It is always difficult to work out the right amount of time to spend somewhere, you can do all the researching in the world and still end up leaving too much or too little time. Recently, we found ourselves time poor in a country by the name of Moldova. It has previously been labelled ‘the unhappiest country on the face of the earth’, and is one of the least visited countries in Europe, yet it has so much to offer. Our 2 days should really have been 4 days to allow us to get the highlights of Moldova done. We think hiring a car could have been useful too, however there are plenty of very affordable day trips/tours you can book if you base yourself in Chisinau like we did. While we are glad we made the trip and saw what we did of the country, there is some lingering regret around what we didn’t manage to see. But hey, it just means we have to make the trip back again, which is a perfectly excellent thing. For others’ research purposes, we’ve noted what we did, and what we missed below;
Stay – Hotel Chisinau. Good location, close to the airport, walking distance to the main bus station and a supermarket across the road. Breakfast is served inside a cave restaurant, and there is a 24 hour bar in the lobby
Eat/Drink – La Placinte where about £5 per person will get you dinner, dessert and drinks. It’s a tapas style restaurant with plenty of variety. Bucuria chocolate shop, you’re spoiled for choice but the queue can be a nightmare! Uptown Cafe for great coffee and good vibes (near the university). And, be sure to try some of Moldova’s famous wine in a restaurant or from the supermarket
Do – Free walking tour Chisinau, Valea Morilor, Transnistria Day Trip, Orheiul Vechi & Old Orhei Day Trip, Milesii Mici Underground Wine City, Wine Tasting Experience
What We Did
Our first day was a trip to Transnistria, this has got to be the most unique place we have been so far. It broke away from Moldova in 1992 and declared itself an independent state. You won’t find a dotted line on the world map however, because it is not officially recognised as independent by anyone yet. Still, there is a boarder to cross with customs to clear, they have their own currency, and they have their own government in place. From the central bus station in Chisinau (which also doubles as the central market and makes it absolutely chaotic), we managed to find a bus that would take us to Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria. At the boarder, we were cleared through very easily and given a paper visa for 24 hours. We were told to make sure it stayed on us for the duration of our visit and we had to show it to any police officer who asked for it.
Being the single language speakers that we are, we didn’t much like our chances of getting around a mainly Russian speaking area by ourselves in the short amount of time we had, so we booked a tour for €25.00 each. Although we had only enquired the evening before, they arranged pick up from the bus station at a time that was suitable for us. It was a private tour too, and we were driven from place to place in a nice air conditioned car with a friendly and well-informed guide. We visited Festung Tighina (Fortress), Noul Neamt Monestary, Kitskany Bridgehead memorial with its magnificent view, the cultural centre with a giant Lenin head at the entrance, and rode the ‘ferry’ across the Dniester River – this was more like a floating platform on a wire, but it was awesome and did the job perfectly well. It was a beautiful sunny day, so after we were dropped back in Tiraspol centre, we took our time visiting the Eternal Flame, Tank Monument, Suvorov Monument, and checking out the beach before boarding the bus back to Chisinau that evening.
We also managed to enjoy a free walking tour in the city of Chisinau. We met our guide by the Stephen The Great monument and spent 2 hours discovering the gems of the city. We saw the parliament and presidential buildings, exactly opposite each other and learned a little about the anti-communism protests that happened right outside in the late 2000’s. We wandered through Stefan cel Mare park, with its central fountain and alley of notable Moldovan and Romanian authors. An introduction to Bucuria, with it’s mountains of delicious chocolates and sweets was followed by a visit to the Triumphal Arch, Bell tower, Cathedral and new pedestrian street which are all laid out in a perfectly straight line.
Feeling hungry after all the walking and learning, we were very well fed and watered (by water, i mean Sangria) at the nearby La Placinte restaurant. This was a recommendation from our guide which did not disappoint – 2 mains, 2 desserts and a 1L jug of Sangria was just £7, and everything was delicious! The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring Valea Morilor with it’s lake and green areas, chilling out at Uptown Cafe and checking out a Japanese culture festival at the university. That evening we jumped on an overnight bus to Bucharest and left magnificent Moldova behind.
What We Missed
What we managed to do with our time in Moldova was all brilliant. However, if we had perhaps done some more research (like you are potentially doing now), we would have put aside a few more days to really see and do the best Moldova has to offer. One of the things we most waned to do was the cave Monastery in Orheiul Veche. We actually knew about this before we arrived, but thought it was much easier to get to by public transport than it really is. Because the busses are not that regular, and it is 55km away from Chisinau, you probably need at least half a day if you don’t have a car, but there is plenty to do while you’re there. Along with the monastery, there is Old Orhei which offers insight around traditional life in Moldova, and there are some beautiful hikes you can take. There is an archaeological museum and we hear wine tasting is also possible out there. We would probably book a tour with someone who can give you all the information around the sites as well as get you there and back at suitable times, but it is possible to do on your own.
When it comes to wine, Moldova does not do things by halves; take Milestii Mici for example, an underground wine city covering 182,000 square miles! You can walk or drive through literal streets of wine stored in limestone galleries in the perfect micro-climates for ageing. There are dim street lights to guide you through and tasting room stop offs of course, it sounds unreal and we are completely gutted we missed it. Wih so many exceptional wineries around the place, we think a day spent vineyard/cellar hopping in the summer sunshine would have been divine. Next time, we are jumping on the first bus to Milestii Mici and taking it from there (you might not see us for a few days!).
Moldova really surprised us, we didn’t know what to expect, but were delighted to find a beautiful country that’s developing itself and managing to retain its traditional charm at the same time. Right now, it’s definitely an ‘off the beaten track’ destination. As word spreads though, we predict big things for Moldova – so get visiting soon!
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a place? Or found you needed more time somewhere? Let us know so we don’t make the same mistake!