Saturday, 16 March 2013
Day 294 – The last visa. (Moldovan visa, Romania)
We really enjoyed our time driving through the Romanian countryside, and it certainly feels as if there’s a lot more to see and do there than we managed to fit in. Romania is certainly one of the countries we would all love to revisit with a bit more time on our hands and have the chance to do the country a bit more justice. Adapting to our surroundings yet again though, as was easily second nature by this point in the trip, we dove into city life and immersed ourselves in the sights and sounds of Romania’s exciting capital city. Bucharest’s old town is beautiful and even though everything was quiet and things were shut over winter, we could just imagine how lively and exciting the cobble-stoned streets would be during the summer months. The narrow streets are lined with stately old buildings which house a selection of quirky bars, trendy shops, hearty take-away food places and high class restaurants.
Having finally, and seemingly against all odds, managed to get Ben a Ukrainian visa, we now needed to get Ben and Tunkles Moldovan visas (Denner and I being holders of British passports don’t need visas for either Ukraine or Moldova). According to the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website the embassy in Bucharest should be able to issue visas in one day to Australians with no supporting documents other than a hotel booking for a fee of €60, but having racked up a substantial amount of experience with embassies over the past few months, we knew that while this might be a handy guideline it was pretty unlikely to paint a true picture of what we’d be faced with when we reached the embassy in person. We easily found our way to the given address which was surprisingly exactly where the website said it would be (this is very unusual) and Denner, Dee and I went wandering around the very Soviet-style suburb while we waited.
At the end of the street was a magnificent example of some sort of Communist government building with the typical vast empty car park out the front, wide symmetrical concrete stairs surrounded by murals depicting scenes from the era, leading up to the towering monument that stands in front of the perfectly symmetrical, cement square building as a testament to the power of the people under communism. There wasn’t really anything else to do around there, so we got sachet hot chocolates from a tiny corner store and headed back towards the embassy.
As we were making our way back we spotted Ben and Tunkles walking very purposefully away from the embassy. We called out and they turned around and acknowledged us, but continued to power walk away from us. We followed, discussing what might be going on. Power walking was definitely a good sign – if they’d been flatly denied the visas they wouldn’t be power walking anywhere. They probably just had to go and do some fake photo-copying or visit someone in a different office or make a payment somewhere. Sure enough we followed them right into a bank where we caught up and were able to get the full story.
There was a small guard post at the front of the rundown building, but just addressing the policeman in English was enough of a passport to be allowed entry into the embassy. The front door was opened by a tired looking man who brought them into a tiny waiting room where there was barely enough space for the three of them to stand. The building was basically just a house, gutted and left to dilapidate. Paint was peeling off the walls and there weren’t any computers or desk chairs; just a few chipped laminex tables. The tired man was very quick and dismissive; maybe he couldn’t be bothered with Ben and Tom, or maybe he simply had something more interesting to do. As soon as it was established that they were there to apply for visas they were thrust a sheet of paper and instructed to cross the road and take this document to the bank to pay. They handed over the required one night hotel booking they’d made, but he was less than interested. Ben was quite concerned about the fact that his passport was entirely full bar one full page, an issue which had caused no end of problems in obtaining a Ukrainian visa (Blog The Ukrainian Visa Saga, by Benjamin Andrew Crowley), but their unexcitable host couldn’t have cared less and just told them to go and pay. And this is when we spotted them power walking to the bank.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website had been very specific about the payment that should be made. A 14 day tourist visa for Australians should cost €60 and no other amount should be paid to any Moldovan embassy. Well these slips that Ben and Tom had been instructed to take to the bank had a title in Romanian, the address of the embassy, then a place where “Benjamin Crowley” and “Thomas Unkles” were hand-written, and then there were two bank account numbers. Next to one bank account number it read “€60” (the true fee for the visa they were applying for) and underneath it was “€5” written next to the other bank account number.
We have prided ourselves all along this trip on not giving into giving up money for bribes on the many occasions that we have been asked to. We have avoided paying bribes at border crossings, police checks and random police pull-overs, but when it comes to paying for visas we pay what is asked. If we refuse to pay off a policeman who has made up a fake rule that we didn’t break and is trying to “charge” us for it, if we stand our ground for long enough (usually not that long, but sometimes it’s a battle) they will eventually give up. They’ll realise that they’re wasting their time on us and could be getting bribes out of other people, and as none of the allegations that we’ve been faced with have been remotely truthful they have no recourse. Essentially we have the upper hand (assuming and of course hoping that they won’t resort to violence or arrest us just to make a point – which never happened to us). If we refuse to pay a “fee” placed on top of the legitimate price of a visa though, they can just not give us the visa. They don’t have to give it us if they don’t want and if we make them unhappy they won’t want. And in this case they have the upper hand. This is a theory that we have based this whole trip on and I would swear by it.
So they paid their extra €5 each, returned to the embassy with their receipts and were told to return at 4pm. That we did, at which point they realised that he hadn’t even looked at their passports during the day, so he quickly put the visa stickers through the printer and stuck them in their passports. Their personal details were actually typed which is more professional than some of the visas we’ve got, but the sticker itself is amusingly amateur looking. The word “visa” is written at the top of the sticker, in the sort of word art font that reminds me of a school project from the 90’s. It was a great relief though – for a couple of weeks there it looked as if Ben’s full passport might prevent us from getting to Moldova and Ukraine, but we’d got the visas and were on our way.
Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the Peasant Museum after all, but we did manage to squeeze in a visit to the Village Museum. Allegedly the largest of its kind in Europe, the 30 acre block in Herestrau Park is home to a wide selection of traditional buildings that have been carefully disassembled in regions all over Romania, and re-built in the museum to recreate a village which represents traditional living throughout the entire country. The collection of buildings mainly consisted of houses, but there was also a lovely wooden church, a small school, a couple of old-fashioned windmills and a few open air workshops. As far as we could tell we were the only visitors there at the time which made the snow-covered lake-side village experience all the more serene. We were a little disappointed though that we couldn’t go inside any of the buildings as we’d thought from everything that we’d read about the place that that would be part of it, but regardless it was a great experience.