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      04.09.2006 15:46
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      Little known charms of Eastern Europe

      Moldova. Ever heard of it? Since I first mentioned to people that my plans for my trip around the Black Sea would in take in a detour to visit Moldova, I have been horrified by the geographical ignorance of my friends and colleagues. I guess as a fan of all things eastern European I should be more tolerant and be less surprised at how little people know of this fascinating and scenic little country.

      Not to be confused with the region of Moldavia in north eastern Romania (the region borders Moldova), Moldova is a landlocked country nestling between Ukraine and Romania. It has a reputation of being Europe's poorest state but will reward the visitor with enough rich memories to last a lifetime.

      Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Moldova became fully independent in 1991 and since then its history has been pretty turbulent. However, these days the average tourist sticking to the capital and venturing out on day trips is unlikely to encounter any problems. Nosy parkers like myself, though, may find that Moldova isn't all that straightforward. The country contains two breakaway areas - Guagazia and Transdniestr. The former is a peaceful little area which has the right to raise its own taxes and self-legislate to a limited extent; the latter is a self-declared state created when the Russian majority in this small part of eastern Moldova feared that their voice would not be heard in the ethnically Moldovan-dominated parliament. Transdniestr is not recognized by any other state or international organization - not even Russia which props up Transdniestr financially by way of suspicious commerce. Visitors to Moldova may also visit Transdniestr and I thoroughly recommend this (read on for practical information).

      Unlike other countries in the area, Moldova has no pressing plans to join the European Union; even if it wanted to it would probably find that with two unresolved breakaway areas, it would be unsuccessful in its attempt. However, what is remarkable is that in spite of the wrangling of its minorities in these regions, the various ethnic groups in Moldova get along pretty well in those areas (such as the capital) where they live or come together. In Transdniestr we met young people studying during the week at the university in Chisinau; they said that no-one treated them differently either at home because they studied in Moldova or at university because they were from this strange breakaway state.

      Tucked away with a population of almost 4.5 million people, this quite little country can be considered to be off the beaten track; only around 20,000 visitors travel there each year; those that don't are missing out!

      CHISINAU

      Chisinau (pronounced Kishinev if you are Moldovan, Kishinau if you are Russian) is Moldova's capital city. In fact it's Moldova's only urban centre worthy of the term "city" and most visitors spend some time in the capital. It may have the usual Soviet-bloc high rises but it is also remarkably leafy with wide streets and plenty of parks in the centre. Those looking for the Russian influence will not be disappointed by the golden domes of the brightly painted churches and the bustling central market - if you can't find it here, you'll not find it in Moldova - something which has virtually disappeared from neighbouring Romania which boats sterile supermarkets in place of characterful markets.

      Chisinau is a busy city but one with plenty of space; the market may be crowded but head up to one of the city lakes and you'll find a sanctuary on the edge of the city. Visit in summer to take advantage of the pavement cafes - a perfect way to see how the city works and do some people watching. Doing this you'll see how Chisinau is split between the haves and the have-nots; while you sit next to young professionals having a cappuccino, you'll see elderly ladies selling whatever they can get their hands on - wild flowers, a couple of t-shirts, some goats milk in a washed out Coke bottle….

      Chisinau has a fair few hotels, many of which are central. However, having been on the road for some time, we rented a city centre apartment for three nights. Overlooking the main street (not as bad as it sounds) this one bedroom apartment was typically Soviet although it had been renovated to higher standards for western guests with a new bathroom and new kitchen units. It was spotlessly clean, very comfortable and good value at around £30.00 a night. The agency also had cheaper properties further out of the centre.

      Chisinau, being the capital city, offers the widest range of eating possilities in Moldova. The Lebanese cafe is terrific; the city's young people go there to smoke the water pipes and listen to the truly memorable "turn". There is a sensational Japanese restaurant specializing in sushi; the decor is beautiful, you reach the dining area by way of a tiny wooden footbridge over a river of golden koi, and a pebble footpath. Pizza joints abound and you can also eat Mexican (not very authentic according to the Mexican student we met) or Chinese. Of course it is possible to eat Moldovan food too and I have described this in more detail further on.

