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A report from Sophia's Travels: Jewish life and tourism in Moldova

Chisinau Cemetery, Moldova
Chisinau Cemetery, Moldova
Sophia Kulich

For those of you who thought Moldova/the former republic of Moldavia was just a plot device from Dynasty, it's actually a real nation in Eastern Europe with important Jewish history. My friend and colleague Sophia Kulich -- owner of Jewish Travel Agency -- went there and discovered what we should do there, where we should go and what we should eat! Here's what she says:

I was invited to experience Moldova.

History

When I mentioned at home that I will be going to Moldova, people asked: “where???”. Some did not know such country exists. Others confused it with Moldavia area of Romania. Some asked if this is the same country from Dynasty Soap Opera of 80’s. I had to look Dynasty and indeed there was episode which involved Prince Michael, ficticious character, Prince of Moldavia.

So… here is some info to clarify what Moldova is…

The territory of modern day Moldova has been populated since the Stone Age. During the Copper Age, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture thrived here, practicing agriculture, raising livestock, hunting, and making pottery. During the early middle ages, the territory was inhabited by Dacian tribes. Between the 1st and 7th centuries, it was intermittently under the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Since 105 A.D., after the conquest of Dacia by Roman Emperor Trajan, the local population was romanized, adopting the language and advanced culture of the Roman Empire.

After the Romans left the territory in 271 A.D., Moldova was invaded by many other peoples, including the Goths, Huns, Avars, and Slavs. This ended with the formation of the Moldovan feudal state, by Bogdan I, in 1359. The Principality of Moldavia was bordered by the Carpathian Mountains in the west, Nistru River to the east, and Danube River and Black Sea in the south.

The principality comprised modern day Moldova and also parts of Romania and Ukraine. During this period, Moldova’s greatest ruler and hero, Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), reigned from 1457 to 1504. Eventually, Moldavian princes could not withstand the repeated invasions by Crimean Tatars and the Ottoman Empire. In 1538, the principality became a Vassar state of the Ottoman Empire.

While Moldova retained partial autonomy, Moldovan Rulers (called Gospodars) were appointed by the Ottoman Empire. In 1812, as a result of the Russian-Turkish Peace Treaty signed in Bucharest, the eastern part of Moldova situated between the Prut and Nistru Rivers, named Bessarabia, was annexed to the Russian Empire. It was a Russian province until 1918 until the Bessarabian state decided to unite with Romania.

This unity lasted until 1940, when the country was annexed by the Soviet Union as a consequence of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Moldova then became a territorial entity within the USSR until the late nineties. The Russians renamed the capital Chisinau from Romanian language to Russian pronouncation Kishinev and changed alphabet to Cyrillic.

During the summer of 1989, demonstrations took place in Chisinau that resulted in legislation by the Supreme Council of Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic on August 31, 1989 to establish Moldovan language written in Latin script, as the state language. This was followed by the first democratic elections for the local parliament; held in February and March 1990.

On June 23, 1990, the Parliament adopted the Declaration of Sovereignty of the “Soviet Socialist Republic Moldova”, which, among other things, stipulated the supremacy of Moldovan laws over those of the Soviet Union. After the failure of the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt, on August 27, 1991, Moldova declared its independence. It became a UN member state in 1992.

In 1994, Moldova joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a way to ensure access to its traditional markets, mainly Russia. In 2005, Moldova decided to change its political orientation and became the first CIS country to formulate an action plan with the European Union. The Moldova-EU Action Plan has increased alignment between Moldova and the EU. Today Moldova is closely oriented towards the European Union.

September 29, 2013 – Iasi, Romania – Republic of Moldova

My guide and Romanian business partner Mihai drove me from Iasu to Sculene – Romania/Moldova Border.

It was my first return to Moldova after 35 or more years when I lived in Ukraine. I never crossed a border by foot, to say the least in Eastern Europe. I had flashing images of spy exchange movies in my mind – when one person walks on the border bridge and another is led from opposite country and they are exchanged. It seemed kind of long to me to schlep my even small carry on. How safe to walk there in neutral zone anyway?

