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Moldova through the eyes of the world’s travel bloggers

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It seems to be a “terra incognita” for most travellers in the world. Republic of Moldova is never put in the top of the dream travel destinations bucket list. Very often, it is overlooked or ignored by tourists. Basically, it’s called the least popular European destination. But, is the situation really a hard row to hoe and Moldova doesn’t possess any touristic charm? Or maybe we are talking about a not well-known country that hasn’t developed yet its entire potential? We could figure it out by checking out the travel posts of some popular bloggers that managed to visit Moldova.

First, any travel itinerary that includes Moldova mentions several important stops: Chișinău – the capital of the country, Orheiul Vechi – the most popular destination of Moldova where every tourist is driven to, and the famous wineries – the treasure of the country each and every citizen is proud of. Certainly, every traveller that was in Moldova has seen all these places. Still, perhaps they discovered something more and went beyond the conventional touristic brochures’ recommendations.

“I’m going to make an embarrassing confession. Until recently I couldn’t point to Moldova on a map”

Kristin Amico is a travel blogger from Boston, US that, together with a team of curious fellows, strolled around the cities and villages, danced and tasted local food, learned about the complicated history and made new friends during her visit in Republic of Moldova in 2017. “It may take a little effort before locals warm to you, but they will. A conversation over a cup of strong coffee or a shot of local brandy and you’ll have a friend for life.” mentions Kristin in her article.

Kristin with her fellows while travelling to Moldova| Photo source: intrepidtravel.com

Among the Kristin’s favourite experiences were the lunch at the home of the most popular percussion-playing grandmother in Moldova, Lidia Bejenaru, the shopping at “Piața Centrală”, the city’s main outdoor market, and the tortuous guided tour in the Mileștii Mici huge cellars. She was surprised by the taste of the home-made snacks with sunflower seeds and nuts available at roadside stops, and enjoyed the local “Plăcintă”, a savory pastry filled with salty cheese or meat.

“There aren’t a lot of visitors to Chișinău, or Moldova, but perhaps that’s exactly why you should visit.”

Richard Collett is a traveller and freelance writer from the UK. He writes travel blogs with a dash of journalism and takes photographs along the way, as he mentions on his website called “Travel Tramp”.

Richard crossing the border from Abkhazia to Georgia| Photo source: travel-tramp.com

In 2016, he visited Chișinău, “the inelegant, yet chaotically transfixing capital of a small state at the edge of Europe”, as he described it. Richard didn’t see any other tourists around, but this fact didn’t upset him at all. He is a travelling hippie, searching for places that usual tourists don’t visit, abandoned places and countries that don’t exist.

A photo taken by Richard in Transnistria| Photo source: travel-trump.com

In Moldova, he discovered the Stalin’s paranoiac reminiscence of running trains on a separate gauge to the entire central and western Europe, took a tour to the monumental socialist statues in the capital while enjoying the tiny fares for public transportation, and had the chance to glance at the “last surviving haven of the Soviet Union” – Transnistria. “This is one of those regions the Foreign Office advises against all travel to. Moldova doesn’t want anyone going there. There are no embassies, there’s no outside help if anything goes wrong. Entire armies are lined up on every side of the river, just waiting for something to kick off. This is the darkest of political black holes, a place accused of gun running and drug smuggling. And I didn’t even speak a single word of Russian.” At the end of the day, crossing the Transnistria’s border turned out to be a shockingly easy process. Roaming on the streets, he couldn’t miss the tanks and armoured vehicles at every check point ready to follow orders, the proud and nostalgic display of Lenin’s bust, and the strong taste of the 10 years local cognac. “For a country that doesn’t exist, they sure know how to make good, strong liquor.”

“It’s not the trip for beautiful places, it’s for the experience!”

Kamila Napora is a Polish solo traveller that adventured to take the road to a lot of countries. She finally made it to Moldova out of the clear blue sky after her flights to Balkans were cancelled.

Kamila in one of her trips| Photo source: mywanderlust.pl

So, she took the chance to feel the vibe of the place and almost sneaked into the abandoned Chișinău circus, had some local-produced kvas and artisan roast coffee, and remembered her childhood while inspecting the socialist architecture. “You will not find beautiful architecture or exciting attractions there, but still I really enjoyed my visit to Chișinău and I think it’s worth to spend at least a day there” she notices in her article about Moldova.