      Only in Moldovan terms can Chisinau be considered cosmopolitan. However it is a pleasant city which is much less oppressive than other Eastern European capitals. It is the transport hub for the whole country - it is almost impossible to get anywhere without passing through the city. I think it is this which makes it so busy; country people arrive early with buckets of fruit or huge slabs of homemade cheese. In the afternoon students join commuters to try to get out of the city to their homes. Chisinau is also the political and business centre of the country; what little industry there is in Moldova is based on the outskirts of the city.

      No doubt because of the number of young people who flock to the capital to work and to study, Chisinau has a thriving nightlife, boasting a multitude of bars with cutting edge decor and design. Outside of the capital nightlife is very limited with a town having maybe only one drinking place.

      OUTSIDE THE CAPITAL

      Any other Moldovan town is small and very provincial in outlook and facilities. Balti is a fairly busy market town with a hotel and little else but tourists may find themselves passing through en route to Soroca. Soroca is reputedly the home of the Roma population in Moldova; all I can say is that the Roma must have ben away on holiday when we visited! Thankfully an exceedingly average pizza parlour and an old fortress ovelooking the river which forms the border with Ukraine kept us busy during our overnight stay. Soroca has only one hotel and that is pretty hard to find - the solution being to just take a taxi from the bus station. This is typical of the situation for tourists travelling independently in Moldova and its implications are numerous. Since there is no real tourist "industry" and there are very few hotels, there is no competition which in turn results in higher prices.

      Furthermore public transport often stops short of "attractions" meaning that you have a long hike from where the bus leaves you or you have to hire a car. And looking at the state of the roads and observing the behaviour of other people on the road, I reckon you'd be mad to want to drive in Moldova. When we were there, there was a lot of re-surfacing work going on so the situation may improve, although it won't make much difference to the crazy drivers!

      Add to this the fact that it is almost impossible to visit the most popular attractions - Moldova's wine companies - without being part of a group. But the groups have to be booked through a travel agent and will only run if there enough people signed up. We really wanted to visit a vineyard for a tasting but we couldn't get to the easiest one by public transport on the day it was open to visitors.

      Moldova is not blessed with a huge number of spectacular sights. The two must-sees, however, Tipova and Orheiul Vecchi are both cave monasteries and are fairly easy to reach. We opted for the latter. Taking a bus to Orhei and then negotiating a price with a taxi driver to take us up to the site and stay with us. This worked out at about £8.00 and was a bargain. The driver spoke no English but was friendly and explained a little in Russian and Romanian which we were able to understand. He came in to the monastery and seemed as impressed as we were with what we saw. (You'll have to wait for the forthcoming review of the site for the full details). He even collected a pile of windfall apricots for the three of us to share as we enjoyed the views across the plain.

      While in Moldova you may be stoppped by young people (usually) who want to pratice their Englsh and offer to act as a a guide for you. Take the time to chat with them and then decided whether they can help you. Moldova is not really a place where people cheat tourists, possibly because so few tourists go there in the first place. When they do meet foreigners, Moldovans are usually very interested and keen to hear what you think of their country. Weigh it up - a friendly English speaking Moldovan with a car and a good knowledge of the area is a real asset in a country with no commercial tourist industry.

      The other main tourist draw is the Lower Dniestr National Park which offers a range of outdoor activities along with vineyards and places to see locals carrying on traditional crafts. Some people living in the area offer accommodation in their homes.

      Chisinau has several museums and Soroca has a history museum - personally, unless you can read Moldovan most of the exhibits are disappointing. You certainly won't be counting them as a highlight of your trip.

      TRANSDNIESTR and GAUGAZIA

      Gaugazia, in the south of Moldova, with its Turkic background does not draw so many visitors as Transdniestr which has a reputation as being the last Communist stronghold in Europe. Readers who know my particular travel interests will not be surprised to learn that given the choice, I opted to visit Transdniestr in the east of the country, nestling next to the border with Ukraine.

