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    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

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Moldova

Moldova's Countryside

Chisinau

February 8, 2004
Living in Chisinau, Moldova

I'm in Chisinau, Moldova and I think I like it. I had troubles getting here; I got in a day later than expected, but I made it.

From the first time I saw my house on Frumoasa Street (meaning beautiful street) I was impressed with the limestone and red wavy roof tiles behind the black ornate fencing over every window and balconies. You must lift a swinging gate to ascend stairs into the house, which is entered through our double doors, about 8 feet tall and rounded on top. Our foyer is ridiculously spacious and rises about 40 feet to the ceiling. Wrapped around the corner is a sitting room and on the right wall a dining room with a mahogany table to seat 12, a "refrigerator room," and the kitchen. We also have a small laundry room and a small storage basement.

After entering, the stairs directly in front of you rise to the mezzanine level, which houses my room, bathroom and a study in addition to a back door. As you open a small white gate to your right, stairs lead to the next floor, essentially situated in the front of the house. There is a master bedroom, bath and a very large living room on that level.

All the ceilings are about ten feet tall and the decks are incredible. The walls and ceilings are white and the floors hard wood. As you open the back gate you see a yard, a rose garden on the left, a few trees and a pond/fountain on the right.

The house next door is unfinished because houses aren't taxed until they are complete so people often finish the insides and leave the outsides unfinished with garbage all over their yards to avoid taxes. A few houses in my neighborhood, like mine, seem to have a very Mediterranean influence as grape vines are common along with the red roofs.

Many people house goats and chickens in their urban yards during the summer and it is not uncommon to see goats being herded on the streets. The people behind us have a rooster who crows every morning and a few houses have chicken coups in their front yards. There are also a good number of stray dogs, but many people are very cruel to them and they fear people more than people seem to fear them.

Of course my purpose of living here is to work as an intern at the U.S. Embassy, which is great. The people are fun and easy to work with; I can go in and out of the office at will and have already met the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

From what I know of the city, it is great, but very odd. It's a strange mix of westerners and locals, but it's odd because none of the westerners are tourists. Nearly every westerner here lives here and, being the capital, there are a number of people from many different countries, giving the city an international feel. In a way, everything caters to locals even if that means a lot of the locals are foreigners, there are no tourist traps, or even tourist sights in any true sense of the word, except maybe the nearby vineyards and wineries.

There are Mexican, American, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Georgian, and Moldovan restaurants among others. Supermarkets have western food and there are three McDonald's here, but again these are really only visited by locals, Moldovan and foreign alike. There is also a great night life with bars, clubs, cafes, etc.

The city is a very strange combination of a number of cultures. There are churches, but only some in Russian orthodox style, another in Armenian, and still a synagogue, Catholic Church and Mormon temple. Many of the houses are made of stone, but the government buildings are very modern and sporadically scattered throughout the city as are Soviet bloc apartment buildings.

Everywhere there are trees and flowers, along with parks and outdoor markets, plus art exhibits. It has a small town feel, with big city excitement and history dating back to the 1500s. It feels like a rural village turned city.

There are a few small lakes surrounding the city and the city seems tied to its Romanian roots or Roman roots with a statue of a she-wolf along with Romulus and Remus. Also when one notices the city is on a series of hills giving spectacular views from select spots, locals claim the city stands on seven hills, much like Rome.

The people here seem friendly and, although they say there's a lot of ethnic tension I have yet to see it. Everyone speaks Russian, many people speak Moldovan and a very small number of people speak English. The power and tension lie in government and the mafia, the two most powerful and dominating influences in the city.

