Being situated in Poland, where travel possibilities in all directions are limited only by several hours, I opted to visit Moldova. Having done no prior research besides the location on the map, I arrived with completely unbiased expectations.
I’ve been to many international airports but never recall having to scan my bag an additional time before leaving. I understand this is done because Moldova is often an ideal destination for the smuggling of goods. Similar to Kiev, if you are dressed even moderately well and give off the Marcus Brody appearance of not being from the area which I pretty much do when I travel, you’ll be harassed by cab drivers before finding the airport exit. As a side note, the concept of cab driving in general is quite odd to me as you are essentially trusting a stranger with your life and travel possessions, especially in foreign countries. As a general rule, I always feel much safer going to the kiosk and asking to see the driver’s badge before getting in.
Chișinău – The Capital
Chișinău, the capital, would make for an excellent post apocalyptic film. For those who are intrigued by the Cold War or communism, many of the buildings are still in tact. In addition to the communist buildings, the city is littered with half finished building projects whose age, not so unlike dating a tree by looking at the rings, can be measured by the amount of graffiti it has accumulated. My hotel, for example, sat across an unfinished building. At night I could see into the empty building which was an odd experience. Not only are buildings unfinished but other projects as well. As an example, near my hotel a pile of bricks sat there untouched, it was as if nuclear war did happen and the workers abandoned the project.
The People and Observations
Most of the people I saw on the streets appeared somber. The teenagers appeared happy but many adults had their heads held low and steady faces. The tone seemed to reflect the state of affairs which wasn’t good. I was handed a flyer offering to work in Poland, which is a good barometer of the economic conditions.
On Friday evening I went to the nearest and biggest mall. Shopping malls even in poorer countries aren’t too different from their Western European counterparts. In this mall though I saw the largest queue of people I’ve ever witnessed outside a Western Union. I’ll admit I know little of the country although this tells me that people aren’t making much money in Moldova and rely on money from abroad. This also seemed apparent in the sheer number of money exchanges you’ll find on most major streets, nearly triple the amount of any standard Western European city.
In my travels I’ve noticed 2 other signs that help measure the level of poverty. Although this doesn’t apply everywhere, I’ve found developed countries tend to have domesticated dogs who more often than not play the role of aggressive, guard dog. In Moldova I was approached by a big dog that was hungry. I can’t recall a time a dog that big wasn’t hostile to me. He followed me around a bit, which was a sad state of affairs for him but made me feel better. The second measurement is the infrastructure. In a few shops and on the streets, the tiles would pop up when I walked on them or come undone, something I also experienced in Sofia. I felt someone could make a Pokemon-esque app for this phenomenon.
When I travel, I like to go to nice restaurants and also try what the locals eat for a full experience. I tried a local pizza restaurant, Andy’s Pizza, but it wasn’t anything special. Near my hotel I also had some Russian food, which was very standard. I did go to one local restaurant which was one of the better meals I had all year. Moldova wine is very good and the cuisine is amazing. The brandy is also quite good.
The currency, called Lev (just like Romania) has the same king on every denomination. It’s smaller than dollars or Euros and has the consistency of monopoly money. There are even smaller coins that are essentially worthless and made of what appeared to be tin.
If you travel to Moldova and don’t speak Romanian (the native language) or Russian, be prepared to be ripped off by locals. It’s quite inexpensive compared to Western Europe or the US so even being ripped off isn’t so bad, although on principle it’s still annoying.
I’m not a huge nature fan nor adventurous enough to get a car and see the mountains, I prefer cities because I feel more comfortable in them. I don’t know what nature has to offer but in terms of visiting I’d suggest not going alone. I never felt threatened but at the same time not 100% safe either, I think it would have been a better experience with a Russian or Romanian speaking friend.
Moldova will be a disappointment for a tourist new to Europe as it offers none of the conveniences or attractions you’ll find throughout the EU. With that said, for those who have a passion for communist history, would like to try something different, and are slightly adventurous but not insane, then it’s worth checking out.