Moldova: Chisinau Chillin’

The two of us started to head towards the hostel, when after about five minutes I realized that my pants were still on the train.  I ran back, but it was already gone.  I would have normally just sighed and gone on with my day, but come on, these were Calvin Kleins.  And they were the only pair I had packed.  I explained myself to the ticketing ladies, and they put their hands into the air.  I pressed a little more, and finally one of them made a phone call before writing a time on a slip of paper.  There was a 5 minute window in which the same train would return to the station where I could retrieve them.

With that problem as solved as it was going to be, we made our walk over to the hostel.  I had directions, but neither of us were totally sure about how to get there, and the walk was a bit lengthy.  Most of the streets were as average as this one.

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We arrived and checked in to the quiet place, and then relaxed for a bit.  We had a tour to organize, but the one advertised by the hostel was vastly overpriced.  Instead, I sheepishly asked to worker to check the cost of having drive us instead.  Boom, a savings of 25 euros each, or nearly an entire day’s budget.

That was sorted for the next day, so the next priority was to get some food.  It was recommended that we check out La Talifas, which was a little nicer and had some traditional food.  We were mostly just needed food, but trying something a little bit local sounded good too.  When we got there, as per the culture, we were welcomed with a small glass of handmade wine before being seated.  The place had a nice atmosphere, and more impressively, an English speaking staff.

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It wasn’t particularly cheap, so I took it easy with a chicken soup and a hot cheese pastry.  We also sampled the local brew, which we both agreed was indeed beer.  I suppose I’ll have to wait until I get back west again before the beers impress.

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One of my other missions before heading back to the hostel was to exchange some money into the local lei.  Unfortunately most of my cash is still in Japanese yen, which isn’t so easily changed around here.  I just took the 10% transaction losses against my daily budget, which made me feel better about it.

At this point I needed to get back to meet my pants at the station.  Time was a bit short, and our brisk walk turned into an intentioned jog.  The guy tripped over a sort of rope while running and obliterated the screen of his phone.  He said it was no problem, that it was his fault, and not to worry.  Still though, it was impossible for me to not feel at least somewhat responsible.  We arrived at the station just as my train was sounding the whistle.  I appeared before the same ladies as before, and then they shouted to the someone on the platform.  He relayed the massage and as I was dashing after the departing train the conductor tossed the pants out a window.  GET!  The two of us caught our breath and just had to laugh at the whole debacle, and how ridiculous it must have appeared to everyone else.

That evening we decided to cook a meal at the hostel, pasta of course, so we needed to do a little bit of shopping.  I put him in charge of boiling the noodles since he lives within the Italian culture while I got a couple drinks to enjoy with our meal.  He acted a little embarrassed of the noodles, but I was completely satisfied with them.  I assured him that after three years of living and cooking alone, my culinary standards were nonexistent.  There were tons of coins in that massive brandy glass, and I being cash strapped may have decanted all the euro cents into my own coffers…

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That night I had the unique and unexpected opportunity to sleep in a Soviet era bunker.  The bunker wasn’t listed on the online reservation site as an option, but I was sold as soon as she raised the hatch and let me check it out.  They had painted the walls and made it bit more inviting, but it retained all the characteristics of its original construction – dead, dark, dank and defended in the event of an air raid.

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The next morning, the two of us checked out the national history and archeology museum.  In addition the the normal assortment of rock tools, coins and bowls, they also had an impressive collection of weapons and armor from the wars they fought with the turks.  The piece that I enjoyed most was a hussar’s breastplate, for reasons few of you are likely to understand.

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The whole place wasn’t that interesting, but in the basement they had a collection of images and explanations honoring the victims who lost their lives – or at least many years of them – by being thrown into the gulag for speaking against the communist regime.  Many of those affected were the outspoken members of the clergy.

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Then began our tour to Milestii Mici, the state owned vineyard and location of the largest wine cellar in the world.  Moldova is not likely the first country people think of when it comes to wines, but they are in fact the seventh largest exporter of it in the world.  During the days of communism everything was state owned of course, but now only this and one other vineyard remains as such.  That one has the world’s second largest cellar.

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The reason we needed transportation was not only that it was 20km outside Chisinau, but also to actually drive us through the tunnels.  These cellars contain 200km of passages, though only 55 of them are used for the purposes of storing the wine.  Once our guide joined us, we went into the abyss where right away we saw many massive casks where the wine was aging.

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When we stepped out of the car, she explained that the limestone caverns were originally used as quarry.  Large cutting machines removed bricks of rock, which explained the lines on the walls and ceiling.  The temperature and humidity were perfect for the storage of wines so they were repurposed shortly after WWII.

After a little more driving, we stepped out of the car to walk through the largest collection of wine in the world.  In this next section of tunnels were 1.5 million bottles of collection wines.

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As we walked she explained what determined if a wine was worthy of collection, as well as the process behind making champagne – of course, they need to call them sparkling wine because they don’t have a license to call it by the French word.  The most expensive bottles were considered a national treasure and the government would need to be informed of each sale.  Though, at 2000 euros, that doesn’t happen so often.

Then it was on to the tasting hall.  Once we stepped through a massive barrel shaped door, two minstrels ambushed us with a violin and accordion.  This was completely unexpected and quite hilarious.  Considering this was all underground, the size of this room really impressed me.

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It would have been a shame to come all this way and not get to enjoy any of the wine ourselves though.  There were three different wines for us to sample before selecting the one we wanted a full glass of.. Along the way we learned all about the different processes and etiquettes of each.  I went with a drier red, over a sweet white and even sweeter dessert wine.  We both feasted heavily on the plates of palate cleaning snacks.

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We reemerged into the sunlight and then returned back to base.  While this wasn’t all the time that we spent in the capitol city, it pretty much sums up all that we did.  Unless I wanted to go way out of the city to see some monasteries, which I didn’t, there wasn’t a whole lot else to see and do here.  So, let’s move on then shall we?

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