Ukrainians get it. Mimicking a lemonade stand in the heat of summer, vodka stands dotted the marketplace near the vokzal. As I sat in wonder waiting for my train to leave, one after another, the faithful walked up, pounded 5 lei (about 75 cents) on the stand, and threw back a gulp of clear liquid death the size of 12 oz bottle of beer.
Securely aboard train #10 to Chisinau, I was beginning to notice a pattern of arriving in train stations at the least optimal time: late at night or very early in the morning, pitch black and damn cold. Chisinau would be no different. More meandering after checking online again if my directions to a hostel were correct – the time honored tradition of locating numbers on buildings in the former USSR was fun in the summer, not winter – I face planted into a pillow after pounding on the front door and awaking a divorced lady with a child crying up stairs. Even I was skeptical about it being a hostel. Had it not been for the 11 x 14, black and white print out taped to the inside of the window of the only bedroom, I still would have bribed the woman to let me use her floor at that point.
Over coffee the next morning I was reminded that it was Orthodox Christmas. What exactly do Moldovans do to celebrate, I nail bitingly inquired. “We go to church.” like everyone else a little less than a month earlier. However, some sort of procession took place around 1 pm on the main street with Moldovans carrying crucifix’s and paintings of Mary, etc., but the best part was the dirty, old white van with a megaphone planted on the top blaring out sermons.
You really only need a day to see Chisinau. Like the Ukrainians before me and in the interest of self preservation, I would take to the potent stuff. The problem here is Moldovan brandy is fucking great; so fucking great, that I have no recollection of presenting my passport to either Moldovan or Romanian border control personnel but wound up with both stamps in my passport.