Couchsurfing in Rome. Part one.

Usually during our trips we search for couchsurfers to stay with. It’s much nicer (even not to mention cheaper) than to stay at any hostel.  As we had 5 days in Rome, of course we needed a place to stay so I started to look for the CSers two weeks before the departure.

 God knows how much time I spend on the site reading profiles and sending requests. I’ve never surfed in such a big touristic city so I couldn’t imagine that it will be so hard! Among 4380 Roman CSers 719 offer a place for 2 people. I’m not a kind of person that sends requests just to anyone so this time I read more than 100 profiles: first few per day very carefully, then you get tired and read only the most important things like self-description and accommodation details. Almost half of the CSers don’t host couples so I even didn’t try to write them.

Another interesting particularity of CS in Rome is that almost all the members are men. I saw only 3 or 4 female profiles. I guess single girls find a place in Italy easily (though I would not risk staying alone at some Italian man’s home). In Ukraine, for example, the situation is completely different if not to say opposite – women dominate there.

Few days before our departure I still haven’t got any positive answer. So I started to write to the CSers from the small towns in Lazio region not far away from Rome and posted a message in a special “Last minute Couchrequest” group. It really seemed to be impossible to find a host in Rome! I was almost desperate.

Luckily just two days before we left two CSers accepted to host us. It was certainly a good day :) We didn’t need to sleep under a bridge or spend money that we didn’t have for a hostel.

Now about our hosts.

First one was just great though a bit odd – a British man, photographer, teacher, translator and vegan. Judging from his profile on CS he should have been very strict and perhaps rude guy, but in reality he was extremely kind to us. And we had a lot to talk about. Especially my husband had. Every morning it was difficult for me to interrupt politely their conversation and to convince him to go to the city. In the evenings we were drinking together in Mike’s living room and eating vegetarian or vegan food. I even ate things like cauliflower which I usually don’t eat. But with a lot of curry it was pretty good :) I think I would be the worst vegetarian ever as I don’t like most of the vegetables, so I even don’t try to become one.

Anyway, our first days in Rome were really great, and ‘m glad we had such a host. He even proposed us to stay longer as we got along well, but we had another host that accepted us so we went to Latina to meet him.

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Bălţi or Belts – our first stop in Moldova

I continue to write about our Ukraine-Moldova trip.

After our nice time in Chernovtsi we took a bus from there to Bălţi – the third largest city in Moldova that is actually just a small town.  We had some troubles at the border because a Ukrainian customs officer didn’t know what to do with a foreigner with Ukrainian visa (i.e. my fiancé). But he let us go to Moldova even without asking to pay anything. In few hours we arrived in Bălţi. By the way it is pronounced as “Belts”. Our host – a German girl working for the Bosch foundation was supposed to meet us at the bus station, but when we arrived nobody was there. We didn’t have any Moldovan money, we couldn’t call her from our Ukrainian numbers and we didn’t know what to do. The bus station looked like very scary, with some suspicious characters and without any cash machine or exchange office. Thankfully after some time the German girl came for us and took us to her place.

Katja turned out a very nice couchsurfer – an attentive host, who shared her meal with us and gave a whole room at our disposal. Interesting fact is that we contacted a lot of couchsurfers  all over Moldova but almost only foreigners living in this country wrote us back. One local couple in Chisinau invited us but we already agreed with a German guy to stay at his place.  Moldovan people are not used to host travelers I guess.

The next morning we made a city tour with Katja. Balti is a small town with a lot of Soviet style buildings, odd painted monuments, some beautiful churches, a big central street with a lot of flowers and a small lake nearby. At the main square stands a monument to Ştefan cel Mare. I think it’s the only one important figure in Moldova, because his monuments are everywhere, main streets are named after him and he is drawn on all paper currencies.

 

We went to Katja’s working place, Alecu Russo State University of Bălţi. She teaches German there. We walked a bit trough the territory of the university and then she organized us a kind of excursion to a library. I was impressed by that library because I didn’t expect that in such a small university of such a small town there will be a big modern library with all the computer facilities. They even have there the UNO and NATO informational centers, museum and they organize different exhibitions at the library. I really liked it there.