Mihai took his passport to try to get me across the border in his car. Moldova guide texted their car color and license plates that they were waiting for me on other side. We passed Romanian border. At Moldova side I was admitted through, but Mihai could not since his car did not have proper sticker. So far we were the only ones at the Sculene crossing. Thankfully, I am in Russian speaking country now. The border official said it is not good to walk through neutral zone, and they do not let Mihai’s car just for few minutes to step into Moldova.

At this time, another car crossing the border to Moldova. The gentleman got out. He spoke Russian and he said, of course would be happy to give me a ride across border and started already taking my luggage from Mihai’s car to his. But then American mentality returned, I said. Hm..… maybe I will walk. He asked why? I said, “I do not know you”. He protested: “I am an honest man!” . The custom people also endorsed him. I asked if they know him. They said: “no but we have just seen his passport”.

I remembered a week ago same situation on Bulgarian/Macedonian border where my traveling companion, Bulgarian travel agent, Emilia caught a ride from the border to Sofia and survived. (I wrote about it in my Trip report ) . Just in case, I took a photo of license plates and texted it to both Mihai and Moldova team, and went into his car.

Mihai said will wait for my call of safe arrival on the other side. There was another gentleman in the car on passenger seat but he did not talk. These 2 minutes seemed very long. The driver asked where I am from and said himself was traveling in London last week. He asked how America is. I don’t remember what I replied. We crossed the border and I saw white Renault waiting, my car. I pointed him to stop. He got out and moved luggage to the new car. My guide Adriana and driver Ivan came out to meet me. The Moldovan gentleman said good bye. I felt so guilty so I offered him 2 Euros coin as a tip. He refused to take it but I insisted as a souvenir. He smiled, took it and wished me a good stay in Moldova. My spirits were up. Before getting into the car, I asked Adriana to take picture of me getting into Moldova by the sign.

Few blocks later, at the intersection, the familiar car stopped and the driver ran to us. It was the gentleman who gave me a ride. I thought I forgot something there but he wanted to give me souvenir – two Russian rubles. Of course they do not mean much money but since he did not want to accept tip but took 2 Euros as gift, he gave me 2 Russian coins as a souvenir. That was a great introduction to Moldova and its nice people. welcomeMoldova1

I watched the scenery. While pretty, the villages looked more poor than in Romania but well taken care off. It took us about one hour (the driver drove fast!) until we got to the restaurant La Badis for lunch.

It is traditional restaurant with Moldovan food in a pretty setting. Very popular for events, wedding and business and tourist groups. http://www.labadish.md . After lunch we went to Capriana Monastery.

The driver left and my guide Laurentia arrived in her car. The monastery is located about 40 km. from Chisinau and in a spectacular country landscape. It is one of the oldest monasteries in the country, from 15th century. The Capriana monastery consists out of three churches: the Assumption of Madonna – the oldest church, the Saint Nicholas church that is known for its unique frescoes and the Saint George Church that was build in a late baroque style.

MeCaprianaOn June 29, 1940, a day after the conquest of Bessarabia by Soviet troops, the whole estate of the monastery was confiscated. The last abbot of the monastery was the Superior Eugeniu (1952—1962) and the last church oration was solemnized on October 25, 1962. A day after that, the monastery was closed, the monks being driven out.

The Soviet State declared the Capriana Monastery an architectural monument and under protection of government, but at the same times the monastery begun to be foraged and crashed. After 1962, the monastery was transformed into a sanatorium for sick children. The monastery refectory was transformed into a club where dancing parties, good cheers and weddings were organized.

With the Republic of Moldova Council of Ministers decision, the Capriana Monastery became again a place for orations. In 1994 – 1997 the refectory of the monastery was reconstructed and transformed into active church. Besides its religious functions (I saw a wedding there at my visit), it is very popular site for tourists to visit.

