, as one of our handful of unvisited European countries, is a place which definitely is on my bucket list :) 

I booked the flights and then at some point over Christmas I thought I'd start reading the Bradt guidebook to Moldova to start planning my trip. I was convinced that I had a copy of the Bradt guidebook to Moldova, because I'd bought a bunch of Bradt guides for any countries I thought I might want to go to during a Black Friday sale a few years back. I went upstairs and scoured my guidebook shelf for it with no success. How strange! It was only later when I started googling that I realised I couldn't possibly have bought the Bradt guidebook to Moldova because no such guidebook exists... in fact, I failed to find any brand of guidebook for Moldova on Amazon at all! Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised; Moldova frequently tops lists of Europe's least visited countries, seemingly attracting even fewer tourists than Belarus.

Our flight to Romania was with Wizzair, so we had a relatively short journey to Luton airport on Friday morning. The airport was busier than I expected for an ordinary Friday in March but we got there with plenty of time, so were able to have breakfast and get to our gate without any rushing. The flight took off on time at 09.10, landing in Iași around 3 hours later. The two-hour time difference with Romania means that it was so time after 2pm.

Iași doesn't seem to be a terribly popular tourist destination either, and almost everyone else on our flight appeared to be a local. There was much clapping as the plane touched down on the runway and not many other people who needed to join the "All passports" queue at passport control. The border guard asked Tim how long he was going to be in Romania, he explained that we were going to Moldova and so we were officially recorded as being "in transit".

Romania felt colder than the UK and it was quite cloudy, although not actually raining. My research suggested that there should be a bus from the airport into the centre of Iași every 30 minutes, so we exited the small terminal building expecting to see a bus stop. There was no bus stop. There was a horde of taxi drivers and a couple of small marshrutkas, but nothing that resembled a bus stop for a normal city bus. How strange! We walked up and down outside all the terminal buildings and checked inside the terminal too, in case there was some sort of info point that we'd missed. There wasn't. There were a few other people who seemed to be hanging around outside the arrivals building though, so we decided to join them and hope that at some point a bus would appear.

Luckily, at 3pm a bus did indeed appear on the horizon. We didn't have any Romanian cash to pay for a ticket, but the very helpful bus driver showed us how to use the machine on the bus to pay for our tickets by card. A ticket into the centre of Iași - a journey of over 30 minutes - turned out to cost us 61p each. That's definitely going down as one of my best airport bus bargains!

As the bus took us towards the main railway station in Iași, we got some tantalising glimpses of the town.  We didn't have time to explore properly today, being on a fairly tight schedule to catch our train, but it looked like there were some interesting historical buildings. We arrived outside the train station around 15.40, with two hours to go before our train departed to Moldova. Unfortunately, our train wasn't departing from this central train station but from a more obscure one, about 3 miles away, so we had a decent walk ahead of us. In the interests of speed, we decided to get some food at the McDonalds outside the station.


After that we set off on our walk across town, which was relatively straightforward except that pedestrian crossings seemed to be few and far between, so a couple of times we had to walk out of our way before we found somewhere we could cross the busy main roads. We didn't see many sights, but there was one church in particular that was really beautiful.


I was very glad I'd downloaded an offline map because there were no helpful signposts announcing the way to Iași-Socola railway station. When we got to the place where the map said it would be and saw railway lines I was quite relieved.


We were there a bit early but our train was already at the station :) 


I'd bought our tickets online in advance, using the website of Moldovan railways in Russian. The 4+ hour journey to Moldova in first class had cost less than £6 each! The train turned out to be really nice inside with comfortable seats and loads of leg room. The promised WiFi didn't work, but there was an onboard shop with coffee, chocolate and wine so we couldn't complain. If Moldova is famous for anything then it's wine and we enjoyed trying out our first Moldovan prosecco during the journey.


It was dark for most of the journey so we didn't have much of a view. It ended up taking nearly five hours to reach Chișinău, because there was a lot of waiting around at the border. First the Romanian border guards came and collected up our passports to take them away for stamping. Then the Moldovan border guards came and did the same. There was also a Moldovan customs check, where we all had to indicate our luggage (though luckily we didn't have to unpack anything). I never like being separated from my passport but this was the first occasion on which I've been happy to have one in Brexit blue; when the conductor returned to the carriage with a stack of passports after each border check, I could see at a glance that mine and Tim's passports were definitely in the pile :D 

Once we arrived in Chișinău we had a short walk of another kilometre or so to reach our hotel. We checked in and it's a pretty standard room, but comfortable.


We were tired after a long day of travelling, but looking forward to exploring more of Moldova tomorrow :) 

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