1 MDL = 0.04440000 LVL
Moldova has lately been drawing the attention of world media on two accounts: its status of the poorest European nation and the recent post-election violence in protest of yet another triumph by the Communists; the riots took their toll on the Presidential Palace. On the actual election day, the weather was incredibly warm; there were no free places on the countless benches in either of the two Chişinău parks. Old people and youngsters, mums pushing prams, teenagers intoxicated by the spring air - the whole city seemed to have hit the streets. The trees were still bare at the time, which only made the fashion parade in the park paths seem even flashier. Girls spruced up in mini skirts, glittery dresses dating from the late 1980s, fishnets or lace stockings and stiletto heels (boots or shoes). Never mind that the streets are all patches and the pavement seems to have not seen a fresh surfacing since the foundation of the country. Athletic lads sporting crew cuts, jeans (or tracksuit bottoms) and leather jackets; middle-aged ladies with neatly set permed hair - a gift from heaven to any western glossies' stylist. What is more, there is nothing staged about the whole scene: it is as genuine as it gets.
The first impression of Chişinău is that of a journey back in time: the only signs of the presence of the global way of life are the impressive proportion of really classy cars (which tend to drive around in any old way it pleases their owners - parking on the pavement is a generally accepted thing here), luxury stores (the likes of Hugo Boss, D&G or Brioni) displaying signs promising 50-70 per cent discounts, and billboards promoting various telecommunication operators. Amidst all of that, jam-packed trolley-buses of venerable age and homeless dogs. Asked about the impact of the current financial crisis, the locals wryly quip that, as far as they are concerned, it started in 1992 and is not showing any signs of abating. No-one seems too eager to delve into the matter, however, apart from offering a brief explanation to the phenomenon of the good cars: around a million Moldovans are currently residing and working abroad; it is the money they have been sending home that we can now see in the street in the shape of the cars.
History has not been kind to Chişinău; past centuries have seen a number of different flags raised above the city. Between 1812 and 1918, Chişinău was controlled by the Russian Empire; from 1918 until 1940, it was under the Romanian rule and from 1940 to 1991 it was part of the Soviet Union. The scars left on its face by difficult times have not disappeared. In World War II, also due to the 1940 earthquake, Chişinău lost about 70 per cent of its buildings. Later it was overcome by a huge wave of the expansionist Soviet architecture which, mixed in an eclectic cacophony with the glaring market economy ad billboards, is still dominating the Moldovan capital's urban landscape. Chişinău, set on seven hills, is particularly beautiful in spring and summer when the forest literally takes over the city, camouflaging with its greenness the somewhat depressive post-Soviet heritage. During these months, most of the city's communal life takes place in its parks, the favourite hangout for the old and young alike.
There is no denying the unique and inimitable charm and ambience of Chişinău. The best way of savouring it is exploring on foot at least some of the length of the city's main avenue, the Stephan cel Mare Avenue. Some five kilometres long, it divides Chişinău in two, winding through the city like a multicoloured ribbon. Newsstands and stalls selling belyashi (round deep-fried pies with meat filling); street vendors of flowers and spring onions; trolley-buses of venerable age and new Mercedes jeeps. The country's central sweets and wine shop; a theatre and an organ hall housed in a 19th century building where, according to a poster, a performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion is to take place soon. Amidst all of that, Hugo Boss and Brioni; a couple of hundred metres further - the embodiment of the megalomania of Soviet architecture in the shape of the Government Building (the "White House" to the locals). On the other side of the street, children are playing in the Cathedral Park. A slow, at least seemingly unhurried pace - as if the city were trapped somewhere between the past and the future that has not yet arrived.
And yet there are two things that disperse the initial impression of Moldova as a poor relative caught in a time warp: wine and food. While the latter may have some rivals, for instance, the cuisine of the neighbouring Romania (their vegetables prepared in every possible way must be the most delicious in the whole world), Moldovan wines are unequalled throughout the countries of the former Soviet block and, in recent years, increasingly appreciated and recognised at prestigious European auctions. Due to the comparatively low level of chemicals involved in the winemaking process, they are also considered one of the purest in the world. Two of Moldova's most famous wineries, the state-owned Cricova and Mileştii Mici, are about an hour's drive from Chişinău. Mileştii Mici has made the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest underground winery. Two hundred years ago, the current territory of the winery was actually a limestone quarry; the stone was used as a building material. Later the location was discovered to have the perfect climate for wine storage. Mileştii Mici opened in 1969; almost the whole impressive premises of the winery are situated at the depth of 30 - 80 metres under the ground. The total lenght of the underground galleries is more than 200 kilometers (55 kilometers of which are used and explored). To all intents and purposes, it is an underground town with a maze of streets; without any guidance, it is quite easy to get lost within five minutes. In all, the premises are said to hold 35 million litres of wine; the huge territory can only be toured by car - in the company of a guide, of course.
Where quality of wine is concerned, the stated-owned wineries have lately been outdone by private winemakers. Seven of these privately owned wineries - Château Vartely, Acorex, Purcari, Dionysos-Mereni, Lion Gri, Bostavan and DK-Intertrade - have united to form the Moldova Wine Guild, which concerns itself with the promotion of the wines produced by its members and the country itself. The best and most prestigious winery among these seven is the Purcari winery by the Ukrainian border. One of its pride and joys is Negru de Purcari, a wine made from a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Moldova's own Rara Neagră grapes. The prices are an especially pleasant surprise - in Moldova, a very good wine will on average set you back just €10-12.
A good wine accompanied with various aubergine dishes, bell peppers, grilled lamb (a restaurant serving of lamb shashlyk costs EUR 7-8) and Soviet architecture: such is the true aftertaste of Chişinău, which lingers long after you've left the city.Share it:
Keywords: essence, essences, Chisinau