500,000 bottles of sparkling wine mature in this section of the underground cellars at Cricova Winery just north of Chisinau, Moldova. Photo taken December 3, 2016.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Chisinau, Republic of Moldova.

Where are they going next? Transnistria. The country that doesn't exist!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Travel Day - Iasi to Chisinau, Moldova

Well, we are now in the Republic of Moldova...the least visited country in Europe!

We are staying in Moldova for 10 to 14 days, first basing ourselves in the capitol city of Chișinău (pronounced Kish-i-now) (pop 650,000). We have a car rental booked for a week starting Saturday so that we can do some day trips. And after our week in the capital, we will stay somewhere else in Moldova.

So, how did we get here?

Across from the train station in Iasi is the local bus station. We had read online that there is an afternoon minibus leaving from the bus station at 14:00. And another one at 14:45.

We arranged with our shady car rental deal to drop the car at the train station parking. Sure enough, the guy met us there, inspected the car, and gave us back our 460 lei ($152 CAD, $112 USD) cash deposit. He then complained that we hadn't washed the car, but I had called and asked if it was necessary because the roads were so wet, and had been told that it was okay. The guy went on about it, and asked for 14 lei for the wash. I agreed, and handed him the 14 lei (about $4). He then says it's forty not fourteen, and that's where I drew the line. He finally backed off. We're sure he put the 14 lei in his pocket.

Anyhow, we got there early because we read that the bus can fill up quickly. We found the minibus at stall #5, and handed over our passports to the driver. And 35 lei ($11.50 CAD, $8.50 USD) per person. He handed back the ticket, along with our passports.

We left right at 2:00pm, and the minibus was full, with 20 passengers and the driver.

No photos...I had the camera stashed in the bag, and couldn't have taken decent photos out the window anyhow.

Here is the route we took.

It was only 167 kms (104 miles) but the entire journey was almost 4 hours!

We arrived at the border station and there was a long line up of cars. This might have had something to do with the fact that December 1st was a national holiday in Romania, so many people are off work for an extended weekend.

But our minibus driver knew some tricks, and soon had us at the checkpoint. The Romanian border control came on board, took everybody's passports and disappeared for 20 minutes or so. When he returned, the exit stamp was next to the entry stamp on the same page.

Next, we drove across the river and we were in Republic of Moldova! The Moldovan border control came on board, took everybody's passports, and disappeared for about the same amount of time. Our bus driver came back with our passports in hand, and off we went. The only questions they asked were if anybody was traveling with a child, which nobody was. Luckily, we had a girl sitting in our row who spoke very good English. However, it's a pretty safe bet that on a minibus with 20 people,someone can speak at least a little English.

And we were off!

It was a dismal, drab, overcast day. So not a really good first view of Moldova. Lots of farm fields and fruit orchards. Apparently, Moldova has some of the richest soil in the world and almost all farming is natural and organic. Maybe it's one of the reasons they produce world class wines!

One of the first things we noticed is that the roads are in really rough shape compared to Romania. Not only is Moldova the least visited country in Europe, it's also the poorest.

Officially, Moldova is a landlocked country bordered by Romania and Ukraine.

Unofficially, it is also bordered by the country that doesn't exist...Transnistria. We'll talk about Transnistria another day.

We arrived in the busy city of Chișinău just before 6:00pm. We had the driver drop us off right in the middle of downtown, as close as we could get to our meeting point...the McDonalds! There are three McDonalds locations in Chișinău and of course they all have free wifi. Our Romanian SIM card doesn't work in Moldova, so the plan was to send a message to our AirBnb host Gloria when we arrived at the McDonalds. Sure enough, it all came together and five minutes later Gloria was there to meet us.

Downtown was busy. It was dark out, but lots happening. There was an outdoor concert going on, and many people about. First impressions? Chișinău is a lot more vibrant and modern that we were expecting!

We hopped on a bus, and Gloria paid our bus fare. Buses are really cheap here in Chișinău, and we didn't have any local cash yet. Moldova uses the lei, just like Romania, but the exchange rate is quite different. 

We arrived at a block of apartments, and Gloria led us to the top (9th) floor. There is another fellow staying here as well, a young man from Italy.

She had some dinner made ready for us, so that was nice. Thanks Gloria!

Really excited to go out exploring. Funny coincidence, the AirBnb host that we stayed with in Sibiu, Romania is also here in Chișinău visiting. He has been in touch with Gloria (it's a small world) and has offered to take us with him to tour the world's largest underground wine cellar today. It holds over 2 million bottles of wine! (Edit: it turns out they are booked. Perhaps we will try the world's second largest with only 1.2 million bottles...)