Adriana and Laurentia offered me either to go the city or go to the country for a pumpkin festival. I chose the latter. We arrived to the village, there were lots of cars and people, the atmosphere was very festive, lots of food, drinks, local craft. The band played and people danced. It was great introduction to the country. We met at festival Adriana’s manager, Andrei who also enjoyed event with his family.pumpkin fest dance We tried unfermented grape juice which is just fresh squeezed grape juice before it becomes wine. We bought it but the juice already started fermenting and it was somewhat alcoholic. We did not finish it!

After fair, we went to the car, it was quite a walk on country road. The road was in bad condition. The holes were so large that one car got stuck with front wheels. Two young women got out from the car, and tried to push it out but no avail. The people especially men were not rushing to help though.

I watched when in few minutes, Laurentia organized the rescue. She rounded up ablebodied men, herself supervised, and in few minutes, the car was out. I was impressed by her organizing abilities and I knew from now on that I am in good hands! Indeed, next days confirmed that this amazing woman was encyclopedia of knowledge, well organized and is an excellent defensive driver. She got us back to the city and we agreed to meet tomorrow morning.

I checked into my hotel Regency 4* , new hotel in the center, and in about hour Adriana and I went for dinner.

She gave me brief orientation of the city and few warnings like in any large city, watch my pockets, where to buy water, etc. It was Sunday and there were many people in the park. At makeshift race track in the park there were Smart Mercedes races. I did not know these cars can race! We arrived to the restaurant where we had dinner at one of the best Moldavian restaurants in city, Vatra Neamuli. We opted for familiar Russian food which both Adriana and I liked: Blintzes, Varenikes, eggplant caviar. For dessert, I was happy to discover Kolchanash – the relative of my favorite Romania desert. Service was very good but a bit slow. There was a party going on so I think the waiters were busy.

After that we got back to my hotel.

September 30. Breakfast at hotel had delicious local jams including my favorite, plums and sour cherry. Also good breads, hot cereals (including my favorite buckwheat). After breakfast, I met Laurentia and Adriana to explore city. chisinau1 ???????????????????????????????

The Moldovan capital certainly won’t win any architectural beauty awards soon. Though razed to the ground by WWII and a terrible 1940 earthquake, Chisinau (Russian version Kishinev) has arguably never lost its soul or charm, despite the best efforts of the Soviet authorities who tried to build it as yet another socialist grey city.

First chronicled in 1420, Chisinau became a hotbed of anti-Semitism notorious for its pogroms in the early 20th century. During Soviet rule, Chisinau was the headquarters of the USSR’s southwestern military operations, giving the city a status way beyond its size for many decades.

Between 1944 and 1990 the city was called Kishinev, its Russian name, which is still used by many of the Russian-speaking locals, and the way I knew it back living in USSR. Nowadays even most Russian speakers use the Romanian pronunciation.

chisinau railstation chiniau buildingafgan war soldiers mon Bucharest city view

Today the city is the place with a smattering of attractions, more than its fair share of curios, and plenty of good eating, drinking and partying options for locals and visitors alike. Tourism is gradually increasing. In November, FlyDubai airline started operating which put the country’s visibility on world map with easier connections to Middle East and Asia. Chisinau is quite wealthy compared to the rest of the country, but poorer than other capitals Europe.

It is a city in transition, with new and old buildings standing alongside each other throughout the city. Many of the older building were built during Soviet times with characteristic Soviet architecture. However, today new construction abounds, with shiny new office buildings, shopping malls, and apartment blocks, which are replacing the many Soviet-era flats that are home to the majority of the city’s middle and working class population, rising across the city.

Chisinau also boasts many architectural masterpieces, many of these were designed by famed Russian architect Aleksandr Bernardazzi. Once they will become restored, it would rival Bucharest and other Eastern European cities.

Chisinau is also a surprisingly green city, with tree lined streets and boulevards that, I was told, is especially beautiful during the spring and summer. However it is still not like other European cities with cafes and pedestrian shopping districts. In the evening, also while it is safe to walk, it still lacked street lights in some areas.

