Moldova – where’s that?

 

Moldova chess

Small in size (population of 3.6 million), located in a little known corner of southeastern Europe and positioned between two larger neighbors (Romania and Ukraine), Moldova gets little attention. Yet it is an extremely fertile region with potential to rise above its economic rank of the poorest country in Europe. The main problem is political.

 Independent since 1992 following the break up of the USSR, Moldova nevertheless remains shackled to Russia. It is led by former communist leaders, who specialize in corruption to maintain their positions. The older generation of Moldovans harks back to communism when everything was orderly; the younger generation wants to join Europe. With low wages and lack of job prospects, any young enterprising Moldovan leaves to find work in Europe. Economically, Moldova traditionally provided agricultural produce and wine to the USSR. The country relies on Russia for gas supplies, which Putin uses as political leverage.

I took the overnight train from Bucharest, Romania to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital.  My companions in a comfortable 4-berth sleeping compartment were a young Romanian couple, who shared their food with me. During the night I was dimly aware of the train halting, and a swaying motion starting, which ended with the clang of a hammer. The train, car by car, was being winched up, sideways and down onto a new set of bogies onto the wider gauge of the Russian railway system.

Anti Communist Sculpture

Anti Communist Sculpture

Soviet Monument

Soviet Monument

Leaving Chisinau’s (Kish-en-ow) railway station I passed a large sculpture, cut from stone. It showed bent, huddled, desperate people clinging together. This memorial, erected in 2010, commemorates the victims of Soviet aggression. Soon after, I saw a quite different statue, in style and intent. It honored communism, depicting mother Russia, with flowing hair and skirt beside a bare-chested Soviet soldier in a helmet and carrying a huge sword. There was a world of difference in the design and symbolism of the two memorials: the new and the old Moldova

In the shabby capital I saw plenty of Mercedes, restaurants, casinos and other signs of affluence. McDonalds had an outlet on the main street, Bulevard Stefan cel Mare. I also saw elderly, poor people laying out a handful of beets on the sidewalk in the hope of making a sale. I went into a travel agency and asked a young man if I could find a hotel room for $40. He said I could find a Soviet era room for that price, but it would be uncomfortable. Much better, he advised, to find a new hostel and share a room, for half the price. And he led me to one nearby called Tapok, sharing walnuts, which he bought from a street vendor and which he said had grown in Moldova since Roman times.

McDonalds

McDonalds

With my digs fixed up, I embarked on a quick sightseeing trip, on foot. In an afternoon I visited the excellent National Museum of Archeology and History, where I was one of less than 10 visitors. I sat in a large green park, where the spruced up Russian Orthodox Cathedral was attracting worshippers. I preferred to watch a chess game in the park, with 3-foot high pieces, being played by two young adults with plenty of advice from bystanders.

 It started to rain the next day – early fall rain, cold and penetrating. I took a bus for the 30-mile trip to Tiraspol, the capital of an even stranger place than Moldova.  This is the so-called Predinestrovian Moldovian Republic, a sliver of land along the Dniester River, with a population of half a million. This part of Moldova, with a majority population of ethnic Russians, compared to the overall Moldovan population that is predominantly of Romanian origin, chose upon independence, to breakaway and declared their continuing loyalty to the Soviet Union. Which they did after some fighting. The trouble was no other nation recognized theM.

The result is a sort of Soviet theme park, with red flags flying, army officers with Soviet-style high peaked hats, and military hardware visible in Tiraspol. My aim was to stay a night at a hostel run by a young American, which offered free vodka and tours. Sending me a map, the owner, who had married a local girl, stressed that I should not give his address when entering the province, where the border guards were very strict.

I never found the hostel since the map, which I gave to my bus driver to facilitate the entry procedure with the officious border guards, got lost. So in the cold rain of Tiraspol, without a rain coat or hat, I was left with an address to a hostel with no sign, speaking inadequate Russian trying to get directions from people in a hurry to get out of the rain. After an hour, I gave up, and caught the same bus back to Chisinau.

View from Cosmos Hotel

View from Cosmos Hotel

After a night ($40) in the Cosmos high-rise hotel built in Soviet days,  I took a train to Odessa, Ukraine. This Odessa gave its name to 13 Odessa’s in the US. It was home for a while to Russia’s most famous poet, Alexander Pushkin, and site of the mutiny by Russian sailors in 1905, portrayed by the Russian film director Eisenstein in his classic silent film, Battleship Potemkin (1925).

Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

Comments

  1. Dorothy Zelazny Angrist says:

    WHAT A UNIQUE & INTERESTING CONCEPT – PLAYING CHESS WITH HUMANS ON A “BOARD” WITH 3 FOOT TALL PIECES!!
    JIM, YOUR ADVENTURES ARE ALWAYS A GREAT READ – YOUR WORD PICTURES TRULY GIVE ONE A “SECOND-HAND” EXPERIENCE!! ‘TIL LATER, Dorothy

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