The main railway station seen by Kamila| Photo source: mywanderlust.pl

Of course, her trip wouldn’t have been complete without a short escape to Transnistria.

“The thing about Chișinău is you can’t help but be taken on a completely random journey while you’re there. That’s when you really get under the skin of the place.”

Macca Sherifi, a travel blogger, photographer and presenter that has the travelling in his genes, was born in Jordan and was carted from a young age by his parents to the most exotic countries of the world.

Macca practicing his photography skills| Photo source: anadventurousworld.com

Macca describes on the blog he writes the highlights of his experience. Among his top five things to do in Chișinău, he recommends wandering in the National Museum of History, visiting churches and, especially, doing something really random. “There are a number of random festivals in Chișinău, and if you’re staying for a few days it’s almost guaranteed there will be something on.”

A festival for kids captured by Macca| Photo source: anadventurousworld.com

“It is definitely a different world here.”

Geoff Matthews and his wife Katie are a Canadian couple who can’t stop travelling. They also made a journey to the “tiny landlocked country that seems kind of ‘left behind’ by the rest of the world” – Moldova.

Geoff and Katie| Photo source: wandertooth.com

Just like the other tourists in Moldova they were trying not only to explore the country, but also to feel the atmosphere of the places they went to. Therefore, in order to catch the glimpse of the local culture, the couple decided to head to Trebujeni: “a sort of ‘open air’ museum complex of ruins and ancient monasteries in caves,” as they heard about it. “A little over an hour later we were on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere.

Photo source: wandertooth.com

Outside of the capital city, Moldova really is like stepping back in time.” Certainly, they were astonished, and how could one not be? The Orheiul Vechi area was huge, there were no clear direction signs and the local people proved to still be living in the era when there really was no farm equipment.

“The one thing I never expected was to fall in love with Moldova.”

Leyla Giray Alyanak, a perpetual expat born in France and an inspiring woman, travelled to Moldova in “a bit of funk”. Leyla already heard from the others that it’s boring but was ready to see everything with her own eyes. Just like the majority of the tourists coming to Moldova, she took the train from Romania and, of course, she learned the way the wheels were changed on the train – “This is not a quiet event. The existing wheels are unfastened and rolled away, and new wheels take their place, a sort of Communist industrial dance with geopolitical undertones.”

Leyla and her new met friend from Moldova – Ana| Photo source: women-on-the-road.com

Even though the travel by train was rather exotic than pleasant, it would lead Leyla to some unexpectedly interesting experience. She had a breath of fresh air in the Chișinău’s parks and was really amazed to discover wi-fi and electrical outlets installed in the city centre, walked along the flower market to nose out their perfume, and enjoyed some local food in the restaurants and cafes. Leyla even drove around the countryside and experienced a rudimentary form of agritourism. “If you’d rather drive than take a local bus or taxi, I’d go for it. You can head north to some of the smaller cities, hunt for monasteries, or even travel south to Gagauzia.”

Photo source: women-on-the-road.com

In her article, she touches the main facets of the economic, cultural and social contrasts: “This is a country of extraordinary diversity and just when you think you’ve understood a thing or two, another layer of complexity appears. You’ll find fast cars and snazzy shops in the capital, but in some rural areas the poverty is shocking.” Still, she expressed her willing to come back one day: “Nothing will take away the fact that it is one of the most interesting countries to visit in this region, and certainly one of the most welcoming.”

Conclusion? Well, all these travel bloggers, as most of the tourists coming to Moldova, had lowered expectations before visiting the country. They were told that it’s a poor country with no fascinating natural attractions or sumptuous architecture, with a huge social gap and a couple of shady autonomous regions on its territory. That’s right. Moldova is certainly not a destination were the tourism is flourishing. Yet, all these people expressed a special excitement about several aspects: the assortment of local food and wine, the diversity of local culture and the special aura that covers some post-soviet places. This is what Moldova has now and, maybe, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. With a proper “wrapping”, all these things could make Moldova a unique place for visitors.

