Dealul Balanesti (430m) is the highest hill in Moldova. Nowadays it's even possible to drive all the way to the summit.
I arrived in Chisinau early in the morning, after a pleasant night on the train from Bucharest (2nd class sleeper). It was only a short walk from the train station to Cosmos Hotel, where I had booked a night through booking.com. The three smiling girls in the reception did absolutely everything they could to please me, so I would leave a good comment and rating of the hotel at booking.com. I was upgraded to a two room suite at no additional cost, and they let me check in early (9 am). One of the girls showed me the way to the dining hall, and told me that since I had come from afar at night, the hotel invited me for a free breakfast at the day of arrival.
While I ate my breakfast the girl promised to search for a good deal to hire a car and driver to Balanesti. I was pleasantly surprised when she later told me that the driver offered this nearly 200 kilometres road trip (return) for only 50 Euros, everything included. Before I arrived Moldova I had actually planned to use the very unreliable and infrequent public transportation to reach Balanesti. I had read on internet that a couple of guys from Norway had paid a steep 100 Euros to hire a driver and car, making me consider a public bus instead. Now I was offered the same deal for half the price, hence I was in no doubt anymore whether to hire a driver or not. At this price, there was even no need to bargain, so we agreed that the driver would pick me up from the hotel at 1 pm.
The driver turned out to be reliable and punctual, he even arrived the hotel a few minutes too early. I immediately recognised his face, his name (Ivan) and his car. This was exactly the same guy that I had seen pictures of at World Wide Vikings (wwv.no). I have no idea why I got the same driver and trip for half the price. Maybe it was their local travel agent (Natasha) who had charged 100% commission just to fix a driver for them, what a scam....
Ivan did not speak a single word of English, but this was not a big issue. He spoke his own language, and pointed at "interesting" places we passed along the road. Halfway he needed a break to smoke a cigarette, and he picked up a big bunch of green grapes from the trunk that I enjoyed while he was smoking. I had read that Moldova is a significant producer of wine. The modest number of tourists visiting Moldova are mainly here for the grapes and wines. There is apparently not much else to see in Moldova.
We enjoyed paved roads, except for the last 5 kilometres to the top of Balanesti. Ivan's car had no problems getting all the way to the northern antenna, where the highest point can be found. I secured some photographic evidence of our "triumph", before we headed back. We arrived Chisinau at 5 pm and when i tipped him 10%, he looked very pleased with this.
After a night in Cosmos Hotel and a full day of sightseeing in Chisinau, I jumped on a night-bus to Ukraine, where the next country highpoint was waiting for me. Continue reading: Almost kidnapped in Ukraine.
The drive to Balanesti at EveryTrail