Journey to the Principality of Moldova.
I like such periodic dives into a foreign unfamiliar world, into another culture, history, manners and traditions. I try not to dive so that really deeply, but also not superficially, it is desirable to cover with the head.
For me it’s better to dive for a week and a half or two weeks, during this time you usually manage to look around and get an idea of what’s there, how it is. I have already dived in many foreign worlds: Chinese, Mongolian, Persian, Indian, Scandinavian, East African, Vietnamese…
I called my new immersion “Journey to the Principality of Moldova”. No, actually it was a ten-day trip to Moldova and Romania, but still, I insist on this name. Now I will try to explain what I mean.
Look at the political map of this region from 1600, on which there are three Romanian principalities – Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldova, which existed by that time for about two hundred years.
By the way, I tried to look into the ethnogenesis of the Romanian ethnos, starting from the Dacia, which modern Romanians consider their distant ancestors, and the history of Romania as a state, based on the serious work of Sergei Demianov, who lived for many years in Romania, as well as on the found and watched popular scientific films about the Romanian-Moldovan land.
Such a little theoretical preparation before diving into the world of another people is always important to me, because I want to be prepared for the encounter. And now, I think it would be appropriate to make a little historical background to orient you and myself in time and space.
So, these three Orthodox Romanian principalities during most of their history were vassals of the Kingdom of Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and more. It so happened that the Romanian-populated states were located at the worst geopolitical crossroads in the world. Convenient routes of communication from different parts of Eurasia, such as the flat steppe, navigable rivers and sea, as well as the small size of the principalities, made them most vulnerable to attack.
The history of the Romanian states, as you understand, was quite complicated and full of important and even great events, but now we are interested in those times when the troops of the Russian Empire, which was rapidly expanding its influence, were heading for the Carpathians and the Danube along the northern road.
The main adversary to the advancement of the Russian troops in this region were the Tatars, whose ally was the Ottoman Empire. The Turks could not help their co-religionists from the Crimean Khanate, together creating a powerful barrier to the Russians on their way to the Black Sea coast. The Russian Empire, as the largest Orthodox state, considered itself the successor of Byzantium, so for centuries it sent its armies to fight to free the Balkan Orthodox brethren from the yoke of the Muslims, with the main goal of returning the cross to St. Sophia in Constantinople.
The Romanian lands, which by the beginning of the 18th century were entirely under Turkish control, inevitably became the object of a dispute between the two opposing empires.
It would be interesting to talk about that period in the history of our state, beginning in 1701, when Wallachia and Moldavia began to discuss with Peter I their union of Orthodox states, the first clashes of Russian and Turkish troops, the first victories and high-profile defeats. But the climax of the advance of Russian influence in the Romanian land was in November 1806, when the Russian army occupied Moldavia virtually without a fight, and in December just as easily occupied Wallachia. This was the implementation of the treaty between Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon of France on the division of spheres of influence, which could not be prevented by the weakened Ottoman Empire, its troops gradually retreated, avoiding major battles.
It was entertaining to read how the Russian Empire came to Romanian lands in all the glory of power and wealth. How the Russian officers, dressed in European uniforms and speaking French, were perceived by the Romanians as an example of European enlightened civilization.
Under their influence, first in Iasi and then in Bucharest, the Moldavian and Wallachian aristocrats have decided to break from the Byzantine-Turkish way of life, began to change into refined clothes after the French fashion, to have foreign servants and cooks, to speak only in French between themselves.
But it was not only the Russian example that was the main motive behind the Romanians’ turn toward European culture; it was more the disasters, robberies, devastation, and famine suffered by the Romanian principalities as a result of Turkish rule. The Romanian elite wanted European prosperity and offered no resistance to the Russian military presence on their land, for they associated Russia with their European dream.
In the summer of 1811 the Russian army, having achieved another victory over the Turks, made them a peace proposal, proposing to divide the Romanian lands in two: Wallachia to the Turks, Moldavia to the Russians. The Turks put forward a counter proposal: they agree to keep Wallachia, but to cut Moldova in half on the Prut River.
Negotiations lasted for several months, while the army of the French Empire was moving to the borders of Russia. There was a need for an urgent withdrawal of Russian troops from the distant Balkans, so Russia, after all, on May 16, 1812, signed a peace on Turkish terms. Russia takes the Moldovan lands east of Prut, which become part of the Russian Empire, under the name of Bessarabia.
