Alright, everybody! Hold on to your hats! I'm going to try to give you all a feel for the public transportation system here in Chisinau. There are 4 different methods for travel here in town, each has a different cost and each has its benefits and drawbacks. First of all, there are taxis.
Our only experience with a taxi was taking one home from the airport upon arrival in Chisinau. You flag one down (They're not all yellow, but they all do have the yellow sign on top.), negotiate with the driver how much he'll charge you for taking you to your destination (usually around 25 lei, which is just over US$2), and then hold on while he gets you there as fast as he can go. Going to the outskirts of town, like the airport, is more expensive, and he also charged more for us since we had so much luggage. You can also call the taxi service and arrange for them to pick you up at home at a certain time. Most Moldovans don't use taxis unless they're going a particularly far or difficult distance, simply because they're so much more expensive than the other methods listed below.
Next we have city buses.
I can't say much about these because we've never ridden in one. I think they're basically the same as the trolley buses below, but just a little nicer and a little more expensive. (I think they're 2 lei, which is about 17 cents.)
The two methods that we use consistently are in the picture below:
On the left is a minibus and on the right is a trolley bus.
Trolley buses only cost 1 lei (8 cents!), and that's definitely all the ride is worth! They're pretty old and rundown. They run on overhead electric lines (You can see the two poles sticking off the top of the trolley bus in the picture.) so sometimes they can derail which cuts off the power, so the driver has to get out and get them back on the lines so we can keep going! That has only happened to us once so far. Trolley buses do have designated stops, so you just have to make sure to get off at the right one. If you miss it, though, you can just get off at the next one and walk back. Stops are about 1/2 mile apart, 1/4 mile apart downtown.
Minibuses are basically just 10-12 passenger vans outfitted so that the aisle runs along the passenger side and there is a bar to hold onto for those that are standing. Yes, I say standing. This is because although there are 10 or 12 seats on the minibus, there is no limit to how many people they will pack inside. If all the seats are full when you get on, you stand in the aisle. It's actually pretty hilarious when you've got 25 people inside one of these things, 15 of whom are standing in the aisle, and someone in the back needs to get off! You hear a lot of "Excuse me, please!" and people just squeeze by! Minibuses cost 3 lei, which is 25 cents. The only entrance to the minibus is the front passenger door next to the driver. When you get in, you hand him your money and tell him how many people you're paying for. Then he'll hand you your change. We've also seen where someone will get on and grab a seat first, then just pass their money up to the front via the other passengers. They're very honest about passing the money up and then passing back the change! It's when you want to get off that you have the real adventure because minibuses have designated routes, but no designated stops. So you have to just recognize where you are and ask the driver to stop and let you off! If you miss it, you could end up back where you started before you know where you are!
The advantage to minibuses is that they're MUCH faster than the trolley since they don't make all the stops. We'll be taking the minibus to work each morning since we live on the complete opposite end of town from the office. It might take us up to an hour on the trolley, but only about 25 minutes in the minibus. We also like trolleys, though, for when we're not in a hurry because there's so much more space on them, and all the windows allow you to look out and recognize where you are. Sometimes it's hard on a minibus to even get a view out the window, much less be able to look hard enough to figure out where you are.
All this is pretty daunting until you figure out the system, and our key to getting it figured out was finding a good map. Here's a small portion of our map (Click to enlarge):
Bus routes are pink, trolley bus routes are blue, and minibus routes are purple. Each route has a number, so you just have to make sure you get on a vehicle marked with the number of where you want to go. For example, we have to get on the 115 minibus to get to the office and the 22 trolley to go downtown. Each vehicle has the number of its route posted on the front and both sides of the vehicle. So to catch a trolley, you go to the nearest stop and then wait for the right number to come by. Generally it only takes a 5 minute wait for the next trolley on your route to come by, depending on how busy the street you're on is and how popular the route is. The trolley to take us from home to downtown comes really often because it's a popular route.
To catch a minibus, you just stand anywhere on the street that the minibus will go down. (Make sure you're on the correct side of the street, though!) When you see it coming you stick out your arm to flag it down. It will stop, you'll get on and pay the driver, and hopefully you'll be able to grab a seat! Then, you just keep track of where you are (I keep my map out and follow the route we're on if I'm not familiar with the roads and landmarks!). When you're getting close to your stop, make your way up to the front and let the driver know you want to get off.
So that's it. Simple, right?! :) Now just imagine all these things on the road together at once, together with passenger cars, a million pedestrians, and a few brave bicyclers! Yeah, it's madness!
I got an email from my sister this morning saying that last night when she was saying prayers with my 2-1/2 year old nephew, she asked him what he wanted to pray for. He said "Uncle Justin and Aunt Joni." When she asked him what he wanted to pray for us, he said "That they're safe." Besides being a really sweet story, I'm thankful that the Lord is prompting people (even little children!) to pray for our safety, considering the way transportation is on these roads! Especially come winter when the roads get slick, we'll be really thankful for your prayers for our safety!