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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

Economy

The Moldovan fruit farmers’ paradox – anybody can produce but only few chosen can sell

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The Republic of Moldova is an agrarian country. The most important agricultural activities in Moldova – the production of walnuts, grapes and some other fruits is, though, squeezed between the political interests and the weak regulations regarding export monopolies establishment and preference of imported products on the internal market. The small Moldovan farms remain outside the big business, being marginalized, misinformed and discriminated when it comes to selling their products inside or outside the Republic of Moldova.

The official data

During a press release of the National Office of Vine and Wine in Moldova, it was communicated that the 2017-2018 season recorded the earliest grapes harvest in the last 40 years. At the same time, the grapes production was 15% higher compared to the average of the last 8 years. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in the period January-June 2018, the grape exports from the Republic of Moldova increased by 32.1% compared to the same period of 2017. Moldova exported grapes to Romania – 51.9% of the total export, the Russian Federation – 35% and Belarus – 3.7%.

The National Agency for Food Safety (NAFS) announced a raise in 2018 of  the production and export of Moldovan fruits such as apples, plums, peaches, apricots and cherries.  According to the provided data, 70.6 thousand tons of apples from 2018 year’s harvest were exported, that being three times more than in the same period of 2017. A significant increase was also recorded in the export of plums – 31 thousand tons of plums have reached the foreign markets. The NAFS talked about the export of fruits to the usual for Moldova international markets, such as the Russian market, and discovering new markets such as Iraq and Bangladesh.

The European Business Association reported a quantity of 10 thousand tons of walnuts, exported by 30 companies entitled to do the exports to France Germany or Austria. There are 29,000 hectares of walnut trees in the Republic of Moldova. In 2017, the walnuts production was 18.7 thousand tons. The main countries where the Moldovan walnuts are exported are the EU countries, Ukraine, Turkey and Russia.

Behind the curtain

Several journalistic investigations performed by few independent media institutions from Moldova, such as Ziarul de Gardă and Jurnal TV, have uncovered the ties between certain family members of the former Prime Minister of Moldova – Pavel Filip, and several companies that have an important role on the walnuts and dried fruits markets. The investigations were launched after the allegations of existing a personal interest of the former Prime Minister in maintaining a monopolistic situation on the walnuts market. While checking  the reason of a dramatic decrease of walnuts selling price on the market, the journalists have found a scheme of collecting and centralizing of walnut production by few collector firms that transported them afterwards to “Monicol” SRL – a company owned by father of the Filip’s daughter-in-law. The company has a market share of about 20% and the government’s protection in their activity. The allegations were denied by Pavel Filip, but no financial information regarding the company’s activity was made public.

Svetlana Lungu, the Head of Plant Protection and Health Directorate of NAFS, explained that the process of obtaining the necessary papers for exporting walnuts is not so hard. “In the EU, the requirements are minimal. Namely, it is necessary to obtain the phytosanitary certificate for the export of products of plant origin. The registration of the exporter and the producer is required by NAFS, as well as owning or renting a storage space by the exporter and signing a contract with the producer,” declared Lungu. Therefore, as long as the process is standardized, why the Moldovan walnuts are officially exported by only 30 companies and a monopoly is established on the market unofficially? Maybe because there are some political and personal interests of ‘filtering’ the companies authorized to export.

Walnuts exporting is a profitable business in Moldova. According to TV8, one kilogram of Moldovan walnuts costs 23.94 euro on the Belgian store shelves (about 462 lei). In Moldova, one kilogram of walnuts could reach 150/200 lei on the market, but from producers it is bought for 60/80 lei per kilogram.

The situation for the grapes and fruits producers is not much better. Few weeks ago, a campaign was initiated by a grapes’ producer, Diana Crudu, that advised people not to buy flowers for the International Women’s Day, but a box of grapes or apples.

“There are over 7 thousand tons of grapes in the  Moldovan warehouses. If they are not sold in the next two or three weeks, these grapes will have to be thrown away. The wine factories do not have the capacity to process and storage such a large quantity of grapes. This is the most dramatic situation faced by table grape manufacturers in the last 15 years,” said Diana in an interview for RFE/RL.

The producers are forced to sell the grapes on the local market for 3 to 6 lei per kilogram. At the same time, consumers are offered the possibility to buy imported grapes for 80 lei per kilogram in the Moldovan supermarkets.

The Ministry of Agriculture representative, Iurie Mudrea, declared that no compensation for unsold products can be provided. “The business always involves risk. Calculate, my dear, solve the problem, think about it at the beginning of year, put some efforts. Even Russia no longer accepts low quality, we need high quality for all products. Here we have to start: big volumes, high level of quality and a lot of effort,” declared Mudrea for TV8.