      I will deliberately be brief here since I belive that Transdniestr warrants a review of its own. However, I will say that those who are prepared to go through the sometimes absurd bureaucracy of getting into the country will be handsomely rewarded. Transdniestrans are, on the whole, a fantastic bunch and will make you very welcome.

      Even if you only visit for twenty four hours your trip will be worth it to drink Kvint - the best brandy Moldova has to offer and which - owing to the fact that no other country recognises Transdniestr - cannot currently be bought outside the country, stay in the wonderfully Soviet Hotel Druzhba in Tiraspol and to see the terrific Communist monuments dotted around the two chief towns of Tiraspol and Bendery.

      MOLDOVAN FOOD

      For those people who know, Moldovan food is pretty much like Romanian food but with a few Russian staples thrown in too. Vegetarians should be aware of the saying "The best fish is pork"; you can get meals without meat but it'll become quite repetitive.

      For those who don't know Romanian food, the cuisine is based on a small selection of dishes which crop up again and again. I particularly recommend "tochitura" a pork-based main course, which varies slightly depending on the region. Meat dishes are sometimes served with potatoes but are more likely to come with "mamaliga" - basically polenta cooked slowly with lots of butter. One variation of polenta which is very good is a dish that has layers of sheeps cheese in between layers of polenta and is baked in the oven - very rich but very tasty.

      Fish is nearly always freshwater varieties but Danube Delta herrings should definitely be sampled - my recommendation is to try them in a potato salad dish, Russian-style.

      Soups are popular but may not appeal to all - the most common "ciorba de burta" is tripe soup. Even vegetable soups are made with meat stock. Salads are always available but rarely make use of the variety of produce you can buy on the market. Bread is good and can be crusty white bread or Russian rye. Bread is never complimentary, frustratingly you pay by the slice and you don't know until it comes how big the slices are.

      There are desserts but usually only ice cream and fruit are on offer. Try the watermelon if visiting in summer - the best I've ever tasted. Strawberries, peaches and apricots are also excellent.

      Moldovan wine is not for everyone; it is usually much sweeter than western Europeans would drink so you should ask for a dry one, the premise being that they only really have semi-dry or sweet and will give the the driest semi-dry. My advice is to make a note of the name if you have a good one and then look out for that one in other restaurants and shops. You'll pay from around £3-4 for a decent bottle in a restaurant and you can pick up an acceptable bottle for less than £1 in a supermarket. Afetr a few weeks in this part of the world we found that we started getting used to the sweeter wines although we were glad to get back to what we preferred when we hit Bulgaria.

      Moldovans drink lots of coffee though they could not be considered connoissuers. Invariably coffee is the instant variety and any attempt to acquire a cappuccino or espresso will result in a disappointing grey-ish sludge.

      PRACTICALITIES

      The Moldovan currency is the Moldovan Lei; you can't get it in Britain and you should either spend it or change it back before leaving the Moldova. It is possible to withdraw cash from ATMs in Chisinau and larger towns with VISA , Mastercard, Amex or where you see the Cirrus logo. Transdniestr has its own currency - the transdniestran Rouble. You may only obtain this in Transdniestr.

      You will need a visa to visit Moldova (if coming from the EU, USA, Canada, New Zealand or Australia) and should, preferably, obtain this before travelling although you can get one on arrival if coming into Chisinau by air. If, like us, you are completely unprepared and forget completely to get your visa, you can get one at any of three land borders with Romania. You will need a passport style photograph and $60 (for a single entry visa). If coming into Moldova by bus, tell the driver when you reach the border that you need to get a visa and he will show you where to go; it should take around 15 minutes. You cannot buy a visa in this way if you come into Moldova via Ukraine.

