Vama Veche would have to be one of the world’s best kept secrets, quite a phenomenon! The place is mainly frequented by Romanians, who are super friendly and mostly speak English. It truly is one of the last places in Europe where being an Aussie is a novelty!
Located on the Black Sea, there is nothing much to the place, except the three month 24/7 beach party held over summer! The bars blare out tunes around the clock, predominately heavy metal, live Romanian hip hop, electro and the usual classics (AC/DC included…Romanians love a bit of Back in Black!).
The sandy beach is the dance floor…right up to the tide, and there are no passengers, everyone is right into the music. Everyone is here, grandparents walking around in heavy metal t-shirts, petit girls walking around huge wolf dogs, guys zapped forward in time from the Viking age, any character you can think of can be found at Vama Veche! A lot of the bars have beds outside them to crash on, only to be woken in the morning by the bar staff with a coffee…service! Or you can camp for free on the beach, either in a tent or fully clothed face down in the sand! It’s a place like no other…
At the end of a nights proceedings, when you do find your place to crash out (for me, the beach), you get approximately three hours sleep before you wake up with a mouth full of sand and the sun beating down on you, and a plethora of people surrounding you, prepped for a days sunbaking.
After a weekend of adhering to the above conditions, we dragged our shattered and sunburnt corpses to the road, in the hope of hitching a ride. We successfully stopped a vehicle! A tip, if you hitch at a bus stop, a bus will pull up for you. After a one hour stop through a little town called Mangalia, where we dined at a restaurant with a stray dog seated at the table, we got a connecting bus to our next destination…
We got to Constanta resembling zombies. The mini bus was filled with eager elderly Romanians, seemingly being shipped in for the free Sunday buffet lunch at the local casino. We were quickly lost on arrival, and stopped at a bench to study a map. We were quickly on the move as a Gypsy woman chased us with an outstretched hand. We finally found a suitably dank internet café. It was like Gorillas in the Mist down there, everyone was smoking whilst playing online poker, how I found my allocated computer is a mystery!
After getting an address, we finally got to the one and only hostel in town, which of course was booked solid! Nightmare! They let us sleep on the concrete floor in the garden free of charge. Fine for one night, okay for two, but I tell you the whiplash after three.
There was not a lot to do in Constanta as a tourist. There are a lot of off-white coloured blocks of flats. There are shops around town. They sell ice-cream….oh, and they also have trees. We had met some awesome locals when in Vama Veche, who were kind enough to show us around to the nicer parts, via an air conditioned car, so all was not lost, free accommodation, our own tour guides, and like I said, they have trees.
The trip to Chisinau can be best described as brutal! A mini-bus was our mode of transport, and the splitting headache I was nursing was a bad travel accessory. Ten hours in a packed mini-bus, no leg room, and on a bumpy dirt road the entire way.
We got into Chisinau at 3:30am…some three hours earlier than expected. Getting through the Moldovan border had been quicker than anticipated, probably because all the guards were asleep. Getting in early was both good and bad. It was good, as I was no longer getting thrown around the bus, but it was bad as it was dark, nothing was open, we had no local currency and no one spoke English!
I managed to somehow negotiate via sign-language a taxi fare in Euro currency, and we set off for the hostel. As it turned out, the driver could barely see! He could not read my notated address, or see the map! He held it close to his eyes, far away from them, put on his cars’ high beam light and took the map to them; he even borrowed my glasses….nothing!
We finally got to the address, and the taxi driver knocked on the door. A very angry old Russian man opened the door and hurled a torrent of abuse at us, with the words (no hostel, no hostel) mingled into his dialect. We quickly departed, leaving both the Russian man and the taxi driver, as there was a slight fear he might drive us into a shop or a tree or something that would make a “Bang” type sound effect!
The streets were dark, and every dog in Moldova barked at us as we passed! We walked over to the other side of town, where the Lonely Planet said there was a 24hour internet café. The “24 Hour” internet café was there, but didn’t open until 8am! It was 5am! We tried the next one. We came, we saw, we were yet again conquered…by an abandoned/derelict building.
