Remember we used to travel by plane? Crossing continents and time zones. Slogging our sleep-deprived bodies through airports, our minds foggy and disoriented. Getting totally wasted and jet lagged. Remember? How we hated it. How we now wish we could get on a plane right this minute and GO SOMEWHERE! Who cares about jet lag?
All right, here’s a woozy little tale of one of my expat travel experiences, you know, anno sometime Before Covid.
So, one day . . .
I wake up in my bed in the USA and before I ever see a bed again it’s the evening of the next day and I’m on another continent sitting in a restaurant, sleep deprived, drooping, discombobulated. Flurries of a foreign language float in the air. Where am I? I’m vaguely aware of seeing a bare-breasted nymph frolicking on top of a barrel of grapes. What?
I’m in a hotel restaurant in Chișinău, the capital of the Republic of Moldova in Eastern Europe. I’m having dinner with my spouse and a Very Important Local Person. (My husband arrived in the country a few weeks ago to start a new job.) The two of them are talking business, which is good because I don’t have to and I can let my foggy brain be foggy all it wants. I’ll just smile and look
vacant mysterious. I’m wondering what happened to the half-naked nymph I thought I saw. Was I hallucinating?
What’s happening to my brain?
How many hours ago did I wake up in West Virginia, USA? Thirty. Thirty hours, filled with a) frantic house cleaning, b) a sleepless-across-the ocean-flight to Munich, Germany, and another one to Chișinău, Moldova, c) checking into this hotel and unpacking a little, and 4) a leaden-leg stagger around the centru of town with an exploratory visit to a supermarket, followed by 5) showering and finding dinner. (Actually, this is a picnic compared to a trip I once made from Amsterdam to Jakarta, Indonesia, alone with two small children, but never mind.)
I try to clear my woozy brain and take stock of my surroundings. The hotel restaurant is pleasant enough in its bland internationally generic way: white table cloths, gleaming silverware, candles. The menu too is full of internationally generic dishes. A generically pretty waitress approaches our table to take our orders. She sports a black mini skirt, a snazzy pin-striped vest over a white blouse and a sexy ponytail. I’m sure you’ve seen her around.
I order a glass of wine
Yes, I hear your collective groans from the far corners of the world. I know, it’s probably the worst thing to do in my unstable state of mind, but the hell with it, I want it. I choose a merlot from the selection offered. “Is it Moldovan?” I ask.
“Of course!” says she of the sexy ponytail. “It’s very good,” she adds proudly.
“Fantastic,” I say.
“What next?” she demands, pen at a-ready.
Oh, okay, I’m supposed to order the first course even before my preprandial drink? “I’ll have a green salad,” I tell her, going for the most generic one on the menu; please don’t judge me.
She writes it down. “What next?”
Efficient, aren’t we? Get the whole order down in one trip. Fortunately I’ve already decided to do the unthinkable: Order the fish. Here. In Moldova, a landlocked country awash in pork and chicken and lamb. I know, I know, but I ask you, what is life without a little (or a lot) of risk? Anyway, I’m probably dreaming this whole scenario and soon I’ll wake up in my American bed.
The thing is . . .
I’m a fish eater (omega 3 fatty acids and all that) and my worries about living here, apart from the condition of my future Moldovan mattress (see this mattress madness post) is the Moldovan fish situation. Mattresses and fish, we all have our worries, don’t we? Go ahead, tell me yours.
The menu offers sea bream. “Where does the fish come from?” I inquire. “The Black Sea?” Landlocked as Moldova may be, the sea is not far, across a tiny strip of Ukraine. I looked this up some time ago, I think. Did I?
Miss Ponytail is not sure. “The Baltic maybe,” she suggests. The Baltic is quite a distance away up north, but what do I know of commerce and transport and food business? Not much. Earlier in the supermarket I saw the fish on display, reposing on a bed of ice, looking fabulous — or at least as fabulous as dead fish can look. It gave me hope.
