As I continue to reflect on the countries I’ve visited, I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I recall Moldova. My visit was eagerly anticipated as it looked slightly off the beaten track and a bit more adventurous a place to visit than it’s neighbours. And I knew if I went, I’d be sure to venture to the breakaway republic of Transnistria. And so Moldova is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit but was too scared, and not somewhere I’m ticking off a list.
At first glance, there is not much to draw you to Moldova. I stayed in the capital Chisinau. Visually it’s not the most attractive of the former Soviet republics and truthfully is kinda ugly to look at. You have to look beyond the old Soviet concrete apartment blocks. This is the poorest country in Europe – and you can tell. Additionally, the country itself doesn’t get many tourists and hence has less budget-conscious ways into the country.
But when you make it there, there is a lot beneath the surface to impress you. Firstly, it’s the only airport I’ve been handed an apple when arriving with a warm welcome. And then as I boarded the marshrutka with locals to town, the cost was only 15p. My trip started off well.
My budget hotel was actually better than I expected, although it’s probably useful to know my standards are not high. I had a clean and comfy room with a private bathroom. Breakfast was interesting, especially as I’m vegetarian and don’t speak Moldovan. But it was filling, and I ended up with some leftovers for lunch. And did I mention the wine in Moldova is cheap and plentiful?
Safety and calculated risks
I’m not saying you have to be brave to visit Moldova, but it helps. One of the things that drove me mad was the subways. I’d much prefer to cross overground, but there were no traffic lights and many lanes of fast traffic. And so into the subway I went.
I did ponder if I’d meet my end under there, but as there were other non-scary users of the dark subways it seemed fine. But I was in diligent mode, checking everyone and making a call whether I wanted to walk. And it was fine – fixing broken lights is much less of a priority in Moldova. You have to roll with it, look after yourself but not worry too much.
Some places surprised me
Despite some places looking old and uncared from, there were some surprises. The newly renovated National Art Museum was stunning – just look at that white staircase. And surprisingly I had it all to myself and only spotted one other visitor. It was so unexpected and sat strangely alongside its neighbours.
I also enjoyed the Pushkin museum and found it interesting seeing the house he was exiled to. Despite most information not being in English, the staff were very accommodating and really wanted to help.
The long and short answer is – it’s Romanian. Or Moldovan as they call it. Russian was an obvious second language. Some people spoke English, but not a lot. Younger people were much more likely to speak English, and older people Russian. And in the breakaway republic, backed by the Kremlin, Russian was the main language and mother tongue.
Some places I am drawn to visit as you are not meant to visit them. Transnistria falls into this category as a breakaway republic, a country that does not officially exist. Classed as politically unstable and thus on the red ‘do not visit’ list of most governments for years.
However, in reality, you can easily visit safely. I just went with locals on the marshrutka. For the bargain price of a few pounds, I got driven from Chisinau to Tiraspol, squished in with fellow passengers. I loved the journey and seeing how people were living in other parts of the country, especially rurally. And it is true the roads got worse and worse the further from Chisinau you were.
Entering the breakaway republic felt exciting. Immigration was easy, they spoke absolutely perfect English and were more than happy for me to visit for the day.
What did I find?
It was a fascinating place to visit, as the Moldovan language had given way to Russian. There was a distinct Russian feeling to the place. Not to mention the feeling of having gone back 40 or so years. I had great fun trying out their currency – that is basically worthless anywhere else.
On the ground it felt very safe – there were people around going about their everyday lives. And no military or police to be seen anywhere. As you might expect, it was not an affluent place. There were not many shops or restaurants around. In the market, there was a lot of fermented cabbage and less than appetising fruit on display. But the people I saw looked happy and content, living their lives. And it was easy enough to find wifi to connect to the outside world.
And if Moldova has few tourists, Transnistria had even less. Which I felt was a shame, as it was such a different place to visit. A worthy day trip of adventure.
Lenin still stands proud
Yes, this is one of the few places where the Soviet statues still stand. Moreover, they look well cared for and looked after. As you’d expect of a breakaway republics there were a fair few military and nationalist memorials. And an eternal flame. You could wander around the town and see them all in an hour or so.
I’d heard you were not meant to take photos of Lenin, mainly as it is a government building behind. So I snapped away with my phone initially. And couldn’t see anyone particularly caring that I was taking pics. The locals looked bemused, giving the same look I give to tourist taking pics of Tower Bridge in London. Then I got braver and got out the DSLR. And snapped away, with no sign of anyone at all caring. I then wandered around camera out with no problems whatsoever.
If you like going somewhere different and have a bit of nostalgia for old Soviet relics you’ll love Moldova. Alternative if you love wine, it could work very well. And if a bit of dark tourism is for you, try a visit to Transnistria.
You just have to come with a very open mind, as this is still a developing country with all that entails. But that does mean the prices are bargain basement, a really affordable place to travel.
Related Posts – Counting Countries Series
- Travels as a Child – Countries 1 to 6
- On my own dime – Countries 7 to 16
- Going East – Countries 17 to 22
- Europe and Beyond – Countries 23 to 27
- The Caribbean and yet more Europe – Countries 28 to 31
- Inca Extravaganza – Countries 32 & 33
- African Extravaganza – Countries 34 &35
- Overlooked Countries- Countries 36 & 37
- Snowy Baltic Tour – Countries 38, 39 & 40
Over to you
- What are your thoughts?
- Do you like to travel to unusual places?
- Have you been to Moldova?