 

After visiting the library we had lunch at a university canteen, had again a small walk through the town, bought some postcards and stamps and went to the bus station. Our stay in Bălţi was over and we took a bus to Soroca.

Photos from Bălţi

Chernovtsy: another magical city in Western Ukraine

Chernovtsy (or Chernivtsi in Ukrainian way) is a city in Western Ukraine, the historical center of Bukovina region. For a long time I wanted to visit this city because it was the place where the story of my favorite book of my childhood took place. The right moment came and I and my fiancé went to Chernovtsy within our Ukraine-Moldova trip.

After arriving in Chernovtsy early in the morning we tried to reach our host’s home. It was our first experience of staying at some couchsurfer’s place so I was excited and afraid at the same time. We had an address of the girl that had to host us, we knew the way to her home and of course we got lost in her district. Finally we found the apartment we needed, entered there and were very surprised if not to say shocked: in her 2-rooms flat she hosted 6 more couchsurfers. It turned out that these days there was a poetry festival “Meridian Chernowitz” and all others came to Chernovtsy for this festival.

It was a strange company of kind of eco-people: 3 Germans, 1 Ukrainian who was speaking German perfectly, 2 Moldovans and two of us. The whole morning the conversation was in German and I was sitting there like an idiot trying to catch some words. Our host didn’t know any German neither, she was laughing all the time and making photos of everybody. Very stressful first experience, I would say :) During this talk it turned out that I know one of the German guys. I met him in summer 2010 at the buffalo farm in Zakarpattia region, where I and my group from a workcamp spend one weekend and this guy was volunteering there. The world is so round! (I mean here that the world is very small. My fiance said that I can’t use the word “round”. I just translated literally a Russian expression. I leave this sentence how it is now, because it’s boring to say “small” and I don’t know how to say it in other way ^^)

In some time we went out and plunged in the city. I wanted to see everything there. Oh, I really love this place! It is quite small and there are not so many attractions. However it is a very beautiful city with everything that I like: multicolored churches, old narrow streets, pedestrian streets full of restaurants and hundreds of architectural monuments. Firstly I compared it with other Ukrainian cities in this style: Lviv and Uzhgorod. But Chernovtsy has its own specific face and charm. I can’t explain it in a proper way, but it’s a really marvelous city.

Chernivtsi street

Town Hall

Chernivtsi cathedral

Theater square

Besides just walking along the streets we also visited some events of the poetry festival. We have been to a presentation of Paul Celan’s poems in the house where he was living. We also went to the presentations of French and German poetry. In general there were a lot of events in different places the whole day during three days, so we missed a lot. But the festival was not our aim but a pleasant supplement to our city tour. And it helped us to enter the local university for free.

on Paul Celan's house

Meridian Chernowitz, German poetry

The university of Chernovtsy is its main sightseeing place. And usually you should pay to enter there if you’re not a student. But as I said with a leaflet of the festival you can go there without paying. That’s what we did. It is huge and beautiful. It was built as a residence of Bukovina Mitropolit in a byzantine and roman style. Then in 1875 it became a university. The left part of the building is the faculty of Philosophy. It has a very romantic courtyard. I felt in love with this courtyard, I can clearly imagine how it makes easy to think about some philosophical matters… The students in Chernovtsy are very lucky :)

on the way to Chernivtsi university

Chernivtsi university

I forgot to write that we gave an interview about the festival to some channel. Unlike my fiancé I am really bad in speaking and I don’t like cameras, but there was no chance to escape. I hope it was a local channel and if I was shown on TV nobody I know has watched it.

We finished the day in Chernovtsy with a concert organized within the festival. It took place at the summer theater of a city park and was a combination of the poetry and the rock music. I found this a very impressive show. I have never thought that a poetry festival can have so many diverse events. And I had no idea that there is such a famous festival in Chernovtsy so that many people from other countries participate in it. Here is an official website of the “Meridian Chernowitz” festival”:

http://www.meridiancz.com/en/

We left Chernovtsy the next morning and I was sad about it… But Moldova waited for us, we bought the bus tickets to Balti and continued our trip.

More photos of Chernovtsy here.