      To enter Transdniestr you will be instructed to get off the bus (or out of your car) at the border (not so much a border as a couple of traffic bollards) by some goonish soldiers who will no doubt make you feel like you are doing something wrong and ask to see how much cash you have with you. This is to work out how much they are going to demend from you. My advice is to put only a little in you purse or pocket and hide the rest; if they say its not much, say you have travellers cheques or a bank card. If they insist on you giving them something (and they are not entitled to any as they are not the ones issuing the visa) you should say that you will give them the money so long as they give you a receipt in return. At this point they usually give up and tell you to get back on the bus.

      You then stop again another ten metres down the lane and here you'll complete the visa application. This will be stamped and you'll be told to get the visa completed at the office in town; if you are staying only 24 hours you can get the visa registered at the border,if staying longer you must do this at the registration office in town the next day.

      The language spoken in Moldova is, unsurpirisingly, Moldovan; experts reckon that this is really just a dialect of Romanian but Moldovans do not subscribe to this at all. However, it looks remarkably like Moldovan and if you know a few words of Romanian it will certainly help. Older people will probably speak some Russian and many young people now speak English or German.

      TRANSPORT
      Unless you hire a car, or bring one with you, you'll be using minibuses to get around. Tourists will usually be starting their journey where the bus starts its journey but you can flag them by the roadside. You do not usually have to book in advance but at some places you have to buy a ticket at the ticket office, in other towns you just pay the driver.

      These services are regular and a good network criss-crosses the country. If you can't get on one, the next one will be close behind. Chisinau is the only place to have more than one bus station (it has three) and you can pretty much guarantee that you'll turn up at the wrong one and have to trek across town. The most popular routes often have express and stopping buses which is really useful since the bus usually makes at least a ten minute stop in each town it stops at. Remember to leave something on the seat to reserve it if you get off to use the toilet or buy something to eat.


      MY VERDICT

      We had a fantastic time in Moldova but felt that we could have done more if we'd had our own transport or there were better services for tourists. Its a great place to go if you are happy just walking and relaxing rather than always needing to be on the go seeing something or doing a particular activity. Its a briilant palce for walkers but the lack of visible accommodation means you would be better off camping if you visited on a dedicated walking holiday. Similarly it would be a great place for cycling if the roads weren't in such a state of disrepair, there was more accommodation and there were any decent repair shops or cycle hire places. Such flat roads are crying out to be cycled!

      I feel that the best way to enjoy Moldova would be as a three day city break to the capital, using one of the days to get out of town and explore the countryside or as an extension to a visit to Romania splitting the time between Chisinau and countryside.

      Its very much a destination for an outdoors holiday; I should think it looks very picturesque in winter but you'd not want to spend much time outdoors then. Our Mexican student friend told us that his first visit had been the previous winter when the temperature hit -25 degrees and he was renting a flat with no central heating!

      No, Moldova, with its meadows of wild flowers and its fields of sunflowers, its juicy watermelons and gaily coloured butterflies is certainly a place for late spring early summer. The middle of summer can be very hot; we visited in July when the temperature was in the mid-30s. All you can do is hit the lakes with the rest of Chisinau for a spot of bathing.

      Once you've paid for your acommodation, everything else is great value; even the best restaurants are cheap by western European standards. Public transport is very cheap, you can get from one end of the coutnry to the other for only about £3.00! There's not much to buy that you might want to take home although there is a small daily craft and art market just off Stefan cel Mare in Chisinau but most consumer items can be easily obtained, you should not worry about this when planning what to take.

