Travel in Moldova: Chisinau

The “Gates” of Chisinau
Cathedral Park
My parents in Cathedral Park

If you’ve been following my adventures here in Moldova, I’m sure you’ve heard me mention Chisinau a fair amount of times.  Chisinau is the capital of Moldova and, though I’ve seen travel bloggers call it “The Most Boring Capital in the World” and other similar titles, I actually really like Chisinau.  It’s a pretty small city, which I prefer (no huge crowds are impossible-to-cross streets).  It’s also a very green city, with lots of tree-lined streets and small parks scattered throughout the city as well as several larger parks.

Cathedral Park
Cathedral Park from the Arc de Triumf
Cathedral Park

There is a good and cheap public transportation city, though if you’re in the center of the city, pretty much everything is walk-able.  There are some great restaurants, an excellent (I’ve been told) opera, ballet, and symphony.  In short, although it’s often-Soviet-style architecture can look run-down at times, some of the streets are sans-sidewalks, and it’s an incredibly small capital, I really like it quite a bit.

Arc de Triumf
My parents under the Arc de Triumf
Arc de Triumf

We spent parts of a couple of days in Chisinau when my parents visited and managed to fit in a number of sights.  We visited Cathedral Park (with the cathedral, bell tower, and “Arc de Triumf”), Stefan cel Mare Park (with the statue of Stefan cel Mare and Alley of Poets), and the Muzeul National de Arheologie si Istorie (National Museum of Archaeology and History).

Monument of Stefan cel Mare
Stefan cel Mare
Stefan cel Mare Park

I showed them the Piata Centrala (Central Market) and Gara Centrala (Central Bus Station), as well as our Peace Corps headquarters.  We walked along Stefan cel Mare Street as well as down the pedestrian-only cobblestone street behind the cathedral.

Alley of Poets in Stefan cel Mare Park
Alley of Poets in Stefan cel Mare Park
Bust of Mihai Eminescu, one of the most beloved poets in Romania and Moldova

We rode a trolley bus out to visit my host sister and her husband, where we also got a peek at one of Moldova’s universities.  We also visited a grocery store and Bucurie, Moldova’s candy company, to buy some treats to take home.

National Theater of Opera and Balet Maria Biesu
The Presidential “Palace”

Notes and tips about visiting Chisinau:

  • From the airport, you can catch a taxi, mini-bus, or trolley bus (new!) to get into Chisinau.  A taxi should cost around 70-100 lei, a mini-bus will be 3 lei, and a trolley-bus will be 2 lei.
  • I would recommend staying directly in the center of the city if you can- look on Airbnb and Booking.com for apartments and hotels.  There are a few hostels that are cheap options as well.
  • Once you’re in the center of the city, you can get around by walking, taking a taxi (if you’re going to travel further out of the center or it’s night-time), or using the system of public transportation which includes rutieras (mini-buses) and trolley-buses.  You can find out which trolleys go where and where the stations are by downloading the E-Way app on your phone.
  • One of the great things about visiting Chisinau is that if you are American, the prices are very low in comparison to the US!  You can easily get a meal and drinks for under $10 USD.  There are a number of traditional Moldovan restaurants, but if you’re looking for something different, some favorite restaurants among volunteers include Opa (Greek), Tbilisi (Georgian), JoJo’s (Georgian), El Paso (Mexican-ish), Smokehouse (American BBQ), and Caravan (Uzbek).
  • There is a nice outdoor art and souvenir market on Stefan cel Mare street.  The Central Market is a bit crazy and can get very crowded, but is also interesting to see.

Travel in Moldova: Cricova Winery

On the last full day my parents were in Moldova, we visited Cricova Winery.  Moldova is known for its wine because it’s good wine, but it’s also known for being the country in which the top two largest underground wine cellars in the world are found.  Milesti Mici is the largest at 200 kilometers of tunnels and almost 200 million bottles of wine, while Cricova is the second largest at 120 kilometers of tunnels and 1.2 million bottles of wine.  Cricova was founded in 1952 and around that time also began to house the wine collection of various famous and rich individuals.

We joined a tour of the underground tunnels, which was on a trolley-like bus.  The tunnels are colder than we expected, though we had been warned!  Our guide told us about the various processes they use.  We also watched a movie in a small cinema, where we got our first taste of Cricova sparkling wine (champagne).  After our tour ended, we had a tasting with the large group we had toured with.  We got to try several different kinds of wine and sparkling wines.

Notes and tips about visiting Cricova Winery:

  • The tour and tasting takes about an hour and a half total.
  • It is cold in the tunnels!! I wish I had dressed a bit more warmly.
  • Our tour was in English, but we had a very hard time understanding the guide.
  • Although the tasting was good, with some food, it felt very, very rushed.  I really would have preferred more time in the tasting room, as it was a large amount of wine to consume in a very short amount of time.

Travel in Moldova: Comrat

One of the short trips we did within Moldova was a trip to Comrat.  Comrat is the capital of the semi-autonomous region Gagauzia.  This means that while still a part of Moldova, the Moldovan government has granted the region certain freedoms and more control over certain aspects of their governance.  The reason behind this is that the region is distinctly unique in terms of culture, traditions, food, and even language.

