Moldova (Oct 2005)
edit: this post was written in 2005 with a text editor in a rush - ignore spellings typos etc
Moldova and the breakaway "Republic" of Transdnister
The Romanians I spoke to could not understand why I would want to go to Moldova, and their response to Transdnister was "what - there (it) is war". Moldova is poorer than the poor Romania - and I think they also considered some Moldovans to be dangerous. Even Heinz my German hostel host told me I should not go "Andrew .. I do not joke about death" and told me about Moldovans pulling knives on people in another hostel, and some fatalities. However the FCO website only advised against visiting Transdnister.
Notice on entrance to Tiraspol Night Club - banned items.
The Moldovan People
Men wear black shoes with a long pointed, and slightly upturned, toe (reminds me of medieval/jesters shoes), these have been in fashion here and also in Ukraine for a couple of years. In Ukraine I was identified as foreign by another tourist because of my round toed shoes.
Most Moldovans speak Romanian, but as part of the former USSR it also has large numbers of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians (hence the breakaway republic on the Ukraine border). I had heard that the people of the former USSR are unfriendly and do not smile, the lack of smiling may be partly cultural and not necessarily coldness. I would like to report the people as the most friendly in the world - but I can't.
Its the only place I've had a kiosk shop window shut in my face after starting to speak; and where people I've approached in the street for directions just continue walking past as if you don't exist. Of course I also met helpful people.
That all said Moldova is one of the paces I would like to re-visit, to explore the countryside nd to get a better feel for how things work.
The Moldovans I spoke to miss the USSR and they may well be typical, as both Moldova and Transdnister have elected Communist Governments. In "Playing Moldova at Tennis" Tony Hawks warned of the dangers of being out at night without a torch as there was no street lighting and pavements had missing manhole covers. Marisha informs me that under the Communists the city now has street lighting again and missing drain and manhole covers have been replaced. The capital certainly does have street lighting, and I didn't see any missing manhole covers in the centre - but in the suburbs I saw quite a few missing covers though not on walkways.
SO I would say you can go out without a torch - but don't wander home drunk as some of these are stumbling distance from paths or areas you might walk across during the day.
Although probably the poorest place I've visited it was near the bottom of the scrounger list i.e. I did not have the dubious pleasure of meeting many beggars and cigarette scroungers.
Moldova has only 20,000 visitors a year. There are no hostels and I think it is the only European country that Roughguides.com website does not provide any info on! There are a small number of expensive (to me) hotels in the capital Chisinau, and in the 2nd city Tiraspol (capital of the breakaway "Republic of TransDniestr") there are only 2 hotels - one of which has had to resort to letting out rooms to local businesses as offices.
Visas are now easier to obtain for EU citizens, I had to go to the Moldovan Consulate in Bucharest before noon (it looks like a suburban semi - only identifiable outside by the two diplomatic guards and a small plaque on the gate post). You have to wait outside (luckily the Bucharest downpour had stopped) until summoned and they won't let you in if someone else is already inside. You fill the forms in provide one passport photo are given a chit to take to a specific bank in Bucharest where you pay over $65 return to the consulate after 3pm and the visa is inserted in your passport. In Moldova you have to register at the Ministry of IT within 3 days of arrival. If you are staying at a hotel they may be able to register at the Ministry on your behalf (?) The registration document is may be needed for exiting the country via Transdnister.
In view of the prophets of doom in Romania, I thought it wise to ensure I had accommodation and transport to it sorted before I arrived. There are no hostels but Marisha has a website offering accommodation in her flat and also her services as a travel guide/companion - as far as we know, she is the first to do this. Her "guests" normally book 3 to 6 months in advance - so she already had a guest who was paying for his own room; rather than a skinflint who'd paid share a room rates like me - so I had to share her bedroom the first night.In view of the bad press, I was expecting a derelict railway station - it was new, clean, relaxing - even down to fish tanks in the lobby - far better than any in the UK. It is about the size of Swindon Railway station but far less busy.
I'd also arranged an airport pick-up through Marisha for €5 - and sure enough when my train arrived an hour late there was someone waiting with my name on a card; my sense of importance didn't last long, my chauffeur driven car was a tiny battered Lada. I'd opted for pick-up to avoid the station villains, but the minuscule number of tourists don't provide an attraction, so its far "safer" than other international stations. However I doubt if I would have found the flat without the pick-up.
Moldova used to be part of the USSR so the centre of Chisinau is surrounded by Soviet high rise housing. This is the view from outside my high rise accommodation (a typical square of normal Chisinau housing).
Each flat has an outer metal doors with an inner door behind, apparently they are needed. However, there was no graffiti and I felt quite safe wandering round the giant housing estates. Main roads in these areas are lined with shops and cafes with a novel outlook.
A 2 bed flat in one of these buildings is worth about US $20,000, it is still possible to get a "cottage" with large garden and a bit of land for about $4,000 - but this will be in a small village without public transport connections.On the day I arrived Marisha was doing an afternoon tour for her other guest + someone she had put up with a friend of (I've forgotten the name). Rather than waste the afternoon recovering from the journey I forked out the 10 euros to go along. So the 5 of us (including driver) set off on the 40km drive to ----- in the tiny Lada. It was probably the best investment I've made in a guided tour on my travels. A church on a remote ridge above a cave monastery with one resident hermit monk.
My key memory is serenity i.e. the absence of any noise as we walked up to the church - total peace and quiet. This is one of Moldova's main tourist spots (even having information signs in English on some iron age workings) but in late September the only people there were the 5 of us and the resident hermit.
We visited the nearby village of ------ which Marisha described as a "poorer" village. It comprised about 150 houses most snaking along a single dirt track lane, with communal wells serving say 20 homes. No doubt it is psychological but drinking the cool well water from the bucket seemed much more refreshing and better tasting than tap or bottled water.
Whilst walking through the village we saw plenty of ducks and geese, wine making etc, the odd horse/pony and cart, but NO cars.
Even when looking down on a more wealthy village in another valley, it still had dirt track roads, wells, and the only sounds I could here from the village were animals and someone hammering - no machinery/cars. Tractors etc are used for ploughing etc - but during my stay in Moldova I saw none. I've tried spot the car on the full scale image of this picture - there are none.