The wine arrives and I am happy to report here that it is perfectly nice, which is all the wine vocabulary I can muster at this moment, which is shameful for a writer, I know.
Can my jet-lagged, woozy, merlot-infused brain look into the future?
If so, I would know that soon I will go on wine tours, and discover, deep in an ancient wine cave, a stash of bottles owned by . . . Putin. I mean, how cool is that?
However, unaware of future Moldovan adventures, I sip and enjoy my wine, and watch as two tall, skinny girls with long flowing hair, dressed in long, black party dresses (très chic) enter the restaurant. One sits down at the piano, the other positions under her chin the violin she was carrying. Live music!
Now check this out . . .
It’s beginning to look like this restaurant is not quite as generic as my first impression had indicated. Glancing around, I catch sight of a huge painting of a sort not found in American family-friendly restaurants. It’s full of shocking images: Half naked people! Bare breasts!
The painting lives high up on a wall and depicts a decadent grape harvest festival, possibly of a pre-christian Moldovan era. A bare-breasted nymph frolics on top of a barrel full of grapes. (There she is!) A party of grape-leaf decorated workers in semi-undress dance around the barrel, breasts a-flopping and hair a-flowing. Muscular male backs and buttocks gleam in the sunlight, and all faces glow delirious with joy. Nearby another sexy maiden lounges seductively against a pillar, one full breast perkily on display. Frivolity and debauchery all around. One can imagine what is happening in the bushes.
Where am I?
Clearly not in the USA, where I last woke up, and where, now that I think about it, I forgot to clean my oven. I’m in Moldova, a wine country in Eastern Europe. I should be in bed, but instead I am in a restaurant, drinking wine.
My salad consumed, the fish arrives, tail and eyeballs and all. Fortunately I’ve been around a bit and have seen – if not eaten – many a fish eyeball. The grilled swimmer is tastefully arranged on a plate with lettuce and red cabbage. I dig in and rejoice to find that the sea bream is meaty and tasty, if slightly overcooked. But I am not complaining since here is proof there is more than canned sardines in my future. Canned sardines, as many of you expats and travelers will know, can be found in most nooks and crannies of the globe along with Coca Cola and Nescafé instant coffee.
What am I doing here?
I’m feeling rather surreal sitting here so far away from my American bed and uncleaned oven, eating fish in a landlocked country, listening to the Moldovan musical maidens playing a tune from West Side Story: Somewhere there’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us . . .
First place I want to be in now is my hotel bed; tomorrow I’ll go house hunting because we’ll be living here for a while. Let’s hope there is a place for us, somewhere a place for us, here in Moldova.
Then I’ll know where I am.
* * *
Do you have a jet lag story? A moving-to-alien-shores story? I’d love to hear your tales!
I actually quite like having jetlag, that zombie state is quite comforting. Wish I could have some soon!
I know I’m very late to the post, but I’m really looking forward to reading your views on Moldova. While I haven’t lived there, I’ve spent over a month there, and it is my favorite of the 17 or so countries I’ve spent any significant time in. It gets beat up a lot by tourists, but if you open yourself up to it and let it reveal itself, it is an amazing place!
Hi Andrew. We lived in Moldova for a 1 1/2 years. It was a nice, safe place. I don’t write informational type travel content, but personal “mis”adventures. Here are a couple more stories:
Expat in Moldova: Deceived by First Impressions https://lifeintheexpatlane.com/?p=847
Expat Housing: How to bond with your Bidet https://lifeintheexpatlane.com/?p=871
Expat Trouble: Barefoot and Phone-less https://lifeintheexpatlane.com/?p=1362
Hope my tales are entertaining if not enlightening 😉
Most definitely what I am looking for!! My fiancé is from Chisinau, so the more humorous aspects are exactly what I want! Definitely loving your blog so far; started at the first post and read each up to this point!