As part of the Principality of Moldova, less than half of the territory within the borders of 1774 remains. Thus, the Romanians’ hope for liberation from the Turks turned into a humiliating partition of their territory.
Maybe it was since then that they harbored a grudge against their northern Orthodox neighbor, which they have not forgotten to this day.
In a few decades, Wallachia and the rest of Moldova will be united into a single state called Romania, a little later it will include Transylvania.
And Bessarabia, located between the rivers Prut and Dniester, would first be a province of the Russian Empire, then the Soviet socialist republic of Moldova within the USSR, and now an independent state – the Republic of Moldova. Such a complicated history.
It so happened that my trip fell just on the territory of the Principality of Moldova, for I was able to travel through virtually the entire territory of today’s Moldova and the part of Romania, which was part of the medieval Moldovan Principality.
On the territory of the former principalities of Wallachia and Transylvania I have not been this time, but I hope to visit there too, to fill in the picture with all the missing puzzles.
Moldova is an underrated tourist destination
It seems to me that Moldova is not the most popular tourist destination among neighboring countries.
Moldova: a fruit country for the thrifty tourist
In the expanses of the former Soviet Union it is difficult to find a country that would please such low prices for services and products as Moldova. This price paradise, together with a good warm climate, delicious cuisine and many attractions, makes the country attractive for thrifty tourists. The impression can’t be spoiled even by the almost total lack of tourist infrastructure, old Soviet hotels and the “Nordic” service. To rest was successful and left only the best impressions, you need to know a few secrets of a good holiday in this “fruit” country.
To all the attractions of Moldova for tourists we can add another important detail – you do not need a visa here if you are not going to spend here more than three months a year.
When to go?
In summer and early autumn. The other seasons are not interesting at all. Fruits are only imported, the climate in winter and spring is “wet”, unattractive for travelers. And as for prices, their change is so small that even the most economical tourist can neglect this difference.
It is summer in Moldova are all the most colorful festivals and fairs, and in early fall, when the grapes are ripe, there are the lowest prices on fruit and vegetables in Europe. For a winter holiday “fruit” country is not suitable. You won’t find any mountains here for skiers, and serious snow is quite rare.
How to get there?
There are two possibilities: by train and by plane. By train from Moscow to Kishinev you can get in a day and seven hours. A round trip ticket – from 142 euros (seat). The plane from Moscow to Chisinau takes two hours and five minutes. The ticket costs from 180 euro (VIM Airlines offer). The difference of 38 euros is only a phantom economy. It is necessary to add cost of meal in transport during a day (from 20-25 euro) to cost of the railway ticket. Simple calculations prove that the plane in many respects is preferable.
You can get by yourself through Ukraine. It’s cheaper, there is a possibility to get by bus. But this way is fraught with dangers of an administrative nature. It is all about the Transnistrian republic. The border guards of this state formation, recognized by nobody, are in the habit of demanding a visa from all comers. But no one has seen this visa yet, because the Transnistrian republic has no representative offices abroad. In fact, it’s just extortion.
The railway station in Chisinau
Where to live?
In the capital of Moldova to find a cheap hotel or hostel is not a problem. The daily stay with all amenities and breakfast included does not exceed 15-17 euros/day. But the capital of the “fruit” country for tourists is not too interesting, it is better to find an accommodation in a small town. It will cost the same, but you will live much closer to natural attractions, lush gardens and inexpensive family restaurants.
There is also the possibility of finding a family guesthouse, even a villa. The whole problem is that you can not always book a room on the Internet in such institutions. Trouble with the infrastructure, not all small hotels or guest houses in Moldova have a connection to the World Wide Web. You will have to look for it. The search will be facilitated by the site https://hotellook.ru/countries/moldova/guest-houses. Here you can find a suitable option for a low price.
Find a suitable hotel, book it, it is not difficult and with the help of appropriate mobile applications. In this article, the most popular mobile applications for the thrifty tourist, you will learn what applications tourists use for the convenience of travel.
How to Eat?
Food prices in Moldova are not high. Even the most spoiled tourists can’t spend more than 20 euros per day if they eat only in the middle class restaurants. In establishments at five-star hotels, prices can be an order of magnitude higher. If you cook on their own in the apartments, the daily budget per person will not exceed 10 euros.
