Day 10: Travelling to the least known country in Europe

Chisinau Travel Blog

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Streets of Chisinau

Moldova (formerly known as Bessarabia) is pretty much unknown to the Western world. I had heard of a civil war in this region in Eastern Europe, and more recently their successful participation in the Eurovision Song festival, but I had never really realised it was an actual country. I thought it had been part of former Yugoslavia, as the news of all the wars happening there had greatly overshadowed any news about Moldova.

So when I downloaded some chapters of Lonely Planet and read up on the country, I was surprised to learn that in fact Moldova had been one of the smallest of Soviet republics and had been one of the first to declare its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A surprising move considering it had only ever been independent for two months at the beginning of the 20th century when it gained independence from the Russian Tsarist empire and decided to unite with Romania shortly after.

Piata Negruzzi with the Cosmos hotel


But independence they gained, and almost immediately the country entered a bloody civil war between the Roman, Turkic and Slavic population. Today both the Turkic and Slavic minorities hold autonomous regions within Moldova. Turkic Gaugaz seems happy enough with this, but the Slavic Transdniestr region is still striving for full independence. And what is more, Transdniestr is the last country/region in the world with an old Soviet style government. While Russia itself has come to terms with embracing capitalism, Transdniestr remains some kind of relic (or some say living museum) of Soviet past. Truly bizarre.

Also bizarre: while Moldova is looking towards the west rather than east and hope to join the European Union soon, they have a (democratically elected) communist government.
feeding doves in front of the cathedral


After a not particularly pleasant night I arrived at the Chi�in�u bus station at 7 in the morning. I had been in touch with an apartment rental agency, and I had to get to their main office in the centre of town to check in. With plenty of time to spare, I decided to try and see how the local buses work in this country.

So after changing a couple of dollars and my last Ukrainian Hryvna into Moldavian Lei I walked up to a line of waiting buses. Well, buses, modified Mercedes vans is a better description. Immediately I discovered that Moldavians are quite different from Ukrainian. Moldova may have been part of the USSR once, people here are from Roman descent, rather than Slavic. This also made their language a bit easier to decipher (they speak a Romanian dialect).
free wi-fi in the parc
As I tried to work out which of the waiting buses would get me closest to the apartment agency, one of the drivers came up to me asking (in Romanian) where I had to go. "Piata Negruzzi" I read from my piece of paper. "Ah, Piata Negruzzi, blablablablabla - no - blablablablabla - bus cento-setti-otto"
That last bit sounded enough like 178 to me to enter the bus with that number. This driver did not understand my pronunciation of Piata Negruzzi, so the first bus driver had to come and explain it to him. 

The bus driver may not have been able to understand my pronunciation, he did feel very responsible for me getting to my destination, so he made sure I got out at the right stop, and that I walked into the right direction to get to the Negruzzi square.
I immediately fell in love with this little country.
Arc de triomphe (actual triumph unknown)


Like Ukraine private apartments are a better alternative than hotels, but unlike Ukraine apartment rental in Chisinau is a bit more efficiently and professionally organised. The Adresa apartments agency has a few dozen apartments scattered around the city centre. The apartment I had originally booked via the Internet was not available yet (it was too early) so instead they gave me one of their more luxury apartments, smack in the city centre, for the same price.  

After a short nap and a long hot shower it was time to explore the city. Not that there was an awful lot of exploring to do though, as Chisinau holds very little attractions for the casual visitor.
How many Orange shops can you fit in a single underpass?
It was destroyed almost entirely in WWII, and the Soviets had had little interest in rebuilding it as a nice city (unlike Kyiv where they had done at least some effort to create a nice city centre).
No, this is not the place for sightseeing, it is more that this is a very liveable city. With great drinking and dining opportunities, killer nightlife and - get this - free wi-fi in the city parks! I kid you not, everywhere on the park benches you see people with laptops. There is even electricity available! That is 21st century communism for ya!

The city has a cathedral which survived the war, there's Chisinau's very own Arc de Triomphe (unknown which triumph is commemorated here) and a very bustling market which quite resembles a Middle Eastern bazaar. The Opera house, often the most beautiful building in a city (at least, it had been in Lviv and Odessa) is a truly awful soviet style block of concrete and the presidential palace actually resembles some kind of seedy casino or Vegas hotel (without the neon lights though).
Food!

And that was pretty much it, really. Despite the lack of interesting sights, it was a very pleasant place to stroll around for a few hours.

It was also interesting to see my former employer Orange thriving so well here. There is at least one Orange store on every street corner, and usually another on in between as well.

For dinner I tried something typically Moldavian, of which I unfortunately forgot the name (Topaco, or something like that). Utterly delicious. Like the people are mix of different cultures, so is their food! It was like a combination of traditional Russian style home-cooking, with distinct Middle-Eastern flavours.

manuel_s says:
Dascinating stuff, need to visit it sometime. First time I heard about Moldavia was 5 years ago when I met some Moldavians in Bratislava. "Molwhat?" They had to repeat the name of the capital several times because I kept forgetting. Part funny, part embarassing for me, part embarassing for them :D
Posted on: Apr 22, 2010
Ape says:
*noted on the list*
Posted on: Apr 21, 2010
edsander says:
> and more recently their successful participation in the Eurovision Song festival. < Hold on, don't forget O'zone's smash hit Dragostea din tei !
Ma-ia-hii Ma-ia-huu Ma-ia-haa Ma-ia-ha-ha ! ;-)
Posted on: Apr 20, 2010
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Streets of Chisinau
Streets of Chisinau
Piata Negruzzi with the Cosmos hot…
Piata Negruzzi with the Cosmos ho…
feeding doves in front of the cath…
feeding doves in front of the cat…
free wi-fi in the parc
free wi-fi in the parc
Arc de triomphe (actual triumph un…
Arc de triomphe (actual triumph u…
How many Orange shops can you fit …
How many Orange shops can you fit…
Food!
Food!
The streets of Chisinau
The streets of Chisinau
Would you like to have your pictur…
Would you like to have your pictu…
The beautiful Chisinau hotel
The 'beautiful' Chisinau hotel
Orthodox cathedral
Orthodox cathedral
inside the cathedral
inside the cathedral
inside the cathedral
inside the cathedral
Pretty impressive frescoes inside …
Pretty impressive frescoes inside…
old lady being very cautious about…
old lady being very cautious abou…
Cinema which was built in 1947 by …
Cinema which was built in 1947 by…
they have pretty strict rules in t…
they have pretty strict rules in …
Opera house - Soviet style
Opera house - Soviet style
Presidential palace (currently clo…
Presidential palace (currently cl…
flower market
flower market
lady spray-painting the flowers sh…
lady spray-painting the flowers s…
Central market
Central market
Blue church
Blue church
Chisinau Hotels & Accommodations review
Affordable apartments throughout the city
A great alternative for drab Soviet style hotels are private apartments. Adresa is an agency specialized in renting out apartments. They have several … read entire review
Chisinau
photo by: Biedjee