Moldovan Countryside

February 29, 2004
Leap Year

The day only comes once every four years so I made the most of it as I went out of town to Romania. The trip there and back was very interesting, seeing true Moldova and beginning to see some of the evidence supporting the fact that it's the poorest country in Europe. Much of the trip reminded me of Africa in the sense that the streets were full of potholes, were flooded, and the sidewalks were mud. Everything seemed run down and in bad shape: the houses, fences, stop signs, everything. Most of the drive was rolling hills, primarily with farms on both sides, some trees and very often villages on the hillsides in the distance. Every village had a church and they stuck out; always the first sign of a village in the distance. The churches were incredible and the thought that those people with so little gave so much to build churches like these were a true testament to them. As we crossed through or past each town, there would be at least 6-10 people hitch hiking and the main form of transportation was horse-drawn wagons. Vineyards also were scattered in the area closer to Chisinau. As the clouds parted and the sun shined on these towns, on the hills, the scene was incredible.

Gagauzia

March 7, 2004
Ceâdar Lînga & Comrat

After two hours of waiting in Comrat we got a bus to Ceadar-Linga. The bus was coming from Tiraspol and the driver was excited to have Americans so had us sit in the front by him. He had a big Soviet hammer and sickle pin and told me he's from Tiraspol with a smile stretching from ear to ear below his broad mustache.

Soon after our trip began he asked me to pass something over to him; I thought he said "oil" so I questioned him and he said "yes" as he pointed to a tank at my feet.  I passed it over to him, at which point his focus shifted from the road ahead of us to a hole in the floor. He glanced up at the road, looked down at what he was pouring, looked up again, then turned to me and said "the oil leaks." A couple times during the trip I passed him the oil and he poured it into the hole in the floor between his feet. Next to this hole, was another hole, but I'm not sure what that one was for because he never used it. He told me with his broad smile that the bus was Chinese made and that American cars are much better. I think this was a compliment, so I accepted it and we continued our conversation about life.

We arrived in Ceadar-Linga, which magnifies the "land without manhole covers." Manhole covers are made with valuable metals, which sell well on the scrap metal market so rarely can you find a manhole cover anywhere in Moldova. Ceadar-Linga has a long sidewalk from the bus station, which we followed past the numerous manhole-coverless holes to nowhere. This sidewalk went on as far as I could see, but there didn't seem to be anything to which it leads, so we turned around, saw another statue of Lenin then headed up the hill to the church.

The church in town is pretty impressive and the sun broke the clouds with a large ray reaching down as if touching the church. The area was very dirty, run-down, and falling apart. Only one man-hole cover was in place that I found and the streets almost seemed desolate.

Elizabeth and I then took a Marshutka down for 20 lei; the ride was alright, but Comrat was not. There was nothing really there other than a World War II victory memorial, lots of dead grass, and an "eternal flame" that was not so eternal.

The houses and streets were old and beat up; this is the poorest part of the country. The government building was like any other government building in the country, but with a Gagauz flag in front and the best statue of Lenin I've ever seen: Lenin, the Proletariat.

There were a couple small markets, a fairly nice church in the center and two or three nice new buildings, a hotel, and a restaurant.

Chisinau

March 21, 2004
Dance Clubs

Moldovan dance clubs... I've heard the rumors, but I've never heard the details. We went to "The City" after dinner at LaTaifas yesterday and it was a cultural experience.

The restaurant had a great atmosphere and everyone was served homemade wine. A band present was playing live music the whole time as they walked up and down the aisles. The one player is supposed to be one of the world's greatest, but since people can't afford to go to concerts he plays on Saturday nights in this local restaurant.

At first, the club seemed normal, 50 lei cover and as we entered we walked through a metal detector, which is standard in this part of the world. We entered into the center of the club, with the dance floor immediately in front of us, a stage and tables around the outside semi-circle. Our table was upstairs, which was also a semi-circle, but open so as to look down to the dance floor.

Soon after sitting down, I noticed the dance floor had four or five poles and that the second floor had four cages, two on each side. By midnight (we got there at about 11:00pm, which was when most people were arriving) the dance floor was packed and the cages had girls in sparkly bikinis dancing. I think this was for our entertainment because the cages were lit up and the dancers were obviously employed by the club.