Breakfast in a cafe will cost a tourist 2-3 euros. A three-course lunch costs 4-5 euros. Dinner with wine – 7-8 euros. These prices are the cost of a meal in a mid-range restaurant.
Moldovan cuisine is varied and unusual. Its main feature is unimaginable vegetable mixes, the main components of which are sweet peppers or pulses. Historically, the Moldovan taste was formed under the influence of the Balkan and Turkish cuisines. It is especially interesting to visit Gagauzia – the region in the south of Moldova, where the Turkic-speaking people (the Gagauz) live. It is here, according to culinary authorities, they cook the most delicious belyashi in the world.
A bottle of good wine in the store – from 5 euro. It is not recommended to buy cheaper, as in this case a bottle may contain an unnatural mixture of aromatizers flavored with alcohol. At the markets the wine is sold from 3 euros per liter.
What to see?
Moldova is rich in history. Few people know, but this is where the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire was located. Of course, there are no Pantheons and forums, but there are some ancient sights. The local monasteries, hastily built in the early Middle Ages by the Byzantine tradition, the abundance of clear rivers and lakes, surrounded by gardens and vegetable plantations, all this looks very special. Traditionally, connoisseurs of good wine come here to visit the famous cellars. Let’s add here the friendliness and openness to communication of the locals. Let’s look at the main tourist sites of the “fruit” country.
Well-preserved Roman fortifications of the times of Emperor Trajan (I-II centuries) are near the town of Leova, on the border with Romania. From Chisinau, you can get there by bus (journey lasts 1.5 hours, the ticket is about 4 euros per one way). There are no other attractions in the town. But it’s nice to spend a day here, walk around ancient fortifications and drink wine in the central cafe of the city. Buses go quite often and you can return to Chisinau in the evening.
This city preserves the entire history of Moldova for several millennia. Archaeological monuments in every street, in every alley. Moldavians themselves call the city “a museum under the sky”. It is not easy to get there, especially if you choose public transportation. By car is much easier. If you go by bus or by shuttle bus, the main reference point is Butucena village. The way doesn’t take more than an hour, but waiting for the right bus can take up to several hours. In any case you should make inquires at the bus station about all possibilities to get to the Old Orhei.
If you buy a tour to Orhei (25 euros), there will be no problems with transportation, but the trip will cost 30-40% more.
At the site of the oldest city in Moldova you can see:
- The Rock Monastery and Assumption Church, a 15th-century monastery, cells in the rocks, and chapels. The walk will not cost anything, but it is necessary to observe the dress code for visiting Orthodox churches;
- The farmsteads in the surrounding villages are historical architectural monuments. Peasant families still live there. People are very hospitable, long accustomed to tourists. They sell souvenirs, wine, and offer lunch in the Moldovan taste;
- The Archaeological Museum – a rich collection, an interesting exposition, a symbolic entrance fee. The object is interesting for history lovers;
- Many picturesque ruins from the times of the Golden Horde and Turkish rule;
- Natural “amphitheater” – Reut River Canyon, which frames the museum-architectural complex.
Monasteries of Moldova
50 functioning monasteries for a country with a population of 3.5 million is impressive. Moldovans find it necessary for everyone to live in a monastery for a while, in this they resemble Buddhists. The tradition was born in the early 1990s. Now each monastery has hotels for pilgrims, where you can spend a few days, without excessive costs. At least 30 monasteries have the status of a monument of architecture or history. There are also many attractions around the Moldovan monasteries.
One of the most popular among pilgrims monasteries is located a hundred kilometers from Chisinau. To get to the monastery on your own is very simple: take a bus to the town of Rezina, then take a shuttle bus to the village of Saharna. The road covers 1.5 hours. One way trip is 6 euros.
Objects to visit in the monastery and surroundings:
- Rock Medieval Monastery – The relics of St. Macarius are kept here. The relics not only heal those who suffer, but also grant three cherished wishes;
- “Our Lady’s Footprints” – a real reminder of a miraculous vision of one of the monks. The pilgrims’ place of worship is a footprint, which is considered an indication of the special status of the place itself;
- Cascade of waterfalls – among them the “Gypsy Pit” is especially worth a visit;
- The ruins of the fortress of the warlike Dacians. It is not easy to see the remains of the formidable fortifications, but the views are great, and you will definitely enjoy the walk.