The Ministry of Agriculture claimed that apples could be purchased directly from producers and distributed free of charge in schools. At the same time, the “qualitative and nicely packed” apples could be sold in the country’s retail shops, and the fruit quality monitoring infrastructure could be developed. A lot of things could be done. But will they?

The real solution came from Moldovan people. An event organized by the Klumea Association encouraged Moldovan people to become  solidary with the grapes’ producers and come on Sunday, February 24th, at a bazaar in the city centre of Chisinau to buy a box of domestic grapes, with only 5 lei per kilogram.  The initiative has a suggestive name: ‘Take Moldova home’.

Source: Facebook

Featured photo: worldpulse.com

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Diaspora

Stories from diaspora// Alexandrina Robu-Cepoi: “Be the change you want to see in the world and don’t hesitate to act immediately!”

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Since she was a teenager, Alexandrina has been involved in various social, educational, economic and cultural projects. She is currently working in Brussels as a Board Member and the Chair of the Women Committee within JEUNE – the Young Entrepreneurs Organization of the European Union, while writing her PhD thesis. Alexandrina Robu-Cepoi is the next protagonist of the “Stories from diaspora” series.

About opportunities

Alexandrina thinks that every person can achieve anything by being perseverant, ambitious, determined and by making the necessary effort for that. “Each of us has thousands of opportunities in his life. The difference is in the ability to recognize them and to fully exploit them.” Alexandrina is the person who seizes the opportunities and turns them into reality.

“When the opportunities are bigger than what I think I can cope with, I get out of my comfort zone and become better. Many of these lessons I learned during the one-year exchange I did in Brazil.”

When she was just 17 years old, Alexandrina won a scholarship for studying in Brazil – a totally new country for her, as she had zero knowledge regarding its culture or language at that moment. Still, she managed to quickly familiarize herself with the new environment and made a lot of friends there. “I learned to be flexible. This ability always helped me,” says Alexandrina.

About her life ‘momentum’

Our protagonist is passioned about the energy sector, international policies and entrepreneurship. In fact, she managed to perfectly blend them together through her activity. “My passion for the energy field has materialized five years ago when I became the executive manager of the Employers Association in the Energy Center of the Republic of Moldova. It began, though, during my flight to Brazil when I met an energy expert who told me with great passion about his field of activity. It was the moment when I realized I was interested in working in this sector.”

Alexandrina already had several jobs in Brussels and all of them were related to energy, international politics and entrepreneurship, as she was working in lobbying associations. “The latest project I was involved in along with my colleagues from Central Europe Energy Partners is the Central Europe Energy Day. There, the Vice-President of the European Commission, Members of the European Parliament, representatives of companies from the energy sector and other interested persons were present. This kind of projects have a great impact on EU policies and will be also organized in the future,” proudly claims Alexandrina.

In her spare time, she likes to travel. The last country she visited was Thailand. “I really love to discover new cultures, traditions, places and people. Traveling helps me find myself, express my feelings and fill my soul with positive energy. Thailand really impressed me with its landscape, culinary traditions and its vast culture. I would like to visit all the continents until the end of my life.”

About crucial decisions

Alexandrina is belonging to the category of young people who make changes, not just wait for them. In the past, Alexandrina was the President of the Rotaract Club from Chișinău. Afterwards, she earned a scholarship for studying at the College of Europe in Natolin for one year. Besides her studies, she was again involved in various projects, including the establishment of the Rotaract Club in Poland.

“I had a great experience at the College of Europe. It was a very intense year, with many challenges and successes as well. I gave priority to studies but I also interacted with young people from 32 countries, I made very good friends, I was introduced to new cultures and had the chance to present my culture.” The College is famous for its strict and busy program.

“It is like a Spartan battle where the most powerful and well-organized people win. It is a lifetime experience.”

Still, the decision to study at the College of Europe in Natolin came to a cost. Alexandrina had to take a hard decision regarding her future actions. “The news that I was accepted at the College of Europe came right after I was hired for the position of assistant and non-key energy expert at the EU High Level Advisory Mission to the Republic of Moldova. It was a difficult decision. I asked for advice from several people, including the college graduates. I was advised to choose the studies and I am really grateful for that. The College of Europe was the ‘business card’ for my future experience in Brussels,” recalls Alexandrina.

About JEUNE

Currently, Alexandrina is managing the Women Committee of the EU Young Entrepreneurs Organization JEUNE, which is one of the largest profile organisations with more than one million members in the EU and neighbouring countries.

When talking about the path to reaching such a position, Alexandrina mentioned that she first had became a member of the JEUNE Organization and after 4 year of hard work she was entrusted with the Chair of the Women Committee mandate. “I was the President of the European Association of Young Entrepreneurs from Moldova, established under the patronage of the EU Delegation in Moldova, when I filed an application for joining JEUNE. Later I became a member of the Board of Directors and the Chair of the Women Committee, as from this position I could support more the young female entrepreneurs and help them make their voice heard in the European Institutions.”

