Chișinău (or Kishinev in Russian) is one of those capitals that are still digging themselves out of that Soviet hole…and oh boy, does it struggle. This multilingual capital of Moldova doesn’t make the best first impression. Feels like you just woke up from a nightmare and you’re glad you woke up, but you still got that aftertaste of terror. In autumn it’s like Kishinev had been abandoned for years like Chernobyl and people are just beginning to resettle it. The roads are pretty messed up, sidewalks have seen better days; even grass has a brownish green shade of rot. Ugly blocks of Soviet architecture cover Chișinău like ulcers, but the people are doing their best to cover it up with street art and folk traditions buried deep within their identity. If it’s so bad out there, then why are there so many brand new Porsches, Mercedes, and BMWs casually cruising around town? It’s a trend in all the post-communist countries; they’re corrupt to the core. The “Heist of the Century” happened in Moldova 2014, 1 billion $ miraculously evaporated from banks, a percentage of that money is in that shiny Porsche driving on those mangled streets. There are always those people that would rather stuff their own pockets than let their country bloom after years of oppression.
I think the best way to judge the state of a city is having a look at its main market; it’s the everyday life of a common citizen. Piata Centrala is the main trading area in Chișinău and it’s a glorious mess of shapes, sizes, smells, and tastes. It reminds me of the 90s to early 2000s Warsaw and the 10th-Anniversary Stadium, where people made a living selling anything from bear cubs to fake passports. Poor people from the countryside flock to the city during the weekends and try to sell whatever they can: meat, dairy, produce, everything picked up just a few hours earlier. It might not be the most sanitary market out there, but it sure is lively.
Moldova is famous for its wine industry. The national wine festival takes place in Chișinău on the first weekend of October, at the end of the wine harvest season. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 15th century and it’s not only a showcase of delicious beverages but also a festival rooted deeply in folk culture. An amazing tourist attraction, it’s something along the lines of Oktoberfest, but with wine instead of beer. The dancing and singing and colourful clothing are all there, they’re just missing the Lederhosen. That’s one place to experience all the culture in one place. Moldova Ethnological Museum (http://www.muzeu.md/) at Mihai Kogalniceanu str. 82 is the second one. It’s immensely popular among both tourists and locals, opened in 1889 it stores over 130 000 unique artefacts from the region and beyond. If you only have one day in Kishinev and you’d like to learn as much as you can about Moldova then this is definitely the right place.
Chișinău and its people like calling their city the greenest capital in Europe and it’s true, to an extent. They have many green areas and parks, such as Parcul Valea Moriloro, built around an artificial lake of sorts. It’s a very relaxing spot in Kishinev where you can spend your time in various ways. You can rent a canoe and swim around the lake; you could sunbathe on a sandy beach or have a picnic on a grassy meadow. Pack a bottle of local wine, sausage, some cheese and you’re set for a lovely day out in the sun. There’s also free Wi-Fi in most parks in Kishinev if you like to work or watch a movie outside on a laptop.
Nightlife in the capital of Moldova is a blast and I know from personal experience that people from post-communist countries take their partying almost religiously. It’s also really cheap; €50 are a small fortune in Moldova. 31st August 1989 Street is the place with the highest concentration of bars and clubs; it’s also where you can jump onto one of those organized bar-crawling wagons for tourists. Steampunker’s Bar at Mihail Kogalniceanu St 62 and Barbar at Mihai Eminescu St. 56 are worth checking out.