We were on the road by 9:00. It was Ukrainian Independence day, but we were advised to continue on our journey because most sights would be closed, and I was personally concerned about any divisiveness that might erupt.
As we neared the border with Moldova, the road signs began to read in Romanian in addition to Ukrainian.
I was both nervous and excited as we neared the crossing. A young Ukrainian in uniform asked for our passport and car documents. In just a few minutes we were through the gate, but I did not realize that it was only the first. We were directed to another line in which we sat for about an hour. We shared our passport with a couple different officials and I briefly opened the trunk, but otherwise no real inspection of the vehicle was conducted.
Upon finally interacting with the Moldovan officials, we learned that we were missing the ‘vignette’ needed to drive a vehicle in Moldova. I was directed into a nearby office, where I learned that they were unable to print a ‘vignette’ due to a machine malfunction. I continued to pace in this building, between the borders of Ukraine and Moldova, until they finally got the printer working about an hour later.
By the time we were in Moldova it was almost 1:00. I immediately thought that the scenery was distinct from Ukraine. The trees were well organized along the side of the road, and there were open fields in both directions as far as the eye could see. Very few homes surrounded the central road between the few cities that we encountered.
We had intended to visit two of Chase’s ancestral shtetls today, but given the new time constraints we only briefly drove through the first. Lipcani was the home of Chase’s great-great grandmother, Feiga Kushner. The town was only about ten minutes from the border. The homes were relatively old and the streets were significantly quieter than any we had seen in Ukraine. The Jewish cemetery had been burnt down by vandals only two years ago.
From Lipcani we continued our drive south to Balti. Unfortunately, Verizon doesn’t have a data plan in Moldova, so we had to rely on offline maps and couldn’t continue to play the Beatles- we are determined to listen to every Beatles album before our journey is over.
The Moldovan countryside was beautiful. Chase noted that one of his favorite parts of our journey has simply been witnessing the country on our drives.
We arrived in Balti about an hour and a half later.
Immediately we could tell that the vast majority of the city had been built during the Soviet era. Towering block-style buildings reigned over the city.
We tried futilely to find the apartment that we had arranged to stay in. After wasting a couple hours at a lunch that took too long to be served, and trying again to locate the apartment complex, we gave up and searched for another hotel. We happened upon ‘Hotel Balti’ near the center of town, where prices were even better than the apartment we had intended to stay in. The place was just about as Soviet as you can get, block-style and dim-lighted. Even our room looked like it had not been furnished since the Soviet era, but I sort of enjoyed the ambiance.
By then it was nearing the early evening, and we were determined to visit the Jewish cemetery before the sun went down.
At first, the cemetery looked to be relatively new, perhaps for the Jewish community that returned after the war. But after walking through rows of headstones we finally found what looked to be the old section, where Chase’s ancestors are likely buried. Chase’s great-grandfather, David Cabaret, was born in Balti and emigrated from there in the early 1920’s. It looked like the cemetery had been vandalized long ago, perhaps by the Nazis.
The view was similarly beautiful to those at Turka and Chernivtsi cemeteries.
We drove back to the hotel and then wondered around the city. In spite of its Soviet structure, there were still some nice monuments and pre-soviet buildings.
The city square was also pleasant and boasted a bustling night-life once the sun went down.
We sat down at a pub around 8:00 and enjoyed a pizza and a couple drinks. I finally managed to talk to dad. Afterwards we picked up a delicious cream-filled desert and then headed back to the hotel. I was asleep by 10:30.