We trawled back through the high street to McDonalds. Now I am not a McDonald’s enthusiast by any means, in fact I despise it. However, for that hour, I had joined a small group of McDonald’s fanatics in queuing up outside waiting for the doors to open! Just when you think life can’t get any lower! We resisted the mad scramble at being the first through the door! Once in, I was able to get online with my laptop and find another hostel.
Chisinau is served by a network of mini-buses for public transport. We got on a full one to get to the hostel. With my entire luggage, and no where to put it, I was the picture of awkwardness! As the bus hit a corner, I could do nothing as I toppled onto an elderly ladies lap, before swinging myself up. At the next corner, I slid down (seemingly in slow motion) on the wet floor under the same ladies seat. For ten minutes there, I was a slapstick comedy star! And for the cherry on the cake, I bumped my head on the door of the bus on my way out, for all to see! The bus only cost 9 cents though…they all got a good show for that!
We finally reached the mall next to our hostel, aptly named MALLDOVER….no doubt there would have been a lot of high-fives in the boardroom when they came up with this name for the mall! After nearly seven hours, we finally checked into a hostel and passed out! As for the Lonely Planet…it now sits in a bin…Lonely Liar!
Moldova was great after this, and a really pleasant place. It is not a tourist friendly place, there is no signage, or tourist information centres, but the people were nice enough. The ability to buy live kittens off old ladies on the street is novel, though I went for the ice-cream option. The locals do stare a lot…maybe it was because they were reading my mind when I was imagining what life would be like if I wore a leopard skin tie and a toga, I can’t be sure…
Thankfully the bus to Odessa was a regular coach….except a burnt orange one from the 1970’s. It swayed from side to side a good 2-3 metres, and I am pretty sure I got seasick from it! It was a nice enough ride though. Getting through customs took a good hour and a half. Hard to say which guards wear bigger headwear, Moldovan or Ukrainian…I was expecting more from the Ukrainians in the hat department, if I'm honest.
On arrival into Odessa, I attempted haggling with three Taxi drivers, who then started aggressively haggling amongst themselves whilst we went and caught the tram! Getting off the tram was an absolute nightmare. It just so happened that the stop we wanted to disembark at, was conversely the stop that 200 Saturday night revellers wanted to get on!
We went for the front door, but only into a sea of oncoming people, and one Russian man hurling abuse at us with a single shaking fist! ‘Okay’, I said, ‘we are not meant to go that way’, so we turned around, only to see a bigger wall of people heading our way! We had to forcibly push our way through, generating much abuse, insults and name calling in Russian. We finally reached the door and jumped clear into the space outside. We looked back at the tram to a sea of angry faces and shaking heads looking our way, and as the door closed, the last man on shouted out in good humour “Welcome to Odessa”
Odessa was quite a cool town. I expected boarded up windows and gunshots whistling by the ears…but no, just the usual European town really. We saw the famous Potemkin steps, the port, and the beach, an Irish pub, some cars, a stray dog, power lines and chewing gum on the footpath…picturesque. The beach played home to many tight Speedos from the 80’s, and sly guys next to their sleeping girlfriends, taking sneaky photos of other peoples girlfriends.
We met some local guys at a kebab stand, and asked them if they knew anywhere cool to play pool. They took us to an old school pool hall, with all wooden furnishings. It was great. I played a few games, and went back home to bed as I was still sick. It would appear the locals were also gradually leaving, one by one, until it was just my friends there…..and the rather large bill! Naturally, they legged it back to the hostel, and we are now banned from playing pool anywhere in Ukraine!
From Odessa, I caught a 27 hour ferry to Istanbul. I somehow ended up giving a Russian kid English lessons, whilst he explained to me the best ways of drinking Vodka.
They seated me for meal times with a Russian family. Silence has never been so deafening! When I sat down, the kid looked to the mother, the mother looked to the father, the father looked at me, shrugged, looked to the mother, the mother looked to the kid, the kid looked at me, looked to his father…I was halfway through the main course by this stage!
Onwards to Greece and Albania...not sure what to expect there, who knows!