I am completely convinced that Chisinau (pron. Kiss-shin-now) is the most fabulous place in Eastern Europe. We drove here from Chernivtzi, and after a rather long wait at the border, during which several officious Moldovan border security people took our passports to a small room (no doubt laughing at all our pictures) and proceeded to stamp them, accompanied by the equally officious Ukrainian border patrol, who took away various pieces of paper. Once our driver received the proper piece of paper (stamped no less than eighteen times), we were allowed to pass through and make our way to the capital of Moldova.
It is embarrassing to admit that before this trip I really had no idea what or where Moldova is. So a few facts to keep everyone up to date:
- Moldova is a country, a former part of the U.S.S.R. (and then part of the Commonwealth of Independent States)
- formerly known as Bessarabia (sp?)
- Moldova has ~3million people, is a land-locked country, and has a population made up of Romanians, Russians and Ukrainians with a smattering of other cultures as well (I'm sure I'm insulting some group horridly, so apologies for leaving people out - i'll leave it at Moldova has had a turbulent history, was part of Romania, Austria-Hungary and everyone else around this neck of the woods at some point or other, and they had a miserable time of it ever since the Soviets came in, followed by the Nazis, and then returned to the Soviets, much like the Ukraine).
But all the history aside, Moldova is a wonderful country. I am completely sold on it, and must suggest that you all come and visit! The people are friendly, the countryside beautiful (complete with picturesque villages with peasants farming the land by hand and grand-parents taking the horse and cart laden with cabbages to the next town, and, most importantly the wine is delicious).
Yesterday we went to a world heritage site - a cave monastery, hollowed out in the limestone cliffs around here. The site was beautiful, and we got there at the end of the day, when the light was dimming and the birds were singing. There is a cross at which one makes a (non-material) wish, and it will supposedly come true soon (sorry, can't tell you what mine was or it won't come true). The land was so peaceful, and the scene so beautiful, that I can well believe that magic was in the air. The Moldovan dinner and wine afterwards were similarly so superb that I may actually have run out of superlatives for them...
Today we wandered Chisinau. Despite the numerous blocks of Soviet concrete that litter the city, it is beautiful. And cheap! A luxurious multi-course lunch costs a few dollars, and a large bar of good chocolate is about 80 cents. The average person makes ~90 dollars/month, but a hideous Soviet concrete flat rents for 100/month, at the very minimum. So clearly an impoverished nation. But despite that, the people are wonderful - friendly service, a safe feel to the streets and a happy population. There is open generosity in the air - young people help the elderly cross the streets, and the cars stop for pedestrian traffic. The people are very proud of their freedom and their nation, and are desperate to make it work. I really love this place, and feel a strange kinship to these lovely people - I hope they do make this country work, and must encourage you all to buy the excellent Moldovan wine and cheese! And if you visit, try the 'mushroom cookies' which are actually thin crepes filled with mushrooms and a little cheese, folded up, and then breaded and fried: sooooo good.
Speaking of food and drink, if my words today are a little long, it is merely because this afternoon we went wine tasting in the biggest wine cellars in the world! They are located in the remnants of a limestone mine, and the cellars are so large that you tour them in a small van! (Though I wonder what the vans do to the air quality in the cellars... I think a small research project is in order...).
In all the towns that we pass, there are several items of note: every village has a memorial to the Red Army 'liberators' of World War Two - the typically Soviet bronze patriotic statues often have silk flowers placed underneath. On a lighter note, there have also been several stork nests (complete with real, live storks. But no, they don't carry babies in their beaks..). There are also working wells in every town and in every field, with shiny new buckets - clearly in use. While some of the wells are the rope and wheel wells we're used to thinking of in North America, many are a long pole with a line at the end that is carefully angled into the well...
Tomorrow we are on to Odessa, where I fully intend to relive movie history on the Potemkin steps. Hope all is well back home - all the best!
PS - For those of you asking, the only boat I have seen in Moldova so far was of the rowboat variety...