It was my first full day in Chisinau. Adriana, Laurentia and I became fast friends. Even though they speak excellent English, we occasionally lapsed into Russian. As they said, myself being no ordinary tourist, we discussed all kind of social problems, history, culture, economy and whatever else I wanted to know. chicinauchurch chinau church inside

We visited the Nativity Cathedral – built by Russian architect Melnikov in 1836 in style of classicism. It is located in nice park which is facing Arc de Triomphe.

Stefan cel Mare was a Moldavian leader who defended his people against invading armies in the 15th century. His monument is a popular place to make a photo for tourists.

We went to Natural history Museum to learn more about Moldavian people and customs. We also visited Ethnography museum which is built in beautiful oriental style.

Among the showpieces of museum there the unique find is the skeleton of gigantic dinosaur from the Pliocene Epoch (5.3 million to 1.8 million years before Common Era). The skeleton was discovered in 1966.dinosaur

Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was only in Chisinau from 1820 to 1823 (was exiled there by the tsar), but he certainly left his mark on the city: there is at least one statue of him, the house where he lived is now bear a museum and one of the main streets in the city center bears his name.

We took picture with local character that was dressed something like Russian Bear. Kind of weird outfit but I thought to take a picture with him for my blog. Here is a picture of me and Adriana. During picture taking, we negotiated payment for photo. He was complaining how hard it is to walk around in such costume.

We also visited Jewish cemetery where Laurentia knew the cemetery keeper. vicktims chisinau ghetto chisinau cemetery1 chisinau cemetery

By the end of the 19th century, the Jews made up approximately half of Kishinev’s population of 125,000. The population continued to grow as tensions with Moldova’s population mounted, culminating in massacres of Jews in 1903 and 1905. Before war it was a Jewish city. We saw Memorials to the victims of 1902-1905 pogroms and victims of Holocaust in Chisinau ghetto. It is hidden from regular tourist path so you need a guide or someone to take you there. The cemetery with old ruins of the synagogue are the monument to the rich history of the Jewish people in Chisinau and Moldova.

We had lunch at European restaurant Pegas with amazingly good quality. I tried soup “zama” which is a chicken soup with noodles and some vegetables. It was followed by delicious shish-kebab and vegetables. We tried poppy seed cake which was delicious. Their website is www.pegas.md . The restaurant was on par with European and American cities. There were many business people there.

After lunch, we went to another city – this time the underground one. cricova1

I need to tell about wines of Moldova. Growing up in Kiev and then living in Odessa, not far from Moldova, we used to drink and appreciate Moldavian wines.

Relatively unknown to the world then, Moldova stocked Russia’s and Ukraine’s wine cellars. Now with integrating with European Unions, these wines will become accessible and competitive for quality and price in Europe.

One of the famous wine storage is Cricova Winery which measures about 200 km, and is located 80m below the ground. There are shuttles to take tourists around and also it is possible to drive your own car. It is considered the largest network of caves ever dug by man. It is impressive collection of 2 million bottles, earned Cricova a place in Guinness Book of records. The tunnels were created in 15th century when limestone was taken to build Chisinau. They were converted into underground wine emporium in 1950’s. Half of the roadways are used for wine storage. The roads are named by the wines they store. This “wine city” has its warehouses, tasting rooms and other facilities underground.cricova tasting 1 The oldest wine dates back to 1902. The temperature is maintained at about 12 °C (54 °F) all year round (which is perfect for wine).

This place is especially famous for hiding Jews in wine barrels during the Nazi invasion.

Cricova makes a unique sparkling red wine, kodrinskoie-sparkling, made from cabernet sauvignon stocks and marketed as having a ‘rich velvety texture and a blackcurrant and cherry taste.

The “Grand Cellars of Cricova” house a remarkable collection of wines – The National Oenotec.

