Russia – Ukraine – Moldova – Romania – Hungary

Starting off from Moscow and not knowing of how the next 6 days will be and what will happen, gives one a certain unsecurity. Yet, it is the feeling of curiousity and somewhere the positive instinct of just doing this. By train from Moscow to Vienna. I just bought the ticket from Moscow to Kiev one day before. Sleeping wagon. No idea how it looks like or how it will be. But lateron, I will still remember it very well. As it was already late evening, I was a bit tired.

Noticing a few moments later that the floor of the train starts at the height of my head brought me the first challenge: carrying a 20kg suitcase up there. The woman who was the train stewardess made no single effort to help me. Well, I knew why I’m going to the gym regularly!

There were no doors. Just walls between the beds. Nevertheless, the beds were really comfortable and the train was more or less empty.

Without hesitation, a passenger was recruited to distribute blankets and sheets for the couches where people sleep on.

As it was already dark, it didn’t take me long to fall into my dreams. Yet, the Russian police thought differently. Somewhat at 5am in the morning they came in the train to check the passports. Same again at around 6am at the Ukrainian side. I was too sleepy to really notice something. Anyway, I passed.

Arriving in the morning in Kiev, you have the feeling that everybody is more awake than you. Whatever, I wanted to already leave again in the evening, so I went to check out the train ticket chashiers. They don’t give you information there. You have to go there and exactly know which train, which time, where to and what class you want. So, back again to the information desk. Then back to the cashier desk to find out the price. I decided to take the bus this time as it was only half the price (and the train don’t really go by night). For gods sake, I had a Ukrainian friend with me, although one gets pretty far with Russian there. She helped me and I dropped off my luggage at the train station. No, carrying a 20kg suitcase around a whole day is not what I wish everybody.

Kiev is, what I call, a typical Eastern European city. A lot of communist elements and not really colorful. Except the churches or memorials.

In general, Ukraine is one of the countries with the lowest labour costs in Europe. Sometimes, it is even cheaper to produce there than in China. Yet, I was surprised about the living costs. Nearly Austrian prices. Public transport was cheaper but everything else was, in my opinion, not really adjusted to the salaries people get there. And the inequivalance was noticeable.

I was lucky to have my friend around who is very interested in history. I got to understand some points better and also why Ukraine is today as it is. I noticed especially the high number of churches.

Most of them in blue-white. I’m not the biggest fan of churches but I admit, they are really pretty.

Nearly in every Café in Kiev you have internet – with very good connection.

But, back to the city. It is a bit hilly but quite nice for walking around.

One should definitely check out the park where you have a view over the city and also quite some memorials.

I decided to make my way back to the train station, check by McDonalds for internet (no, I don’t recommend that food 😉 ) and get my luggage. I moved to the bus station which is around 20 minutes afar. A took a Matrushka and a guy inside was so nice to tell me where the bus station exactly is and where I have to get off. As the busses in Eastern European countries have stations but mostly you can get off anywhere if you tell the bus driver.

And again – McDonalds at the bus station. They are everywhere. And there I got another interesting pic. People standing outside, leaned on the windows of McDonalds and skyping. They didn’t want to buy something, they just needed the internet. Interesting scenery!

Anyway, I went on to get my bus. Fortunately, half of it was free. Shortly after we left, I took over the 5 places at the end of it and laid down. Sometimes, the streets were so bad that it shook me so hard that my whole body got lifted. The roads from Kiev to Chisinau (Moldova) were worse than the ones in Nigeria. Way worse. And again, even 3 times checking for the passports. I don’t know why and when exactly. I was too tired. And freezing. Eastern European busses and trains don’t have any insulation And as we arrived, I saw for the first time sunshine and blue sky.

Fortunately, they also speak and understand Russian in Moldova, though more widely they use Romanian.

I got picked up by friends and moved to their house on the countryside. Very relaxing and beautiful. (No, I’ll not tell you about the roads now) Most of the houses look like ruins from the outside but once you enter, you’ll be amazed.

I enjoyed a walk through the city. There is not much special to see than the usual things like parks, official buildings, etc. I got to know that Moldova is known for its winery. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to know that part.

