Spring and summer in Chisinau
Evidently, February’s wintry chill makes a jaunt to Chisinau far from ideal – rather, you should discover the city during the temperate spring and summer months. So now is the time to plan your holidays amongst the lush greenery and fresh air of the Moldovan capital.
Chisinau is a city with a population of 500.000, that expands from the shores of the Bic, a tributary of the Nistru River. Like Istanbul, Rome and Moscow, Chisinau is also built on seven hills.
A day in the park
It is the month of June and I am in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. A capital it may be, but you could never ascribe this place with the typical attributes of a capital, all crowded and chaotic. Chisinau is a quiet, green, and tranquil city. Its inhabitants’ best loved feature of their city is the very fact of its being in harmony with the natural environment – and this is no understatement! The 120 square mile city incorporates a total of 23 parks. But, whereas when most people hear talk of urban park spaces, they imagine a couple of saplings planted at the side of a curb, but in Chisinau, when someone says the word ‘park’, they are suggesting something more like the Black Forest wilderness, both in size and potential for getting lost in; a wooded hinterland dense with grand oaks and tall pines – sometimes including a lake and even extensive, sandy shorelines. Spending time in a park is an ordinary, everyday activity for most Chisinauians, and the city’s inhabitants spend a great deal of their time at these places, whether looking for a little peace and quiet after work, bike riding with their children, watching the squirrels as they frolic through the trees, fishing along the shores of the great lakes… Of all the parks I promenaded around, it was Dendrarium, upon whose lake waters float lotus flowers and whose rose-lined botanical areas offered a wealth of pleasure for the eyes. Valea Morilor, I think, comes a close second with its lake that you can discover by renting a sea bike and whose beachy shores give it a special uniqueness.
The city center
A walk along Chisinau’s famous Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard takes me past some of the city’s most important buildings, one after the other. Chisinau’s best museums, hotels, restaurants and cafes, along with its bustling market area, are all located a 10-15 minutes’ walk from Stefan Cel Mare. It is wildly evident that the city passed through an era of Soviet control, characterized as it is by multistory social housing, long, expansive boulevards, flea markets full of matrushka dolls and Lenin memorabilia, and – of course – blue and white trolley buses. In order to know which way any one of the 22 trolley bus lines in the city go, all you have to do is follow the cables. With each ride costing around 2 Leu (only 0.08 Euros!) these buses provide the cheapest means of getting around and, I’d say, if you are planning on getting a taxi, make sure to keep a close eye on the meter so as not to get unfairly overcharged!
Tourists of taste
Chisinau cannot be said to represent a sprawling metropolis, but don’t be mistaken for thinking this makes it a boring and average town. Foodies will especially find it a tantalizing place, thanks to its large array of small, market-stall-like street cafes, and restaurants offering delicious treats. The streets of the city possess a somewhat Gallic quiddity, with the scent of Americanos, espressos and famous French pastry croissants everywhere. These cute little cafe stalls, usually found at the side of parklands, provide the simplest way to chill out in the city.
What is known as ‘traditional food’ in Chisinau – and Moldova, at large – is actually a fusion of Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian and Gagauzian cuisine. Many restaurants serve an appetizer of pickled mushrooms, red cabbages, courgettes and tomatoes before main meals, followed by a helping of traditional ‘zama’ or ‘borsch’ – the two main soups of Moldovan cuisine. And, of course, all dishes are joined by a selection of the typical sauces – including the cream added to enrich borsch, and the garlicy, vinegary ‘mujdey’ sauce, typically added to zama. Borsch is featured heavily in many works of Russian literature; a meat and vegetables stew which incorporates red cabbage, beats, potatoes and carrots, whereas zama is a chicken broth, also replete with vegetables. Plus, what is served after all this is a sheer delight; ‘mamaliga’ – the most famous Moldovan treat – made of corn flour, butter and cheddar, the grape leaf wrap ‘sarmali’, a paprika and walnut spread called ‘ajika’ and a ‘placinta’ borek-type dish, as well as dumplings with cheese, fries and even cherries.
Sites You Must See
- Zero Point: This point is located at the foot of the steps of the post office located on the city center’s main street Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard, and is marked by a colorful street sign with ‘0 kilometers’ inscribed upon it. The star-like sign post represents the point from which the city measures its location amongst the capitals of the world, including Bucharest, Rome, Sofia, Damascus, Baghdad, Ankara and more. The Turkish capital, for instance, is measured as 1441 km to the South East.
- Nasterea Domnului Cathedral: From this cathedral, built in the 1830s along Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard, can be seen the giant chess pieces located along the main street. A five minute walk from this great game board lies a statue of the street’s namesake Stefan Cel Mare, the most popular place in the city for newly-weds to hang out for post-nuptial snaps.
- Ciufleu Monastery: Chisinau is full to the brim with bright, shining religious structures that look like something from ‘Alice in Wonderland’. The Ciuflea Monastery represents just one of the most beautiful of these, with its emphatic combination of blues and gold.
- Eternal Monument: This memorial is a pyramid constructed of six, great, 25-meter-high walls representing each year of the Second World War, with an eternal flame burning in its center. The flame has been going since the memorial was first built to honor the war dead in 1975, and is guarded by two soldiers who keep vigil all day long.
- Pushkin Museum: One of the places Russian literary legend Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin spent his exile years was in Chisinau, and it was during his time in this place he came to refer to as “City of the Sun”, that he began work on ‘Yevgeni Onegin’ – one of the most famous works of Russian literature. The writer’s former home has since been turned into a museum.
- Limestone and Cellars: Most of the buildings in Chisinau are encased in white limestone. This limestone was mined from the Kirikova Quarry, located about 15 kilometers from Chisinau, which now serves as the world’s second largest wine cellar. As the result of intensive digging, the city was able to produce enough limestone for its entirety, plus a rather extensive cellar. Mileştii Mici, 18 km from the center of Chisinau, has been used to store wine since 1969, and has since entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the cellar with ‘the world’s richest collection of wines’. With a depth of 80 meters at its deepest point, the cellar holds thousands of kegs and over two million bottles of wine, retaining them at a temperature of between 12 and 14°C. Some of the galleries, once used to extract limestone, extend to lengths of 200 km, and can only be visited by car.
How Do You Get There?
Direct flights to Chisinau are available from Istanbul with Atlasglobal Airlines. The average flight lasts around one and a half hours, and upon arrival, transport from Chisinau International Airport to the city can be attained with Atlasglobal’s exclusive shuttle service, or alternatively by train, bus or taxi.