A symbol of the spiritual revival of Moldova, the old residence of the Metropolitan, and the center of Moldovan Orthodoxy. The best way to get there is by bus from Chisinau (the ticket is 3 euros one way, the stop is near the “Topaz” factory). The things to see are:
- Several churches (XVI-XIX centuries);
- The old oak of Stefan cel Mare stands for 6 centuries and is not going to die;
- Old frescos, valuable icons;
- Graves of metropolitans, cultural figures, etc.
A calling card of tourism in Moldova. A five-day tour, bought in a Moscow travel agency, will cost 330 euros per person, together with hotel accommodation, breakfast and tastings (flight separately).
Total “fruit” country offers tourists to visit fifteen hundred wine cellars, distilleries, vineyards, where you can learn all about the wine industry, taste the best kinds of wine, champagne or brandy produced locally. Local travel agencies offer tours from 1 hour (only guided tours, no tasting) to a week-long trip around the country (wine tasting + dinners with dishes of Moldovan cuisine).
The largest and most popular among tourists is Cricova. It is the largest wine vault in Moldova, more like an underground city. For tourists there are a variety of visits with tastings: from an hour tour for 22 euros (including souvenirs – two bottles of wine), to a three-hour tour for 70 euros (besides the tour – tasting of 9 varieties of wine, lunch with a large selection of local cuisine and two bottles of wine as a gift).
But the best option is tastings at markets in small Moldovan towns. You simply visit the markets in the places you visit for the sake of sightseeing. In this case, you taste any number of varieties of wine, and pay only for the bottle you buy (5-6 euros). Moldovans are amazingly hospitable people. You will have much more pleasure, but the expenses are reduced tenfold.
Excursions from Moldova
If we take into account the fact that Moldova borders only with two countries – Romania and Ukraine, all our desire to see something outside of the “fruit” country is due to the presence or absence of a Schengen visa.
If there is no Schengen visa – our way to Ukraine.
Odessa Opera House.
From Chisinau several times a day there is a bus to Odessa (travel time – about 5 hours, one way ticket – 8 euros). If you take advantage of night buses you can spend a whole day in the city “by the Black Sea”, which is quite enough to explore the main sights (Deribasovskaya, Primorsky Boulevard, Potemkin Stairs, Langeron, etc.).
You can go to Lviv, but the road in this case will be longer (17 hours, the ticket 25 euros one way). The tedious road will be compensated by the most beautiful city in Europe, the numerous monuments and delicious coffee in any coffee house of the historic center.
To a great regret you should add – a trip to Ukraine can be complicated by bureaucratic procedures at the border. It is better to use the offers of travel companies, which will solve all the formalities quickly. It’s more expensive – 70 euros for a three-day tour – but much more reliable and even safer.
If your passport has a Schengen visa – you can go to Romania! A three-day tour from Chisinau to Bucharest with hotel accommodation, meals and excursions – 125 euros. “The Paris of the East”, as they call the capital of Romania, is full of sights, and 3 days is quite enough to see all the most interesting things.
Bucharest Botanical Gardens
We also recommend to read the article Top 5 inexpensive cities with beautiful architecture. From it you will learn architectural sights of five European cities: Bucharest (Romania), Sofia (Bulgaria), Budapest (Hungary), Krakow (Poland) and Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic).
Some useful tips
Traveling to Moldova is one of the most budget-friendly vacation opportunities. The people here are open, friendly and hospitable, but you should avoid talking about two “sore” topics for Moldovans:
- Transnistria. No one remembers how the conflict between the eastern and western parts of one country began, but the conflict hurts both sides to this day. No one even thinks about reconciliation. It is not worth bringing up this subject in conversation with the local population;
- The Romanian Question. Romanians and Moldovans speak the same language. They are kindred peoples, but different. If not to go into the questions of ethnic origin, we can say simply: Romanians consider Moldovans as the same Romanians, but Moldovans are sure that they are, after all, a special people. You should not call a Moldovan a Romanian. It can offend a local patriot.
Summer is the time of vacations. At this time of year, you want warmth, fruit, wine, and new experiences. Moldova is waiting for guests and always with open arms! We are happy for its originality, beauty, originality and very low prices!