Featured image source: wandertooth.com

Important

Moldova’s mass migration – the main trigger for the economic and demographic decline

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People leave Moldova every day. Nowadays, not only young people leave the country, but elder ones do it as well. It is also the case for Serafima Gherman – a former biology and chemistry teacher, who decided to leave her home country and to head for Milano, Italy.

Our colleagues from Moldova.org spent the day before she left at her place while she was preparing her luggage for leaving. She seems to be down in the mouth. So many years spent in this house…

When Serafima was young she dreamed to become an artist. She secretly applied at the musical college. Her voice was wonderful. When her father, who was a doctor, got to know, he gave her a good beating and told her that the big stages would handle it somehow without her. So, she studied at a technical college and graduated the Pedagogical University from Tiraspol being married with 2 children.  Together with her husband, she built a big house and raised the children. A few years ago her husband passed away. It seems like it was only yesterday.

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Serafima Gherman in her house

Sitting on the floor, she tried to put her thoughts in order and to arrange her belongings in the luggage. First, she was wondering if the pieces of frozen meat, packages of parsley, lovage and traditional cheese made from sheep milk will fit into the blue valise next to her. She was aware that the place she goes to is full of cheese and meat of any kind, but she also knew that the home-made food can’t be compared to anything. And then, she didn’t know how much time it will take until returning home. What if the meat rots?

The next thing Serafima took care for were her clothes, carefully arranged in a plastic bag, as well as her medicines. Still, it was too much stuff. Her grandson assured her that all the things that don’t fit in the valise will be brought by his mom, Serafima’s daughter, next time when she comes to Moldova. She also lives and works in Italy.

Serafima looked around one more time. She checked the papers and the medicines to not forget anything, and started to slowly move to the kitchen. She was crying. “It is very hard, living my entire life in one place and taking to the road now, when I am old. Who will take care of my house while I am gone?” she asked herself. Everything is left behind: a small house with a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom and the most important, a sparkly clean living room called in Romanian “casa mare”. Nobody lives in there. It’s for guests.

She sadly inspected the yard that has the softest and the greenest grass ever. Once it was full of hungry poultry: geese, ducks, chickens. Now it is so silent. All of them were slaughtered one after another as there was nobody who could take care of them while she was visiting her daughter in Italy.

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Serafima with her daughter, Angela

She never thought of being always on the road. Her heart was always weak and then the problems with blood pressure appeared. So, she had to travel a lot: from the local hospital in Brânzenii Vechi to the district hospital in Telenești, and then to Chișinău. Nobody knew what the health issue was. Only when her daughter Angela bought her a ticket to Italy, the physicians discovered the small intestine cancer. After long beggings from her daughter, Serafima accepted to be operated. In Italy, she got her residence permit and the papers for obtaining the 100% degree of disability, as she was hardly able to move and was in poor health. Now she must go to the doctor regularly. “I have to leave for a new consult. It happens every couple of months. I can’t be taken care of in my own country.”

It has been going on for several years now. And she cries every time. Her house fell into disrepair while it is so comfortable and nice in Italy, but so foreign. It’s like there is no life for her in that world.

She was wearing her favourite floral pink dress and a wool cardigan, as it was already quite cold. Leaning on her walking stick, Serafima slowly walked to the gateway, where a car was already waiting for her to take her to the airport in Chișinău. All she could do more was to ask her neighbour to come and check the house from time to time. Nobody knew when she would return, maybe after a couple of months, maybe in summer. Her grandson Liviu helped her with the luggage and nodded affirmatively while receiving indications from his grandma: “Buy some poison against mice and spread it in the corners and under the bed. Move that gas tank in the garage. I don’t want it to be stolen!”

They arrived at the airport and headed directly to the check-in desk. The luggage was already given, the check-in done, and a wheel chair was waiting for Serafima. Tears filled her eyes again. She hugged her beloved grandson and let herself to be guided to the departure gate. There were some other old people that were waiting to be boarded. Most probably they also flown to visit their children.

Republic of Moldova loses her citizens in a matter of hours. Namely, every hour four people leave the country seeking for a better life, according to BBC. In 2017 only, the number of persons over 15 years old that were established abroad for work purposes reached 318.4 thousand, out of which 20.2 thousand are persons aged over 55, as the official data by the National Statistical Office of Moldova states. In case the trend continues, it could lead to a demographic and economic collapse.

Featured image source: lufthansa.com
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