Moldova. What comes to your mind when you think of this country? Don’t kid yourself, were you even aware that it was a country before this post? Or that it’s situated in between Romania and Ukraine? Maybe you know about its famous reputation for producing some of the finest wines in the world, that can be purchased within the country for next to nothing compared to what they’d cost in a western country.
Anyway, whether you know a lot about Moldova or nothing at all, it is a European country scarcely visited by travelers, and that was what originally intrigued me to check it out. Also, I wanted to head back into Ukraine to see Odessa as I had missed it my first time within the country.
My initial impression of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, was that it was very similar to Novi Sad, where Jeremy and I had been previously during the summer. However, as I started to walk the streets more, I realized that it was something entirely different. A country struggling to represent more than its corrupt officials and money laundering schemes that recently caused an eighth of the already-poor country’s GDP to vanish, I was given a glance into what artistic and forward thinking individuals are doing within the city. The overall view I got from talking with locals around my age was that they enjoyed their country, but wanted to continue to push toward westernization of ideas in an otherwise extremely religious and conservative post-Soviet country.
It was evident from taking many strolls down the old streets that most of the money within the country was put into preserving its churches. The irony is that you’d think with so many religious people, they’d be involved in large efforts to help homeless youth and elderly, but this was largely not the case. If one walks on the main boulevard, they pass by at least two or three people begging at each corner, largely ignored by the slow trickle of citizens that flow by them. It’s a really sad and depressing sight, but such is an everyday occurrence within the city.
Hidden amongst its small center are a couple of art, music, and culture centers that strive to bring a stage to local and international talent on a weekly basis. While I was in town, I was lucky enough to catch a set from Zenker Brothers, the same djs I saw play in Kiev before I went on my tour of Chernobyl after barely sleeping. National music (Lautari) is also a very popular form of entertainment, and my couchsurfing host Andreas and I were able to check out some local orchestras that showcased their immense talent in front of a sold out audience in one of Chisinau’s many philharmonic theaters.
Another day was spent exploring Orhei Vechi, a large cave monastery on top of a huge ridge that cuts through the countryside of northwestern Moldova. Afterwards, we walked the streets of a small village within close vicinity before hitching a ride back to Chisinau from two friendly Moldovans, one of whom spoke pretty good English and invited us back to his house for dinner! Unfortunately his girlfriend wasn’t so keen on having random guests over though, so the plans never came to fruition.
The most impressive bits about Chisinau were seeing the decaying architecture, local marketplaces, lack of manhole covers on almost every street, and old post-Soviet behemoths of apartment buildings shooting into the sky. One of the last things I expected to find in the city was an American BBQ restaurant, but I lucked out in not only scoring delicious pulled pork and chicken, but also pumpkin ale and chocolate stout brews from a local craft brewery!
If you can’t tell from my writing style, five days was more than enough time to spend in Chisinau, and I don’t think I plan on heading back anytime soon. The countryside was beautiful, people were friendly, and food was delicious, but entertainment and things to see were seriously lacking compared to other places I’ve visited. Overall, I wouldn’t trade the experience, and am glad I got to visit another Balkan country. I think Moldova has the potential to become a much more visited place in the future, and with good reason. Chisinau is on the brink of a youth revolution resulting in a lot more art, music, and social change due to the want of acceptance, creativity, and cultural exchanges. I’m hopeful that in a couple years there will be more of a market for tourists to come visit and walk away with an everlasting taste in their mouth.