Next stop: Moldova? From Cluj via Iasi to Chisinau by train
Even in November, there are many things to do in Romania. I have finally received my student railcard on Tuesday, a couple of days after my friend Anna. What did it mean? We could set off directly on Tuesday night and head somewhere far away! “Have you ever been to Moldova?” Anna asked me and since I haven’t, our destination was set. We wanted to travel only by train and the plan was to go from Cluj to Iasi and from Iasi to Chisinau.
Getting to Iasi from Cluj
We realized about an hour before our departure from Cluj, that our timing is really bad though. Romanians had a national holiday that week, so the trains seemed rather full. Surprised by not receiving any number of seats, we headed to the crowded platform.
Unfortunately, if you don’t have a seat assigned on your ticket, it means you have no seat, just like about a hundred of other people. Our train journey was supposed to take almost 10 hours and we had no seats, almost no space around us in the corridor and the whole night ahead of us. Backpacks were our saviours as we were one of the few lucky people, who had at least sth to sit on. There wasn’t much space, but unexpectedly, we both managed to fall asleep in a weird formation, half lying, half sitting, one on top of each other, changing the places every half an hour. Towards the end of our journey, we captured one seat. It wasn’t much more comfortable, but at least warmer. In the last hour or so, we had even two seats!
Cloudy grey Iasi seemed sad, but if you stop by for a cake in Tuffli, everything looks better. Palace of Culture which was supposedly the highlight of the city didn’t take away our breath, but what I can totally recommend is Golia Monastery! I’m not much into religion and it looks pretty boring from the outside, but trust me, the inside is worth visiting.
How to get to from Iasi to Chisinau by train?
Since you are dependent on the border checkpoints, you can go either by bus/hitchhiking around or like us, by train for 10 RON to small Moldavian village, Ungheni and we recommend that! Get ready for spending about 2 hours on those 18 km, but if you are lucky enough like us, you can have a chat with locals, have a good laugh or get kicked out of a coupé because of illegal businesses who are “importing” things from Romania to Moldova.
With my luck, I expected some issues with my passport at the border, but surprise surprise, it was Anna who got asked ton of questions. Maybe it helped, that one of the guards used to serve in the army in the Czechoslovakia and loves Czech hockey. We spoke in a mixture of Romanian, Russian and Czech and understood each other, the world is small and I felt happy that someone is thinking about my country with love.
We thought that we would hitchhike from Ungheni to the capital of Moldova, but after being told tales about amazing Russian trains, we decided to take another train and we were not disappointed. Train coming all the way from Moscow to Chisinau was huge and in 38 MOL (approx. 10 RON, 2 EUR) you have bed included. The train is not run by electricity, but by coal like in the old days. Were environmental unfriendly, but worth trying at least once in a lifetime.
Chisinau was surprisingly a lot cheaper than Romania and didn’t feel like a capital at all. After our couchsurfer-host stopped replying and we ended up at 9 pm with no accommodation, we decided to head to the hostel we found on booking. We weren’t far from the city centre, but the houses already seemed suburban. Typical communist “boxes” you can find all around Eastern Europe. Finding the hostel was harder than we expected, so we asked 2 local boys. After going around in circles (literally, no joke), we ended up exactly where we started.
This hostel had no proper signs and it was basically just an old apartment. We took room for two, with a window. Window leading to the room of the host. It was a friendly place, but smelling like old socks without any chance to change the air and no privacy too. I got woken up at around 6 am by hearing the discussion about monetary policy. Well, at least it was interesting.
Another couchsurfer replied to our message in the morning and offered to pick us up. We were a bit worried, Nikolaj was about 50 y.o., loves motorbikes and doesn’t speak much English. We were two and he seemed friendly, so we decided to meet him. He was lovely! Very caring, very welcoming and although we didn’t have much discussion, he told us where to go, what to see, his new motorbike and in the evening, we cooked and had dinner together.
I could probably write you what to see in Chisinau, but I think that especially in this case… the way was way more interesting than the destination itself. Go to see the lakes and the city centre, use all types of public transport and you have seen it all. Trolleybus is 3 lei (Moldovan), the bus is 4 lei and you always pay inside.
Trips outside of Chisinau
Don’t make the mistake of booking/planning to do things outside of Chisinau at the last minute, like us. For the wineries, you need one day tour or at least book the excursion couple of days in advance, for going to Orheiul Vechi, set off early in the morning to Central bus station (behind the market) and ask for the bus to Butuceny. It seemed really nice and we wanted to do both, but it was cold for a walk in the canyon and Anna doesn’t enjoy wines, so we decided to skip both as we would have to stay 2 more days.
Acknowledgements from Moldova:
- Do not mistake Moldavia for Moldova. Moldavia is a whole region including a big part of Romania, Moldova is a separate country!
- Pay rather in euros or anything else other than Romanian lei, if you don’t have local currency. (Moldovian lei)
- Do use public transport! It’s an adventure!
- Learn Cyrillic alphabet or bring someone who knows it, if you wanna find sth, you’ll need it.
- Russian language works sometimes better than Romanian (=Moldovan).