Jun 152012

Since I’m in a small lull between trips (I don’t think anyone really needs to hear about my upcoming trip to Cedar Point, Ohio to ride roller coasters) I figured this was a good idea to catch up and post a few trips from the past.  First one will be my May, 2010 trip to Moldova, TransDniester, and Romania.

What, you’ve not heard of TransDniester?  According to Wikipedia, it is: “a breakaway territory  mostly on a strip of land between the Dniester River and the eastern Moldovan border to Ukraine. Since its declaration of independence in 1990, and especially after the War of Transnistria in 1992, it is governed as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR, also known as “Pridnestrovie”), a state with limited recognition which claims the territory to the east of the river Dniester, the city of Bender and its surrounding localities located on the west bank. The Republic of Moldova does not recognize the secession and considers the territories controlled by the PMR to be part of Moldova’s autonomous region of Stînga Nistrului (“Left Bank of the Dniester”).”

Wait, breakaway region with its own military, currency, parliament, border control, etc?  Sounds like a de-facto country to me…and of course I had to visit.  Naturally, you get there from Moldova…but since you can’t fly in, you get to take a sketchy mashrutka minibus.  I’m up for adventure!  Flights booked, it was time to head off!

United Flight 950
Washington, Dulles (IAD) to Brussels, Belgium (BRU)
Departure 17:44, Arrival 7:30 next day, Flight Time: 7:46
Boeing 767, Registration N654UA, Manufactured 1992
Seat 2A

One of my first flights in a newly-configured United 767 in first….and I was nervous how I’d sleep on such an early flight.  I’d learnt to pass out cold on the 10pm flights to London, but not sure how I’d manage on such an early departure.  Not to worry, however.  After meal service, plenty of wine, it was 8pm, and eyes shut…and I dozed all the way to Brussels.  I searched in vain for a lounge with a shower…no luck, and just killed time in the terminal.  Was my first time at BRU in several years, and I wasn’t terribly impressed.  Of course, considering it was 2am eastern time and I’d just gotten up from a 5 hour nap…that’s understandable.

Austrian Flight 352
Brussels, Belgium (BRU) to Vienna, Austria (VIE)
Departure 10:25, Arrival 12:15, Flight Time: 1:50
Airbus A319, Registration OE-LDG, Manufactured 2005
Seat 2F

Short hop over to Vienna, with very little to say on it.  This was my first every short-haul flight with Austrian, and honestly it felt a lot like Lufthansa with cheerier colours.  I dozed on and off the whole flight, and there was nothing overly special about it even though the load was 100% in the entire plane.

Austrian Arrows Flight 655
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Chisnau, Moldova (KIV)
Departure 13:45, Arrival 16:30, Flight Time: 1:45
Fokker F70, Registration OE-LFG, Manufactured 1995
Seat 2F

This is where the fun started!  Only 90 minutes in Vienna, but had to exit the Schengen Area, and then hang out in the Austrian Senator Lounge.  Decent food like any Senator Lounge, plenty to drink, but was hotter than a Turkish Bathhouse.  I was unimpressed!  I tend to get extremely warm on long haul flights, and going on 12+ hours at this point I was less than impressed.  Oh well, almost there!

Flight was maybe 2/3 full, but I was the only one in “business” class if you can fall it that on a Fokker!  Landed, taxied up, and immigration was pretty much a non-event.  Surly immigration officers assured us this was definitely still closer to the ex-USSR than it was to the West, and we’d arrived for a bit of fun!

Took a taxi for 100 Lev which was no drama at all, and soon we were at the hotel!

Hotel was the Hotel Nobil which had been recommended by coworkers, and definitely lived up to its billing as the “only boutique hotel in Moldova.”  It wasn’t super fancy, but it was definitely approaching 4-star quality, which is something I never would have expected to find in Moldova.  First night we got dinner at Symposium Restaurant which was pretty awesome!  Local Moldovan wine which was nothing to write home about (but decent) and lots of small plates, and we were definitely full for the big trip ahead!  On the way to dinner we’d checked where the minibuses ran from, and with a bit of help from my Russian managed to determine they ran about hourly to TransDniester, the price, and we were more or less ready!

Up early the next morning we found a cafe for some coffee, and it was time to head on the adventure!  We easily found the minibus station again, and with help from a couple grandmotherly types easily purchased tickets (although, it would have been quite a bit harder without speaking Russian) to Tiraspol, TransDniester for 29 Lev (about US$2.25) each!  Remember, our taxi the previous day had been 100 Lev!  It was a rather large bus – definitely a coach.  The lady “working” the bus was quite grumpy to see US passports, since it would definitely mean more work at the “border” to TransDniester.  She probably would not have let us on had I not spoken Russian…she was seriously worried we’d hold up the whole bus at the border, but not to worry!

The bus was….WARM!  It was 25C out and rising, and there was nothing even remotely resembling climate control on the bus.  It was a very warm ride!  The ride, and border was a relative nonevent.  We got a bit of questioning from the TransDniester authorities, but were not required to pay any bribes or “visa fees” as others have reported, and were quickly through.  We definitely didn’t hold up the bus more than five minutes total, and from that point “bus mother” was much kinder!

Just upon arrival we verified that return buses ran every hour, and we were off to wander.  Just after arriving, there was a torrential downpour, which caused us to hide under overhangs for a good 30 minutes.

