First Impressions posts are starting to be a thing, and people seem to like them, so I’ll keep writing them =)
After a fun couple of months exploring Romania, we crammed ourselves and our stuff into a minivan that ended up taking over eight hours to go from Bucharest to Chisinau (key-sheen-naw), Moldova… We’re here for about two weeks before heading on, so the schedule is a little tighter than it usually is.
(Why two weeks, you ask? Well, we usually base the length on how much there is to see/do and how long we’re able to stay. Most first-world passports will get you 90 days as a tourist visa-free, but it looked like two weeks would be enough time to see things in a leisurely way.)
So, some first impressions?
It’s about as cheap as Europe gets.
Some sample prices (at about 18 Moldovan Lei to the US dollar or about 21 Moldovan Lei to the Euro):
- Dinner for two at a PizzaMania (Moldovan franchise, by the looks of it): 180-200 lei
- Ride on a fairly modern trolley car: 2 lei
- Ride on an older bus through the city: 3 lei
- 100 gram bar of chocolate: 10 lei
- 1.5 liter bottle of sparkling water at the supermarket: 8 lei
- 2.5 liter bottle of local beer at the supermarket: 37 lei
- 750 ml bottle of Moldovan wine at the supermarket. (in standard classy glass bottle): 50 lei and up
- 2 liter bottle of Moldovan wine (in cheap plastic bottle): 40 lei
It’s caught between Russian and European influences in almost every possible way.
Politically, geographically, linguistically, and socially speaking, Moldova is very much a part of and between two much larger worlds of influence. On the surface of Chisinau’s streets, Romanian (the official language) and Russian (commonly spoken by merchants and people on the street) are both pretty equally used.
Tourists are rare.
Statistically, we read that Moldova welcomes a tiny amount of tourists, and most of them are from Russia, Romania, the Ukraine, and other nearby countries. North American visitors are a tiny fraction of those.
There are zero touts or scams out to get tourists*.
Note that asterisk — touts and scams that are out to get tourists don’t exist in a country that barely has tourists. You’re more likely to face misunderstandings based on language or crappy exchange rates like this:
Most of the exchange booths around central Chisinau have a spread that’s not nearly this large… The rates are typically easy enough to spot from the street, of course, which advertises their services as well…
There isn’t all that much here for a tourist to see.
Tripadvisor lists a whopping 88 ‘Things to Do’ for Chisinau. Compare that to 295 for Bucharest and 222 for Zagreb (our last two stops that also happen to be capitols of Eastern European countries). Chisinau has less the half the restaurants of Zagreb and one-sixth the restaurants listed for Bucharest. It’s fair to say that by the time we leave (about two weeks after we arrive), we’ll have visited most everything that’s reasonably accessible by public transportation or rental car.
There is very little English.
Romanian and Russian is everywhere, so if you’re an English-only speaker, you’ll be reliant on your smartphone or piecing together the bits of Romanian that’s similar to other Romance languages. The only significant source of English seen thus far is in a Pizza Mania menu. (I’m not sure how far the chain goes beyond the cities in Moldova, but it’s got some good food.)
The tap water’s drinkable and the internet’s fast enough.
There’s plenty of bottled water (both still and sparkling) if you want it instead, but the tap water across Chisinau is fine to drink. The internet? Fast enough for Netflix and Youtube, which is good enough for me.
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Also published on Medium.