With several more stops until reaching downtown Chișinău (KEE-shee-NOW), how any more people could possibly crowd onto the bus was unclear. With each stop, I pushed further in as the door I was up against folded open. One or two riders escaped out the door before four or five more tried to crowd in. We stood shoulder to shoulder and soon there was no need to hold the grab bar above my head. We all jerked with the hard rocking of the bus on the pot-hole-filled street. There was barely space between us to fall over.
Having no idea how the system worked, we jumped aboard this bus because it was pointed in the right direction. The map showed the busy street led to downtown, so we figured the bus would get us there. After boarding, a woman approached and spoke a barely audible word. Not that it mattered, as I likely wouldn't have understood. Looking around trying to determine if I was doing something wrong, I finally spotted a roll of tickets in her hand. I reached in my pocket for a couple of crumpled bills and handed her the first one. She pointed to the second bill still in my hand. I passed it to her and she returned two small ticket stubs for Chuck and me. We were now legal bus riders. At what amounts to 30 cents in our own currency, the bus ride is a bargain.
Incredibly, the bus continued taking on more riders as we made our way downtown. After each stop, our ticket-seller squirmed through the crowd of riders to collect a fare in return for a ticket. How did she manage to see and keep track of the new riders? More impressively, how did she navigate the rocking, crowded bus without ever grabbing a handrail?
Looking out the window, we passed a continuous line of drab grey buildings. The Soviet-era apartment buildings were functional when built, but seem to lack any architectural character. Five stories of concrete that now crumbled at all the edges. A few buildings included small balconies and laundry hung out many of the windows. However, the view from a top-story window may not be worth the five flights of stairs from the street because there are no elevators.
The bus continued on and the row of cold, drab apartment buildings was occasionally broken by a new sleek glass building. The modern structures contained retail stores, businesses, and commerce the city desperately needs. The few modern buildings stood in sharp contrast to the depressed concrete blocks of the past.
As we approached downtown, we decided to leave the bus and walk the remaining few blocks to the park. We enjoyed the blue sky and warm sun after learning rain fell non-stop for the past two weeks. Every few hundred yards along the walk, a local was set up with a blanket on the ground selling to those passing by. Books, vegetables, and a car stereo could be found and purchased right on the street. Some of the blankets only contained one or two items.
The somewhat mundane cathedral in the center of the park was still open late in the afternoon so we took a look inside. The simple, sparse outside of the building was the opposite of what was found inside. Gold was everywhere and the Eastern Orthodox figurines crowded every corner. Candles burned and the smell of incense was strong. We watched as a devotee walked up to kiss the glass mounted in front of one of the icons. He repeated the routine to several icons and we couldn't help but wonder if someone ever cleaned the glass.
A row of flower stands along the edge of the park was full of blooms for sale. As we passed, we looked closely at the flowers because they almost looked artificial. We couldn't find a blemish among them. Even the tulips around the statues in the park were at their peak and full of color. Spring is beautiful in Moldova and the bus ride and walk through Chișinău was a good introduction.