If you’re planning a trip to Gagauzia, there’s a very good chance that you’ll be arriving here from Chisinau — the capital of Moldova. After all, it is the home of Moldova’s sole international airport and a logical first stopover for foreign visitors.
But once you’ve had your fill of the capital’s leafy boulevards and aging Soviet chic, you’ll be presented with two main options regarding your onwards travel into the heart of the Moldovan countryside.
Firstly, if you have the money and desire to do so, you can hire a private car (with or without driver, depending on how confident you feel on the roads here). This obviously offers more flexibility and less need for travel planning around your chosen itinerary.
Or instead, if you prefer your travel to be more ‘authentic’, bumpy and stuffy, you can opt for the trusty old marshrutka. Familiar to all those who have lived and/or travelled through other post-Soviet countries, these are essentially mini-vans (or ‘maxi taxis’) which travel along regular routes both within urban areas and between them.
Travelling the country by marshrutka offers by far a more immersive experience than a generic, air-conditioned hire car. It allows you the chance to witness locals going about their daily business, flagging down the van with bundles of shopping in tow as they head home after a day in the big city. You get to witness complete strangers bonding over seat mix-ups, bumpy roads, or the annoying person taking too long buying cigarettes at a scheduled service stop. It allows you a chance to fully take in some fantastic scenery, soundtracked by autotuned Europop or whatever else the driver takes a fancy to (…it’s always Europop). And most of all in its favour — it’s cheap. A one-way ticket from Chisinau to Comrat (the biggest city of Gagauzia) will set you back only 45 lei, or approximately €2.30.
For someone without any Russian or Romanian skills (the two most spoken languages in Moldova), getting yourself onto a marshrutka heading in the right direction could be seen as quite a challenge. But fear not! There is more method to the madness of marshrutkas than there might seem at first glance.
So here’s a little how-to guide to help you get yourself on a marshrutka from Chisinau, heading towards your chosen destination in Gagauzia…
Step 1 — get yourself to Gara de Sud, Chisinau
First of all, get yourself to Gara de Sud (‘South bus station’) on the outskirts of Chisinau.
You can catch trolleybuses 9 or 36 (leaving from UNIC shopping complex on Str.Ismail in the centre), 17 (also from Str.Ismail, or the railway station) or 35 (which travels along Str. Bucuresti). A trolleybus costs 2 lei and you pay the conductor once onboard. Trolleybuses stop at every bus stop so no need to flag these down.
Inner city marshrutka routes include 117, 120, 124, 186, 190 or 192. 190 and 192 are for me the most useful routes, leaving from locations in close proximity to Piata Centrala and the main Stefan cel Mare boulevard. Marshrutkas cost 3 lei and you pay the driver directly as you board. You will have to flag these down as they drive past, and also make it clear you want to get off at Gara de Sud as you approach (but being a popular destination, you aren’t normally the only one doing this).
Useful tools to help you navigate the city (including marshrutka routes) include Easyway and the Moovit app.
Alternatively, taxis are relatively cheap in Chisinau and can be booked through mobile apps such as iTaxi or Yandex.
Step 2 — buy a ticket
You made it to Gara de Sud! Now time to buy a ticket.
It’s probably a good idea to know which departure you are aiming for when you arrive at Gara de Sud. Buses do leave fairly regularly but you can sometimes be caught out and forced to wait an hour for the next departure if you aren’t careful. Bus timetables can be found here — simply select Chisinau under ‘de unde’ and select your chosen direction (eg. Comrat, Vulcanesti, Ceadir Lunga) from the ‘directie’ drop down box. Alternatively, you can browse the full list of Gara de Sud destinations here (if you read Russian/Cyrillic script).
Head up to an open ticket office window and state your destination. The attendant then normally confirms the next departure, and tells you the price in lei. They then print you a paper ticket.
Step 3 — find your bus
You’re nearly there!
Now it’s time to find the correct bus. You’ll notice the ticket helpfully tells you which route (cursa) and destination you’ve bought a ticket for. It also tells you the time (ora) of departure.
In my experience, buses heading to Gagauz destinations leave from stops 15-17. The world of marshrutka can however be fickle! So don’t be afraid to ask, showing your ticket to loitering drivers to help find the correct bus.
Once you’ve found it, feel free to hop on and claim a seat. Sometimes you are allocated a seat (‘locul’ on the ticket) — although in my experience this is only adhered to if the bus is over half full.
And you should hopefully be on your way! Sit back and enjoy some scenic countryside views. And see you in Gagauzia 🙂
Getting yourself to Gagauzia — featuring the infamous ‘marshrutka’: 2 комментария