Was that the actual photo of your fish? Glad to see they have red cabbage like the Danes. From a can? Anyway, I wondered why you ordered fish after seeing the map of Moldova. Just a jump over the Ukraine to get to the Baltic Sea. Did you find a place to rent? I hope so. Sonia.
Yes, that was the photo of my actual plate. And red cabbage is here for sale fresh by the truck load, as is white cabbage and red beets.
Looks like a pretty good start! Good luck with the hunt! Can’t wait to see what you find!
It is a law of economics that the further food has to be transported, the better cut is usually is. It has something to do with the cost effectiveness of transporting quality and then being able to sell it. So, your fish was prabably the best, even better than at a Baltic Port. Speaking of naked paintings, my hometwon of Montesano, Washington, USA, has a grand old courthouse. High above in a courtroom is a mural of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden. One day the judge looked up and finally noticed an exposed breast on Eve.… Read more »
Loved your story about the prude judge! He’d better not make a trip to Europe, go to museums, or watch TV!
This post made me very happy. How well you’ve described landing in a new place! I have lots of jetlag and new arrival stories myself; some happier than others.
Welcome to your new home! I’m so looking forward to reading all about it!
Well, besides the normal jetlag, it sounds like you had a very nice start with good local wine, fish from the Baltic or maybe the Black Sea, live music and … art! 😀
Good luck with the house hunting!!
Sounds like a very good start to your life there to me! Have a good sleep and then tell us lots more, please!
Miss F: glad to hear that you and Mr. F have arrived in Moldova, and good luck with house hunting.
New years eve 2009. I had left Bali and boyfriend 2 days previous and was terribly jetlagged and not happy being where I was: back in the Netherlands. So I decided to sleep and I did: through the countdown at midnight, briefly waking up thanks to the fireworks and closing my eyes again straight away. Dullest new year of my life but I didn’t care: I only wanted to sleep!
Good luck in Latvia. Ah, the joys of travel. At least we’re not doing it on the back of donkeys or camels!
One forgets between journeys that feeling of being jet-lagged between two countries you described so well. I suppose it’s like childbirth. The traveler blocks out the pain after the fact.
Don’t know if I should thank you or not for reminding me what’s in store for us at the end of May when we take off for Latvia.
Glad the fish and wine were good. This is crucial. Looking forward to hearing your Moldova tales. Happy house-hunting.
Good luck with the house hunting. Everything must seem really strange for you. We’re really looking forward to reading your Moldova posts. It’s not a country we know a lot about.
At first glance actually Moldova looked very familiar because it has the same Former Soviet Union flavor as Armenia where I lived for six years. The streets, the buildings, the busses look the same, and Russian is everywhere, spoken and on signs. I’m sure beneath that veneer is a different country and a different people, but it was odd to see the town driving out of the airport to the hotel.
It is a nice feeling to wake up in a different country!
Does depend a bit on how well you slept, but yes, it is. There’s a quotation about that, Bill Bryson I think.
You’ve described very well that feeling of being in one place, while your mind is still in another. The sense of unreality is very disconcerting. I found that while living overseas I seemed to be able to deal with it much better than since I repatriated. Even now I can still transport myself mentally to the places we used to live and and returning to the “here and now” can be quite a startling re-entry.
Yes, all I have to do is close my eyes and visualize any of a number of places I’ve lived in, see the house, the bathroom, the street, and it’s all there, and I’m there. Strange!
Good luck with all the househunting! Hope you can find someplace with a clean oven! (yes, I know I am a bit cheeky here, sorry)
Je moest je schamen 😉 More about the house hunting later!
Good description of how we all feel every time we jettison back and forth, especially between the US and my current location here in Kazakhstan. We are actually much closer to each other now!
I have many stories, and someday I will post about them too. Right now on my blog is all about the latest trip we took through Europe…
Looking forward to your stories. We are both now in a FSU (Former Soviet Union for the uninitiated) country. I expect the sidewalks use the same pavement stones/tiles 😉