Gagauzia was settled by Ottoman Turks during one of the times Moldova was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.  These settlers brought with them their language, culture, and traditions, which still can be observed there today.  Although most Gagauzians speak primarily Russian in modern times, their traditional language of Gagauz is still sometimes used, mostly by the older generations.

Because I don’t speak any Russian and most people living in Comrat do not speak Romanian, my host dad accompanied my family to Comrat and a fellow volunteer was our tour guide around the town.  Compared to most other parts of Moldova, Comrat has not removed all Soviet-era monuments.  For example, there is a statue of Lenin in the town, as well as other monuments memorializing Gagauz, Moldovan, and Russian writers and other famous individuals.

We walked around the town, taking the sights in, and then ate at a local restaurant.  I had steak for the first time in over a year, and it was incredibly delicious (this is one of the few places in Moldova to get it!).  It was interesting to see what my host dad thought about the town, as it was also his first visit.  He felt that there weren’t enough mature trees and said that must be because they had cut all the trees down at some point, which he found disappointing.  For me, and for my parents, it was interesting to visit an area of Moldova I had heard a lot about but hadn’t seen yet.

Notes and tips about visiting Comrat:

  • As I mentioned above, Russian is the main language spoken and very few people speak English.  You can get around the city pretty easily regardless of whether you speak the language or not, but you should be aware of this.
  • There is a beautiful church with a park flanking both sides in the center of the town.  There is a large parking space behind this if you are coming by car.

Travel in Moldova: Purcari Winery

Purcari Winery is located in the south-eastern part of the country and is the oldest wine estate in Moldova.  Because of it’s proximity to the Black Sea, it has a unique ecosystem ideal for growing the grapes, especially for red wine.  Vineyards in the this area of the country were first planted around the 12th century and primarily cultivated by the monks from a monastery in the area.  In 1827, Emperor Nicholas I of Russia granted Purcari the status of the first specialized winery in Bessarabia.  Purcari won its first gold medal at an international exhibition in 1878 at the Paris World Expo.

After World War II, the winery opened again and continued to produce quality wines.  Today, there is a small hotel and fine restaurant.  We visited with my host sister and did a tour and wine tasting.  When we visited there were only a few other guests and we were able to get a tour in English.  We had contacted them in advance but had not heard back, thankfully it turned out they had received our message.  The grounds were very peaceful and we were given plenty of time to enjoy the wines after the formal tasting with our guide.

Notes and tips about visiting Purcari Winery:

  • While further from Chisinau, the winery is located in a gorgeous part of Moldova (though I may be biased as I live fairly close to here).
  • Compared to some of the other wineries in Moldova, the tour is not quite as interesting (in comparison to Cricova, with it’s huge underground tunnels), but the tasting was good.  We do wish we had ordered dinner to go with our tasting, but didn’t realize it would be prepared while we toured and ready when we arrived in the tasting room.
  • The winery is known for its red wines, though we did also taste one white wine.

Travel in Moldova: Ţîpova & Orhei Vechi

We spent part of a day exploring two amazing cave monasteries in the north-eastern part of Moldova, Ţîpova and Orhei Vechi.  I’ve visited both before (see my previous post about Orhei Vechi here, and my previous post about Ţîpova here).

We began with Ţîpova, located between Soroca and Orhei Vechi.  This cave monastery consists of three complexes.  The first was built between the 11th and 15th centuries.  The second was built between the 14th and 15th centuries and includes the Church of St. Nicholas.  The third was built between the 16th and 18th centuries and is a row of 18 separate rooms linked by an interior passage.  In additional to being a monastery, the location was also used for defense due to its easily-protected location.  According to legend, the great leader Ştefan cel Mare married one of his wives there and she is also buried in the monastery.  Today, a long set up steep steps leads down to the monastery, which is currently being restored.  There is a small exhibit showing past photos of the complex as well as plans for restoration.  We visited the cave church as well as the caves where monks once lived.

Orhei Vechi is a historic site that encompasses one of the earliest-settled parts of Moldova.  The main attraction, however, is the cave monastery that overlooks the Răut River.  The monastery was built into a series of small caves by Orthodox monks in the 13th century.  The monastery was inhabited until the 18th century, and then restored in 1996 after Moldova gained its independence.  The location was ideal for early Christian monks, as it was isolated from the outside world.

Each of these cave monasteries offer sweeping views of one of two river valleys (the Răut and the Nistru) in the area.

Notes and tips about visiting Ţîpova and Orhei Vechi:

  • There is limited (and difficult to navigate) public transportation to both locations, so it’s best to have private transportation.
  • Ţîpova in particular has rather steep steps that are a fairly difficult climb.  We had no problem getting up and down them, but you should be aware of that.
  • Each location charges for admission, which was between 10 and 20 MDL per person.
  • The first time I visited Ţîpova there was a man there who could do guided tours, but this time there was not.  On my first visit, there was a 50 MDL charge for the group tour (in total, not per person).
  • At Ţîpova there is parking space outside the main  gate.  At Orhei Vechi, you’ll need to stop at the large building that houses the small museum to purchase your ticket.  You can also generally park there.