We’re approaching the end of summer here in Moldova. Next week, along with all of my fellow M31 volunteers, I have my mid-service conference (we’re past the mid-way point of our service!). Next Friday, my sister is arriving for a week-long visit in Moldova, and the following Friday is our first day of school!
The weather has continued to be sweltering hot, but today is significantly cooler! It looks like the rest of the week will be close to or below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is welcome after several weeks of 95 degree plus weather (including one day that reached 104 degrees!). Today is a rainy, cool day and it feels a bit like fall. I even wore a jacket on my way to my school this morning!
As school approaches, our grant project at the school is in full swing. The walls and ceiling are in the process of being refinished and painted (they are plaster) and the floors are getting painted this week as well. Then the furniture will go in, hopefully this week or next, and we can get our new technology installed and new and old books on the shelves! I’m very excited to see it all come together! I was a little worried it wouldn’t be completed before September 1st, but it looks like it might make it!
At the same time as the school library renovations are happening, there is also a bunch of other construction going on at my school. My school was awarded a large grant (I wasn’t involved in this one) to get indoor toilets. This is quite the project, as huge trenches have to be dug outside to put in pipes for water and waste, and a sewage system has to be installed, plus the actual bathrooms have to be built and outfitted. Currently, it’s a maze to get into the school building due to all the trenches out front and to the sides. The school has been working towards this project for a long time though, so I’m excited it’s happening!
I have two more weeks left of summer vacation, but I know they will fly by. Between grant purchases and installation, summer English clubs, our mid-service conference, and my sister’s visit, I’ll be plenty busy!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.