This short article is by Anna Varezhkina our correspondent in Moldova. We include it for the benefit of travellers rather than tourists. This is an extremely interesting country, well within easy travelling distance of the UK and is well worth a visit.
Eastern Europe still remains a land of undiscovered opportunities. Some even consider it uninhibited and full of over-priced cafes where you have to pay extra for a waiter with a mustache or a plate, and taxi-drivers that should be tipped at least 10% unless you're prepared to exit a moving vehicle. To prove those people wrong, let me tell you about Moldova. Forgive me if I sound a bit like a Geography teacher.
Moldova is a tiny country in the very middle of Europe. Squeezed in between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is a state caught between the old world and the new, and the contrasts are many. The population of Moldova is just under four million and whilst culturally diverse, is made up of three major ethnic groups: the Moldovans (64.5%), the Ukrainians (13.8%) and the Russians ( 13%). Witch-burning and vampirism have long been abolished and forgotten, so the natives are very friendly and welcoming, especially to their Western guests. Not many Moldovans speak English but they are very good at charades and will most certainly try their best to make you feel at home.
The capital of Moldova is Chisinau, is a fast growing and bustling city with a population of 800 000. During the Soviet Block years, Chisinau (or Kishiniov, as it was called then) was one of the most beloved places of the Soviet leaders and quite a lot of money was spent on building and reconstructing Chisinau. Leonid Brezhnev was mostly fond of Moldova and allowed a lot of liberal and creative activity. It was also a place for many architectural and journalistic experiments, as numerous rather non-interventionist publishing houses and newspapers were founded and piquant buildings were erected in Chisinau during those years. Today Chisinau can be called "a city of growth" with good and reasonably cheap restaurants and a fairly reliable electricity supply to all parts of the city.
One of the main attractions of Moldova is its refined and very delicious wine. The most famous place to visit is the so called "wine village" Cricova that is renowned for its cellars. Cricova cellars are said to beone of the world's greatest natural cellars, situated deeply underground on the territory of once overflowed mines of excavations under sawn rock stone (cotelets) - wall building material for industrial and civil construction.
Map of Modova sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine
The Kishinev landscape is dominated by Soviet style apartment blocks
The Grigory Kotovsky Monument
The unique wine cellars near Kishinev
From Cricova cotelets (bricks) are built a significant quantity of habitations, social, cultural and industrial objects in Chisinau, Balti, Tiraspoland other towns and villages of the Republic of Moldova. So, the main distinctive feature of Cricova cellars constitutes the fact that this is the unique and the biggest natural wine cellar in the world with the single natural microclimate: all-the-year-round stable temperature: +10 - +12 C and high relative air humidity: 96-98%. The wines are indeed of the highest quality and quickly fulfill their requirement of bringing merriment and joy. For more information you can look up http://www.cricova.md
The national currency in Moldova is 'Lei' and cannot be obtained anywhere in the world except for Moldova. So it is best to bring dollars, euros or travellers cheques. There is an assortment of accommodation in Chisinau, starting from considerably luxurious by East European standards hotels and apartments at one end of the spectrum and ending with Soviet styled and thus serviced in the same manner hotels and flats at the other to please everyone's demands.
On the whole, Moldova is a very beautiful and interesting country with its gently sloping hills, mystically meandering rivers and rather significant and holy places such as monasteries in caves, in one of which you can even see Jesus' footprint, compare your foot size to his and make a wish whilst doing it. The monks that live in those monasteries are very obliging and will gladly show you around the caves for a loaf of bread or a kilo of oranges or potatoes. The monks also produce their own wine in caves so the trip to a monastery might turn into a bit of a holy communion or a party, depending on one's preference and mood.
Editor's note: Anna Varezhkina was born in Moldova where she was brought up until 1998 when, at the age of 13 years, she became a boarding pupil at Bedford High School. After achieving high grades in both GCSE and A level Courses, Anna returned to Moldova where she worked as a trainee journalist. Anna, who is fluent in English, Russian and Romanian and has good German linguistic skills, went on to attend university in New Zealand and is now a New Zealand citizen and Barrister.
Every revolution evaporates, leaving behind it only the slime of a new beaurocracy.
Franz Kafka - 1883-1924