      So, for beautiful if not breathtaking scenery, interesting people and good value for money I thoroughly recommend a visit to Moldova. Its certainly a destination for those willing to put in the work and a little energy invested will pay dividends.

      xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
      For private accommodation in Chisinau -
      Adresa Agency
      B-dul Negruzzi 1
      Chisinau

      adresa@mdi.net

      For rural homestay accommodation across Moldova try:

      Antrec-Moldova
      antrec_ong@yahoo.com

      This review also appears elsewehere under the author name "fizzytom"

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      • More +
        09.06.2001 00:27
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        • "No running water"

        So I am laying around in Moscow, Russia not Texas, and my wife and her mother decide that they want to go to Moldova to see my wife's aunts. Two of them had married Moldovan men back when the evil empire was still in business and they had raised their children and had a pretty colorful life in this exotic strip of mountain breeze between the Ukraine and Romania. All I knew was that Moldova made wine and they had recently shook down the west to buy all their Jetfighters the Soviets left behind or they would sell them to IRAN. I didn't know where Moldova was. Now amongst my generation of males the only polite way to tell somebody where somethings general location is, is by giving them the name of the territory in the classic game "Risk" that the point in question exists in. So those of you that use Risk as their basis of geographical reference. KEYWORD "Besserabia" Thats where it is. Furthermore we were going to a city called Beltsy with about 160,000 people with 8 dollars between the lot. Apparently these relatives had once been compratively rich by Soviet standards but now they were broke. They had travelled all over and lived well off these two brothers, who had married two sisters, and they worked running some wine company. Like I said they had money and one of their daughters became one of the top pop singers in Moldava (remember they have a population of 4 million so that really is no big deal). Now these poor people didn't even have enough money to have heated water and use electricity much despite the fact that electricity is like almost free in former communist countries (except California). One of these sisters has since gone to Italy to work just to make hard money. Even though she is Russian-like 64% of the population speaks this broken Italian language with each other that sounds like Mexican migrant farm workers trying to talk to gypsies (also of which Moldavia has a few)- and while the culture is Slavonic the
        language is Latin. So we fly from that Airport in Moscow that starts with a "V" not the nice one that we fly into that starts with "S". Then we catch this rickety old bus until I say no and find some poor guy with a beat up old lada to take us where we are going for like pennies. So we go out to this old castle looking joint that at one time had been run by monks to make church wine or something, then Stalin took it from the church and made it into a collective farm and now it was independent but no one had money to buy good wine and they lacked the supply chains to foster an export market. It was like going back into a time machine, it was just so wild how backward we went. It was beautiful, peaceful serene and it was just fantastic to be up theer in the mountain air, with all the grapes. Until I couldn't get a dial tone to try to get online, and beyond that I look outside and see a damn wolf just standing there looking at their set up, kind of like a big fat morbiidly obese person looks at a menu. I am like, time out, this is a bunch of crap, that is a wolf. Now one rule of thumb when travelling that I have always abided by is that when in a questionable place (Siberia, Serbia, South Afrika, or South Boston) always arm yourself to the maximum armaments permitted by law, then go one step further by getting the next weapon, not the bait of the switch and bait, the black market is employing, because why bother having what everyone else has? If it is legal, its standard, and I always want to be a step ahead. I am proud of my ROTC training and training in the Airforce but I am not a combat trooper per se and I won't want to rely on instincts and training in place of high caliber high cyclic rates of fire. So I freak when I see this wolf. I tell my wife I need a gun, and these Moldovans are all like understanding. The guy, Slava, walks in the other room and rummages around and comes back and hands me a Romanian mad