After some time, all dancing stopped, the floor was cleared by security and a dancer came out to do a little show. I found this odd, but then the dancing continued as security let everyone back on the floor. The next act was just disturbing though: two guys, one in a blow-up woman's body outfit went on to do a "comedy" act to music. Soon the "woman's" clothes were off and the act continued for way too long. Afterwards, the music started up again and the dancing continued as if nothing had happened. Not too long later, the music again stopped and another girl came out, so I was expecting a show like the first couple. But soon she turned around and took her shirt off, completely bare on top. This was just the beginning however and from this point on it became almost more of a kinky strip club than a dance club.

Transnistria

March 26, 2004
Benderi, Tiraspol, & a War Zone

Our diplomatic mission arrived at the border of Transnistria and Moldova at about 10:30am. Long story short we couldn't find the place we were headed and got bad directions a number of times so we saw the Benderi about three times.

Benderi's downtown is small but very interesting. As you enter there is a very tall, Soviet-type monument, near the base of which there are three signs, each with a different language (Ukrainian, Russian, and Moldovan in the Cyrillic). As we continued we saw a big tank with the Transnistrian flag on it. Across the street, near the river is a huge fortress with a trench/dry moat and tall stonewalls with another pile of dirt on top of this. It's very old and historic; they say that a Finnish prince found refuge here after escaping from the Russians and found home as a mutual trading partner with the Ottoman Turks.

We left Moldovan-controlled lands by crossing the (locally) famous bridge into Tiraspol. Here we had no directional problems and quickly found our restaurant in downtown Tiraspol for lunch.

Next, we went sightseeing, starting with the tank and memorials to those who died during the war. The tank said "to the motherland." Nearby was the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the eternal flame. On each side of the tomb were the tombs of soldiers who died in the 1992 war. As we continued up the hill, there were plaques dedicated to those from Transnistria who had died in other conflicts/wars like WWII, etc. At the top of the hill were bronze soldiers, each a different height representing a different war; to our right, across the street, stood the Supreme Soviet and beside it a huge statue of Syvorov, a Russian general who originally captured Transnistrian lands for the Russians in the late 1700s.

We stopped at a bookstore where Alan bought a book about the history of Transnistria in pictures and actually found himself in the book. Next, we went to the Kvint factory and everyone used all of their leftover Transnistrian money to buy cognac.

From Tiraspol, we turned off to see a bridge crossing over into Moldovan-controlled lands; it was destroyed during the 1992 war, so European countries raised money to rebuild it, the nicest stretch of road in Moldova, but as soon as it was finished Transnistria blocked it so no car has actually crossed the road. We approached and asked to cross, knowing we would be denied as we were. They said "the road is closed," so we left.

We again headed north and crossed the area where (along with Tiraspol/Benderi) was the worst fighting and war trenches were everywhere still today. In this area, Moldova won the battles so we crossed the border into Moldova well before reaching the river and continued to the west. Before reaching the Moldovan guards we took a detour to see a badly damaged church. It was amazing; completely shot up. The villagers watched us watch the church in awe. From here the trip was easy and soon got back to the embassy, just in time for dinner.

Orhei Vechi

March 28, 2004
Cave Monasteries

We had the hardest time finding a ride to Orheil or Orheil Vechi. We found one shuttle going to nearby Trebujeni, but it didn't leave until 2:00, but then we found a ride to Orheil. After arriving in Orheil, we negotiated a taxi down to 80 lei for a ride to the middle of nowhere to the top of a river-carved ridge.

We went into the caves/tunnels, which were built in the 12th century. In the section we visited, the monks slept in one room and the other is a church. We walked out onto the edge and saw the shear drop to the river below. We talked to the monastery's keeper, a monk for awhile as he taught us all about the area and history of these hand-made caves.

