For my last weekend before Christmas break, I visited Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. My interest in this country stems from its relationship with Romania, with which it shares both language and history, and from the fact (?) that it usually is reported as the poorest European country. For much of my life, I knew Moldova (aka Moldavia) as part of the Soviet Union, although it has been independent since 1991. Most of the country is part of a region called Bessarabia, which many consider to be part of “Greater Romania.” (The word “Bessarabia” appears as graffiti throughout Bucharest.)
The capital city of Chișinău is easily reached from the small international airport; however, most flights from Romania come from Bucharest on TAROM and are quite expensive, despite being less than an hour long. (I had wanted to take the much cheaper, Soviet-era overnight train, but logistics conspired against me.) The poverty of the city is readily apparent in its disrepair: crumbling buildings and sidewalks abound, even in the “touristy” city center. The pay-off for visitors lies in its affordability: both food and lodging are inexpensive compared to western Europe.
I had no particular expectations nor even an agenda for this long-weekend trip, but I was pleasantly surprised during a visit to a local coffeehouse to find myself in the company of four of the five U.S. Fulbrighters posted in Moldova (see picture below) as well as two American high schoolers studying Russian. Every trip I take reminds me of the Disney song, “It’s A Small World Afterall”; however, it’s usually Adele playing instead.
While I have no regrets about my visit, I cannot recommend it, unless you include some sites well outside the city: Mileștii Mici (the world’s largest wine cellar) and Orhai (the cave monastery). Instead, I’d recommend Kyiv, the capital of Ukaine…comparable prices but so much more to see and do and in much better shape.