We then walked a couple of hours, taking in the sights (such as they were) of the city.  Old Soviet-era tanks, war monuments with Moldova, etc.  This was definitely still a place holding on to the “good old days” of the USSR, and doing everything in its power not to join an independent and “democratic” Moldova!

Government building, translation:  “We’re building a city in which you can live!”

For lunch we stopped at Andy’s Pizza which was recommended several places online as one of the stranger places to eat.  Trying hard to be western, but with just enough Soviet Kitsch to be fun.  Plus, it was reported to have good hygiene and cleanliness, which was very important!  Food was great, and we wandered the city for a couple more hours after before catching a bus back.

We had dinner at Caravan Restaurant, which was a bit of a hoot.  Food was absolutely awesome, and many of the rooms are made to look like small tents…because, as the host told us “you look sport” our tent had the sides lowered so the pretending-to-be-classy other tables wouldn’t be offended by us.  Khakis, polo shirts, but if you wear sneakers….it’s an OMG moment.  Food and wine were awesome and reasonably priced, however, albeit a bit expensive for local standards.  Early to bed, for an ungodly early flight.

Air Moldova Flight 861
Chisnau, Moldova (KIV) to Bucharest, Romania (OTP)
Departure 6:40, Arrival 7:40, Flight Time: 1:00
Embraer ERJ-90LR, Registration ER-ECB, Manufactured 2010
Seat 10D

We took an adventure…and took the city bus to the centre of the city where we were staying at the Intercontinental Bucharest on a low prepaid rate.  Got a very nice high level room, although no upgrade.  The AC was working (it was still hot hot hot – around 28C) and that was the most important thing!

Spent the whole day wandering the city, and first stop was the Parliament Palace.  We got an afternoon tour time, so were told to come back later.  Due to the very very early morning we were fading at this point, and got coffee and pastries at Chocolat where were absolutely amazing.  So much so, that we went back the next day for breakfast.  Great pastries and coffee, and I’ll highly recommend it!

A couple hours later (and many kilometers of walking) we were finally ready for our tour of the Parliament Palace.  It was a great tour, and the views from the balconies definitely didn’t disappoint!

We had late afternoon snacks and drinks at Club Pirhana.  It had a very funky feeling, and was a bit hard to find off a small side road in the University Area but had an amazing atmosphere.  Quite a young crowd, but very chill in general.  Lots of tables outside in a garden atmosphere, just hanging out.  Definitely somewhere I want to go back to, just to people watch for hours!

Unfortunately I lost track of where we got dinner after a few hours there, but I’m sure it was a good time, lol!  The next morning, we slept in and got breakfast at a local cafe near the hotel, which made an amazing omelette and coffee!  Soon, it was time to take the bus back to the airport!

Check-in opened exactly 2 hours to the minute before the flight, and was little drama after that.  The lounge was pretty disappointing, but supplied the requisite Diet Coke, so I was happy!

 Lufthansa Flight 3421
Bucharest, Romania (OTP) to Munich, Germany (MUC)
Departure 13:15, Arrival 14:15, Flight Time: 2:00
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIPA, Manufactured 1989
Seat 2F

Service on this short flight was typical Lufthansa short-haul European business with a small snack/meal and plenty of good German bottled beer…I was more than happy!  Was met plane-side by a Mercedes and driven to the First Class Lounge for my 90 minute or so layover.  Had a great shower, the lounge took care of everything regarding check-in, and then drove me to the plane for my next flight.  This is how effortless transfers should be!  Too bad this only happens when you park at a remote stand.

Lufthansa Flight 424
Munich, Germany (MUC) to Boston, Logan (BOS)
Departure 15:50, Arrival 18:20, Flight Time: 8:30
Airbus A340-600, Registration D-AIHX, Manufactured 2009
Seat 2K

Again, nothing remarkable to say about this segment.  I was one of two passengers in first, and the amazing crew were perfectly attentive without being at all overbearing.  My idea of the perfect first flight, despite the fact they pushed me to have all four appetizers (caviar included) and I came home bigger than a beluga whale.  Oh well, this isn’t an every day experience, and I enjoyed it to the max!

US Airways Flight 2049
Boston, Logan (BOS) to Washington National (DCA)
Departure 20:00, Arrival 21:21, Flight Time: 1:21
Airbus A319, Registration N750UW, Manufactured 2000
Seat 2A

This is where things went south, and fast.  US Airways doesn’t do advance seating on the shuttle, but I’d confirmed 1C (the only aisle left) in Munich.  That was great, until I asked the ticket counter to reprint my boarding pass.  I asked if row 2 on the aisle had opened up, and she said “let me see.”  Well, she canceled my original seat before looking, and when it wasn’t…no aisle left.  Thus, I was stuck in a window.  Honestly not a big deal on the hour flight, but the way the agent dealt with it was the problem.  She blamed me for asking, and then actually said “if you don’t want me to try and help you, don’t tell me to!”  Uhhhh, yeah, that’s how you treat a first class passenger honey.  Coming off Lufthansa first, it was a bit jarring!

Flight itself was excellent, on-time, and a perfect end to a great trip.  US Airways just seriously needs to attitude-adjust their staff at Logan.  As a side note, when I asked for a supervisor, I was told “seats aren’t guaranteed – what do you want me to do about it!”  Uh, your agent made a mistake, at least nicely apologize, lol!

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