Well let me ask you a few of questions.
- Do you enjoy drinking high quality wine and not paying through the nose?
- Do you like getting off the beaten track?
- Do you revel finding cheap food and accomodation?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then you my friend sound like you’d be a perfect candidate for a trip to Moldova.
We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived in Moldova, because let’s admit it, Moldova doesn’t really rank highly on many foreigner’s ‘dream destinations’ lists. We spent half a week in Moldova and this wasn’t enough time to see everything we wanted to see, so it is a country that we’d like to go back to one day.
Australian’s don’t need a visa to travel to Moldova if you’re staying less than 90 days (if you stay more than 90 days you either found a job there or you fell in love with the amazingly cheap good quality wine). Citizens of most western nations don’t need a visa to travel to Moldova either. You can double check visa requirements on the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
- It’s the same for everyone travelling around Eastern Europe and/or generally poorer countries – don’t parade your fancy new Rolex watch around, don’t flash your money around, be weary of pickpockets…all the usual warnings that I shouldn’t have to remind you about but I have anyway because that’s the sort of person I am.
- Hostels are scarce in Moldova but they are fairly cheap…just don’t expect the Taj Mahal, you get what you pay for.
- In Moldova they speak Moldovan…but while the language may be called Moldovan it’s exactly the same as Romanian and Romanian is exactly the same as Moldovan.
Moldova doesn’t have amazing public transport connections through the country, there is a train line and plenty of public buses but they aren’t too tourist friendly. We just hired a car for a couple of days, it’s worth doing because you can explore the country at your own pace and it’s cheap (about 35 Euro a day).
We stayed in the capital (Chisinau) for the few days we were there, it’s easy to do day trips to pretty much anywhere around the country from there.
- Check out: Parcul Catedralei one of the main parks in the centre of the city, typical Soviet style park with the Orthodox Cathedral and the Arc de Triomphe (it’s pretty much a smaller version of the one in Paris). Across the road you’ll find the massive Soviet style Government House. Next to that is Parcul Stefan cel Mare the oldest park in Moldova. Another impressive Soviet style building is the Moldovan Parliament Building – when we were there, hundreds of protesters were living out the front of it in a tent city. Across the road from that is Moldovan Presidency Building, although due to years of protests it’s fenced off by a 3 metre high tin fence – but you can still see the gigantic building towering above it. The National Army Museum has a small collection of Soviet tanks and aircraft – we just walked past it because they are all displayed out in the open. Street stalls near the train station are an interesting experience. You can buy pretty much anything here – it literally looks like people have just got the odds and ends from their homes and laid it on the street to sell. Valea Morilor is one of the biggest lakes in Chisinau and is a popular place to cool off on hot summer days.
- Eat/drink at: Atrium it’s a big mall near the train station but on the top level (before Sky Bar) there are a bunch of small bars which are great to have a bite to eat at and a drink while watching the sunset.
- We stayed at: Chisinau Chill Hostel the less said about this place the better, as my mother always told me “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
- Watch out for: Because Moldova is not on the tourist track, a lot of shop owners, waitresses/waiters in restaurants etc. don’t speak English, so try and learn a bit of Moldovan/Romanian to get by.
- Milestii Mici has the record for the largest collection of wine in the world, with more than 1.5 million bottles, and they have the capacity to store 500,000 more! All this wine is stored in a labyrinth of underground tunnels, built into the side of a hill, that stretches for more than 200km. Tasting some of their wines in the restaurant 60m underground is something very unique. To see the underground cellars you need to be on a tour and you need to have your own car. We did a tour and a tasting with 3 different types of wine and some nibbles for 310 MDL per person ($20 AUD). What’s more is that you can buy wine in the shop after for as cheap as 30 MDL ($2 AUD). For example I bought a 1991 Chardonnay and a 2010 sparkling red for the grand total of $6 AUD
- The most well know winery in Moldova is Cricova. It’s so highly regarded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had his birthday here and German Chancellor Angela Merkel apparently spent more time in the winery than anywhere else in the country during her visit to Moldova.
- Not only is this Orthodox Church on top of a ridge an amazing sight but the surrounding landscape is breathtaking. The Cave Monastery build in the 13th century runs underneath the church and bell tower. You really appreciate the Moldovan countryside after seeing this.
It’s a little stretch of land between Moldova and Ukraine, officially it’s part of Moldova but Transnistria claim they are an independent republic. This self proclaimed country has it’s own parliament, army and currency. It’s an area that’s stuck in time with it’s population of 500,000 mainly Russian speaking residents still hanging on to the last remnants of the glory days of the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately we didn’t travel through Transnistria as crossing through there on a bus is generally not recommended. Besides that, the Australian Government’s official advice for the region is “reconsider your need to travel.” In saying that the train from Odessa, Ukraine to Chisinau, Moldova passes through Transnistria’s capital (Tiraspol) and from all reports you don’t get any grief crossing Transnistria on a train.
We would love to check out Transnistria one day. We met a few people who had been there and they didn’t have any problems, you just have to register with the police when you arrive. Do your research before going.
Did You Know?
- Protests have been going on for years out the front of Moldovan Parliament because $1 billion mysteriously went missing from 3 of Moldova’s leading banks in 2014. That’s 12% of Moldova’s GDP. Lots of Moldovans want answers on just how such a large sum of money can be whittled away from the poorest country in Europe.
- The train tracks in Moldova are wider than the ones in Romania. This is because Stalin thought it would be a great idea to have different size train tracks in certain countries in a bid to stop smugglers and to slow down the Germans if they ever invaded Russia. Thanks to Stalin, at the border of Moldova and Romania they literally hoist the carriage up with hydraulic jacks, pull the old wheels out and replace them with new ones.
A Final Word
Yes, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and yes, it isn’t exactly set up for tourists, but that’s what makes it so interesting. Personally we like getting off the beaten track and discovering the road less travelled. If this sounds like you then yes you should visit Moldova. Chisinau could be like a major city anywhere in the world but once you get out of the city limits and explore the countryside it really is something special.