Stay tuned...we can't wait to tell you more about Moldova!

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Here's a cool looking Christmas toy...recommended for ages 8 and up...






16 comments:

  1. Yet again more fabulous Air BNB hosts, they definitely seem to be treating you like family!

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    1. We have had wonderful AirBnb hosts, couchsurfers and Guesthouse hosts that have all been helpful and amazing. We can't say enough good things about everyone here. Before we left these AirBnb hosts I made us all pancakes for breakfast with some gluten free flour that I found at one of the stores along with real Canadian maple syrup that we brought along to hand out. :-)

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  2. A nice travel day. Looking forward to the stories.

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    1. It was a good travel day and if yesterday is any indication of what Moldova will be like, I am pretty sure we will love our time here.

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  3. You made it to Moldova! Can't wait to learn more about it.

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    1. Yep, sure did! We can't wait to learn more about Moldova as well.

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  4. I want to hear about the wine tour. Life is full of serendipity.

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    1. The wine tour will have to wait until tomorrow's post as we weren't able to get an appointment for yesterday so instead we went out and did some exploring. :-)

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  5. so nice for someone to write something good about my country :) poorest, dirtiest, most corrupt country in Europe, but there are things you might like. these could be wine, food, people that treat you like family, vibrant and modern european spirit all other the place. i have to admit that winter is not the best time to visit, choose spring or summer next time, nevertheless there are things to do here. if u have enough time and will be around until 9-th december, ask your host to buy you tickets to a rock/jazz concert at the "tei" theather, you will be able to meet there the most free minds in the country; besides probably the best music you can get here. you should go visit some of our museums too(not too many, but its an amazing back to the past experience). you should try some pies ("placinte"), these are probably the most popular we have(besides polenta) you host can tell you more. and of course the wines. there are quite a few of them, but not all made me proud... :) i would recommend: purcari freedom blend or merlot, or alb de purcari (if u prefer white), or ice wine ( you prefer desert wines); bostavan, poiana (its a recent name, but really good). cricova is the oldest name around here and the name is slowly the only thing that represents them :), so your choice. and finally candies: bucuria(the name of the shop) choose any of(brands of candies) "stelius", "folclor", "chisinaul de seara", "doremi", "dulcineea", "miracol", these are my favorite. i hope u will have fun here.

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    1. So far we are enjoying your country Eugene! :-)

      Love the wine and food and have met good people. For us we unfortunately can't come in the summer when it would be better but we are Canadian and can handle the weather. We don't mind chilly/cold as long as the sun is out.

      Unfortunately we won't be around Chișinău on Dec. 9th but thank you for the suggestion.

      We have seen placinte and would love to try it but because we can't eat gluten/wheat products we will have to forego that lovely treat. :-(

      We will be going to Purcari Winery during our trip and have already tasted one of their wines and really enjoyed it. Yesterday we went to Cricova but it was too early for us to do any tastings there but we did buy a bottle which we opened in the evening and enjoyed it's flavour. I will have to try one of these dessert wines you are talking about however. Yesterday we also stopped by the candy store and bought some of the candies that you suggested (candies is something we rarely buy). I love the Dulcineea, this reminds me very much of a candy that I also love in Mexico. Thank you again for all your suggestions.

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  6. Enjoy your time here! If you want to meet local people which could tell more about Moldova, reach out :)

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    1. Thank you Eugeniu, we are looking forward to exploring Moldova. We love to met the local people so if you are here and would like to met up, just let us know and we can try to arrange that. Our host has also be very helpful and well show us around when she has some spare time. The best way to learn about a country is to meet the local people. :-)

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  7. Wonderful blog today. Very interesting information. Enjoy your day and looking for ward many more adventures. Enjoy the wine!

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    1. Thank you Brigette. We are also looking forward to more adventures and the wine! :-)

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  8. Welcome to Moldova. In short: POI local cuisine, wineries and wine cellars, monasteries. Please update the exchange rates, 460 lei is about 15.2 cad not 152 cad, and so on in the blog. It's quite cheap compare to same services in Canada or US. Enjoy your time, it's a beautifull country with nice and welcome people.

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    1. Thanks Ed. But the exchange rates are correct at the time of posting. The 460 lei in the article above is Romanian lei, not Moldovan. We were still in Iasi at the time...sorry if that was unclear.

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