Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Moldova - poorest country in Europe

Want an 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.

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.

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. the two hotels above. Hot water may be not reliable.

TRANSPORT in Chisinau:

use the mini-buses. Pay the driver on entry. The bigger buses can be crowded and unreliable.

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.

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.


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.

So, want to visit a Third World country with a lot of charm? Go to Moldova. It's nearer than India.

1 comment:

Dia WOnder said...

This comment reveals just the negative side of this country. If you wrote it this way, I assume that you have seen everything in a negative light.