Gig Logistics and a Lesson on Bribing the Police
In May, you can often find me toodling off toward Eastern Europe. You’ve heard the whole springtime in Europe thing, and it’s true! There is no better time to be here. I love to watch Europe wake up after winter and stretch its creaky muscles in the warming sunshine. Cities pull their cafés outside onto the sidewalks to line narrow, cobbled streets and wide central squares. Families come out to play and picnic in parks. Guest-houses throw open the windows and let the breeze blow through. Trees are in blossom and pastures are green. The Blue Danube is full and pushing against her banks as she flows along steadily toward her final destination, the same as mine, Romania.
We usually follow a classic route across Germany, Austria, and Hungary, passing by the cities of Aachen, Cologne, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Budapest. This is much the same route taken by Leopold Mozart when he toured his prodigy children around to the royal courts of Europe in the 18th century. But, where Mr. Mozart progressed along muddy, rutted tracks at a speed of about six kilometres per hour, we zip along at 120 on highways built to move the masses. What took Leopold two days to traverse, takes us 90 minutes, and being hijacked by highwaymen along the way is not something that concerns us. We diligently stop at each border crossing to purchase a “vignette” to stick to our window showing we have paid the toll to drive the best roads in that country, and we are left alone to make our progress east.
A gig for Arthur takes about five days of commitment. Arrive Sunday, rehearse the orchestra each weekday, and conduct a concert at the end of the week. This gives us the weekend to pack-up and move on to a new city, and a new gig. Romania is about 2000 kilometres from our Dutch home, so it makes sense to plan a few gigs into each road trip. All commitments are made at least a year in advance.
This trip had a something of a twist. Gig number one was in Oradea, on the western border of Romania, close to Hungary. This would be an easy first stop, the majority of the route was on toll-paid multi-lane highways. Gig number three was Iasi, far in the east, close to the borders of Moldova and the Ukraine, and a couple of driving days away along single and double track bumpy roads. Gig number two you ask? Moscow.
I went to work on the logistics of slotting Moscow between these two Romanian cities and came up with Moldova. This tiny country, the poorest in Europe, was the “Garden of the USSR,” producing fine wines and sun-ripened fruits and vegetables for the elite of the communist regime, and continues to have cheap and frequent flights to Moscow. Fancy that! We could fly from Chișinău, just 170 kilometres from Iasi, and we wouldn’t even have to go through Transnistria, the Russian-rebel supported de facto independent state on the eastern edge of tiny Moldova. My mother would appreciate that. The Lonely Planet Guide to Moldova tells me that we should prepare for waits at the border, and bribing the police. Okay then. The bribing-primer states that $7 - $20 should cover any misdemeanour a Moldovan police officer might cook up.
One gig down, two to go. We drove the last few kilometres to the Moldovan border at a leisurely pace, windows down, enjoying the scenery. We’d crossed the Carpathians, camped nearby in a hidden valley, and we were in good time for our flight to Moscow. This stretch is classic Romania; lush green rolling hills and one-track roads dotted with horse-drawn wagons and lined with families selling their homemade and homegrown goods. And then – flashing lights. Bliss interrupted! We are waved to the side of the track by Romanian police.
Rovignette! Stated one of the two uniformed officers when he stepped out of his car. Vignette? Those are for autobahns and freeways, argued Arthur, who was now standing deep in a pothole beside the police car. Nonono. A finger waggled in his face. Must have Rovignette! The officer climbed behind the wheel of his car, closed the door and opened the window. Aha! The clever illusion of having a casual conversation with a passer-by. He proceeded to explain we had two choices; pay a fine, or have our car impounded in Iasi. Impoundment was not an option on our finely tuned schedule.
Passport! Stated the officer. Arthur sauntered across the street to me, and I handed him his passport. He seemed to be enjoying this. Back across the street the officer opened the passport, gave it a little shake, and rolled his eyes for dramatic effect. He pointed at the open page. Okay! You take money and fold. You put here! (Tapping the open page with his finger repetitively.) You close passport, and give me! He slapped the passport closed and placed it back into Arthurs palm. He then jerked his chin back toward me, and the van. Go back! We were receiving lessons in bribing police officers
The officers stepped out of their car, and each shook hands with Arthur. One officer, the driver, clapped him on the shoulder jovially. Arthur handed over his business card and invited them to his concert in Iasi the following week. I waved goodbye from my passenger seat, and we were on our way to the border, where we bought a Moldovan vignette at our first stop and had clear passage to Chișinău.
Note to Lonely Planet: Romanian police are not as easily obliged as their Moldovan counterparts. (or, is it possible that we had Novice, written all over us?)
Hover over the pictures (or choose landscape on mobile) for some images of Eastern Romania and Western Moldova.