Impressions of Moldova

Chisinau phones

Channeling my inner Roger Ebert, I am giving Moldova one thumb up and one thumb down.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I may have had a very different impression of this small country squished between Romania and Ukraine if I visited at another time of year – a time when it wasn’t still digging out from massive amount of snow, followed by a warm spell that turned the entire capital city of Chisinau to mush.

Chisinau sidewalk sludge

Actually, it wasn’t even just mush – the whole city was covered by a horrible mix of snow, ice, sludge and mud. It was disgusting and often dangerous as everything froze over in the evenings, meaning a morning stroll through the city was really sliding on ice and trying not to fall flat on my butt.
 

I actually had an old babushka grab me on the sidewalk to keep me from falling over at one point.

 
But I couldn’t help feel that even when the sun is shining and flowers have bloomed, Chisinau is just kind of blah. It seemed to lack any major attractions, especially that you would expect in a capital city, and the aesthetic appeal was about zero.  There were a few small museums and a couple small parks in the center, but that was about it.

Cathedral Park, Chisinau, Moldova

Chisinau monument

Oh, and there was this guy, creating his own personal Occupy Moldova movement (sort of).

Occupy Moldova

Chisinau protest sign

another protest sign, Chisinau, Moldova

Almost everywhere I went, the streets were either so packed I could barely walk (particularly within a few blocks of the chaotic central market and bus station) or they were almost completely empty. The central bus station was a near disaster, with my first attempt at locating a specific bus leaving me close to tears.

Chisinau market

Chisinau bus station
 

Luckily, the people were incredibly friendly.

 
In addition to the babushka saving my butt, everyone was happy to answer questions and provide directions and those who spoke some English seemed eager to practice. When I first arrived, the guy at the currency exchange booth at the north (and much less crazy) bus station quickly chatted me up in Russian, asking first if I was a Russian tourist, then Polish. When I told him American, he gave me a huge smile and commented how far away I was from home.  As I gathered my things to catch a bus to the city center, he came out of his booth to talk some more and eventually helped me find the right bus as well.

As I struggled to board the bus (actually mini-bus) with my large backpack and smaller pack, a gentleman in the front row quickly came to my rescue, grabbing my day pack and holding it on his lap as I got myself situated with the bigger pack. Then he made sure I got off at the right stop.

While it is said that Moldovans are the least happy people in the world, their alleged unhappiness certainly doesn’t stop them from being friendly.

Chisinau market vendors
Clearly the world’s unhappiest people.

Chasing pigeons in Chisinau, Moldova
Too young to be unhappy yet.

 

Everything worth seeing in Moldova is outside of Chisinau.

 
Given the small size of the country and the fact that you can get almost anywhere in 3-4 hours, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. Unfortunately, many of the major tourist attractions (if you can call them that since Moldova is not exactly a tourist hub) are not easily accessible by public transportation. Those that are still require some advance planning as buses don’t always run regularly and it may not always be clear where to get off or where the bus may pick you up for a return trip.  I took three day trips (to Orheiul Vechi monastery, Transdniestria and Milestii Mici winery) and two of the three I would not have been able to figure out without the help of the hostel staff where I was staying.

Orheiul Vechi

I missed out on several destinations because the public transportation options were so limited. Soroca town and fortress are four hours north of Chisinau by bus, with the last bus returning at 6:00 p.m., which wouldn’t have left much time to explore. Likewise, Comrat, the capital of the autonomous region of Gaugazia in the south, is several hours away from Chisinau by bus with even more limited return options.

Other sites like the Tipova and Saharna monasteries are not accessible by public transportation at all and thus require pricey tours – assuming you can get a tour company to actually respond to your inquiries. I contacted several agencies with only one response. The one that did respond was initially enthusiastic but then was so slow to follow up that they never arranged anything for me. How do these people stay in business?
 

If I were to visit Moldova all over again, I would do two things differently.

 
First, I would visit in the spring, summer or fall months when the weather is likely to be much nicer. Second, I would not base myself in Chisinau but instead would stay in small towns around the country. Accommodation options outside the capital are limited and likely more expensive, but it would give me more time to explore the country without having to worry about missing the last bus back to Chisinau.
 

Have you ever been to a country that just felt a little blah?

 

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14 thoughts on “Impressions of Moldova”

  1. Sn-ice-sl-ud > Sniceslud.

    Love the church on the cliff picture. That is beautiful.

    So not much in the way of infrastructure it seems. If you did stay out of the city, would the transport options be any different? Maybe if you went real slowly you could just stay in some of these places instead of having to come back.

    1. The buses to some places are just limited and don’t run horribly late so if you try to make day trips out of the capital, you’re really rushed for time to catch the last bus back. I think the best way to do it is to stay a night or 2 in each place and move on. The capital, Chisinau, is by far the most centrally located and most transport routes go through there, so there’s no other logical place to base yourself for the whole time.

  2. This is a country I might want to go to out of curiosity and because it’s not very touristy, but it sounds like a car might make things easier. At least the people were friendly, that’s always good. I’ve definitely been to some blah places. Singapore and Brunei come to mind, although they were at least nice and had really good food.

    1. Yep, and like I said, visiting at another time of year when the weather is better would probably make a big difference.

  3. Those that are still require some advance planning as buses don’t always run regularly and it may not always be clear where to get off or where the bus may pick you up for a return trip.

  4. I am from Chisinau and I can attest to the fact that better weather would make a lot of difference. Best time to visit Moldova would probably be between end of April to mid-October. It is also true that there aren’t very many things to do but if you’re into wine then you might be pleasantly surprised. Moldovian wines are on par with Italian and French wines. There a few famous wineries though I do not remember their names. As far as travelling around the country I’d recommend renting a car. That way you can see a lot more things outside of the city without having to rush back to catch a bus.

    1. Thanks for the comment Max! I did make it to Milestii Mici, one of the wineries near Chisinau, which was great.

      1. Max is right. If you will visit Chisinau in the summer – your opinion will bi diferent. If I can helpt you… I will glad.

  5. If you don´t know anything about historical sights in Chisinau than you can´t see them. For instance on Stefan cel Mare street every building will tell interesting stories to people who have open ears. There are also great events and fine restaurants for low prices.

    1. Sorry Talon, your comment initially went into spam!

      I didn’t find a ton of English spoken in Moldova, especially not outside of Chisinau. But then again, since I speak Russian, I usually didn’t try to speak English. I just used Russian to get around.

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