Thursday, 9 April 2020

2019 Moldova

15.2.2019 Chișinău

Sitting in the Molka Club coffee house.  Flew in a couple of hours ago – the only non-Moldovan on the plane, I'd guess.  Wizzair, very cheap.  In City Park Hotel – very central, modern, clean.  Unlike the city, which is very run-down – reminds me of Priştina, but bigger.  Driving in from the airport with my taxi – nice Mercedes, driven by a bloke whose mother was Russian, father Ukrainian ("I never saw him"), who spoke Russian mainly, Romanian only roughly – I saw huge chimneys in the distance, belching out smoke.  Cloudy and cold (4ºC) when we landed, but good walking weather.  Only here until Sunday – even taxi driver admitted it was enough.  Greyness suits the city.  My coffee – à la Moldova – has arrived, with some kind of liqueur – cherry?  Also have cake – looks crunchy.  Everyone here is talking Russian. Wifi good, though, as is the hotel's – which is a mercy, since I don't have mobile data here…

Now in La Placinte, near hotel.  Menu looks good, reviews good, and nice atmosphere.  Went for a walk in dusk along main street, Stefan cel Mare si Sfant Boulevard - a kind of Chișinău Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  Lots of the main buildings nicely illuminated, adding a grace otherwise missing when it's light.  Quite cold now – glad of my thick coat, would like a hat.

On the plane, reading Pushkin's biography.  I've already read it, but because I'm reading The Captain's Daughter it is all much more vivid and meaningful.  And of course his Caucasian experiences now speak directly to me – the fact that I've driven along the road he took – and described in his Voyage to Erzurum – is just an amazing thought.  And it's one reason I am here: it was in Chișinău that he began Eugene Onegin.  What remains of his house is open, and I hope to visit.  Food good.  I'm amazed at how much Russian is spoken here – very much a second language.  Good wifi here too, which is handy.  Tried pear grappa – pretty much as you'd expect.

16.2.2019 Chișinău

In the Propaganda restaurant for lunch.  Nice ambience.  Pretty good breakfast in the beer place next to the hotel.  Then ordered a taxi to go to Orheiul Vechi – 60 euros to go, wait, come back.  Seems fair.  My driver Dmitri – Russian speaking, son of two immigrants from Odessa.  Cheerful young chap.  As in Armenia, we first have to stop to fill up with gas – which meant getting out of the car.  This time, though, good café in the garage, so had espresso.  Pretty decent.

On the road.  Very moderate driving – cameras everywhere, so not much speeding.  That's good, because roads pretty bad.  Countryside flat, drab, not much green.  Rather depressing.  Passed through old village near Orheiul.  Striking how many houses are painted in Uyghur blue.  Dmitry didn't know why.  Saw horse and cart, but surprised not more.

To the church.  Dmitry drove right up to it – rather dodgy road (he started to take me down one he said had a good view that turned into mud and sludge.  Not easy to back out of…)  Church newly repaired and gleaming.  Along the narrow ridge to the entrance to the caves.  Nearby, a bunch of nutters were abseiling down the cliff to the excavated cells.  Not very safe.  Down a dark, sloping passage – reminded me of the Valley of the Kings – to the main chapel.  Rather beautiful.  Looked at the nearby cells – tiny.  A hibernating snake in one corner.

Back to Chișinău.  A man lying beside the road, drunk.  Dmitry offered to take me to Pushkin's house, as I had mentioned it to him. I had intended going on foot today or tomorrow, but accepted.  Through the backstreets, the old Chișinău according to Dmitry, to the house.  Only one other visitor.  Guide ladies all speaking Russian.  The museum part (not the house) has many letters of Pushkin – and drafts of his poems.  Both full of his drawings.  But most striking – the crossings-out – practically every line.  Pushkin worked on his poetry.  To his house – two rooms: living + bedroom, kitchen.  To think of the things that began here…

Food pretty good here, actually, good mushroom soup, chicken tasty.  To the National Museum of Art.  Nicely modernised, all pure whites inside. Not much to see...various Moldovan artists, but nothing of note.  Quite popular, which is good.  Then along to Stephen the Great park.  Nice atmosphere, even now in February.  Along to see the Pushkin bust, then to the Stephen the Great monument – reminds me of Tirana.  In front of Government House, dozens of new blue buses neatly aligned.  Weird.  Then for a stroll along the main Stefan cel Mare si Sfant Boulevard, and back to the hotel to read more of the Pushkin bio.  Afterwards, out to Placinte – excellent food and very close.  Opposite here, along the edge of the cathedral, dozens of florists, with amazing explosions of colour for sale…

Sadly, as if often the case, food not so good tonight: fish soup had bones, beef stroganoff a bit fatty...ah well.  Had the beignets again..plus 7-year-old Divin Călăraşi – which I bought along with two bottles of red wine to take back.  Pretty good stuff…

17.2.2019 Chișinău

Glorious sunny day – perfect for walking.  Which I did, all the way to the railway station.  Along the main boulevard.  Quite quiet.  At the end, past all the stalls selling knick-knacks, the Soviet buildings dominate.  Huge, ugly blocks, stained concrete, graceless.  Very like Albania and Priştina.  Using the underpass, the same little kiosks found in Georgia and Armenia (passed two Georgian restaurants, too).  Down to the station, surprisingly ornate – same with other buildings – for example the government ones.  Little architectural curlicues, hints of Egyptian motifs (sic).  Inside the station, very quiet.  Café closed.  Departure and Arrivals boards show Moscow, St. Petersburg, Bucharest.  That pull of exotic lands.  Platforms long, bare.  

Then back along the boulevard, to my room, and then to Placinte.  Despite last night, still good value.  This afternoon will be full of two museums, then taxi to the airport.  To the National Museum of history.  Amazing exhibit on Cucuteni civilisation – obsessed with ceramics – who then disappeared for no known reason.  Flourished 5,000 years ago. Poduri village.  Ended 3,600 years ago.  Then gap of 1,500 years. 300,000 to 400,000 population the video here says… Frumusica site; Prut river.  Tried to find another art gallery – in vain.  Later I discovered it was where I thought it was – on the main boulevard, in the rather over the top Villa – but closed.  So, to finish my rather fine if short trip to Chișinău, I just sat behind the statue of Stephen the Great, in his park, watching the citizens enjoying this lovely Sunday in Moldova.

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Moody's Black Notebook Travels

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