The unique exhibits are Passover wine from Jerusalem, vintage 1902, the liqueur “Jan Becker” vintage 1902 together with other 158 cricova passover wine 1brands from Bourgogne, Moseley, Tokay, Rein, etc. – make up the precious collections of the establishment as well as of Moldova in general, comprising nowadays a total of about 1.3 million bottles.

However, the pride of the Oenotec are, first of all, the wines bearing the name “Cricova”, which brought the winery a collection of national and international tasting awards.

Legend has it that in 1966 cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin entered the cellars, re-emerging (with ???????????????????????????????assistance) two days later. The truth, apparently, is Gagarin entered at 11pm and exited a few hours later on the next calendar day, so two days in a manner of speaking.

Russian president Vladimir Putin celebrated his 50th birthday here and keeps his collection of wine in Cricova. There are also collections of other famous people who keep their wine at Cricova. It’s also said that Angela Merkel spent more time at Cricova than the rest of Moldova combined. And many famous people keep their collection there.

It caught my attention in the news that just on last week, John Kerry visited it and assigned space for his 500 wine bottles collection.

We returned to Chisinau and to experience different type of food available in Moldova, this time we went for dinner in casual restaurant chain La Placinte. Adriana’s manager Andrei joined us for dinner.

It is a restaurant chain http://www.laplacinte.com/ , very popular with locals which serve different types of Placinta – Moldavian pies with various fillings. We sampled different Palacintas. I especially liked Cheese and Pumpkin filling.placinta

This evening, we inspected 4* hotels Leo Grand, Urdu and Jazz. Interesting, although very different in style hotels. Regency hotel 4*, where I stayed, was new and I liked it too. It so far has good prices but probably, will go up in prices next year.

October 1.

That day originally I was offered to go to Transnistria but I declined. Transnistria is one of the few never solved conflicts with Soviet Union. The population there did not want to become part of independent democratic, Pro-Western Moldova and clings to their Soviet Past. During conflict of separation, Russian troops went there to help separatists and stayed there as peace-keepers. (Really?) It was historically a bastion of Russian military for centuries.

Russia supports Transnistria financially. Population is about half million there. Official language is Russian, Ukrainian and Romanian (though Romanian in Cyrillic alphabet, which is ongoing dispute in Transnistria). Most locals have Soviet mentality and this is unique piece of land (with border control) which still avails opportunity to travel back to USSR for those with nostalgia.

Speaking about independent regions, there is another small independent district in Moldova – Gagauzia which is Turkish speaking Christian minority founded by Muslim Turks who fled Turkey during Turkey-Russian wars in 19th century. They were allowed to settle in the region in exchange of conversion to Christianity. Their language is Turkish dialect, with mix of Russian. They mostly look to Turkey for heritage and culture. The population of Gagauzia is about 150,000 and languages are Romanian, Gagauz and Russian. Transnistria uses their own money and Gagauzia using Moldavian Lev.

Many tourists are interested in Transnistria because of their “Back in USSR” oddity. However, do not skip other interesting sites there :

Main city Tiraspol, home to the famous Kvint cognac factory
Wine tours:
Cognac tour – Kvint is the best cognac which was produced in former USSR. Also produces brandy, vodka and wine. Famous brands are Doina, Surpriznii, Suvorov, and 50 years old “Cneazi Vitghenstein”
Taste the legendary Buchetul Moldovei vermouth, was the best wine in former USSR. This vermouth is the older brother of the Italian Martini.
Medieval Tighina fortress from 16th century
Noul Neamt Monastery a few kilometers outside of the city.
Jewish Heritage: Tighina is one of the main centers of Jewish cultural and architectural heritage. There are a lot of places of special memory interest, such as Monument to Holocaust victims, Gravestone at execution site near Tighina Fortress, Salesclerk’s Synagogue, Jewish cemetery and many other well preserved buildings.

