I'm starting to really warm to Moldova. The people, the culture, the city, even the weather. However, there is one thing that I'm not sure I will ever get used to - the public transport.
There are several ways to travel around the city. The cheapest (and my most preferred method) is by trolleybus. A single trip on the trolley costs 2 Moldovan Lei (about 10p) and in my opinion, it's the comfiest way of getting around. They're pretty shabby and can be freezing at this time of the year because it would appear that the seals on the windows and doors haven't been replaced since the fall of the USSR, but all in all they're good value for money, especially if there's a heated debate onboard. Unlike buses in the UK, you don't get on and pay the driver, rather a kind of conductor comes along and takes your 2 lei and gives you a wee ticket. However, there are still people who believe that they shouldn't have to pay and it's not uncommon to see a full-scale battle on the bus. This has happened to me only once.....
|A trolleybus on the street where our office is|
The last time I did this was a couple of weeks ago at the end of the working week. When it came around to Monday morning again, I followed my usual routine of getting on, punching my ticket and then floating off to another world of humour with the Radio 4 News Quiz on my iPod (a must for all comedy fans by the way - get the podcast weekly here). But what's this? A conductor on the number 3? Yep, they'd decided to do away with the previously life-threatening manner of distributing tickets (had Ian Marchant been in touch?) and reverted back to the normal way. I showed the conductress that I'd stamped my ticket and she nodded and was on her way. It wasn't until the next night on my way home that I had gone through the same motions and when the conductor came to collect my cash, I showed him my ticket. He said that this method had stopped the previous week and that I would have to give him another 2 lei to buy a proper ticket. Not wishing to do any such thing, I refused and explained that I had paid for these tickets previously and would he kindly be on his way. He didn't budge. Ears were pricking up and I was starting to receive interested glances (more than usual which is another thing you get used to as a foreigner in Moldova) from my fellow passengers and so I came to realise that I couldn't back down. I continued to debate with the conductor that I had paid 2 lei last week for this ticket to the same transport authority and would not be paying the fare again. This went on for a couple of minutes before he (thankfully) realised he was fighting a losing battle and could not physically remove me from the bus (he was a wee lad and even if he wanted to, he'd have to push me through a packed crowd who by this time were well and truly on my side judging by the positive nods, grunts and occasional cheers). Victory was mine and justice had been served. It was a real moment of triumph. Then, in typical Moldovan trolleybus style, the rods on top of the bus slipped from the electrical cables, leaving us in cold, dark and stillness so we had to get off the bus and wait for the next one and.....of course, pay another 2 lei to travel on it.
|On a chilly and busy Chisinau trolley bus|
If you've read Tony Hawk's book Playing The Moldovans At Tennis, you might remember him talking about his first experience on a marshrutka. He talks about getting on, handing over his fare to the driver as he takes off at breakneck speed (see the aforementioned number 3 trolleybus driver) and then slowly getting pushed to the back of the vehicle. On stagecoach buses in the UK, drivers (usually) strictly adhere to the guidelines of sitting and standing passengers. The marshrutka buses are all privately owned and as a result, there are no such guidelines. In fact, they will cram as many people as possible onto these buses. I have seen marshrutkas whizzing by with arms out of windows, faces pushed up to the glass and even a line of backsides lined up along the front windscreen. People push, shove, grumble, groan, grope, grab, complain, lean, need help with hygiene and personal boundary issues and generally are miserable on marshrutkas.
|A line of marshrutkas in Chisinau|
So hopefully this gives you an idea of how best to get around in Chisinau. Trams are a thing of the past (hear that, Edinburgh City Council??) and gondola cable cars have been banished with the Soviet era (although the stations and cable towers can still be seen rotting in the city parks) so we're stuck with the above-mentioned methods, and I for one am happy with them. Well, the trolleybus anyway.