About ‘changing the world’ home

Alexandrina comes home as often as she can to see her family, to observe the changes that occurred while she was absent and to eat her favourite homemade chicken soup. “Our origins are the places where we were born, where we find spiritual balance. For me, they are the places where I grew up – the house of my parents and my grandparents. Our roots are also represented by the wonderful people who served as a role model and have transmitted their values to us. So ​​that in the good and bad moments, the family is what makes us rediscover our capacities and believe we can overcome any obstacle,” she says.

Alexandrina always talks about Moldova and tries to present it in the best light.

“Now we have hard times, but the political situation can’t ruin the country’s incomparable and wild beauty.”

When comparing the people from western and eastern Europe, Alexandrina believes that “sometimes, westerners are more favoured but we, easterners, are fighters, having a lot of courage.” She says that there is a big difference in mentality between Easterners and Westerners: from the way they treat their jobs to the way they trust politicians. But in the same time, “both sides have their pluses and minuses.

Furthermore, Alexandrina thinks that each Moldovan citizen can make a change. “I am sure that each of us, whether living in Moldova or in diaspora, can change things for the better in our country. I’m trying to implement at least one project per year in Moldova. Even if it’s very hard to manage it remotely, I’m making this effort because I care about my country and I want to contribute to its modernization.”

Alexandrina thinks that it’s not easy to change the people’s mentality, “but if you inform them correctly and show them examples of how to do things in a more efficient way, perhaps they would make the right choices themselves next time.” Alexandrina provides her own example of how to change the people’s mentality: “The last project we implemented in Moldova was the Diaspora Business Academy for young female entrepreneurs where we talked to 30 young women about the best managerial practices. We have also tried to foster economic relations between Moldovan and foreign entrepreneurs.”

Alexandrina is a great dreamer and an optimistic person. She always sees the light at the end of the tunnel and tries to guide others to it as well. Even though she talks less about her goals and dreams publicly, she plans to come back home and contribute to the development of her homeland.

Photos: Facebook| personal profile

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Featured

Has the legislative power in Moldova really changed? The ‘audit’ of the new parliament structure

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The Constitutional Court of Moldova validated on Saturday, March 9th, the parliamentary elections held on February 24 and the mandates of the 101 members of the future parliament. Thus, four political parties and three independent deputies will meet in the newly formed parliament.

More information about the structure of the parliament of the Republic of Moldova here.

Now let’s compare the new parliament structure and some older versions of it and see how new it is in reality. According to certain opinions, new people and new factions in the parliament mean one more chance to get the things changed in Moldova. Does it work in reality?

When comparing the factions that entered in the parliament, only 2 political parties that had been part of the legislative in 2014 earned mandates in 2019 as well – the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM).

The Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (LDPM), the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) and the Liberal Party (LP) were replaced by the electoral bloc ACUM, the “Șor” Party and 3 independent candidates. Consequently, 36 seats in the future parliament will be occupied by new factions. Doesn’t sound too bad, isn’t it?

The seats distribution in the Parliament of Moldova in 2014| Photo: agora.md

However, when digging deeper and looking at the persons that got the seats in the parliament, it can be observed that, as compared to the lists of members of the Parliament of Moldova in 2014, those of the PSRM and the DPM in 2019 didn’t change too much.

Therefore, on the PSRM current lists 17 members of the 2014 parliament managed to hold their mandates, whereas the DPM has 12 members of the 2014 version of parliament on its current lists. One member of the electoral bloc ACUM, previously a LP member in the parliament, got a new seat.

Moreover, when going even further to the results of the parliamentary elections in 2010, one can notice that some of the members of parliament back then, that took a break in 2014, were ‘recycled’ by the political parties and appeared again on the lists of members of the 2019 parliament.

Hence, one PSRM member, one ACUM member and 3 DPM members that had been members of the Parliament of Moldova in 2010 are back on the 2019 list of members of parliament.

In total, 35 out of 101 members, that meaning more that one third of the future parliament, had previously ruled in the Moldovan legislative.

It is important to mention that since 2014, some other transformation of the parliament took place. Therefore, its structure in 2019 right before the elections wasn’t the same as after announcing the results of elections in 2014. Some of the politicians ‘migrated’ from one party to another (particularly, to the DPM party), others disappeared from the political arena (see the case of the former Prime Minister of Moldova Vladimir Filat).

Is it right or is it wrong to have the same people in power again and again when things are not going better? Time will show us. However, considering the previous experience, one thing can be surely concluded: people of Moldova can’t really learn from their previous mistakes.

Photo: sputnik.md

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