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The Republic of Moldova is a former soviet state surrounded by Ukraine on three sides and Romania to its west. Moldova is one of the least visited countries in Europe. So why on earth did I go there? Well, for that reason as I enjoy the novelty of lesser-visited places. Secondly, the Moldovan border is close to Odessa, the Ukrainian city I had a long-time plan to visit.
MOLDOVA TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
VISA: Moldova offers visa-free travel for tourism purposes for up to 90 days in a 180 day period for all EU passport holders plus up to 70 other nationalities including US, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand visitors.
Transnistria has its own border controls and that is discussed in detail in my Day Trip to Transnistria post.
GEOGRAPHY: Moldova is fairly flat with rolling hills. The southern part of the country has large swathes of fertile grasslands. Vineyards are found all over the country. Capital city Chisinau is centrally located.
MOLDOVA HISTORY: Moldova was part of the various empires that dominated southern Europe including the Ottoman Empire and Russian Imperial Empire. It gained independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Moldova has a similar climate to continental Europe, that of warm summers and mild winters. May to October is the best time to visit the whole country. I visited in late September and found warm temperatures of 23 – 27°C (73-81F).
LANGUAGE: Romanian is the main language of Moldova. Russian is spoken to a small degree given the ethnic Russian population and the fact that Russian was taught in schools during Moldova’s soviet era. English is now the main foreign language taught in schools so many of the younger population will have a limited amount of English. Russian is the main language of Transnistria.
CURRENCY: Moldovan Leu written as MDL. Transnistria has its own ruble which can only be bought and used within its region.
TIME ZONE: Moldova is two hours ahead of Ireland/UK time and one hour ahead of Central Europe.
DIALLING CODE: +373
PLUGS: The 220-240V types C and F from the World Standards List which is what countries in continental Europe use.
DRINK: While nothing unique springs to mind when it comes to Moldova’s cuisine, the country’s wine is under-rated. In fact, I can see wine tours to Moldova growing in popularity in years to come. Moldova also produces excellent brandy including the famous Kvint distillery in Transnistria.
IS MOLDOVA SAFE: Footpaths on the side streets of capital city, Chisinau, were quite uneven so a sprained ankle is a possibility. These footpaths were also not lit so bring a flashlight for walking at night. To be honest, it felt a little eerie walking on these dark streets.
IS MOLDOVA TOURIST-FRIENDLY?
By tourist-friendly, I’m referring to the readiness of the country to welcome and value visitors. I didn’t visit the entire country so I cannot give this question a direct yes or no answer but I will outline my honest experience in this Moldova travel blog post.
Chisinau fell short of the mark. I felt as if my custom was not welcome in most places. However, the few places that had good service had excellent service.
Service at Chisinau’s airport was no better. I was shouted at several times for standing in the non-priority queue. A female passenger with a pram struggled to board the other transfer bus but nobody helped her. In fact, those around (both employees and passengers) just stood looking at her.
The sales person at the airport duty free insisted I buy wine, following me around the entire Moldovan products area to ensure I did. He was annoyed when I didn’t choose wine. Was he on wine commission or was he just plain rude?
But I’ll reserve the biggest criticism for the Moldovan driver of the Odessa – Chisinau bus. I was unaware that I had to pay to put my bag in the hold (nobody else was asked to pay) so he grabbed my backpack and pulled me backwards as I was stepping onto the bus.
Secondly, he started shouting at me in the bus. The more I said I didn’t understand (in Ukrainian) the louder his voice became until someone said he wanted me to move seats. I still cannot understand why. This is his number plate.
Both Ukraine and Moldova are two of the poorest countries in Europe but there seemed to be a sense of hopelessness in Moldova that wasn’t present in Ukraine.
In my Why is Tourism Important post, I outline that tourism can facilitate the transfer of money from wealthier parts of the world to the less economically developed regions. This concept is widely understood in Ukraine, but not so in Moldova. Transnistria was the Moldova exception where I found the service consistently good and welcoming.
GETTING TO MOLDOVA: The bus from Odessa to Chisinau cost UAH365 (€11 approx). The journey lasted approximately 5 hours travelling via Palanca in order to avoid Transnistria. The border stop took a half hour on either side. The Ukrainian border is manned by soldiers who thoroughly inspected passports whereas the time on the Moldovan side was spent in the café/shop.
Chisinau Airport (KIV) is Moldova’s main airport. Its infrastructure is modern. Air Moldova, FlyOne and Wizz Air are the airport’s largest airlines with routes to most of Europe and a selection to the Middle East. From Chisinau, I returned home via London Luton with Wizz Air.
There are train services from neighbouring Romania (Bucharest) and Ukraine (Odessa, Kyiv, Lviv).
GETTING AROUND MOLDOVA: Like other former soviet countries, marshrutkas are popular in Moldova. These are small buses that depart when full. Prices are low as is comfort. They are great for meeting locals.
Traffic in Chisinau was quiet outside of rush hour and practically non-existent in rural Moldova. However, road surfaces in rural Moldova were quite potholed.
DESTINATIONS AND ACCOMMODATION
CHISINAU: I was based in the capital city, Chisinau. I stayed in Mon Ami Villa which I can recommend for comfort, price, location and service. My post on Chisinau is coming in the next few weeks.
TRANSNISTRIA: I did an enjoyable day trip to Transnistria. It’s possible to pop into Transnistria from Ukraine for a day trip as long as you return to Ukraine and not venture further into Moldova.