Moldova for me is like Heidi. Sheâ€™s an innocent little girl who grew up on a farm in the hills. The sort of girl who loves to run around barefoot, delighting in nature and doesnâ€™t mind having a grubby skirt. She might look rough around the edges, but she has a pure heart, a gleam in her eye and an innocent inner beauty thatâ€™s simply unassailable. Itâ€™s impossible to not find her endearingâ€¦
Travelling across from Ukraine in a Matriuska (crappy little bus) to Moldova was an experience. The country side was more or less without interest and the bus was old, rickety and the driver smoked the entire time.
By the time I arrived I was extremely nauseated. I did have to laugh that the bus to travel 300km across 2 countries cost me as much as a 2minute taxi ride at home would. The border guards wanted a bribe but I wasnâ€™t playing the game so they grilled me, tried to intimidate me, and made me go through my entire suitcase. I was laughing and joking with them, talking in mixtures of Italian, Russian and English, as we looked at my odd assortment of goods. They eventually gave up and let me through.
outside the Milesti Mici winery
Getting out at Chisinau bus station was a bit of a shock. The place seemed to be in a state of chaos as if thereâ€™d just been an explosion. It was also a battle to find a taxi driver who isnâ€™t going to rip you off. Nevertheless, I was excited to be here and I had someone very special meeting me to look after me.
The inner city was much greener than I thought and we strolled around and I admired the impressive statue of King Steven the Great. He looks like a total dude and apparently he was the ducks nuts, the dogs kohunas, the bees knees, the king of all kings.
They revere him. After staring at the statue, I did too!
outside the Milesti Mici winery
After an hour of negotiating with the hire car company and finding that all sorts of conditions had changed, we finally had the car. The hire car company also made me do some driving with their employee in it so he could check that I was an ok driver. That was a new one for me, so I swung a couple of donuts and hand-break stops just to assure him I could handle my new Mercedes Sports Coupeâ€¦
The Moldova tourism site explains that their country is the shape of a bunch of grapes and that this is considered a very suitable image. The country is entirely dependant on the grape and wine industry. It seems it is their sole industry in fact. The thing that seems ludicrous to me is that if you can grow grapes, you can also grow olives, or any number of other crops, but that thought hasnâ€™t occurred to Moldovans yet.
Basically, when the Russians left Moldova, it appears they just abandoned her without the support structure to continue on her own. Itâ€™s the poorest country in Europe and itâ€™s no wonder massive proportions of itâ€™s young people are leaving to find work elsewhere in the world.
a very cool fountain setup
I went to Milesti Mici which has the Guinness World Record for the largest wine cellar in the world. They have over 200 km of underground limestone tunnels that have been converted into their wine production and storage facility. I did the tour through the tunnels, driving, with the tour guide sitting next to me in my car. Apparently Uri Gagarin is quoted as saying he found it more difficult to leave the wine cellars of Moldova than he did to leave space. Itâ€™s not hard to imagine why. The tour was very informative and we ended up in a cavern type food hall with a banquet spread.
The food was excellent and the wine was unbelievable. The tour included three full bottles of wine to go with the delicious three course meal as well as two free bottles to take home!
We drove across the country to the south-western most corner where Ukraine and Romania meet the Moldovan border. The roads were horrifically bad and driving was like a rally driving computer game with the addition of wayward donkeys and an interestingly high proportion of people still using horse and carts on the road. It was liking going back in time 70 years to the life my grandparents had in Italy. I was loving it!
Moldova itself is nestled between Romania, Ukraine and the Black Sea and has an interesting past.
Until the Iron Curtain fell the people spoke predominantly Russian and now the language is mostly Romanian. As a result you never really know what language people are going to speak.
and in red
The culture of the people revolves heavily around grapes and they have a large assortment of delicious varieties. Iâ€™d never quite tasted such sweet delicious fruit before and was glad to be there for harvest time. The food is excellent and of a very Mediterranean/Romance style including lots of courses, lots of cheeses, meats and way too much fun.
All in all, Moldova for me was one of those rare experiences to cherish. Itâ€™s certainly not an easy place to travel and was off the beaten path. I feel privileged to have been in a position to get right to her heart and witness this uncouth little girlâ€™s gorgeous smile.