We bought candles and lit them, then left and walked along the ridge to see the church and view from afar. At the bottom of the ridge, there's a "museum," which was open if we paid enough, but we really only needed the bathroom so left. They laughed at us because one girl needed to use the bathroom and didn't want to go in the eastern-style squat toilet out house. They said it's not a big city and that's all they had.

Buses back to Chisinau were non-existent so we started walking. For the first half hour we saw no cars going in our direction and only two the other way. We then saw a group of 8-10 guys working on a building in the middle of nowhere; there were two soldiers watching them with semi-automatics, which made us a little uneasy. As we passed they watched us until we were far enough away that they started to whistle at the girls.

Another hour passed and we entered and left a few towns; the towns were normal for Moldova: chickens, cows, and dogs walking the streets, with few cars or people. We finally began trying to hitch hike, but again there was no traffic to be seen, only an oil tanker and a log truck for nearly an hour.

As we continued to avoid "cow pies" a car stopped for us; a guy probably in his 30s with a small child. He asked us where we were going and told us to get in. He cranked the tunes and started dancing, but said very little. After a few minutes he dropped us off on the main road and wished us luck as he turned north as we were heading south.

It was no longer than 30 seconds from the time we got dropped off to the time another car stopped, which was headed to Chisinau and offered to take us so we got in. The driver and his brother (also in the car) are in a band so gave us their CD and invited us to their next concert. They seemed very smart and one spoke German, Italian, Moldovan and Russian, while the other spoke German, Moldovan, Russian, and a little English. They were both Moldovan, but said they sing Russian songs.

They dropped us off at the store near our house and we got our pictures taken with them before we each went our own ways. We missed the circus we had tickets for that evening, but we still had dinner at Alaverdi, the Georgian restaurant in Chisinau.

Soroca

April, 2004
Roma Capital of the World

Home of the King of the Roma, better known as gypsies. The city is odd with huge homes for the Roma leadership. The past king died and was buried with his phone, fax machine, and computer so he could communicate with his people after this death.

The Roma are basically a culture which encourages not working, however the culture is better organized than I had thought and the money that is received from begging moves up the chain to Roma leadership. The houses here are mansions, at least 4,000 square feet each and architecture unlike anything I've ever seen.

The taxi driver told my friend Elizabeth that when he takes her around the houses, the taxi doors must be locked at all times. She is Bolivian and due to her darker complexion, the taxi driver said she would make a perfect Roma wife and would be kidnapped and sold if the doors weren't locked.

The city also has a decent castle overlooking the river, across from which is Ukraine.

Chisinau

April 20, 2004
Politics, Bowling, & Pub Quiz

I had a couple receptions for embassy work that were slightly awkward, the first was in February. They're one of those things where we're supposed to walk around and talk politics with every Moldovan Parliamentarian about our bilateral situation. On the plus side I got to meet just about everyone in Parliament and got some great food.

Then in early March I had a meeting with the South Eastern European (SEE) Stability Pact which was kind of fun, especially since the group was extremely small and consisted of President Vladimir Voronin, the chairs of the Stability Pact, the ambassadors... and myself. It was odd being in that position, especially since I had a microphone and could ask the president or the Foreign Minister any question I may have had. There were only about 20 people in the room and I actually got to meet the president himself.

Enough of work; we have a bowling league, which is quite something. One night I had the best bowling series of my life, got recruited to be a professional, considered it, and in fact am still considering it, but turned down the opportunity. The rest of my daily routine consists mostly of watching X-Files re-runs, since we have a TV and X-Files videos, but no TV reception. I've also gone to a pub quiz night and I became friends with an interesting American named Joseph, but unfortunately my team took second. The good news was that another American team took first so we beat the Brits pretty badly and that's what's important. That's about all from Moldova; after being here for awhile, the small changes and adjustments become normal as my lifestyle changes to fit in here and find a place I belong.

Learn more about Moldova Return to Justin's Travel Blog