I wanted to buy the train ticket to Bucharest, Romania, a day in advance. Yet, I found out that if you buy the ticket in advance, it is more expensive. Weird but true.

I enjoyed some really nice dishes in Moldova which were mostly influenced by other cultures…I especially love the homemade juices!

Eventually found a bit of home…

And dared to look at the sweet side of life…

This desert was served in a very cool Café – look at their menu & ordering system:

So, leaving all this behind, I bought the ticket a few hours in advance and had a last walk around the city.

As I entered the train, I was happy on the one hand because I had a 4-bed room for myself. On the other side, there was no window in the room.

Opening the curtains in front of the 20x60cm window so that more air comes in, got denied a few minutes later by the conductor. No idea why. Heat. Stuffy air. And 13 1/2h train in front of me. I took a long breath, lied down and anyway fell asleep soon. Later that night, it got so cold that I ended up lying on the bed in T-Shirt, sweater, rain jacket, scalf and blanket. The controversy of Eastern European trains.

Romania. Here my Russian skills got useless. At the train station, I had the feeling that no other than Romanian was useful here. I immediately bought my ticket for later that night for going to Budapest. Sleeping wagon again. This time 6 beds in a room. I hoped again.

I dropped my luggage at my friends place and went on to discover the city on my own.

I first went to a huge park which was wonderful.

Lakes, playgrounds, benches, people doing sports, boat rental spots, blue sky and sunshine made me enjoy this walk.

Somewhere in the park they had quite some heads standing there:

Anybody who knows what this was about, I appreciate the information!

And even Bucharest has its own Arc de Triumph:

It didn’t take me long to land in a shopping centre.

My backpack broke. But I wasn’t really successful. I could’ve bought a bunch of shoes but that was not what I needed. Instead, I had a delicious Lebanese lunch and Tamarind (a drink with a lot of vitamins):

I met my friend again and luckily he was also very interested in history. He told me some quite interesting facts. There are quite some hidden churches/buildings which were built during the communist times for ethnicities which were not welcomed (e.g. jews).

There are even some churches which can’t be reached by car, only by walking through a surrounding building. When the communists came, a lot of houses and churches were destroyed in order to build huge buildings to show the “greatness” of communism.

The last stop was the old part of Bucharest which is nowadays the party/clubbing place of the city…

And in the middle of all that, I found a building which reminded me of the Netherlands or Belgium…

As I got slowly tired of walking, I decided to stop by a certain worldwide coffee chain and enjoy the last few hours before my departure there. Connection to the outside world. What internet junkies we are.

As I got to the train, I had to admit that it might get full. The confirmation came a few minutes later. 4 Swiss guys and a Polish girl. Too much. For the price and quality, I wish I had the Russian train back. There at least one only had 2 beds above each other but here there were 3. One could not even sit normally. I decided to take the chance and get sleep. Twice passports check again. I slept. The air was better and also the windows were allowed to be opened. BUT. BUT. It was allowed to smoke on the corridor and so I favoured having the door closed.

Every ride comes to an end and so did this one, too. I got off in Budapest, being happy that I can stand normally again. Got my next ticket to Vienna. 1st class. I had to. Some Americans and Australians were behind me and about to visit Vienna. I couldn’t help giving them some advice on what to visit there. What a nice ending.

And again it proved, do the unexpected, be a little crazy, hope for the best and then, just go. Go where there is no path and leave a trail. I guess I will never go this way again but I’m happy I did it. Challenging it was but worth it.

General notes:

In all the countries until Hungary, people smoke a lot and everywhere. No restrictions. For non-smokers this brings quite some challenges.

The much I felt uncomfortable in the busses/trains the same I also enjoyed the time for just myself.

In general, transport (metro/bus) is very cheap. Food was the cheapest in Moldova. 6€ for main dish, desert & drink.

For questions about the costs, all in all, I paid for the trains/bus ~130€. Way cheaper than had I gone the other way around. 6 countries, 6 days, more than 2000 km and around 50h in trains/bus.

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