Chisinau (‘kish-i-now’ in Moldovan, ‘kish-i-nyov’ in Russian) is all together fascinating and occasionally petrifying. Fleets of BMWs and Mercedes dominate traffic, seemingly outnumbering the formerly dominant Lada, while fashionably dressed youth strut down boutique-lined avenues and dine in fancy restaurants. So, how did this excessive wealth find its way to the capital of Europe’s poorest country? No really, I’m asking you, how’d that happen?
Well, all this flash cash is partly the result of Moldovans working abroad and sending money back to their families (roughly one-third of the country’s GDP is comprised of monies sent home from emigrants working abroad). Though there’s still the matter of the conspicuously bold acts committed by individuals who are clearly above the law and shamelessly conduct themselves as such, which can be preoccupying for the newly arrived visitor. This dodginess aside, Chisinau is a vibrant, good-natured city, filled with people with the will to party with the best of them.
Parts of Chisinau are the usual ex-soviet concrete disasters, but if you wander just a few blocks from the center, you find yourself in lush foliage, wide avenues, parks and, further out, pleasant lakes.
The city is truly funky. Continued economic struggles haven’t put a damper on the nightlife, which swings until the morning hours, while the restaurant scene is implausibly robust. To say nothing of the wine…
Although, the main attraction here is just absorbing this all together strange city, Chisinau has a few decent museums to break up all the carousing, namely the National Archaeology and History Museum and the small open-air military exhibition.
The city celebrates the increasingly popular Wine Festival, during the first weeks of October when any nationality is invited in, visa-free, for stays of up to 10 days.
The city’s location and the small size of Moldova itself, makes it an excellent base for day (or several-day) excursions to other parts of Moldova. It’s possible to drive just about anywhere in the republic, and back, in a single day.