So, I gave you many reasons what to do and where to go in Transnistria. As for me, it did not represent value to visit Transnistria on this trip. Instead, we concentrated to tour more of Chisinau, food, and shopping. I wanted to see food market so we went to Central Market, it is huge and takes few blocks in the center.

mRKET GRAPES MARKET PICKLES pickled peppers pickled melon pickled vegIt has everything but we went to food stalls. The produce looked very fresh and flavorful. Since Moldova has sunny climate, besides wine, it is produces very tasty local fruits and vegetables. In USA I buy their products marinated or jarred (jams, jellies, pickled, etc).

We tasted some pickled vegetables: cabbage, mushroom, eggplant, mixed salads and even pickled apples, shredded carrots and watermelons. Russians and Moldovans love to pickle!

I enjoyed this part of the tour. We saw local herbs and discussed with vendors how to use them for healing.

Then we were passing regular stores where you can buy anything from clothes to construction materials. I saw electric adaptors and since I always need them for my devices at hotel room, and it cost about $1 so I bought one. After visiting few souvenir markets, Adriana and Laurentia suggested for me to check out European shopping.

We went to upscale mall MallDova which had many well known European stores. We hit the jackpot. While Adriana was relaxing on the comfortable couch, Laurentia and I got busy and I admit, a bit carried away! The sales lady was very helpful and gave me us her full attention. I found some nice European clothes of my favorite designer Gerry Weber.

The cost was the same I paid in Germany but they are not sold in USA. It helped that Laurentia gave me her credit card for points (something like Macys card) which gave me extra 15% off. I was really happy with my shopping and my guides were proud of this opportunity to show American tourist that high quality shopping exists in Chisinau. MALLDOVA

We had lunch at Andy’s pizza. It is owned the same company as La Placinte. They had also nice selection of Russian comfort food. I was told it is a very popular restaurant. It had free Wi-Fi and they also offer delivery, just like in USA. I had my favorite Russian fried potatoes with mushrooms and finished with delicious apple strudel.

To utilize our lunch time, Laurentia called one gentleman who is specializing in genealogy and Jewish Heritage research. We had productive working lunch. They had such successes and even finding destroyed graves. In this business, the most important are local contacts and mine started to round up nicely.

We rushed to the synagogue, where I had an appointment with chief Rabbi of Moldova Zalman Abelsky, who is also Chairman of the Federation of Lubavitcher Communities. He is originally from former Soviet Union, lived in Israel, and returned to Kishinev.

Laurentia stayed in the car and Adriana went with me. We walked into synagogue. The elderly lady came out (I think it was Rebetsin) and said that Menahem will take us to the Rebe. We thought that they take us to rabbi’s office, but Menahem just told us “follow me” and kept walking. It was about 5 minutes walk on the street outside of synagogue until we came to private house.

On the way I instructed Adriana the religious rules (do not shake hands, etc.) We came to the private house and Rebe’s staff let us in. The Rebe’s room was filled with many books. First question he asked me what book I am reading now. I replied. Than he asked if I am Jewish and what affiliation am I. My Jewish affiliation did not impress him as well since it was not religious enough. He dismissed it as a Jewish club but not a synagogue. The conversation did not go in right direction. He asked who Adriana is. I explained she is my guide and she is not Jewish. He said that each person should look and search for Jewish roots! Then he was talking about Messiah. In the end it was very fascinating conversation. He gave me his book in Russian and blessed me on my way.

Although my beliefs are not Chassidic, but still I was fascinated with his wisdom and dedication to Judaism. He said all American Jews are welcome to visit his synagogue.meRabiMoldova So if any of my clients reading this want to come to Moldova, I recommend not to miss visit to Chabad of Moldova. It does many good things for local Jews. We bid farewell and returned to the car.

Laurentia dropped us off to visit 5* hotels. Best 5* hotels I liked were Nobil and Savoy in the center, these are truly luxury small boutique hotels, beautifully decorated.

There are no chain hotels yet in the city but these hotels would serve well to luxury travelers. Afterwards we went for dinner to Bastion restaurant, it was delicious.

