Chişinău was never on my list of capital cities just begging to be paid a visit. Truth be told, until a few months ago, I didn’t know it existed and until a few days ago, I didn’t know how to pronounce it. But I’m here and I’m strangely fascinated. It has none of the gobsmacking beauty of Budapest or the exotic extremes of Baku – but is has a certain something that I can’t quite put my finger on…and it’s home to the country’s rugby team (who, apparently, are rather good – watch this space!)
I’ve been wandering up and down the main street – Stefancel Mare – for the last few days and am still seeing things I never noticed before. Like the chap who sits with a bathroom scales and charges 1 lei (about 6 cents) a weigh. Mmmm… forgot to weigh myself this morning … oh good, there’s a scales! Or the plethora of xerox shops with one printer, one copier, and one computer – all with queues. Or the series of posters encouraging people to emigrate to Canada. With the average wage in Moldova coming in at €170 per month (that’s about $250), life in Whitehorse might be a viable option.
The second-smallest of the former Soviet republics and the most densely populated, Moldova is 96% orthodox so I wasn’t holding out much hope of finding a Catholic church – but I did and it served up a fine 20-minute mass to 13 of us this evening – in English. Two Americans, a family of Hungarians, one Maltese and the rest of unknown origin fitted neatly in the capela just around the corner from Embassy row.
Dinner afterwards in the Vatra Neamului on Puskin St was quite the treat. I ordered fried lamb – mocănească – and what turned up? The omnipotent mămăligă. Turns out that mămăligă refers to the polenta. Ah well, fourth time in as many days and it’s still good. And it came with a complimentary sparkling wine and a complimentary liqueur – why didn’t I venture beyond the Christmas tree before now I wonder?
Perhaps one of the strangest sights in Chişinău though, are the phone boxes. There are banks of them, everywhere. It’s like stepping back in to the past a little – to the days before mobile phones, when we could remember phone numbers.
The Moldovans I have met in the past week have all, without exception, been extremely welcoming and open and friendly – and so what if they keep chatting away in Moldovan even after it’s clear that I’ve no clue what they’re talking about… they seem to get a kick out of it. And hey – twice already I’ve been stopped and asked directions – by good looking men. Well, at least, that’s what I think they wanted…