        e Ak-47 with two 30 round clips and walks away like he had just went and got me a cup of coffee. so I ask about these wolves and they start telling me they run around like Rabbits and furthermore there are werwolves. I think they are using some wacked term, and get them to clarify, they indeed claim there are werwolves around. Now this is getting ugly, here I am in a country where I can't get online, speak the language, know where in the hell I am at, and now there are monsters. It isn't like Moscow where if you get in a bind you can find a cop somewhere and hand him 20 bucks and your passport and probaly at least get a ride to the embassy. There isn't an option like that here. So then they start saying that their area is unique because not only do they have werwolves but they also have a type of vampire where you have to cut his heart out and burn it to kill him. Now I am livid. But I wasn't really worried about the vampires as the Red Cross won't even take my blood (all the tattoos and truthful answers to their screening prevents me from giving blood) so I doubted a vampire would prey on me. So we have some supper with our vodka and make ready for bed. Then them wolves start in with their howling. I was getting jumpy. So I go out with my AK-47, which I have been hauling around to no effect. Part of the coolness of hauling around an assault rifle is most people give you a look that says they are acknowledging that you are carrying an assault rifle. These people just ignore the fact that you are packing. I go outside because I am going to cap a wolf. I run straight into some running thing and all I feel is fur. I couldn't get a dead angle in time. I go over on my ass and have this thing on top of me. I just start wailing away and get this werwolf in a half guard (a Sambo/Brazilian Jiu-jitsu position), I am still on bottom and this monster tries to stand up. I am able to hook his knee and I go for a knee bar, and I crank the holy
        hell out of his leg (for those of you who aren't into Sambo or Brazilian JuJitsu- just trust me, I am flailing around on the ground with this bastard) Meanwhile I am relishing the fact that I laid on a hell of a leg bar, wondering if I am being bit, wondering if I will have rabies. So everyone hears this commotion and runs outside. Slava picks up the Ak-47 and starts screaming and then Luda runs up with like the crank top part of a butter churn and just cracks my opponent in the head, out cold just like that. So now I get to collect my wits. I am a new guest in this place, a "wealthy sophisticated American", I am standing here in ripped shirt and housepants which I had just filled full with a big helping of borscht induced terds that I just didn't manage to contain with proper bowel control when I got tackeled by a werwolf in the middle of some Godforsaken wild country I had never really heard of until 2 days earlier. So I also pissed myself in the course of events and then I look at my werwolf, he is a middle aged man wearing like a sheep fleece coat that is all grey and dirty. He has wild tussled hair and a beard so it really is understandable what happened to me. Now he is howling too, beacuse he is basically had his ACL ripped out of his knee. So since we can't call the police they lock the guy up in the potato cellar and give him a bottle of rotgut vodka. Now keep in mind, how as a grown man do you gracefully ask, "Hi, I just creamed my drawers with fecal matter where and how would I wash up with your facilities". Did I mention the part about no hot water? It was a drag. I ended up being embarassed for the next two days but it was a good trip. I caught some trout in a stream and we enjoyed the weather, mild climate and great wine. Slava even gave me a couple boxes more of shells to squeeze off. Turns out that I actually got some certificate and mild award for catching this guy who had been going around stealing chick
        ens and stuff. I guess he was just like the town drunk or whatever and finally when he "Attacked" an "American Tourist" his time was up for being a petty crook and they were able to do more than put him in the drunk tank. I would have liked to look into the unique place a little more and see how this combinatioon of having both werwolves and vampires in close proximity works out. But go to Moldova if you get a chance it really is a neat little place.

