Moldova and Transnistria - what to do there? is written by Jens Skovgaard Andersen.
Moldova - tradition behind the facade
The language is Romanian, but Russian is also spoken in the former Soviet republic, which is still struggling to find its place on the world map - not least among travelers.
Moldova is Europe's poorest country, and this can be seen in many places. It is worn and unfinished, but if you take the time to look behind the facade, then there is plenty of good to find.
The food is traditional and rustic - and really cheap - and then they have excellent wine. The country was known as the 'Soviet wine cellar', and you can go underground yourself, or rather into the mountains, and see the large wine collection, which to this day lies and collects dust on the bottles.
Wine and time travel
If you take a trip to Mileștii Mici, you can drive through 55 of the 200 kilometers (!) Of underground wine cellars, where the wine is lined up in small wine chambers and also stored in large barrels in the dark passages.
To visit Mileștii Mici you need a car to get around; so large is the collection, which, incidentally, is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. You will of course be allowed to taste the goods at the end.
When you are out driving anyway, take a stroll past the Orheiul Vechi area, where green landscapes, small villages, churches and mountain monasteries entice.
Moldova can feel a bit like a journey back in time when you walk around between the traditional houses with well and das - a very special experience. Many of the houses have storage rooms in the basement full of home-pickled vegetables and homemade 'compote', which is a juice made from fruit.
Europe's ugliest capital
I had been told from home that Chisinau should be in the running for the dubious title 'Europe's ugliest capital', and that, of course, set expectations pretty low from the start. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised.
The town is not decidedly beautiful, but with a little bit of curiosity - and not least a good local guide - there are quite a few small cozy places to explore.
Of course, there is plenty of decay, and it can be beautiful in itself, but Chisinau is also a city with budding art and with a good sense of coziness.
The restaurant area 'The Village' and the bars around the university close to the center can easily compete with other cities' outdoor life, and the price level is reasonable to say the least.
Overnight in Chisinau
Of course, there are a streak of good hotels around town, but even I stayed in hostels during my visit. I have not regretted it; it was simply one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed at.
The hosts really did something to give the guests a good experience of Chisinau and Moldova, and it is not without reason that they score very high on the rating list.
Amazing Ionika Hostel is located right next to the university in a backyard, and there are only a few steps to bars and restaurants with extremely student-friendly prices.
The nightlife is excellent, although as a Scandinavian you just have to get used to the fact that there are different rules for men and women when you go to a bar. It pays to be a woman if you want to avoid standing in line and paying admission.
When I visited the country, there was a very special focus on the women, and that was because it was in the days around March 8th.
This date is the women's day of struggle around the world, but in Moldova the men go all-in on flowers and gifts for the wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, daughter, teacher - and of course their mother. A really nice tradition, which made the visit to the country even better.
Transnistria - the last Soviet Union
In the eastern part of Moldova on the other side of the river Dniester lies Transnistria. Whether it is an independent country, a Moldovan province or something in between is difficult to determine.
The area has its own flag with hammer and sail, its own currency - rubles in metal and plastic - and its own border guards, who take their task very seriously.
Passports are not stamped on the border between Moldova and Transnistria, but paperwork and bureaucracy must be completed. That's how it must be.
They speak Russian in Transnistria and use Cyrillic letters, so there is no doubt that you have come to another country - or at least a different culture.
Tiraspol is the capital and largest city of Transnistria, and here you will find statues of Lenin and of fallen heroes, just as you will notice the flags of the other small former Soviet republics, which recognize Transnistria as an independent state.
On the big world stage, the self-proclaimed republic is not recognized by anyone, but it does not seem to be an obstacle in everyday life.
With its own national anthem, its own president, its own postal service, its own military and so on, Transnistria is in any case an experience in itself.
One of Moldova's major attractions is just across the border from Transnistria.
It is the castle in Bender, which has played an important historical role also for the Swedes, as it was from here, Sweden was ruled for four years while the Swedish king Charles the Twelfth stayed at the castle in the early seventeenth century.
Today, the castle is an important historical monument, and you can, among other things, experience torture instruments and a fine view of the river Dniester.
If you want to visit Transnistria, remember cash, which you can exchange for Transnistrian rubles, as it is the only viable currency. On the other hand, these rubles are not worth much when you travel again.
Below the surface in Moldova
If you want to make the most of your trip to Moldova, then I would recommend hiring a guide. You can easily travel around yourself, and it is generally safe and peaceful.
But the country's great values lie a little hidden beneath the surface, and it's a great advantage to have a local voice to tell you where to look. The political situation can be difficult to see through, and there is still a feeling that 'he who lives in secret lives well'.
I do not usually travel with a guide, but this time I was very happy that I chose to get help from someone with local knowledge. And I look forward to coming back another time and digging further after Moldova glories. Moldova deserves better than living in the shadows.
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