48 Hour Moldova Experience

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The Nativity Cathedral of Chișinău, the main cathedral of the Moldovan Orthodox Church.

Eastern Europe is becoming a more and more popular tourist destination every year. Former communist countries have opened up to visitors, showing their rich nature and cultural heritage to foreigners. But there’s still one country that goes almost unnoticed by the outside world: Moldova.

If Moldova is famous for something, it’s famous for, well, not being famous. Landlocked between Ukraine and Romania, it’s the least visited country in Europe. According to Lonely Planet, Moldova has approximately 12,000 to 20,000 annual visitors. On average, that means only about 30-55 foreigners crossing the border to Moldova every day.

(In comparison: The second least visited country in Europe is the microstate of Liechtenstein, which still gets about 55,000 visitors every year.)

When me and my two Finnish friends decided to visit the country that’s most famous export products are wine and the 2003 hit song Dragostea Din Tei, we didn’t really know what to expect. We also didn’t do much research before our journey. We just arrived to the capital Chișinău at midnight, stayed in the country for two nights and tried to make some sense of everything we were seeing.

Here’s what we noticed.

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The lack of tourists was clearly visible in the hotel. The hotel staff had set up only three tables for the breakfast, because more tables for visitors weren’t needed.

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A typical street in a richer neighbourhood. The roads were generally in a poor condition and the houses were surrounded with high fences.

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Entrance to the National Botanical Garden costs about 5 cents with student discount. One of the reasons why Moldova gets so few tourists is that the country lacks world-renowned tourist destinations.

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The Arc de Triomphe of Chișinău was bult in 1840. The triumphal arch stands close to the Nativity Cathedral of Chișinău, another one of the few tourist sights in the city.

As we strolled around the city, we started noticing strange details about the center.

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I don’t know why, but for some reason the capital is full of money exchange services. Casinos are also extremely common, but I have no idea who actually visit them.

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Pharmacies were also exremely common. Late in the journey, I invented a game called “Chișinău Bingo” for myself. When you see a mix of casinos, pharmacies and money exchange places right next to each other in a row of three, you score a point. I got my first point when I saw three pharmacies side by side in the same building.

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There wasn’t much variety in the restaurant scene either. The restaurants in the city center were usually pizzerias, pizzerias or pizzerias.

It would have been interesting to stay with local people in Moldova for a longer time to get a feel of the local culture. The views from our trains showed vast fields of grapes and crops, while the Chișinău offered architecture from the Soviet Union era. While capitalism had made it’s way o the country, billboards and adverts were almost nonexistent even in comparison to Minsk in Belarus.

Moldovan language is related to Romanian, but many of the locals also understand Russian. I talked to many of the taxi drivers with my basic Russian and noticed that the locals follow more Russian that American culture. Russian music, films and TV-shows are popular in the country that has little entertainment production of its own.

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We tried to buy our train tickets from Moldova to Bucharest, Romania on the night of our arrival, but the cashier told me that it wouldn’t be a problem to buy the tickets just before our departure. Once we got on the mostly empty train, I understood why.

And here’s a video of a hotel lamp I posted in Facebook and Instagram earlier:

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