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krisek Chisinau - A travel report by Krys
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Chisinau,  Moldova - flag Moldova
3692 readers

krisek's travel reports

Whatever reason... Moldova\'s capital. Chisinau.

  6 votes
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I do not think I will break the news by saying that Chisinau is not the most attractive of all of Europe\'s capitals. Together with Kosovo\'s Pristina, they make a pretty ugly couple. There is no romantic old town and only just a few sights.


The City's Monastery
The City's Monastery
The adventure began at the flight check-in. Air Moldova moved from Gatwick to Stansted earlier in 2013. Their check-in desks were 158 and 159. Two hours before departure only one desk opened. The woman there checked the first passenger, picked up a phone, dialled and chatted for 5 minutes, kept everyone waiting. Then, as the second passenger in line approached, she typed something on the computer and ... disappeared for 15 minutes! I this pace, it would have taken about 9 hours to check everyone ahead if me in the line! Fortunately, 20 minutes later another woman arrived at the other desk and things started moving. Finally! She was chewing gum, but this seemed to have little effect on the progress.

The lines at security check were ridiculous! At one of the busiest days in the year (Friday bank holiday weekend), Stansted chose to open only a third of the security positions! People were fainting in the lines!

I landed late at night and the ride from the airport into town was uneventful (taxi should not cost more than 80 lei (£4) for the 13km ride), but the car passed by a number of casinos and malls. One of them was called Mall Dova, which was rather funny.

The city's main drag, Boulevard Stefan cel Mare, was a curious sight. It was filled with beggars of all possible kind, grandmas with scales urging people to check their weight for a fee (who would even want to do that?), ladies selling cheap kitsch, plastic kiosks selling espresso, soap, shampoo and sandwiches... But the avenue also boasted the main triumphal arch, the Cabinet offices, the Parliament building, a ballet theatre, boutiques selling stuff that average Moldovans can only dream of, and countless trolleybus stops.

Favourite spots:
the National Library
the National Library
Oh, well. It was not easy to pick a favourite spot in Chisinau. But I think my favourite spot was a little square between the National Museum of History, the National Library and the National Hall. It was a big cafe-bar with tables around shallow pools under the sun (or the starry sky). It was perfect for mingling with the locals and for trying local fire water but also the wines and the brandies. The place seemed to be open round the clock and there were always seats available.

My other favourite place in the city was the tiny garden of the City's Monastery, which was having a facelift - both the garden and the monastery's buildings and chapels. It was a delightful little place right next to busy multi-lane avenue, protected by a wall, which created this unlikely haven of meditation and peace.

What's really great:
the National Museum of History
the National Museum of History
Chisinau had a rather relaxed atmosphere about everything, except nightlife, which was bustling and did not seem to stop until mid morning. People appeared relatively happy, and it was noticeable that things were moving forward for the country. Snippets of modern civilisation kept on appearing every now again in the form of a up-to-date building, bar and loads and loads of expensive cars. Yet the austere structures so eagerly constructed by the communists still dominated every corner of the city giving it this 'recent retro' look and feel. Although Chisinau was not the easiest city to like. It seemed that the main avenue, Boulevard Stefan cel Mare, was the only place to be and be seen in the city, and few 'attractions' could lure visitors to divert from it. On the other hand, the large population of trees around the city and the district west from the main government and the parliament building did have a handful of interesting architecture.

Sights:
the Nativity of God Cathedral
the Nativity of God Cathedral
Honestly, Chisinau does not boast many generally attractive sights. Architects might walk about the city their wide open, cringing ever so slightly every now and then. Moldova's capital has a couple of examples of dramatically toned down sacral architecture and a 'good' number of austere soc-realism buildings. The former are represented duly by the city's monastery, which was being upgraded when I visited - receiving new golden onion domes and fresh paint on its outer walls. And the Nativity of the God Cathedral with its belfry make another. The Parliament, the Cabinet, the National Library, the Academy of Science, the Opera and Ballet and the Hotel Chisinau, among others, represent the soc-realism style, so beloved by the communists.

To be fair however, there were a couple of interesting structures in Chisinau. The Mayor's office is perhaps the city's prettiest building. Followed by the main train station, the Organ Hall, the National Museum of History and the Triumphal Arch.

