The poorest country in Europe you've never heard of. Moldova
A guide to Moldova travelI spent the majority of my time in Moldova in the capital city, Chisinau so this will mainly focus on the area.
Not only was this my first stop on my first solo adventure, it was the first time I decided to try my hand at Couchsurfing.
Want to hear about my adventures in Moldova?Visit my blog post: Where the F*** is Moldova?
Here I'll break a little info down about Moldova for you.
Stefan Cel Mare Monument
Stefan Cel Mare is a hero in these parts. He fought off advances by the Ottomans, Hungarians and Poles back in the 14oo's who were all attempting to take over the region.
His statue is at an entrance to a park in Chisinau that is also dedicated to him.
Botanica sector of Chisinau. Includes some rare and endangered plants from the Bessarabia region.
Russia's victory over Ottoman Turkey.
The main church of the city. Built in 1830 when Moldova was a part of New Russia. It was bombed and damaged in World War II, and was attacked again by local communists in 1962. It was left damaged until 1997.
Rose valleyA nice park with three lakes as well as a few restaurants.
Chisinau's central market. Head here to pick up locally grown fruit and vegetables. As well as meats and cheeses. A variety of non-food items are sold here as well.
Chisinau souvenir marketFind anything here from hand painted matryoshka and other handmade trinkets to paintings and other artwork to bring home with you.
Things to do outside Chisinau:
Most famous winery in Moldova, and second largest cellar in the country. Known for its sparkling wines, one of the few wineries left that make it in the traditional French method.
Milesti MiciHolds over 2 million bottles of wine, making it the largest cellar in the world. Over 120 miles of cellar, with only 34 miles of it being in use.
Bender fortressOn the western bank of the Dneister River. Under de facto control of the mostly unrecognized Republic of Transnistria, Moldova's breakaway territory. The land around the fortress is still used by the military. The fortress was built over 600 years ago.
A UNESCO World Heritage site. Located 37 miles northeast from Chisinau. It is a historical complex and includes a cave monestary. The monestary is built into limestone cliffs.
Capital of little known Transnistria. A territory that declared independence from Moldova in a bloody civil war. It's like taking a step back into Soviet Russia. Soviet style block apartments and even a tribute statue to Lenin!
Food and DrinkMoldova is known for its wines and cognac. It was once THE wine producing region for the Soviet Union. The wine is outstanding but little known to the outside world. Wine is so much a staple here that most rural families grow their own grapes and make their own wine.
Cvas, is a non alcoholic drink sold all over the country and pretty much on every corner in Chisinau. It is made from fermented rye. It is similar to beer except sweeter. Moldovans drink it like water. Cvas was one of the highlights of me eating my way across Chisinau.
Moldovan cuisine is very similar to it's Romanian neighbor, with heavy influences from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. It's most popular dish is mamaliga, which is a mashed corn porridge that usually has a stew and sour cream served with it. Another popular item is brynza which is a type of brined goat cheese. I can't say no to cheese.
As far as restaurants go Chisinau is a gem for food lovers. I ate at a few during my stay in Chisinau, but unfortunately do not remember any names of them.
I found the people of Moldova to be very friendly. The most widely spoken languages are Moldovan (which is identical to Romanian) and Russian (due to Moldova being a former state of the Soviet Union. Eastern Orthodoxy is the most common religion in the country.
I cannot say from personal experience, because I couchsurfed while in Moldova. However there are a number of hotels around the city (that are actually quite expensive) and a couple of hostels.
I found Moldova (and I'm mainly speaking of my time in Chisinau) to feel relatively safe. As a solo female I did not run into any troubles there. Initially my couchsurfing host Inna, gave me a tour late at night of the city. During the day I did go about my wandering alone (if Inna was working or busy) for the most part, however I would run into friends of Inna while out and get invited to coffee or a drink. I didn't get harassed and I found most people to be friendly.
I have heard that police will stop you and try to get a bribe out of you if they can sniff out that you are a tourist. Most of the police bribery stories I've heard were from people that were taking pictures at a monument or other touristy site. And as a traveler or tourist, whatever you want to call yourself, you will stick out snapping pictures because Moldova in general does not get many visitors. I tried to keep it as concealed as possible.
Many countries have travel warnings about venturing to Moldova. Mostly because of the separatist region of Transnistria. There hasn't been any fighting in Transnistria in years. The most common problems visitors encounter are bribes, scams, and taking photos of things of importance, such as government buildings and military checkpoints. I did not take any pictures while I was in Transnistria (Tiraspol) to avoid the police.
When you arrive in Tiraspol you will be issued a 24 hour entry card and asked about your reasons for visiting and what hotel you will be staying. If you are planning to stay longer than 24 hours you will have to register with the ministry of the interior. You must bring your passport, entry card and a receipt from your hotel.