The Travel Industry

Of course in times of recession & austerity people make cutbacks. They trim out the things they don’t really need in order to preserve their standard of living. The drop the expensive gym, the magazine subscription, the deluxe organic pet food and also regular foreign holidays.

Whereas travel agents used to advertise all the amazing offers they had to take a family of 4 to one of Balearics for 2 weeks – now they feel the need to remind us why we need holidays in the first place. Thomson’s latest advert makes a pretty decent stab at reminding us…


Travel Nostalgia

There was a time when travel was a reason for travelling. When planes and trains and automobiles represented adventure, drama, and daring. Its often with a heavy heart that I board the train for the daily 100mph 9 minute ride to next town. That commute has made trains boring. The same scenery, the goods yard, the 2 bridges, the junction, the tunnel, Bramford, Great Blakenham, Needham fishing lakes, Neeham Market, the malt factory, the lawnmower factory and then Stowmarket station.

I yearn for the day when getting on the train was a big deal – when I was little my Nan and I would catch the train to Felixtowe, a 20 minute journey to the seaside. It cost her £1.25 for her 40p for me. Bargain. I was on one occasion allowed to ride up in the drivers cab and actually pull the lever that made the train go forward! Yes, an 8 year old boy drove a passenger train from Ipswich to Felixtowe.

Anyway, I was randomly browsing youtube for anything nostalgic to share, and I happened across this glorious piece of government propaganda for the former state monopoly railway company. You can tell its propaganda because it contains industrial imagery, glorious scenery and economic activity designed to remind people that we’re still a pretty respectable little country. Magnificent also because it conjured up that special little feeling of excitement, adventure and wonder that perhaps only children can truly experience.

The Big Moldova Blog – Part 8: Two Days for the Price of One [Warning: contains pictures of butchered pigs]

Because I’m a sucker for a bit of adventure – I met Alex at half 5 in the morning outside the school to head for the meat market in Chisinau. I like the mornings but because of my chronic laziness I rarely get to experience a sunrise – so as the bus climbed out of the valley I saw the sun rise over the hills and it was beautiful.

Regretfully I only had my iPhone to rely on for imaging – drat.

Sunrise over Trebujeni

The bus ride cost about 19 LEI, just over £1 – for a journey of over an hour. A return from Norwich Railways Station to the University of East Anglia cost me £4.40 for a return journey of about 2 miles – it makes me spit. Spit.

Alex and I talked at length about a bunch of stuff in a desperate attempt to stay awake – sitting is a bad policy when you’ve only had like 4 hours sleep.

We arrived in the capital and headed for the Piața (market). There were several meat markets in the complex of stalls and buildings and we went into one recommended by the school principal (who had some shopping to do herself). Now the butchers is rather unlike the butchers back home, people were slinging pig and other carcasses around. It was clean and the meat was fresh, but I don’t think I’d really want to touch the banknotes that were moist with pig ‘juice’ again. Hand sanitiser to the rescue – Alex was well prepared.

Not quite the same at my local butchers, but interesting nevertheless

Our pork legs are prepared

Now the cook had given us a list of the meat she wanted – as we (i.e Alex) ordered it we started to think that perhaps we were ordering rather a large and unaffordable quantity – 45 pork chops, 2 entire pork legs, 4 kilos of diced pork and 4 kilos of minced beef. The total wasn’t shy of a hundred pounds (sterling) and we had to hurriedly go to a bureau-de-change so I could convert a few more Euros to LEI. Even then we couldn’t afford the bill and Alex had to fess up to the butcher that we would only be taking 23 pork chops. The butcher was not best pleased.

Alex preparing to talk to the butcher.

Once we’d paid and were handed the meat we were then definitely sure that the cook had over-ordered – perhaps confusing lbs with kilos. In any case it was f**cking heavy and contained only in plastic bags which meant more delightful pig juice on our hands, tshirts, shorts etc. Delightful.

Loaded all the meat onto the back of the bus and we went back to Trebujeni, not forgetting an enormous hill to carry the pretty much whole dead pig up – I promptly had a nap – and it was only 10 in the morning!

There was still a fair amount of work to be done including the grand moving of the septic tank into the hole.

Many hands make light work...

John created an enormous lever contraption to lower the septic tank into the 35 foot hole – pretty impressive!

Daring trapeze artist...

The Big Moldova Blog – Part 7: The Real Work Begins

So to recap.

We drove along way. We’re in Moldova, the coach full of everyone else got lost but was rescued by the Peace Corps.

Anyway – after staying up late to wait for the coach I was completely knackered I decided to have a lay in. For this I was roundly ridiculed as everyone was up at about 6 or something absurd like that. Masochists.

The task that awaited me was digging and shovelling – lots and lots of digging and shovelling. Why? Well because the drainage ditch that we’d filled with large stones earlier needed to be levelled off at a constant 1 in 40 downhill gradient.

