When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, all the satellite republics that were forcibly held as pawns of the former Communist regime found themselves floating free from the mother ship as independent nations for the first time in a long while.
Many of these newly formed entities, like the Ukraine and Kazakhstan were massive in land area, had scores of citizens, or they possessed valuable natural resources that could be used to sustain themselves in the new world order that had dawned upon them almost overnight in the early 1990’s.
And then there were places like Moldova.
Tiny in size, with a diminutive population and few valuable natural resources, Moldova has had a rougher go of things since those crazy days. In fact, a tiny region in the countries’ east called Transnistria broke away from Moldova, triggering a six month long civil war.
Things are peaceful today, but Transnistrians do not consider themselves part of Moldova, so don’t make the mistake of referring to them as such! Slowly but surely, Moldova is progressing, as the capital Chisinau has steadily improved in prosperity in the past two decades.
The countryside is still quite underdeveloped in comparison, so if you are coming here from Romania, you may be in for a bit of a shock! The side effect of this is that the rural areas of this nation remain very pastoral as a result of the slow pace of change, making for a refreshing change of pace from the rapid pace of modernization that is sweeping much of Eastern Europe these days.
Currency: Moldovan Leu
Languages: Moldovan (very similar to Romanian), Russian, Gagauz
What To Do
If you arrive in Moldova via plane or train, it is likely you’ll be beginning your Moldovan adventure in the capital city of Chisinau. Start your time here by brushing up on the backstory of this tiny state by paying a visit to the National Museum of History of Moldova.
There is plenty here to keep you busy for over the better part of an afternoon, as a staggering 263,000 relics and exhibits are contained within these walls, covering everything from the prehistory of the early peoples that inhabited the land where Moldova stands today, through the times of the Dacians and the Middle Ages, straight through the modern era and the days of Communism.
Departing the capital, the one place that every dedicated oenophile (wine lover) should see is Milestii Mici, a wine cellar declared by the Guinness World Book of Records to be the world’s largest repository of vino. Holding 2 million bottles of some of the finest fermented grape juice that Moldova has to offer (and it is highly regarded, with some editions fetching upwards of 500 Euro a bottle), the cellar has a total of 200 kilometres of hallways along which these valuable treasures are kept.
Those looking for significant religious monuments in Moldova should check out Capriana Monastery, which is the oldest one of its kind in the country, as it was established sometime before 1429. Located in the rolling countryside 40 kilometres outside of Chinisau, the characteristic onion bulb tops of a typical Eastern Orthodox Cathedral will greet you upon arrival, but it says nothing of the fantastic frescoes that adorn the interior, coating the walls and the ceiling of this highly spiritual place.
Given the opportunity, one should take advantage of the chance to rent a bicycle while in Moldova. Taking to the countryside surrounding the cities and towns, you’ll get a glimpse of life in the real Moldova, as most of this nation’s citizens still make their home in rural regions, as opposed to the bigger towns and cities.
While biking through the rolling hills and bucolic villages, be sure to check out the handicrafts that many local artisans create … if you enjoy their work, don’t be afraid to purchase them, whether for your own mantle at home, or that of your family and friends, as doing so will help support the hardly earned livelihood that many people in this part of the world undertake to get by from year to year!
Active travelers that are willing to discover some great caving can do so in Moldova, as there are many wonderful limestone caverns that can be spelunked in throughout this small nation. One of the most promoted includes the Cave of Surprises, which is a tight cave formed by tectonic movement between blocks of limestone. Some spaces can be tight if you are on the bigger side, but they also allow for easy, controlled descents, making for a fun and challenging day in the recesses of the Earth beneath Moldova.
What To Eat
Being in the Balkans, Moldova shares many foods common to their neighbours in Romania and Bulgaria. However, this country does have some specialities that are unique to this tiny, farm-filled country. One that is well-loved in the country at most meals as a side is Mamaliga, which is a cornmeal porridge that provides a balance of grains to some of the meatier dishes that are enjoyed at Moldovan dinner tables.
A popular finger food that is commonly found at communal meals would be Sarma, which are cabbage leaves that are stuffed with various minced meats (veal, pork, beef, etc) and then roasted in an oven. Looking foreign to most Westerners that have never experienced them before, they can look unappetizing when you haven’t tried them or know what they contain. When you do have them though, it can be hard to stop, so be sure to slow down and let everybody have their share!
Finally, Ghiveci is a popular stew enjoyed by many Moldovans. Frequently made with mutton (but also made with chicken as well), it combines your meat of choice with an armada of vegetables and seasonings like lemon juice and paprika in an aromatic soup pot of awesomeness. So varied is the assortment of veggies, vegans and vegetarians can consume this soup in its meatless variety and can walk away in a state of bliss, so powerful is the combination of flavours in this dish!