I’m not ashamed to admit that I do count countries that I visit, it makes me so proud and excited when I see how much I’ve achieved and (literally) how far I got only with my hard work. Moldova was second to last country I yet had to visit in Europe but it didn’t look like I might get there anytime soon. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere and not many travelers seem to visit Chisinau or the whole country. But when my flights to the Balkans were canceled and I found myself with a free week in August I’ve thought this might be the time to finally go to Moldova!
On the way to visit Chisinau…
I left Chernivtsi, Ukraine – my best discovery of 2015 – early in the morning. The distance looked fairly close on the map but the journey in the small bus (known also as marshrutka in Eastern Europe) was supposed to take 7,5 hours. At times it felt like a nightmare – the bus was packed, I had the worst possible seat (behind the driver with very limited leg space) and the Russian tv shows played loudly from the tv installed inside this tiny machine. I was trying to focus on the landscape behind the window but it wasn’t easy. Moldova looked so sad, so poor and so uninteresting, I even dare to say boring. It looked like the time has stopped there some 20 years ago and everyone has forgotten about this place. Until August I’ve thought that Hungary or Liechtenstein are the most boring countries in Europe, now I’ve changed my mind – it is Moldova. It was my very first impression from crossing most of the country by bus but I was still hoping I will change my mind when I visit Chisinau.
The air was heavy and dusty when I arrived. It was during the afternoon peak hours so walking for couple of minutes to the apartment I’ve booked was a challenge and left me super tired. At first glimpse Chisinau looked uninviting and harsh. All I could see around me were masses of concrete, everything in grey color. But to be honest I didn’t expect anything else. My apartment was located at the 12th floor of the massive block of flats, so typical for this part of Europe. But while in other cities in nearby country (Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic or Poland) such buildings look fairly decent these days, those in Moldova looked like they’re about to fall apart anytime soon. At least I had a really great view over big part of Chisinau!
What to see in Chisinau
Before I went to Chisinau I was hoping all the bad opinions I’ve heard from the very few people who made it to Moldova were not true. But the fact that most of the capital was destroyed during World War 2 didn’t put my hopes very high (after all not every city can be as beautifully rebuilt as Warsaw was). I spent the whole day trying to get to know the place but to be honest there were not many attractions worth attention and the majority of them was located along B-dul Ştefan cel Mare, the main avenue of Moldovan capital. It’s the heart of Chisinau, where people go for a walk or to gather and protest in front of the government buildings. The avenue is far from being as impressive as main streets of Minsk or Kiev but it has some interesting Soviet architecture, such as National Opera and Ballet Theater, Parliament or Government National Palace. Across the street from the last one there’s the Triumph Arch, constructed in 1841, now probably the most photographed building in the city. Behind it people chill out or play chess in the Central Garden. Its central point is the Orthodox cathedral, pretty average from the outside yet really beautiful inside. There’s something about Orthodox churches that impress me every single time, the combination of rich ornaments, the smell of candles and the spiritual atmosphere always do the trick for me!
Even if the main avenue of Chisinau isn’t so great it takes only few steps to the backstreets to find much nicer architecture (still mixed with some Soviet buildings here and there). There’re old houses resembling style of 19th century Russia, some of them really beautiful. There’re also nice green spaces, full of people even in the middle of the weekday. And there’s also Tucano Coffee – a local version of Starbucks and a surprisingly nice spot. If I had spent more time in Chisinau that’s where you’d have found me for sure!
Abandoned Soviet Circus – my highlight when I visited Chisinau
My main goal for the day, however, was the abandoned Circus. Opened in 1981 it used to host up to 2,000 spectators per show but for past years it’s been a disrepair. I’ve seen online pictures taken by people who managed to sneak in and I was really hoping to do the same! When I arrived I started from the back of the building but it was all closed. Then I’ve noticed some guys working in the front and spotted open doors! I was nearly in, only few steps separated me from getting in but one man has seen me… I asked nicely, just to peek inside but the answer was always no. I gave up, being so close yet so far… I only looked curiously around, trying to see through the dirty windows what’s inside but there was no point in hanging around any longer. I’m not going to lie, I was really disappointed! And it seems like the circus might be reopened soon so my chances to see it abandoned are most likely gone…
So is it worth to visit Chisinau?
It might seem like Chisinau is the most boring capital you will ever encounter. Well, this kind of is true. You will not find beautiful architecture or exciting attractions there, there’s nothing really spectacular about the city. But still I really enjoyed my visit to Chisinau and I think it’s worth to spend at least a day there, just to feel the vibe of the place. I don’t know any other capital in Europe like this one, from those I’ve ever been to it only reminded me of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. If you like Socialist-Realist architecture (I do, a lot!) there’re many gems you might enjoy in Chisinau. But the most I liked it for the old time charm, the atmosphere I vaguely remember from my early childhood in Soviet and post-Soviet Poland. People shop at the big market in the center where you can get just about everything, from home-made meat and cheese to electronics, clothes and furniture. There’re rows of old-fashioned phone-boots, people don’t rush like crazy and the best drink you can get on summer day is kvas, bought from the barrel on the street. And if that’s not enough for you, Chisinau can serve as a perfect base for a day trip to the biggest wine cellars in the world or to Transnistria – the country that doesn’t exist.
Are you planning a trip to Eastern Europe? Do you like that region as much as I do? I’ve created a Facebook group where you can look for advise or inspiration and share your travel stories and pictures from Eastern Europe. Join now!
Are you looking for the accommodation in Chisinau? I stayed in this apartment and I can definitely recommend it! It was located in the typical Soviet block of flats but the place was spacious, clean and had a great view. The location was also really good, across the street from the decent supermarket and some 10 minutes walking to the market hall and B-dul Ştefan cel Mare. If it’s not your kind of place here you can book other accommodation options in Chisinau.
So far I haven’t written more about Moldova but you might be interested in reading my posts about Ukraine and Romania! If you’re looking for articles about any place in particular this map with posts might be useful for you!
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