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          24.02.2001 01:13
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          Want a great adventure in a place few tourists visit? Want to see a circus? Want a cheap Hugo Boss shirt? Want to visit a country where people survive on 60 pence a day? Moldova is where Alexander Pushkin was exiled. Lucky chap! Where's Moldova? Between Rumania and Ukraine; it used to be part of Russia. Fly Austrian Airlines (Tyrolean), via Vienna, to Chisinau capital of Moldova. Regent Holidays ( www.regent-holidays.co.uk ) does trips to Chisinau from £425, flying with Turkish Airlines or Austrian Airlines. CHISINAU, built on seven hills and with the River Byk flowing through it, is a place of: 1.Onion domed cathedrals full of wonderful mosaics. Visit St Tiron Cathedral (Cuflea Church) at Str Ciuflea 12. 2.Parks for picnics with lots of cheap wine. A must is Pushkin Park (Stefan cel Mare Gardens) for flowers and statues and fountains. For roller-blading, biking, boating and walking there is the park next to Lake Valea (Lake Komsomol) near Pushkin Park. There is an AMUSEMENT PARK (a bit run down) at Valea Morilor park in Botanica. Rather like something from an Edwardian story book. Magical. Aqua Park by Lake Ghidichi has a very well equipped playground for young children. 3.Tree-lined streets in a grid pattern. Old Chisinau has the Opera House, Pushkin Museum (at Strada Anton Pann 19), the Central Market and St George's Church. The museum is worth a visit if you've heard of Pushkin. The church is a lovely old Russian Orthodox church. The buildings in this area are fascinating, fading 19th century ones. Like Paris or Lisbon? 4.cafes and restaurants and bars (see below). a little bit of nightlife such as the 'underground club' on Banulescu-Badoni Street (see below). 5. Stalinist concrete box architecture (fascist?) in the new part of the city. Like parts of Sheffield? 6. Lakes. Lots of lakes. Take your cam
          era. 7. If you like Stalinist architecture, take a look at the EXHIBITION HALL of the NATIONAL ART MUSEUM. B-dul Stefan cel Mare 3 (closed Mondays). Lots of art, including art by local artists. Chisinau is full of wonderful museums, but the explanations are in Russian! 8. Friendly people (mainly). The officials at the airport don't smile. Ticket sellers seem to speak only Russian. But ordinary people will welcome you. 9. Excellent but cheap wine. 10. THE CIRCUS! at B-dul Renasterii 33, has performers from China, India, Russia and Moldova. The standard is high and you absolutely must visit this place for the thrills, colour and excitement. Cute young girls fly through the air... 11. THE SHIRT FACTORY (Steava S. A.) at Str Tighina 49. This is where some HUGO BOSS shirts are made. You can ask for a tour (ask for Maria) and buy a cheap shirt! 12. Beggars sifting through rubbish tips. Most people are poor, like in Calcutta. There are the exceptions: World Bank and other UN officials who have lots of money to spend on meetings in 5 star hotels to discuss why the country is getting poorer and poorer, hard working entrepreneurs, the mafia, people who've kept their money in dollars.... HOTELS in Chisinau: Moldova once had power cuts lasting 3 days, so don't expect everything to be perfect. (You could rent an apartment for about £20 a night. See a local travel agent.) JOLLY ALLON - single room £85. Comfortable. Reliable hot water. Nice reception area. MONTE NELLY - single room £80. Very popular. Small hotel. Good if you can afford it. DACIA - singles £60. Rooms have baths. Very central. In a large block. CHISHINAU HOTEL - single room £20. Private baths available. Great Moldovan food. More basic than the two hotels above. Hot water may be not so reliable. TURIST - single room £18. Rooms have showers but hot wate
          r cannot be relied upon. Staff may not understand English. Rather basic. TRANSPORT in Chisinau: use the mini-buses. Pay the driver on entry. The bigger buses can be crowded and unreliable. TAXIS AND TOURS: Expediting Services Taxi Company tel 24 04 32 has cars with drivers/guides. MOLDOVA TOUR B-dul Stefan cel Mare 4, tel 54 03 12, does city tours. Good, in order to get your bearings. SHOPPING in Chisinau - There are 3 large department stores, including GEMENII at B- dul Stefancel Mare 136. A good place to buy souvenirs. Shops do have imported goods. You can buy junk food. RESTAURANTS in Chisinau - SANATATE at Str Renasterii 24 has top class Moldovan food and a live band. OLD CITY at Str Armeneasca 24 is a place of high ceilings, velvet curtains, and wonderful Moldovan music played on violin and piano. Enjoy some Moldovan or Georgian food on the terrace. Avoid McDonalds. You didn't come here for that. NIGHTLIFE in Chisinau! Best is BLACK ELEPHANT: The Underground Club at Str Banulescu Bodoni 78a. Live music and use of the internet. Sometimes they have jazz. MALS on Str Cherenskaya 7 has a mixture of very old and very young customers. Very popular. FLAMINGO CLUB at Str 31 August 78 is to be visited at your own risk. THE COUNTRYSIDE : This is what you came for; sunflowers, dragonflies, swallows, horses, carts, old houses painted white or blue, cow pastures, little green hills, vinyards and orchards, dirt lanes, peasants..... Some villages are almost empty of people. Where have they gone? Try to visit CRICOVA, an underground wine town 9 miles from the capital. It stretches for miles. And yes, the town is underground. Further on from Cricova is the amazing ORHEUL VECHI MONASTERY carved into the cliff by monks in the 13th century. Try to attend an Orthodox service in a church or monastery. Very