Engineers Level

I hung around John (the architect/engineer) and tried to figure out how to use this neat looking contraption. When I finally figured out what he was doing I was quite pleased with myself.

The result of careful measurements... my beautiful pea-grit ditch

During the day Alex sidled up and asked me if I wanted to go on an adventure – I did, so she explained that I was required to meet her at 5.30am to go to Chisinau on the bus for meat. Buying meat is not usually an adventure, but I thought it would be cool to tag along as I’m really keen to see more of this amazing country than just a school, which, frankly could be anywhere.

In the evening I led a raiding party to the local shop for beer and snacks, pleased with myself for being the guy in-the-know 🙂 A little bit of status at last!

The Big Moldova Blog – Part 6: Day Number One

Right I’m back on the Moldova blogging wagon.

Turns out that the lovely ditch needed filling with rather large and heavy stones – so we cracked on with that – oh and by the way the stones that the mayor kindly donated were both too large and too small and needed to be separated, Andy helped out and we invented a system of shaking the larger stones to the bottom thus making the entire task much easier and felt particularly pleased with our ingenuity (I think it might be a man thing, but we feel very pleased with ourselves when we solve simple caveman like practical problems) – didn’t make it any cooler though at well over 35 degrees.

Piles of sand and stones to be moved. Hurray.

When we got bored of that we went inside and tried to strip out the vile communistical (that’s not actually a word, but I like the way it sounds) flooring in the to-be community room. The ground underneath was covered in mould – that was actually quite pretty – and the flooring was extremely heavy. Like totally unreasonably heavy, Lord knows what it was made of.

By this point I appear to have made friends with Alex and Andy, which is good for bilateral relations. Either this or, in a stunningly apt allegory of reality, I’ve imprinted onto them like a baby duck (who doesn’t have an empire anymore and isn’t sure what to do). Anyway – they’re super-nice, and they’re willing to use their brains and brawn for the benefit of the project. Their translation skills saved our bacon during the first day. Not only that but they led a rescue mission to find the coach that had gotten hopelessly lost in the dark. Americans to the rescue – another allegory.

Andy and Alex on the left. Painting the community room (Amy and Micheala are on the right).

The Big Moldova Blog – Part 5: Arriving at the School

We arrived at the site and it turned out that US Aid have already installed some fancy new double glazed windows – that’ll probably really help with insulation during the harsh winter months where the temperature can drop below -25c. Alan and John arrived a day or so early in Alan’s camper-van so work has already begun. They’d arranged for a concrete plinth to be poured to form a base where the showers are to be installed and a digger had dug a trench from the side of the building to the area where the septic pit and grey-water soak-away will be installed.

The trench had been dug by a digger before we'd arrived which was very handy

We spent the first evening tearing out the rotten skirting boards in the two bathrooms and coating the walls with unibond to prepare them for tiling later on. Afterwards we met up with four Americans; Hayley (which must be a boy’s name in America), Jessica, Andy and Alex from the Peace Corps who were living in Moldova for a couple of years to do things like health education and business development. They were a really nice bunch who helped us to settle down on the first evening and we went down to one of the local shops (magazine) to buy some beer called White Bear, as it had a picture of a polar bear on the front the drinking was referred to a slaughtering a polar bear. Nice.

A corridor.

The ablution facilities - oddly, they didn't really smell. Which was a relief.

The shower room to be


The Big Moldova Blog – Part 4: Moldova at last

The following morning we made our way south to the freight border and got really rather low on fuel – there were plenty of filling stations but BT pay for our fuel via DKV card and we didn’t want to buy 600 litres of fuel on our own credit cards. The fuel situation got so bad that we had to stop in a little village and barter for a piece of hose to syphon some diesel from lorry to get the van at least to the Moldovan border.

Job complete, but filthy with diesel we headed for the border, we crossed out of Romania and into no mans land, we saw a border sign that signified the end of the EU – here there be dragons!

Entering no mans land between Romania and Moldova

Immigration control in Moldova

As the lorry needed to clear freight again we waited just outside the Moldovan border checkpoint. NB do not hang around in a white van near a customs checkpoint – it looks incredibly suspicious. Inevitably we attached the attention of some Moldovan guards with disproportionately large hats and particularly rigid gold epaulettes.

You drive 2000 miles and the mobile phone company is exactly the same

As the driver, Kelvin had to go and pay a ‘fee’ to the customs officials and we were through! This was good because I have no desire to be banged up in some Moldovan jail somewhere for the next 50 years.

The lorries weren’t through though and so I slept in cab for a couple of hours. The large lorry was eventually cleared and so we drove to the nearest petrol station. We then went back to the border as we’d gotten out of radio range with the small lorry, oddly we managed to cross back across the border on foot because the customs office had an open door, we wondered across a few times for fun, then found a small bureau-de-change, got some Lei and went back to the petrol station – leaving the little lorry there to wait. It would be waiting for some time!

