3554 miles from Edinburgh.
The boys of the Myreside Motoring Company awoke early Tuesday morning so that we could fully explore all that Sofia had to offer and go through the now familiar daily routine of trying to find a shop that can fix AJ’s camera. The sky was over cast and foreboding, Sofia was a little dilapidated and disappointing, although we did find a rather nice little coffee shop for breakfast, only for AJ to put his feet right through one of the tables and had to leave swiftly.
After successfully finding a camera shop that had clearly been shut for years, we headed back to the hostel, said goodbye to the drunken landlady and our overly friendly Malaysian room mate and packed up the car. We fired up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on audiobook and prepared to leave, just in time as the rain had started. It was it this moment that a passing stranger pointed at our front right side. Assuming he was indicating the impressive list of countries we’d visited in the past 11 days Zack leaned out the window to explain, only to realise in horror that there was a large yellow clamp attached to the wheel. Various expletives were issued. AJ tried kicking the dashboard, neither method worked.
We headed back into the hostel once again to summon our drunk land lady. Luckily she had sobered up somewhat. Snatching the ticket from our hands she headed down the street in her dressing gown fashionably tucked into her briefs, in search of the warden. Head in hands we sat in the rain waiting. Eventually she returned, phoning the number on the ticket and moments later two Bulgarian chaps wheeled round the corner in a van. They removed the clamp for the very reasonable price of 30 lev (£12). Laughing this event off as cheap parking and soaking wet, we headed for Bucharest.
At this point the heavens properly opened. For the next 6 hours we drove first through the Bulgarian countryside then into Romania amidst flashes of lighting, and howling winds that attempted to persuade us off the road.
The highlight of this journey was when AJ nipped into a service station toilet only find it occupied. Apologising and asking if he was finished the man replied “Aye”. Curious, AJ inquired as to where this man was from.
“Bulgaria… But I live in Edinburgh”
Turns out this guy lived in Dalkeith. Stopping short of asking which school he attended, we chatted with him and his daughter about Scotland for a few minutes (outside of the toilet), took a quick selfy and headed on. It was all very serendipitous.
Bucharest was unconventional to put it mildly. Some very nice places mixed in with some really quite grim ones. Explored the city in the morning, visited a fountain, failed to find a camera shop, AJ narrowly avoided getting pummelled by a range rover and we headed off again.
Now the original target for that day had been Odessa-Ukraine. Anyone who follows the news however may be aware that there’s been a spot of bother in the country in general recently. Upon reaching the Moldovan/ Romanian border, a Romanian man took us under his wing. He explained at length to Zack while helping us negotiate the bureaucracy how we would be foolish to go into Urkaine, especially Odessa. We’d be robbed killed etc. Now while we certainly appreciated the mans help (as he spoke Russian and we do not), after an hour this had put the fear of death in us.
After describing us as like his children, he persuaded us to stay in Moldova for the evening rather than pushing onto Ukraine. First however we needed to buy a green card to get Zack’s passport back, which was being held hostage at the border. AJ was directed towards a series of small huts at the side of the road just past the border. Approaching them in the still pouring rain, a not unattractive women poked her head out and beckoned him inside. Upon entering the hut he saw a computer, a till and a bed. The woman was sat on the bed and indicated that he should do the same. Now bearing in mind that only minutes before the men at the border had been bragging about the value for money of Moldovan girls, alarm bells started to ring. Making the conscious decision to see how this panned out, he sat down on the bed.
Unfortunately at this point another much older woman entered the hut and it did genuinely turn out to be the place to buy insurance. This took 30 minutes as the two women had never even heard of the United Kingdom, never mind Scotland but eventually we had our green card, retrieved Zack’s Passport and were on our way to Chisinau.
Moldovan roads aren’t great. After 3 and half hours of gruelling snails pace pothole negotiation, MMC arrived in the city. Driving around looking for a hotel proved futile after an hour so we popped into McDonalds for some wifi, found a nice hotel two miles down the road, grabbed a McChicken sandwich and headed off again. Got lost, found another McDonalds, more wifi, were directed towards an alleyway by google maps and discovered that this hotel simply did not exist. We drove round for another hour in vain looking for it. By 12:30, we gave up. Heading back to McDonald’s now for the third time and found another hotel. To our immense relief they had a room left upon arrival.
So this morning after several espressos, we decided that to skip Ukraine entirely would be foolish. The spirit of this trip is an adventure and what adventure is complete without risk? We would head to Kiev, and from there head north into Russia, thus avoiding the badlands in the east. Setting out at the leisurely time of 1 o’clock, we headed up through Moldova towards Ukraine.
Now not many people may be aware that shortly after the end of the Soviet Union in 1990, a sizeable chunk of Moldova decided to separate from the rest of the country (look it up). Being the Economist enthusiast that he is, AJ did in fact know this and had just completely forgotten. The “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic” is not recognised by any other country and is therefore not really a place. In other words, breakdown here and nobody is coming to get you. After about an hour of driving through Moldova, we reached two military check points either side of a bridge and two Russian tanks loomed into view. “What the hell is this?” Zack asked. “Ah shit, this is Transnistria” replied AJ.
We approached the barbed wire in slight terror only to discover that the men guarding the border to this non place were extremely helpful. After merely 1 hour, 7 forms and 12 dollars, they decided to let us pass. For approximately 25 minutes we were driving through nowhere, along an empty road in the sunshine. To our great relief we reached the Ukrainian border without being thrown in a gulag.
The guards here were equally as friendly and marvelled at Sarah and the thought of us driving her to Mongolia. This must have been one of the quicker border crossings as we were only held up for 20 minutes. Safely entering our 20th country we headed north towards Kiev.
We are pleased to report that (Western) Ukraine is perfectly safe. We passed two military check points in the first hour and then continued unhindered for the rest of the journey. The most dangerous thing that happened to us was driving through a massive thunder storm in blinding rain.
So here we are safe and sound in Kiev. We’re having a day off tomorrow before pressing onto Russia on Saturday. 20 countries in 13 days is not bad effort, 5 more in 4 weeks should be easy…