Being situated in Poland, where travel possibilities in all directions are limited only by several hours, on a whim I opted to visit Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. Having done no prior research besides finding the location on a map, I arrived to Moldova with completely unbiased expectations.
I’ve been to many international airports but never recall having to scan my bag an additional time before leaving, which I understand is done because Moldova is often an ideal destination for the smuggling of contrabrand. Similar to Ukraine, and just about all Eastern European countries for that matter, if you are dressed even moderately well and give off the Marcus Brody appearance of not being from the area which is me in a nutshell when I travel, you’ll be harassed by pesky cab drivers before locating the airport exit.
On a side note, the concept of cab driving in general is quite odd to me. Taking it out of the context of the necessity, it’s odd that we essentially trust our lives and possessions to a complete stranger just because they are sitting in a yellow car. For this reason, when I’m travelling to a new place, I normally ask for a taxi from the airport kiosk. You will probably pay slightly above market rates here but at least you know it is a safe bet.
Chișinău – The Capital
Chișinău, the capital, would be an excellent location for a post apocalyptic film. Those intrigued by the Cold War or communism will find that many of these buildings are still in tact. In addition to the communist style 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 interior which certainly made for a unique travel experience. Not only are buildings unfinished but other general construction projects as well. As an example, near my hotel sat a pile of bricks simply untouched, it was as if nuclear war did in fact happen and the workers assigned to the project had simply abandoned it.
The People and Observations
Most of the people I saw on the streets appeared somber. The teenagers looked much happier but many adults had their heads held low and gave steady looks to those passing by. The tone seemed to reflect the state of affairs in Molvoda, which I imagine weren’t that good. I was handed a flyer offering work opportunities in Poland, which is a good barometer of the overall economic conditions in the country.
On Friday evening I went to the nearest and biggest mall. Shopping malls even in less well off 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 leads me to believe that people aren’t making much money in Moldova and rely on funds from abroad or are paid in other currencies. 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 economic well being of a country. Although this doesn’t apply everywhere, I’ve found developed countries tend to only have domesticated dogs who more often than not play the role of aggressive, guard dog. On the other hand, in Moldova I was approached by a fairly big dog that was looking to me for food. I can’t recall a time in any other Western country that a dog of that size wasn’t openly hostile to me in such a situation. The big fellow followed me around a bit, which was a sad state of affairs for him but made me feel better.
The second measurement of a country’s overall stability is the infrastructure, which to me shows whether or not there are enough funds for basic amenities and aestehtics. 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.
Other Thoughts on Moldova
The currency, which is the 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.
Most of the people I met spoke a little Russian but very little English. I made the mistake of travelling without doing that research since I was quite limited in what I could do and definitely was walking around like a blind foreigner.
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.