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A while ago a friend from the Finnish-Romanian Friendship Association asked if I could write an article about my bicycle tour in Romania for their magazine Viesti-Veşti. The article was published in the most recent issue and it's also available online (in Finnish).
I haven't actually seen the printed version yet, but as far as I know it was published unedited in full lenght. My visit to Moldova is also included in the article.
My trip to Moldova was great. It was originally planned to last for one week but became 12 days of having good time with friends, seeing some extraordinary places and tasting local delicacies, naturally including several different variants of world renowned Moldovan wine.
Getting to Chisinau (the capital of Moldova) from Iasi (in Romania) was a bit chaotic. I had checked at the bus station that there should be a bus at 14:00. However, at the information desk people instructed me to go 1 km away to a parking lot used by minibuses. The minibus driver wouldn't take me because I didn't have a visa and pointed that I should go with another man in a normal car. They said that the nearest border crossing used by the minibus wouldn't have a consulate, although I had checked from the web that there should be one. It all sounded exactly like an arrangement to rip off stupid tourists, but at least I got a fairly reasonable price quote of 35 lei (10 euros) which I wrote on a piece of paper.
In roughly an hour the man got the car full of other passengers (which were all Moldovans) and started the car. After that everything went fine. At the border crossing a young officer kindly instructed me to write "National day of wine" as the purpose of my visit, and I got a visa for 19 days free of charge immediately on the spot. Questions about a return ticket (which I didn't have), the amount of currency I had or other things mentioned in the visa formalities weren't asked. In Chisinau the driver offered to take me to any location I wanted and the price was the one agreed at the time of departure. My first evening in Moldova ended with a delicious meal with friends. The food was mamaliga, a corn based traditional dish in Romania and Moldova, served with meat, fresh cheese, smetana, garlic and wine.
The wine festival was a two-day event where all the major wine producers would come to city center to present their products. There was also a stage with traditional music and dance performances. The festival was mostly to celebrate new wine which some stands offered for free, others charging nominal amounts such as one Moldovan lei (about 0.07 euros) per cup. Older wines were available in bottles but I was a bit surprised that there wasn't any organized tasting of them. Perhaps it took place in some of the restricted areas which seemed to welcome mostly invited guests dressed in suits. Well, we shopped a variety of snacks from the long array of food stands and shared a bottle of 1994 Cabernet (about 2.5 euros) for lunch.
The most special place during my visit in Moldova was Orheiul Vechi. It's an almost 1000 year old cave monastery about 60 km north from Chisinau. The monastery itself was interesting but the real treat was the location. The monastery cave was situated near the top of a hill surrounded from three directions by a deep valley. A river flowed slowly in the bottom of the valley. The views from the monastery hill as well as from the cliffs on the other sides of the valley were fantastic. Surrounding villages were some of the pretties I've seen on the whole trip, with colourful houses, gardens and wineyards.
I went to Orheiul Vechi together with Erte, a Lithuanian guy who had come to Moldova by bicycle through Belarus and Ukraine. I had left mine in Bacau but borrowed a bike from one of my friends in Chisinau. We spent the first night in Erte's tent camping by the river, but on the second day asked the monk in the cave church if we could stay in the monastery. He welcomed us there and we had an unforgettable evening first cooking dinner outside on the stone terrace in moonlight, and after that listening to the monk's apocalyptic visions of the future inside the church. He was talking in Russian and Erte translated for me. We slept on the church floor and woke up to the morning ceremony conducted by the monk and a woman who apparently also lived there.
To be honest I had slightly higher expectations for the wine festival but Orheiul Vechi and other things more than made up for it. We went for walks and to see some nightlife in Chisinau with Natalia, one of the friends I had met in Slovakia, and a few other friends. Later she invited me and Erte to spend a couple of days in her small town where she lived with her parents. There it seemed that we were eating all the time, but a peek in the cellar assured us that we wouldn't be making a too big hole in their stocks for the winter. They also had home made wine as almost all Moldovans in the countryside seem to do - it's a pride of the country. If you're traveling there just ask around in a village and people will be happy to sell you some for around 0.5 euros per liter. Having a chance to visit the wine cellar and taste their best stuff is another story, that's kept for family and friends.
Now I'm back in Bacau in Romania and will stay for a couple of days waiting for Erte who'll make the trip here by bicycle. Then we plan to travel together for some time, maybe until Turkey.
Added 2007-03-22: See also the picture gallery.
Copyright Arto Teräs <email@example.com>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. (Unless otherwise mentioned in individual photos or other content.)