What do you do when you have an unscheduled three-day weekend? Why, you go to Moldova, of course? Well, we do anyway.
The better question is, why not?
The country is easily accessible and inexpensive to travel to from Kyiv, safe, and somewhere we’d never visited. Those reasons alone put it on the “good reasons to go” list.
Moldova is a small, landlocked country with a population of 3.5 million people. A relatively unknown destination on the tourist circuit, it also doesn’t get many visitors. That’s actually a bit contested; I looked up stats from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, and found conflicting information. One document said 2.9 million foreign visitors arrived in Moldova in 2015 while another document said there were 15,500 visitors during the same year. Take from that what you will, which may just be that the country’s tracking documentation is a mess.
Regardless, we thoroughly appreciated having the opportunity to explore a place most travelers will never choose to visit. We landed in and spent the better part of the three-day weekend in Chișinău, the capital city, with one afternoon foray into wine country (which I hope to write about soon). Bouncing from museum to park to cafe, we stopped to relax, observe, and take in our surroundings.
During these moments, I recorded a few thoughts in my journal.
“An exceptionally green city. In addition to several parks, boulevards are lined with trees. And with few high rises and most buildings at street level or only a couple stories high, trees look even higher, towering above rooftops.”
“Soviet-block buildings mixed with old architectural gems with Roman columns and relief facades. Many crumbling buildings in disrepair. Lots of construction on every street.”
“Tucked back from the streets are alleys leading to courtyards around which 3-5 small homes are clustered. Almost like small, built-in neighborhood communities. I love these tiny enclaves among city chaos. This morning, I watched from our hotel balcony as an old woman walked back and forth, stretching her arms and legs while still wearing her bathrobe.”
“Not all places are destined to be tourist destinations, and that’s okay. Instead of being pushed from one attraction to another with a throng of other foreigners, we walked through the local park, ate lunch where locals gathered for a mid-day meal, and have to work a bit harder to sort out transportation logistics because they weren’t designed with us in mind. This city doesn’t thrive on impressing us. It exists for the locals, first and foremost.”
“Popped into the national library — something I’m too intimidated to do in Kyiv. Wandered the halls looking at an exhibit of NYC subway posters, but more awesome than the exhibit was the walk through the library itself. Pulled out a drawer in the old-school card catalog — organized completely in Cyrillic!”
“A quiet city. Though there’s a lot of car traffic, there aren’t many people on sidewalks, in restaurants, sitting in parks. This country has an actual depopulation problem, and you can tell.”
“I like cities with a bit of grit, some imperfect edges, and unrefined character. A destination shining and sparkly doesn’t necessarily feel genuine. Places evolve and change and grow. They are living, breathing beings, and pretending places are perfect isn’t authentic.”