We headed for Chisinau and were treated to a nice communist looking sign on the M1, and some rather nice scenery.

The roadmap of Moldova - Trebujeni is on the top left circled

A really nice long straight road. I think this is the M2.

Nice communistical style sign.

The Big Moldova Blog – Part 3: Hungary/Romania

The E30 - mental overtaking

There were a rather a large number of hookers on the E30 through Hungary, which the lorry drivers insisted on honking at – and as all the villages looked the same we started to wonder if we were really making any progress or whether we had simply gone insane. Phill got cabin fever and went mad whilst we tried to convince Kelvin who was driving that perhaps overtaking on a single carriageway was not a particularly good idea. We gave in when we got stuck behind a horse and cart – we didn’t want the lorry to get too far ahead as we didn’t have a sat nav!

Every damn village looked exactly the same - church/road/house - house/church/road

Made it to the Romanian border which as an EU border was quite easy to get through – they did look a little bit menacing though and the lorry got stuck over some rediculous made-up rule about something or other – the driver of that lorry paid a ‘fine’ (ie bribe (ie demanding money with menaces)) and were let through.

The Hungarian/Romanian border - a little bit of money required to grease the wheels

Onto the Hotel Iris where a welcome shower and hot meal greeted us. We were however served up a weirdly flat breast of chicken that might well have been road kill.

The room was clean and the bed was comfortable and after a magnificent Ursa beer (The Bear) it was straight to bed for the best sleep of my entire life. The day after we had a reasonably nice breakfast, although Kelvin asked for cereal and was served it with warm milk which he didn’t much like – I ordered a continental breakfast and was given essentially two very sweet brioche rolls. Odd, but welcome.

Margaret - the grey haired lady with the purple dress.

We first went to see an English lady called Margaret – who ran a project to get Romanian travellers to switch from begging to making crafts using hand weaving and she lived in an amazing little cottage where she drew water from a well – it was basic but incredibly quiet, peaceful and serene. I bought Ros a weaved bag with button which I’m sure she’ll drool over when I get back.

Margaret's garden - a beautiful shady sanctuary

A butterfly on a marigold

The hand loom used to create the bag for Ros

The Big Moldova Blog – Part 2: The 39 hour haul

So we’re on the road on the continent and thus begins the great 40 hour sleepless haul to Romania where we are promised food and a cold beer – and even the possibility of Wi-Fi. This means traversing Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary and about 5 miles of Romania.

This is a long way.

At around 17:30 we got stuck in a traffic jam on the Brussels ring road and viaduct and then again near Luiz – turns out that they have the same problems that we do, just on the other side of the road! They also have potholes and endless roadworks – another myth dispelled.

Workers in the Road - bad news is obvious in any language - the birdshit stain is on the windscreen and was not and 5 foot lump of poo on the roadsign produce by a 54 foot wide seagull. I hate seagulls anyway though.

I look took over the driving again at around 8pm just before Aachen and the German border. Drove my shift of about 250km to Warzberg. Saw Frankfurt airport and the new KPMG building which was pretty amazing.

The German border - again, no stopping and no stamp

Whilst driving on the autobahn couldn’t get away from a town called Ausfart, every few kilometres (yes kilometres – when in Rome etc) there was an arrow with ‘Ausfart’ printed next to it. Bloody big place Ausfart we thought – but this turned out to be the german word for ‘exit’. Stopped at the worst smelling truck stop where the ground was covered in piss and a couple of inches of shit – owing to a 0.70c charge to use the toilet. Decided that I’d pay the charge and had a nice wee.

Just after 07:00 I continued driving and entered Austria, stopped off for a €7 road tax disc, the lorry had to pay over €200 for something called a go-box- the heavens opened and it rained all the way through Austria – ruining our view of what was probably a really pretty looking country. I was extremely tired and so we switched drivers just after Wein in the afternoon.

The Austrian border. No stopping and no stamp

I had a nap and woke up on the Hungarian border. Stopped off at a really nice looking service station that didn’t stink of piss. Resisted the temptation to buy some rather tasty looking salami and salad sandwiches – paid 0.50c for the toilet -it seems that they’re getting cheaper after peaking in Austria. The quality was outstanding, automatic sliding doors, mood lighting, fresh cut flowers and relaxing music. Weird. Turns out that they have Dyson hand dryers in Hungary. Good tech travels far.

Incidentally, when we passed through the Hungarian border the sign said ‘Magyar’ as we were all a bit delirious by this point there was a small debate about exactly what country Magyar might be. My geography skills are pretty reasonable and I know my EU countries and I was damn sure Magyar wasn’t one of them. Turns out of course that Magyar is the Hungarian word for Hungary? I wonder if it annoys them that everyone else calls their country something completely different to its actual name?

The Magyar (aka Hungarian) border. No stopping. No stamp.