Back at hotel, in the evening I tried newly acquired cheap adapter. It caused sparks and hit me (mildly) with electricity. I pulled it out of the plug and concluded that it was too good to be true.

October 2.

My last day for touring in Moldova we started it with visit to Bucuria candy store.

bucuria chocBucuria are the best candies to take home from your trip to Moldova. The company offers a lavish range of candies, biscuits, chocolates, marmalade. Since 1946, the company is the oldest and best known in the country.

The same name store is located on Kishinev’s main street Stefan Cel Mare. For those who have spent their childhood in Soviet era, this place might trigger some nostalgia for sweets of those days that have long since vanished from its shelves – so called “bird’s milk “, chocolate bars and candied nuts. For many years, Moldova supplied chocolates to Russia and Ukraine. I still buy their candies in US’s Russian stores.

If you wish to soothe your sweet tooth, buy some Bucuria – the most delicious from the vast assortment of sweets there. It is relatively unknown in USA, but known in Europe, I was surprised to see at the store mixed fruit drops Cavendish and Harvey – so Moldova supplies candies to famous European labels.

I related my story with cheap adapter to Adriana and Laurentia, and they confirmed my concern for cheap electric appliances. I was glad I did not blow up the whole electric system of Regency hotel, but again it was part of my inspection trip! We agreed that buying adapters and Chisinau Market (or for that matter, any other cheap market) is like Moldovan Roulette – sometimes it works sometimes it not.

Laurentia said to give it to her and she will return it and will convey to the store that it is a bad publicity for visiting foreigners. I said I do not remember where I bought it but Laurentia said she remembered the place.

Today was freezing. My angel savior Laurentia brought me for a day warm Columbia sportswear parka to wear since I was getting cold in my thin leather jacket. We left for an Orcheiul Vecchi, munching in the car Bucuria candies. We discussed famous people with Moldova origin, one of them was American Movie Producer, Lewis Milstone, born in 1985 in Chisinau Leib Milstein, and He produced many movies including Oscar winners “Two Arabian knights”, “All quiet on Western front”.

First stop was Chateaux Vartely winery, which carries the fine traditions of French vineyards combining production of wine with a cultural aspect of enotourism.vartely 1 vartely2It is relatively young wine making company by European standard however the combination of best modern technology and love for wine, allowed them to become a leader in Moldavian winemakers.

The grapes are grown in the central and southern part of Moldova with excellent climate for producing unique award winning wines. The winery is located at the site of former quarry formed 5 millions years ago at the bottom of the sea where Moldova is now.

The natural ability of the stone to keep cool temperature in the cellars was an advantage for storing and producing Chateaux Vartely wines. I tasted the wine there. There is also wine museum on the property and also excellent quality 4* accommodations in standalone houses on the property.

The scenery is spectacular since Chateaux is located on the top of the hill. I swear I could have been in Northern California and not in Moldova. I was told restaurant is also excellent destination and it is a great place to spend a night or more here for good food, wine and relaxation. It is also located on the way to Northern border, so a good place to stop overnight on the way to Northern Ukraine. For those traveling to Odessa, Southwest, there is another upscale Chateaux Purcari with excellent accommodations and restaurant – another wine route.

After wine tasting, we continued to Orhei to see Jewish cemetery. orhei viewOn the way, since I skipped Transnistria, Laurentia took me to one place – the back of one local factory where in the back was discarded statue of Lenin. After becoming democratic country, the Moldovans got rid of communist relics. Other countries like Hungary for example, collected all statues as memorabilia in special parks. In Moldova there is no such place. Here is a photo below.

lenin

Orhei is a small town in Moldova, dating back to 1437.

The name originates from Orhei fortress which is located within Orhei Vechi archeological site. Orchei Vechi Monastery is situated in the most spectacular setting on rocky hill facing the river. This territory was populated from the early times.

The first city established here was called Orhei. Because of dramatic location, old caves, isolation, wonderful views and ancient history which played a major role attracting Christians to build monasteries there . It is very spiritual place. Orhei Vechi now is an archeological open air museum.

