Have you heard of this small country in Eastern Europe called Moldova? Many have not. Now, why should you go and visit? And what will you find. Let us tell you.
That was the response I got when I told people where I was going for a long weekend. A small country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, not too many people have heard of Moldova. Even looking it up on the internet, I found very little. I only spent three days there, but here are a few observations I’ve made. Even though the country is small and not so well-known, there are still some great things to in Moldova.
Why Go to Moldova?
In Eastern Europe, most people have not visited this country, the poorest. It’s often skipped by glitzier places. However, Moldova has plenty to offer with its “travel back in time” feel, it’s labyrinthian wine caves, and a monastery that is over 2000 years old.
For those looking to spend some time away from the Schengen zone of Europe proper, Americans and Europeans are allowed to enter the country for 90 days without a visa. I don’t know how many people really seek out Moldova as a tourist destination, but I think you will begin to hear more and more about it.
Only a few decades after its independence from the Soviets, Moldova is working hard to establish itself in the tourism trade. It is spending money to refurbish old farmhouses and turn them into Agritourisme Pensions, very similar to what you can experience in Italy. We had lunch at one of them in a very small village near Moldova’s largest and most famous tourist attraction, Orheiul Vechi, and we weren’t disappointed.
How to Get to Moldova
To get there by plane, you fly into the main airport in Chisinau, the capital city. It’s not a bad looking city; you can certainly see the Soviet influence in most of the buildings and especially in their apartment blocks. However, they are doing their best to clean things up, change them to their own style. There are plenty of green parks and beautiful trees throughout the city. It’s pretty easy to get around if your hotel is near the main street, Stefan de Mare, which it probably will be.
Moldova and the European Union
Moldova is not part of the European Union, and according to the EU governing body, has quite a bit of work to do before being accepted. One of those things is the conditions of their roads, which albeit, are dirt in most villages, at least the paved ones aren’t too bad. I’ve been on worse roads in EU countries (read Bulgaria). At any rate, since they don’t use the Euro, they have their own currency called the Leva, which right now is about 12 to 1 USD. I didn’t think things were that cheap, although it certainly wasn’t expensive either.
What Language Do They Speak in Moldova?
Romanian is the national language of Moldova, but there are still many people who speak Russian. This is a difficult thing. The Soviets were in power for 70 years, and they obliterated everything that didn’t follow their doctrine like other languages or religion. Moldova is trying to overcome and rebuild both of these things.
Nowadays, most students are learning English as the country tries to align itself more with the European Union and the United States rather than Russia, but there are also schools that teach Turkish, since Turkey has some of the closest ties to Moldova. We saw evidence in this with the businesses that have built in the country, such as malls and grocery stores. On the other hand, Romanian did not seem like it was a very difficult language. It sounded very similar to Italian to me and by the end of our few days, I was able to understand a few things that were going on around me.
Best Time to Visit Moldova
The temperatures in Moldova are just what you would expect of Europe. There are four distinct seasons. The summer is the best time to go. The temperatures are warm, but there are an average of seven rainy days each month.
We visited in late fall, and it was chilly. We had overcast skies and had to wear long-sleeves and pants, and a jacket. Luckily we never saw rain or snow. The weather was fine for walking and touring, and we enjoyed it.
Is Moldova Safe?
Just like in many countries petty theft is present in Moldova. However, overall it is a safe country for travelers. It’s important to stay vigilant, especially at night and try not to walk alone. Instead grab a cab or taxi service and have them take you to your hotel.
When we visited Moldova, we had the absolute best hosts. Moldovan food and hospitality is top notch. Moldova is an agricultural country with very rich black soil. Everywhere we looked there were fields for crops and each house had at least a small garden, most had some animals. Tocana is a stewed meat and is traditionally made in the choutor or outside oven. We had a pork tocana that was served with yogurt (semalia) and cheese.
Also made in the ovens are placintas which are filled pies. We tried quite a number of them, some with various cheeses, fruits, and our favorites were cabbage and potato. You can buy these at restaurants or in the bakery section of a grocery store. They were great any time of the day.
One very new food I had not had before was pickled tomatoes. Who knew! The ones we had were the size or slightly larger than cherry tomatoes. When you bite into them there is at once an acidic yet sweet taste. Very different than anything I’ve ever had. Our hosts named the dish, with pickled tomatoes and cucumbers, as molotor.
One of the main staples is corn or maize. Many of the houses had their own corn cribs. Corn is made into mamaliga (polenta) or fed to the barn animals. I have a recipe for mamaliga below. It is meant to be eaten as a side dish or even as a vessel for other foods, somewhat like an open-faced sandwich.
Polenta – Mamaliga
1 lb corn meal
1 1/2 qts/1 1/2 L water
1 teaspoon salt
Set the water to boil. When the water is boiling, add the salt and a little of the corn meal. After a few minutes, when the water is boiling, add the rest of the corn meal. Mix it briefly and then let it boil at low temperature for about half an hour. Then, with a wooden spoon start mixing vigorously. If the polenta seems soft, add a little bit more corn meal. Mix continuously.
To test if the polenta is done, hold the wooden spoon straight. Rotate it fast between your palms and then try to pull it out. If it comes out clean, the polenta is done. If not, let the polenta boil a little longer. Then you wet a wooden spoon in water and gather the polenta to the center. Let it boil a few more minutes and then shake the pot a few times and turn over the hot polenta on a wooden cutting board (not recommended to pour on a plate). Let it set for a few minutes and then cut it with a clean string.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.