Accommodations:
the Best Western Plus Hotel
the Best Western Plus Hotel
There was this wonderfully drab communist style monstrous hotel, which I originally considered as a base for Moldova. Yet, in time I developed this terrible urge for slightly better creature comforts. So, I browsed a little more and found the Best Western property smack in the middle of the centre of Chisinau. Booking.com appeared to have the most convenient way of booking the hotel at a fair price, so I went for it. As my flight was due to arrive after midnight, I asked the hotel to pick me up from the airport. (I somehow did not feel like having a row with the taxi drivers in the front of the arrivals hall.) However, they charged me €20 for the 13km ride into town, which was four times more than a taxi would have cost me if I scraped one at the airport. Oh, well.

The hotel was fine. It was clean and had modern bathrooms, which probably matters the most. The rooms were not terribly spacious, yet the beds were comfortable and the minibar was not heavily overprised.

Nightlife:
the City Club
the City Club
Chisinau's nightlife is definitely something to write home about! Well, if you dare. The city had a good number of late night bars and night clubs, clustered around the city for the ease of bar-crawling and club-hopping. One of the clusters was concentrated around the National Library and the National Museum of History. Actually, one of the clubs, the Lava, was based in the museum's basement.

I made a decision to go out rather late in the night, leaving the hotel just before midnight. I had spotted a few venues during the day, so I knew where to go. Many clubs were closing at 5am, some stayed open until 7am and a few closed even later than that. I ended up at the City Club nearby after spending most of the night chatting to locals at one of the open-air night bars drinking Moldova's brandies. It was a large and lively place in one of the most inconspicuous venues. Rather typical for many great nightclubs around the world, actually. It was safe, cheap and had relaxed door policy.

Hangouts:
Chisinau's Main Train Station
Chisinau's Main Train Station
Moldova's capital had a few parks in the centre, some of them with large fountains and plenty of benches to relax and escape the sun. The parks did not boast any cafes or bars. Instead, small booths sold ice-cream and cold drinks. Yet, the main drag in the heart of city, had a collection of sit-down cafes and beer gardens, where one could hang out and sip whatever drink was appropriate at that specific time of the day.

Restaurants:
the interior of Andy's Pizza at the Opera
the interior of Andy's Pizza at the Opera
I stopped for late lunch at Andy's Pizza (andys.md), next to the ballet theatre. They had rather comprehensive menu with pizzas averaging MDL55, but also pastas, lasagnes, soups, salads, ribs, burgers, and an excellent selection of pastries, cakes and absolutely evil ice-cream desserts. The menu was in Romanian (in Moldovan dialect?) and Russian, but some of the personnel spoke basic English with a wonderful Russian accent. Andy's Pizza had no Moldovan lager, but there were decent Ukrainian and Russian ones, so it was not too bad. Pizza took approximately 10 minutes, although customers were informed it could take 20 minutes. The venue had a room with fabulous theatrical decor and extensive gardens with about hundred tables. The pizza was very good. It was not Italian and not as hot I would expect, but it was less greasy, had loads of toppings, including excellent Polska-style smoked sausages!

Other recommendations:
Bonder Fortress
Bonder Fortress
Whilst in Chisinau, one should make time and travel about 50km south-east to the place that does not exist, Transnistria. Transnistria is a breakaway province of Moldova, which with Russian support declared independence. It has its own government, currency, laws, etc. It is only recognised by two other generally unrecognised states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both incidentally sponsored by Russia). Right over the border, in the town of Bonder, there is a great fortress, which was recently opened to tourists (early 2013), which is definitely worth a trip. The Bonder's exotic communist feel is certainly visible. The border experience may not be everyone's cup of tea (which includes requests for bribers, stalling and pointless questioning), but it is one of Europe's curious sights. The other being Belarus. The fortress can be reached by public transport, but it is much easier to take a taxi, which costs about EUR60 for the return trip including waiting time.

Published on Thursday June 13th, 2013


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Sun, Jul 28 2013 - 07:06 AM rating by mistybleu

Excellent report. I met a waiter from Moldova last week and he said "I bet you do not know anything about my country". I can now say "I do now".

Thanks
Amanda

Tue, Jun 25 2013 - 11:28 AM rating by rangutan

Fresh & amazing information

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