Mongolia? Macedonia? When we came home from Moldova not everyone was sure where exacly we were coming back from. Indeed Moldova is not a well-known country and information about it hardly ever occupy first pages of western newspapers. Even the latest bank scandal when billion dollars were stolen from Moldavian banks has not been widely discussed in world media. That confirms that really hardly anyone knows this country and remembers about its presence in Europe. And what comes to your mind when you think Moldova? In the coming days we want to introduce you this country and we are starting today from one of its capitals – Chisinau.
One of the capitals? Right. Although there are few countries which divide capitals responsibilities by couple cities, here the situation is unique. Left bank of the Dnieper river occupies a separatistic Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic with the capital in Tiraspol and southern areas of the country are in the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia with the capital in Comrat. Now during the conflict in neighboring Ukraine and after the annexation of Crimea by Russians there regions grow in strength.
Nobody knows so far what will Chisinau do facing increasing separatist aspirations of the other capitals. Last elections did not allow to have any assumptions about that. Although pro-European parties have won and even quite fast managed to form a government with Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici the situation still is not stable. Prime Minister has already demitted his post and opposition demands new election and tightening relations with Russia. As a political life curiosity we can mention that Moldovan parliament was not able to appoint President for three years. Currently Moldovan president is Nicolae Timofti. Will Chisinau keep its course towards West? It is not so sure as the moods in society seem to be different than the results of elections. Because of the funding problems new prorussian party with couple percent support was not allowed to take part in the elections. If it wasn’t for that the result might have been way different. In recent elections for Chisinau mayor proeuropean parties still managed to keep Dorina Chirtoace on his position.
This suspension between East and West is visible for city guests. Arriving from the airport, first thing that will attract your attention will be two huge blocks of flats on both sides of the street, making kind of a gate to the city. Heading towards the center you will be passing higher buildings of different shapes and heights – now you know where you are. Such massive bulidings were built only in the Eastern block. In the center it seems to be different – Steven III the Great street has already that western look, fast food chains, expensive boutiques, flashing neon commercials. All that seems to be an illusion for us as buildings are renovated or covered by commercials only on first floors, it’s enough just to raise your head to see again that Moldovan east.
The central point of the city is the Great National Assembly Square. This, so called hub of Chisinau, is bustling not only on weekends. Everyday hundreds of Moldovans are there, many youth with notebooks gather there to use free WIFI. Real national meetings take place here on weekends when pro-European and pro-Russian demnstrations take place.
In the middle of the square there is a big triumphal arch. This one of the city’s symbols was built to celebrate Russian victory over the Turks and incorporation of whole Bessarabia to the Empire. Across the street there is a government seat where after ratification by the parliament, the association agreement with EU was signed. Chisinau is exactly the same as whole Moldova – full of contradictions, torn between East and West.
During our trip we were lucky to meet some NGO’s activists serving on the square tea brewed in authentic samovars. Our attention was drawn mainly by those devices, not seen for so much time. Polished to a high gloss, silver and golden, with long pipes leading out all the hot air above peoples heads did not let us just to pass by. Really well preserved, still working samovars are something vere rare these days, while on the streets of Chisinau we are drinking tea just brewed in them! Amazing!
Square with adjacent park is a main place of relaxation and entertainment of Chisinau residents. On Sunday afternoon it is full of sunning on benches older people, younger playing giant chess and children chasing for pigeons. Here Ola made her best friend during the whole trip to Moldova. She met a little girl, a bit older than her, a tourist from far eastern Russia. It was hard to disturb their cheerful chase for pigeons! New pigeons kept coming and girls with neverending energy did not allow them to rest even for a moment. The time to say good bye we managed to survive somehow, girls hugged and eventually each one went her way.
Being on the square it is worth to see the biggest Orthodox church in the country. The classicist Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity was built in the early 19th century. After communist era when it served as an exhibition hall it was reopened as a church in 1996. They also rebuilt previously destroyed bell tower.
It is not the only religious building recommended in Chisinau. Many orthodox churches are now being renovated after years of working as Museum of Religion and are especialy interesting inside. Be sure to see also the synagogue and Jewish cemetery.
Heading north-west you will pass Pushkin’s favourite Stefan Cel Mare park, with his monument at the main gate. Right next to it there is an interesting building of Presidential Palace. It remins a glass castle with four huge towers. Across the street from it you will find, contrastinfg with golden palace, a grey structure of Moldovan Parliament.
On the way you will pass the residential building which used to be owned by Vladimir Herta, built in the style of Viennese Baroque is one of the true gems of Chisinau. Main facade is richly decorated with reliefs, pay attention on iron finish and floral motifs. The whole thing is topped with a dome. Interior is as much interesting with its frescoes and paintings on the ceiling and walls.
Walking the streets of Chisinau you should take a chance and leave the main street. Only after few steps you will find a specific mix of small houses falling apart and massive blocks of flats. Huge contrast. The city center with its neon lights and expensive boutiques creates an impression of western capital but only few steps away you will find a typical eastern village. Central market located right off the main street poures to the city. There you will get anything, among others the most interesting for tourists local food and wine. Make sure to try some homemade cheese.
Heading south – east from the main square you will pass an interesting town hall and main post office where you can get souvenirs and handicraft. Going further you will see two more Moldovan monuments: Grigorija Kotowski’s, Bolshevik leader who fought for annexation of Bessarabia to Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Monument of Liberation, dedicated to the „liberation” of Chisinauin August 1944 by Soviet troops. Both of them are accompanied by two hotels Cosmos and Chisinau being also some kind of capital’s symbols.
They look exactly like the rest of the city with only first floors renovated and attract guests with flashing lights of their casinos. The monumental building of Hotel Cosmos looks way better from the outside than it does inside. The higher, the lower room standard is. 5 top floors are closed and as the rumour says the last one is occupied by an escort agency. The route of most guests is simple: from casino, through bar to the last floor or possibly the same in exactly opposite order. Rooms are rather simple, the only thing that surprised us was the presence of two glasses and wine carafe. You don’t have too look for corkscrew too much, just go straight to etazowa, a person residing on each floor, which you can turn to with all your problems. The only thing that the place does not offer is a baby cot. But, as we wrote, if you need anything, just visit etazowa. During our stay Ola used both: our bed and her own, made of couple blankets and clean sheets. We didn’t have to worry about her comfort and safety but honestly speaking we would better appreciate a regular travel cot for her.
The building itself contrasts with the area. Right next to it there are main shopping malls of Chisinau, including the biggest one MallDova. This english name might have been given in order not to antagonize russian and english speaking people. Chains of fast foods and shopping malls of no matter what kind of names do not suit Chisinau, they stand out from the city’s landscape, seem to be strange. The same do casinos, which arrived form East right after Putin banned them in Russia. That’s another Moldova tragedy – taking the worst from East and from West.
This time Chisinau did not amaze us, visible changes in the city landscape do not seem to go in the right direction. How will it be next time? We will see. It’s worth to visit the city to feel it yourself especialy that Chisinau is a good start to see all other attractions of the country. You will read about them in our next posts.