          moving. Lots of incense. Get your visa from the Moldovan Embassy in Brussels or maybe get it at Chisinau airport on arrival (or other major crossings). see www.fco.gov.uk It's easier to get it before travel. It's advisable to have a rabies inoculation before you go. And don't drink the tap water; and keep your valuables in the hotel safe. It may be handy to carry a few dollars, in clean condition, as well as the local currency. Remember that extreme poverty can lead to increased crime. Avoid the area called Trandiniestria in North East Moldova as the security situation there is 'unpredictable'. Militias have taken the place over. Moldova is part Rumanian and part Russian and there is always the very slight risk of civil war. Climate - very cold in winter. Similar to England in summer. The country is on a plateau which keeps it cool. But, you can get bitten by mosquitoes. CURRENT AFFAIRS: 3/4 of Moldova's population live below the poverty line. That means they are sometimes hungry and cold. 80% of the people live on 60 pence a day! Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. In fact it is one of the poorest countries in the world, similar to Indonesia and Mali! Like in Indonesia there is a growing 'black economy'. There is a continuing exodus from the country. People escape in order to survive. Some end up as fruit pickers in other parts of Europe. Some girls meet a less pleasant fate, imprisoned in the brothels of Bosnia or London. Agriculture is the main product but agriculture tends to be backward. The former collective farms have been broken up into tiny farms. These farms find that tractors and electricity cost too much. There is little surplus to export. Animals tend to be thin and diseased. Moldova's agricultural sector has shrunk to just one third of the size it was when the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. 50% of the pop
          ulation work in agriculture. Under communism, poverty was covered up. But since independence, life-expectancy has been cut by five years and illiteracy in the poorest areas has tripled. Tuberculosis and hepatitis has doubled. Many village schools have to close in the winter because of lack of heat and electricity. Many clinics lack essential medicines. Moldova has only 20% of the insulin it needs for diabetics. Teachers and doctors often go unpaid. Police often cannot reach the scene of a crime because they have no petrol for their cars. Bribery is rife. The security situation in the North East and delayed reforms has frightened off investment. In February 2001 the Communist Party swept back into power. The new government promises to have a technocratic and professional government which will support economic reforms, cooperation with the IMF, and the continuation of multi-party democracy. But it also promises greater state control and a return to order. Some older Moldovans remember the time when Stalin removed the brightest and wealthiest landowners to Siberia. Fancy Moldova combined with Ukraine? REGENT HOLIDAYS www.regent-holidays.co.uk does holidays to Moldova and Ukraine. Telephone 0117 921 1711 The Regent Holidays itinerary takes you to Moldova and then on to the Ukraine for about £750 (single supplement £228) With Regent Holidays the transfer between Chisinau and Odessa in the Ukraine is by chauffeur driven car but the transfer from Odessa to Kiev is by overnight train. Flights are with Austrian Airways. Hotels are 3 star. So, want to visit a Third World country with a lot of charm? Go to Moldova. It's nearer than India.

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          The Republic of Moldova (Republica Moldova) is a landlocked country in eastern Europe, located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south. Historically part of the Principality of Moldavia, it was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1812 and reunited with other Romanian lands in Romania in 1918. After changing hands during World War II and being annexed by the Soviet Union, it was known as the Moldavian SSR between 1945 and 1991, and finally declared its independence on 27 August 1991. Moldova is a parliamentary democracy with a President as its head of state and a Prime Minister as its head of government. The country is a member state of the United Nations, WMO, UNICEF, GUAM, CIS, BSEC and other international organizations.

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