At the end of October 2016, the male part of our traveling couple went for the first time to the Republic of Moldova, a place already known to the female part, who happens to be born there.
From Cluj, we flew to Iasi, and from there we took a “shark” who drove us exactly where we wanted to go, that is, right in the front of the building. In total, we were on the road for about 5 hours, including the customs, which took less than we expected. By bus, the traveling time is more than double and the train is even more problematic, because Moldova has wide gauge railways and it takes a lot at the border to change the wheels. Besides, the railway network is not very developed here, there are few places where you can get by train.
In some ways, the republic over the Prut river is like Romania of the 90s: poorer and more chaotic than now, with poor roads and modest houses. From other points of view, it is like today’s Romania, with a lot of people working abroad to send money home so their families could build big and beautiful houses and buy expensive cars, way more expensive than the real needs. The difference between the two Romanian states may seem bigger when you come from Cluj, but the villages in eastern (Romanian) Moldova do not differ much from the ones in Bessarabia…
Hîncești is a small town, about 30 km away from the capital city. In Moldova, all cities are also district (raion) residences. There are many districts, it’s a lot of bureaucracy, like in Romania. During the USSR, the city was named Kotovsk, in honor of Grigory Kotovsky, a bandit whom the Soviets made a hero of the revolution. He still has a statue in the centre of the city.
The most beautiful area in the city is the park (“The Public Garden”), which has a lake named after the city. It’s a very relaxing place, very green and big enough for a small town like Hîncești. On the shore of the lake there are some restaurants with terraces where you can sit for a beer or a pizza.
Next to the park is the Manuc Bei mansion, built by the Armenian merchant’s son who owned Manuc’s Inn in Bucharest. We didn’t have the chance to visit it because it was under renovation. But we visited the Hîncești History and Ethnography Museum, hosted by one of the auxiliary buildings of the mansion. The custodian of the museum is very passionate about the history of the place and was very excited to tell us everything about the troubled past of the area.
The Romanian Orthodox Church in Hîncești is starting to fade in the shade of the new Russian Orthodox Church that is under construction, whose golden domes can be seen from a distance. Moldovan church is divided in two parts: one pro-Romania and one pro-Kremlin; it is a competition to build churches and attract loyal believers.
The next day, we arrived in Chișinău, where we walked half a day. The centre of the capital is beautifully landscaped, we liked the Cathedral Park, the Public Garden (park) named after the Stephen the Great and the Holy, the Eternity Memorial Complex, the Valea Morilor Park … There are many green areas in this city. The government building, like most of the administrative buildings in Moldova, was built in the communist era, in the style of socialist brutality that does not impress us.
The Central Market is one of the most picturesque places in Bessarabia, being a huge bazaar with thousands of merchants that sell all kinds of things that are made in China or brought from other ex-Soviet countries, but also with vegetables, fruits, food and anything anyone could think of. An emotional moment was when the lady who sold tickets for the public toilets in there told us with tears in her eyes that she felt Romanian.
There are many shops, stalls, kiosks, malls – shopping lovers could spend a lot of time here. Everything in the city is written bilingually, in Romanian and Russian. Prices are lower than in Romania, especially if you live in Cluj. The downtown areas of the capital city have prices below our city, and in the rest of the republic they are even lower.
The most “touristic” place we visited in Moldova is the Mileștii Mici Winery, which is the largest in the world. Outside, there is a flower garden and a fountain that simulates the wine flowing from bottles to glasses. Inside, there are 200 km of galleries, of which only 55 km are used for wine preservation. There are over 2 million bottles of wine – part of the “national treasure” of the Republic of Moldova.
The digging of the tunnels of the subterranean wine cellar started in 1969 on the site of a former limestone mine and were meant from the start to be traversed by car. That’s how we did our tour, on four wheels, a few miles underground, where the wine collections were more interesting. The place provides guides that get in your car with you and tell you about the places you are passing by.
After visiting the tunnels, we had (as part of the tour) a wine tasting in a restaurant underground, combined with traditional Moldovan food and specific music. At the end, they gifted us some bottles of wine and we bought some more at the winery shop, then left very impressed of this experience. The entrance ticket is not at all cheap, the place is meant mostly for Western tourists. Moldovan wines, as well as candy from the Bucuria factory, are much cheaper there than here, in Romania. And it’s not a small difference, sometimes you can even get them at 2-3 times lower prices. It is interesting, however, how people only smuggle cigarettes from Moldova, not candy or wine! 🙂
We returned to Cluj by bus, a rather uncomfortable experience, after we got used to airplanes lately.
The Republic of Moldova has an undeserved bad image, there are many beautiful places worth seeing, and the costs are lower than anywhere in Romania. We recommend that you visit it at least once!
We also hope to have low-cost flights to Chișinău soon…