Monday, January 25, 2010

Roll over Moldova

Wine, sunflowers, Armenian churches and meadows. It's about time to visit Moldova.

Photograph by Dan Herrick/Lonely Planet Images

Leafing through a travel guide on the weekend I came across a photograph of a beautiful blue church. It looked like something that could come from a dream, or a fairy-take with princes dressed in rich-coloured velvet and gold, riding a stunning white horse. Reading the caption I discovered this church exists outside of my world of make-believe and is located in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. The All Saints Church is an example of early 1800s architecture of that area, it has incredible towers, with spires on the top, and details in white and gold. It is not however the only architecturally stunning building in Chisinau however. There are more, and the more I look for them, the more I feel like the grim and fantastic tales from my childhood are coming to life. From simple water tours, to the government houses, each line is carefully drawn on these incredible buildings. It is not enough to just travel to a city for its facades, its lines and shapes. Moldova is much more than that. It is not impossible to find a cheap flight to Kishinev, and then really delve into what this small but incredible country has to offer. It is a main contender to be the poorest country in Europe, but even the poor have something to show-off. The Moldovan culture is just as rich as that of the French countryside or Spain's seasides. They have wine and beautiful countryside meadows full of sunflowers. The people are open and friendly. It is one of the few places left in Europe where Soviet remnants are still alive, living history, in a disturbing sort of way.

Cricova is one of the most important wineries in Moldova. In its namesake town, it is just 15km from Chisinau.It has the second largest wine cellar in the world, around 120km of passageways with aging barrels lining the walls; these tunnels have existed underneath the city since the 15th century. This is one of the few remaining wineries that still makes sparking champagne wine with the traditional French methods. Incredible.

Orheiul Vechi is magnificent. It is a cave monastery that has been carved into the side of a limestone cliff. There are caves for worship all over the face of the cliff. Archeologists have discovered skeletons and other remains that date back as far as the 14th century. History is buried in these caves and so is mystery and excitement, the kind that really turns your hairs up on the back of your neck. Many of the complexes are off-limits to tourists and can only be accessed by experienced rock climbers (note to self: learn to climb).

Taking time to relax and get closer to the people is important when travelling, especially in a place like Moldova where the people are so open and have a unique take of life to share. A good place to do this is Satul Modovenesc. It is a retreat away from the city, about 30km, that is nestled between three lakes. Fishing poles are available for those who wish to spend their afternoon lounging in a row boat and trying to catch their supper. Ride horses their the undisturbed forests or in the wintertime play a game of hockey on the frozen lake.

It is sometimes unbelievable how inspiring a few photographs can be to visit a place like this. Moldova is very quickly climbing my list of Balkan destinations to visit. If you're heading to Romania, go a little further into Moldova, I am sure that it won't disappoint.