When Orhei was Bessarabian town (part of Russia), majority of population were Jews. It has a large Jewish cemetery dated to 19th century but some of the graves I saw looked much older, similar to the Jewish cemetery in Prague.

We found local Jewish community representative Izeslav Mundryan, who, together with the cemetery keeper, showed us around. Only few people left in Jewish community now with one active synagogue. They seemed to know most Jewish people and their family history. Izeslav and pointed at graves and told us who they were, most of them related to him personally (teacher, grandmother, etc). I was mesmerized how they basically told us the history of the Orhei through the monuments, just like showing family albums in someone’s living room. Laurentia mused how Jewish people managed to keep their history and tradition through centuries.

There were also memorials to Jews perished in Holocaust who did not have individual graves.

He wrote the book where he documented graves in Russian. He asked help to translate in English. I volunteered and working on it. The cemetery is in bad condition and they do not have funds. Many people from Orhei immigrated to Israel so he asked Israel for help but got polite refusal. If anyone wants to donate, I can refer you to Mr. Mundryan. orhei cemtet 2 orhei synagog orhei cemetr1

We had lunch in very characteristic ethnographical village.

We sat in private small room and were served traditional meal.

orhei ethno villageAfter lunch we went to archeological museum, we also visited the monastery on the hill which is the part of the cave.

There was one monk working there, without electricity and heat. Orhei is a very beautiful and spiritual, for people of any heritage.orjei vew1 orhei me view orhei monastery

Back to Chisinau, we had dinner at Italian restaurant Dinner de La Nonna with Casual Italian food in stylish surroundings.

October 3

After breakfast, Andrei picked me up and I spent time at Tatra Bis office meeting their staff discussing business opportunities.

I think I understand it better now. It is not Moldova as it was before during USSR and at the same time it has not completed transition to European Union. But it has great potential and it is a good time to visit now. However you need to come with open mind. You have to understand that Moldova is not a very rich country.

Chisinau is wealthy compared to the rest of the country, you will see expensive cars, well dressed people with expensive phones, but you will also see poverty. As usual, very hard on middle class.

Chisinau it is very much a post-Soviet city, with both the good and bad qualities associated with it. Together with old Soviet block apartments, you will see you’ll see new modern and great buildings of steel, concrete and glass for example the mall I went to. The majority of the middle and working class population lives in blocks of flats.

These look bland, maybe not too nice but are not dangerous as similar areas may be considered to be in Western Europe or USA. Do not come to Moldova expecting Western standards everywhere, but the situation is improving every year and, who knows, maybe it will become expensive in few years. Here you can see 4 and 5 star hotels, great restaurants and cafes, coffee houses and bars. Many restaurants and almost all the hotels in the city accept the credit cards. There are hundreds of ATMs throughout the city where you can use your bank cards. Crime is relatively low although usual precautions apply.

But the people are the country’s best asset. They are well educated, friendly, and hospitable. Throughout centuries, they preserved their cultural Heritage, Jewish and Christian Orthodox. There is mix of Eastern and Western Cultures due to the country’s location and history. You will eat well and drink good wine and cognac.

You will see spectacular views of forests, rivers, lakes, natural monuments, ruins of ancient cities, monasteries and fortresses.

I was sad to leave. Adriana and Laurentia took me to the airport. I hope I will come back soon with my clients.

Chisinau airport was small but very nicely appointed. I had about an hour to work in business lounge before my flight to Rome. Airline Air Moldova was fine with good service. Very soon I arrived Rome and it concluded my Moldova trip.

I just wanted to say again Special thanks to Tatra Bis – Emilian and Andrei, for this incredible opportunity for me and honored that they chose me to promote their beautiful country. And, thanks to my new friends Adriana and Laurentia for being my guides and shared their knowledge with me.

Disclaimer: this report presents just an opinion of individuals who’s been there…. Tastes Differ… Copyrights Jewish Travel Agency, Emco Travel, LLC..