|Posted on March 17, 2012 at 2:35 PM|
Hotel Altin Palace, Comrat, Republic of Moldova, March 17, 2012 20.54
It always amazes me how hotels arbitrarily add the word 'Palace' to their names. This conjures images of golden staircases or pseudo-greek statues at the entrance, to say the very least. Altin Palace fails on both these counts, but given its surroundings in Comrat, I suppose it could be considered an oasis. They have wifi, which is a considerable achievement in rural Moldova.
It is my third time in Moldova and I have a link with this country because I consider that my real era of becoming an adventurer started, back in July 2000, with a flight into Chisinau. I had already been to places like Vietnam and done most of the Balkans, but choosing to visit Moldova was really weird, and on that plane there was no doubt I was the only tourist. From Moldova, my travel programme back then really exploded and I ended up where I am now. In the 12 years since then, nothing much has changed here. Chisinau is still one main street essentially, the people still look drab and destitute, and the country ranks a dismally low 111 on the Human Development Index, by far the lowest in Europe, one position above the Philippines for goodness sake. Coming here always breaks my heart because these people are European, and so close to the rest of the continent geographically, but so far in every other way. Horse-drawn carts abound. The roads have holes that make the ride 'interesting' for your ass and your heartbeat. And today I also noticed there were no cars on the road. I suppose gas is too expensive for them.
I considered for a moment whether it was worth the investment leaving my bag at Chisinau bus station and taking just the mere essentials with me. Until I realised that the investment in question was 60 cents of a euro. The bus ride to Comrat, 92 kilometers south, cost 2 euros. This is the place to stock up on goods. Buy enough toothpaste, deodorant and crappy snacks and the price difference will be your airticket here. But why would you want to come to share the underlying sense of misery? The government tries, however. Patriotic billboards with notices 'I am a citizen of Moldova and proud of it' are supposed to instill a sense of what, exactly? When the city is full of half-torn notices of how to get to the United States. And the United States must seem so very far from here.
Comrat is another dimension. It is the 'capital' of the autonomous republic of Gagauzia which owes its existence to the fact that Turkic-speaking peoples live here. Arriving here I quickly realised that this is a 5-minuted town and the sites end at the local church (they are supposed to be muslim but I couldn't find a mosque). I opted to stay here as the hotel would be cheaper and two visits to Chisinau in the past have more than done justice to that city. There is a small park here which takes you back to the Soviet Union. While Romanian is supposed to be the official language of Moldova, this might as well be Russia central. Many people don't even speak Romanian, it seems, and in the hotel the one girl who did had to translate to the woman in charge of making the bed. They were not expecting guests at the hotel, it appears, let alone one from Greece.
I negotiated hard for my rate, which ended up at 33 euros (500 moldovan lei) for a very decent double bed, wifi, breakfast (I await this with glee tomorrow morning), a modern glitzy bathroom and a TV. The room did not have a TV when I entered, but in Moldova that can be remedied. Shortly after, a man carrying a TV in his hands came along and installed it in the room. My hopes of practising Romanian, however, were ambitious. This is Russia central for sure and even the remote is set to Russian. Given that is where I am heading on Monday, this is useful psychological preparation. After all, Russia, just like Brazil or China, is one of those insulated places where any notion of a world beyond the border is clearly not possible.
The little twist in Comrat is that the local flag, an appealing three colour blue, white and red with some stars, waves along to the Moldovan one and that all institutions are named in three languages - the formal Romanian, which nobody uses, the Russian, which everybody uses, and Turkish, which is a colourful reason to attempt to have an identity. There is an Ataturk library, I wonder what books they have there, and in a small park with busts of important people all nations are honoured. You get Mihail Eminescu, Pushkin and...Suleiman Demirel of all people. In the background, the name 'Comrat University' is in Turkish, and presumably they study the language there (maybe), but that is as far as the connection goes and I doubt that the uni has exchange programmes to worldly institutions, though the anthropoiogical value of this place could be intriguing to the truly offbeat researcher. Most people look like a hotel costing 33 euros is a palatial dream, though there were some very fine looking BMW's in front of the hotel. No wonder the hotel has the name it does. Everything in life is, after all, entirely relative.