Introduction to Moldova by Simion Glagoleveschi: Beyond Romania and not yet Ukraine

Chișinău's signature monument is of Stephen the Great

Chișinău’s signature monument is of Stephen the Great

West of the Black Sea, Moldova is landlocked between Romania and Ukraine. Those who know it know that it is famous for winemaking, early Orthodox Christian churches and medieval monasteries. Moldova has a long, rich Romani and Jewish history. The capital, Chisinau, is pronounced ‘KishinAu’.

Like most of continental Europe, the climate is very seasonal. Summers are warm, but October can be unstable, so warm clothing is a must. It is ill-advised to talk to the locals about Transnistria or Romania; very sensitive subjects due to the bloody armed conflicts between those countries in the 1990s.

The currency is the Moldova Leu or Lei; the current exchange rate is about 22.9 lei for a euro. The easiest way to get around is by bus or minibus. They are regular and very cheap. Proper four and five star hotels can only be found in Chisinau.

Wine tours are tourist favourites, A standard wine tour will take you on vineyard excursions, show you the winemaking process which includes wine tasting; take you to see early Christian sites, museums, prehistoric archaeological sites and medieval fortresses. One frequently visited sites is the Cricova wine cellars, 15 kilometres north of Chisinau, which dates to the 16th century. The cellars stretch over 120 kilometres. Only half are used to store wine, and over 1.3m rare wine bottles are stored, the oldest dating back to 1902.

The Bender fortress dates back to the early 16th century. The original wooden fortress was constructed by Stephen III of Moldova, and after it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1538, the defensive structure was expanded and completed in stone. It served as a military barrack up until 2013. The Old Orhei museum complex is some 60 kilometres from Chisinau; the Geto-Dacian fortress excavated here dates back to the 6 th or 1st century BC.

Moldovan food is a mix of Ukrainian, Balkan, Russian and Turkish culinary traditions. Most food items contain members of the bean family and meat is put in almost everything – beef, poultry, goose, duck, pork, mutton, and sometimes even rabbit. One dish worth trying is the meaty ‘chorba’ stew with chicken, greens and Smetana, or ‘sarlale golubtsi’ , bits of rice and meat wrapped in grape or sometimes cabbage leaf. To top it off, there is ‘vertuti’, rolls of dough and various stuffing, such as greens, meat, onion or cottage cheese. It’s also customary to serve food with a glass of wine —-as any tourist might approve.

Moldova is not a popular tourist destination for westerners. According to official statistics, out of 2.9m international visitors in 2015, 90pc came from Romania, Ukraine and Russia, and only 16pc arrived by air.

(Simion Glagoleveschi is a native of Moldova now living in Ireland.)

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