Moldova

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Introduction to Moldova

Moldova is a picturesque country - all rolling green hills, whitewashed villages, placid lakes and sunflower fields - with an old-world charm that's hard to manufacture. Oh, and those vineyards. Go see it before it becomes completely Pepsified.

Nothing in Moldova succeeds like secession. This newly formed ex-Soviet republic is in constant danger of being whittled away to nothing. Republicans struggle to keep all the pieces together and smooth over the contradictions of being part Romanian, part Russian, and wholly Moldovan.

Caution

A small strip of northeastern Moldova, the region of Transnistria, has broken away from the rest of the country and travel there is discouraged. Lack of diplomatic recognition means that consular support can't be provided in case of emergency; therefore it is advisable to avoid all non-essential travel.

Full country name: Republic of Moldova

Area: 33,843 sq km

Population: 4.44 million

Capital City: Chisinau

People: Moldavian-Romanian 64.5%, Ukrainian 13.8%, Russian 13%, Gagauz 3.5%, Bulgarian 2% Jewish 1.5%, others (Belarusians, Poles and Roma 1.7%)

Language: Moldavian, Russian, Gagauzi

Religion: Eastern Orthodox (98.5%), Jewish (1.5%)

Government: Chisinau

Head of State: President Vladimir Voronin

Head of Government: Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev

GDP: US$11.51 billion

GDP per capita: US$2,600

Annual Growth: -8%

Inflation: 18%

Major Industries: agriculture, viniculture, food processing

Major Trading Partners: Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Romania, Germany

Member of EU: No

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All Western visitors require a visa. To get a visa everyone except US, Canadian, Israeli and EU-member citizens require an invitation or proof of prebooked accommodation from a company or organisation. Visitors are required to register their passport at the police registration offices within 3 days of arrival.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2

Dialling Code: 373

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

There are very few ritual events celebrated in Moldova, mostly because the republic is still in its infancy and is experiencing painful teething problems. It's hardly had time to clear away the rubble from all the old Lenin statues, let alone organise feasts, fetes and fiestas. The one truly Moldovan event is Independence Day, celebrated on 27 August. For the residents of Transdniestr this is like waving a red rag at a bull, and celebrations are usually boycotted by those living east of the Dniestr River.

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Best time to Visit

Moldova has very few culturally specific festivals or calendar highlights, and usually a trip there is combined with a trip to neighbouring Romania. It's worth taking this into consideration when deciding when to go, but as a general rule the best time to visit is September or October. May through to August can also be pleasant, although you run the risk of a snow flurry or two and low temperatures early in the season.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Moldovian Leu

Meals

Budget: US$1-5

Mid-range: US$5-10

High: US$10-20

Deluxe: US$20+

Lodging

Budget: US$15-20

Mid-range: US$20-80

High: US$80-120

Deluxe: US$120+

Moldova, like other ex-Soviet countries, is still a cheap place for Western tourists despite the fact that the Soviet three-tier pricing system ('From each according to his abilities etc, etc, etc') is still in effect. The biggest expense is accommodation, but if you're not too fussed about how reliable the hot water system is, can put up with a bit of surliness from hotel staff and don't mind endless meals of cornmush and kebabs, you can get by on US$30 a day. A bit of spice in your meals, a reliable shower and hotel rooms that come with a smile will cost about US$60 a day. If you're looking for accommodation that includes plush sofas and silver service meals you'll be spending upwards of US$150 a day.

The good old cash-and-carry system still operates in Moldova, so take lots of US cash including some smaller denominations. There is often a shortage of ready change which means you may find yourself holding a box of matches or half a loaf of bread in lieu of a leu. Travellers cheques are almost impossible to exchange in Moldova although there are a few banks in Chisinau that will exchange and one that charges a 4% commission for advances on Visa or Mastercard. This is about the only time your credit card will get a workout as they are not accepted anywhere else in Moldova.

Transdniestr (a separate republic in everything except international recognition) has introduced its own currency, the Transdniestr rouble. It's about as valuable as Monopoly money but not as stable or straightforward. When inflation reaches critical meltdown, zeroes are added to selected bills with an insouciance that would make an economist weep. All you have to remember is that the blue 50,000 notes are worth 50,000 roubles while the brown 50,000 notes are actually worth 500,000 roubles, and five rouble notes are really worth 50,000 roubles if they have a silver hologram attached to them. And none of them is worth anything outside Transdniestr. Got all that?

A tip of 10%-15% is expected in restaurants and taxis.

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Attractions

Chisinau

Chisinau is a surprisingly green city on the banks of the Bac (Byk) River. It's the transport hub of the country, but its tree-lined streets resemble a provincial town in Romania rather than a capital city. Though severely damaged during WWII, a wealth of stately buildings and cathedrals survive.

Mixed in with these are the stark, grey boxy buildings from the Stalinist era, offset by a number of bars and cafes sprouting up around the city and trying hard to swim against the prevailing economic current. Once in the surrounding rural areas, however, the extent of the poverty becomes obvious.

Capriana Monastery

You may be a little tired and emotional after your visit to the vineyards and ready for something restful and spiritual. There's an old monastery conveniently located 7km (4.5mi) southwest of Straseni in the isolated village of Capriana where you can repent of your drinking ways and give your liver a rest. It's a 14th-century monastery that miraculously survived the militant atheism of the Soviet era and its obligatory looting and pillaging. Sitting serenely at the edge of a lake, it's comprised of three sections, each built in a different era. The oldest is the church of the Virgin's Assumption, built in classic 14th-century baroque style. Saint Nicholas' Church was built in the 1800s and Saint George's church (abutting the abbot's house, refectory and cells) was built at the turn of the 20th century. Forty-two Orthodox monks still use the monastery today.

Three buses leave daily from Chisinau to Capriani, but they begin their 30km (19mi) trip back to Chisinau almost immediately. This makes a day trip difficult.

Wine Region

Unfortunately most of Moldova's wineries can only be visited on officially sanctioned tours, and guides can charge like wounded bulls for the privilege of tasting their local plonk in situ. But the wineries have their compensations and delights.

Cricova, north of Chisinau is the starting point for your Moldovan grape crawl. Cricova is completely underground with a labyrinth of subterranean streets all named after wine types, so you can stagger along Cabernet Street before crawling east into Pinot Street.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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