Advantages Good value for money, great wine, lovely churches, swimming in the lakes
Disadvantages Possibly not touristy enough for some
|Value for Money|
|Ease of getting around|
Chisinau is the capital of the small former Soviet Republic of Moldova. In spite of the fact that it was almost totally destroyed during World War Two (due not only to heavy bombing but also an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale), it is a beautiful city, full of character.It has a population of around 650,000; nearly 70 per cent are ethnic Moldovans, the next highest group is Russians with Ukrainians, Romanians, Bulgarians and Gaugazians (Gaugazia is a tiny breakaway Republic in the south of Moldova) making up the rest. In spite of the ethnic mix that has caused tensions in other parts of the country – resulting in two breakaway Republics being formed – the capital is a relaxed and friendly place.
Chinisinau was founded as a monastery town and has grown slowly and steadily over the years. It became a Soviet Socialist Republic after World War Two having previously been part of Romania and before that known as Bessarabia. The population grew more rapidly in the 1950s when Soviet architects laid out a plan for the rebuilding of the city. Now Chisinau is a city full of “Stalinist architecture” – large blocks of apartments, often with shops or other facilities at street level, built in clusters.In 1971 the Soviet Council of Ministers decided to invest huge sums of money in the city and this continued until Moldova’s independence in 1971. As a result Chisinau is a city that feels like it has been designed and developed with its population in mind. It has one of the highest proportions of parks and open spaces of any European city, its bus stations are just out of town making the centre less busy and its best shopping spaces are underground.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO· Go to the beach – yes, in landlocked Moldova you can go to the beach; on the edge of town there are several lakes complete with beached where you can swim (if you can manage to stop your knees from scraping on the bottom). Chisinau can reach between 35 and 40 degrees in summer and the lakes are a favourite spot to cool down. Bear in mind – as is common with freshwater swimming – you will be surrounded by sticklebacks, frogs and dragonflies. The nicest is Lake Valea Morilor
EATING AND DRINKINGChisinau is a modern and cosmopolitan city as far as eating out is concerned. We were there for five days and ate Lebanese food, sushi and Italian food as well as traditional Moldovan cuisine – I shall never forget my lunch of Danube herrings!
Like every other European city Chisinau has an Irish Bar but its much more fun to try some of the little back streets bars as well as the newer boutique bars that are springing up. We tried "Havana" which we thought would have a Cuban theme; it turned out to be a basement bar, white tiled floor and walls, wobbly chairs and one in ten of the cocktails list available. Café culture is thriving and it is lovely to sit outside one of the bars on the leafy wide streets watching the world go by. Beer House is a great one to choose - the food is good and they brew their own beer.Most pubs serve a full range of food and it's not unsual for places that seem like a conventional restaurant to be full of people just drinking. The Lebanese restaurant "Class" is one such place and I reckon the young people of Chisinau go there for the waterpipes rather than the entertainment - a guy playing keyboard trying desperately hard to slur "Blue Suede Shoes" enough to hide the fact that he only knew three of the words.
There is a wonderful craft market held in the park next to the Arc de Triomphe each day. I would have loved to have bought some art if it had not meant hauling it around eastern Europe for another six weeks. This is the place to buy Russian dolls, painted in every colour imaginable.
TRANSPORTYou can walk around Chisinau quite easily but minibuses will take you further afield. The city has three bus stations – one in the centre and two on the edge of town each serving different parts of the country. There is meant to be method to this – there isn’t. Chisinau still has lots of trolleybuses - make sure you use them at least once.
Fares are ridiculously cheap - we are talking pence. You can buy tickets from kiosks or from the driver. Taxis aren't expensive but we were warned that drivers might try it on and that we should only book taxis by phone. We never had to use a taxi since we were staying in a central location and were able to use maxitaxis most of the time (a maxitaxi is a small minibus).WHERE TO STAY
Overall we found Chisinau to be a friendly and attractive city, one where you find yourself spending most of your time outdoors. What is remarkable is that it has so much character even though most of it dates from the 1950s onwards. There are no big tourist attractions but there is enough to occupy you for a couple of days at least, a bit more if you use Chisinau as a base to make day trips from.Chisinau represents great value for money a good meal for two with wine should cost much more than £10, although you can spend much more if you want to - with so many Russian businessmen here the top end restaurants know they can charge high prices.
If you like the idea of visiting Chisinau I would advise you to do so soon before the international chains start moving in, Chisinau is largely free of them at present but this will no doubt change.The only drawback is that Chisinau has nothing that is typically Moldovan or that you couldnt find elsewhere. However that does not stop it being on the most pleasant cities I have visited in Europe.
For rented apartments in Chisinau
B-dul Negruzzi 1
Since January 2007 UK citizens have not needed a visa to enter Moldova. We had to buy one at the border in July 2006 - this was tremendous fun - so much so that the people on our bus cheered when we got back on waving our visas.Chisinau has an international airport but many visitors fly into Romania and cross into Moldova by road or rail and this may be a cheaper option.
And finally - Chisinau - pronounced Kishinyev in Russian, Kishinow in Moldovan.
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