I admit I knew next to nothing about Moldova before this trip. Yet one of the great things about traveling is that sometimes your favorite destination turns out to be the one you weren’t expecting. So as we drove from Odessa to Chisinau, I looked forward to filling in the blanks. And sharing a little Crimean Wine in our Ukrainian Cross-stitch cups!
Turns out I am not alone in my ignorance of Moldova…it’s actually one of the least visited by tourists of all European countries. I hope that will change! Their economy can certainly use the help. It’s always been an agricultural country, and after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russians punished Moldova by refusing to buy their wines. As we learn a little later, this has forced their wine industry to look for new markets…including the USA. Another thing I like to notice when traveling abroad is the price of gas–the sign above isn’t as scary as it looks–the Moldovan currency is about 18 to the US Dollar, so gas is actually just under a dollar a liter, or $4-5 per gallon, which is a little cheaper than we saw in Belarus or Ukraine, and not out of line with the rest of Europe.
Moldova has its own complicated history. As the Republic of Moldavia, it was a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans ceded it to the Russians who called it Bessarabia. It later joined with Wallachia to form Romania. Under the Soviet Union it became the Moldavian SSR. After the breakup of the USSR they took the name Moldova for their independent republic. And that’s just hitting the high spots! Ethnically and linguistically, they are closer to Romania than to their Slavic neighbors, which for us tourists meant a lot less struggling to read the signs, many of which were in the Latin alphabet instead of Cyrillic.
The capital of Moldova is Chisinau…our guide Laura pronounced it “Kish-i-now.” It’s only been the capital for about 200 years, so the city doesn’t have a ton of monumental architecture like some other capitals. It does have some impressive churches, and a Cathedral Park with a replica of the Arc de Triomphe as its entrance gate.
The Central Park was filled with people strolling on this sunny day. The billboard recognizes Moldovan soldiers who were part of the coalition for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The park is full of sculptures of local artists and other celebrities.
We passed the main government buildings on our walking tour. Most of the cities we visited also had at least one example of those familiar golden arches…which the locals invariably refer to as “The American Embassy.” Our hotel, part of the Radisson chain, had some pretty impressive art work also. In fact, all the hotels on this trip were pretty nice.
Dinner tonight was like visiting a museum of Moldovan culture. The owners had quite a collection of local arts and crafts. One of the local delicacies shown above is called Placinte (I think!!), a sort of eastern European pizza that comes with a variety of fillings, meat, vegetables, potatoes, cheese, fruit…you name it.
Below the restaurant was an extensive cellar showing off Moldovan agricultural products. I’d love to know how they made those jars where they spelled out words in olives and pickles! The last photo shows the cleverly named “Mall-dova” shopping center, which we passed by on our way to the restaurant.
Next day we explored the area around Chisinau. Moldova has quite a few monasteries, and we visited Curchi, a beautiful active monastery in the Orhei region. There were groups of school children everywhere we went. School just let out a few days ago and it’s traditional for groups of children to go on excursions with their teachers. Our bus driver had a surprise for us when we got back on the bus…like seemingly everyone else in Moldova, he is a winemaker, and he treated us to samples of his wine.
Our next stop was Old Orhei, a traditional Moldovan village that’s like an open air museum. It boasts a visitor center with a small museum, and a cave monastery. This was some of the prettiest countryside we’ve seen on this trip,
Walking along a ridge, you come to the entrance of a cave. After winding down a dark staircase, you can see the beautiful little church inside. It was common for monks to come to such a remote area and build their churches in caves that were once inhabited by the prehistoric residents of the area. Going out the other side of the church you see a spectacular view along the Raut River.
After visiting the monastery we strolled through Old Orhei village. Many of the residents are still farming here, though several houses have been turned into hotels or B&Bs for weekend getaways from the city. We’re about 60 kilometers from Chisinau here.
After visiting the monastery we drove through more pretty countryside to a restaurant called Casa Verde (Green House). Yes, Moldovan is a Romance language, not Slavic, and many of the words look a lot like Italian or Spanish! Not only did they have delicious Moldovan cuisine for lunch, but we also were entertained by these lovely young girls who performed traditional folk songs for us.
This afternoon we explored another kind of underground adventure: Cricova wine cellars. Wine is one of the biggest industries in Moldova, and their cellars are extensive. A little tram took us on a tour of a few small corners of their 120 kilometers of cellars, with names like Champagne Street and Cabernet Avenue. Cara, our guide, showed us how they make sparkling wines according to the Champagne Method.
Coming out of the cellars, we looked around the various tasting rooms, and got down to the important business of tasting. We got to try a red, a rose, white, and sparkling wine. As I mentioned earlier, the Moldovan wine industry was devastated by Russia’s boycott, so they’ve been forced to find new markets. China is a big customer now, and they have several outlets in the US. I was able to find online a couple places in Washington DC and a couple in Los Angeles that sell Cricova wines. The bottle pictured here isn’t a Cricova wine…it’s just a bottle of water that I thought had a really pretty monastery on the label!
This has been an amazing trip, and I was sad to see it end. Maggie and I did have a bit of a long goodbye to Chisinau, when we got to the airport and found our flight to Paris was delayed by 4 hours! The airline (a 2-year old startup called FlyOne) provided us with lunch and we added some liquid refreshment. Luckily we had already planned to stay overnight in Paris and had an airport hotel reserved, thanks to Jonathan at the MIR corp office in Seattle. The photo is of the hotel next to ours, but they mostly look alike. There are several hotels right here, across the street from the airport terminal shuttle train station, very comfortable and convenient.
If you are interested in travel to this part of the world, I highly recommend MIR Corp: http://www.mircorp.com/ They specialize in the Trans-Siberian Railway, Silk Road, Russia and beyond. They are also the subcontractor for many Road Scholar programs in the area.
2 thoughts on “Exploring Moldova”
I thought this blog was one of your best. I was not knowledgeable about this part of Europe but I found it very interesting. I also liked the pictures of the cities and countryside. I see why you were wanting to stay longer and explore more of their culture.~~~~
Jealous. Want to go.