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Moldova, small but not to be forgotten
Chişinău (Moldova), July 14th 1996
Are you heading to Moldova...…what do you want to find there?!? A small country, no famous highlights and inhabitants who state that to be born Moldavian, is the same as to be born for bad luck. Everyone can say as he likes, but one thing is for sure: Moldova has enough to offer for a memorable visit.

As a European scholar with little money and much time, I regarded it useless to spend lots of money on a plane ticket, while you can also travel overland to countries as Poland and Ukraine. While preparing for this journey, my eye catches sight on a small country, which is bordered on three sides by Ukraine, and on the Westside by Romania. Moldova, a small country of which I didn’t knew anyone who had ever visited it, and of which I didn’t knew what to expect. I learned that Moldova is country that has been conquered and recaptured many times, and also because of the Sovietisation there is a very mixed population. Moldavians only account for 64% of the population, while the remainder consists of Russians, Ukrainians and Gagauz (Turkish Christian Group). It is a country with local dishes that remind on all of their conquerors, so one can enjoy delicious goulash with spicy peppers, stuffed wine leaves and spicy soups. All this delicious food washed down with local wines, which are said to be the best of the former Soviet Union. Despite the tensions in Transdneistr (Regions that has declared itself independent), it is a relatively save destination. All things considered, it sounds nice so Moldova was added to the holiday itinerary of that year.

Church tower of Chitçani monastry
I entered Moldova out of Ukraine at the border town Breceni. From there it took a few hours by train to reach the Moldova’s capital Chişinău. Chişinău is a capital with over 400.000 inhabitants. The architecture reminds on the Soviet period, but lots are painted into bright colours so they get a sunny appearance. It’s a quiet place with only a few hotels, but this isn’t a problem due to the limited number of visitors. On one of the walking tours through this city I was invited into a Russian Orthodox Church where a young priest wanted to practise his English. After a while I asked him what he would bring up as the most beautiful place of his country. Promptly he mentioned “Chitçani”, a small village 9 kilometres south of Tiraspol. He noted that there would not be any hotels or restaurants, but that the monks would offer sheltering and food. As a last tip he told me that it would be appreciated if I would wear a skirt or a dress together with a scarf. The scarf was already packed in my backpack, so after buying a dress the journey could start.

Determined to visit the “most beautiful place” of Moldova, I took the bus to Tiraspol. Tiraspol is the capital city of Transdneistr, a landslide sandwiched between Dneistr River and the Ukrainian border. In 1992 one declared themselves independent; however the reminder of Moldova and the rest of the world haven’t approved this. Because there is still some turmoil, I have informed myself on the current information on several places, and at that time everything seemed relatively calm. At the Tiraspol bus station I have exchanged some dollars to the local paper money, namely Russian Roubles with a stamp with the Transdneistr symbol. Thereafter, I could continue my journey with a shared taxi to Chitçani.
Postcard of Chitçani monastry
After arriving in Chitçani, I understood that you could not expect to find hotels. It is a little village with a primarily agricultural population and a Russian orthodox monastery consisting of several churches and buildings and surrounded by a white wall. Already before passing the gate, a young monastic named Jean Pierre stepped up to me and welcomed me in Chitçani. The monks welcomed me very hospitable and without asking I was offered a room and I was offered to look around for a few days. I was brought to a pink room, with a painting of Jesus in the corner of the room to watch over me while I was sleeping. From this room I had a terrific view on the Monastery and her beautiful buildings. In the coming days, I was to be shown around through the beautiful churches and buildings, I was able to participate in the “service de vin” (long church service that is followed standing), I was spoiled with delicious food and fresh fruit that was brought by the women from the village. They showed their joy that someone was interested in their monastery, and that someone was interesting in the way that they were trying to rebuild this buildings. During the Soviet period, lots of churches and colourful fresco’s were destroyed to break the power of the religion. In Moscow, they saw it as a dangerous and incontrollable force. At this moment, 30 monastics are determined to bring the monastery into the original grandeur and they have achieved already a lot.

After two nights, three days it was time to say goodbye and after giving a donation to help the good work and shaking a lot of hands I got on a car with Jean Pierre and a monk (who looked a lot like Bon Jovi). This monk had found his vocation in the monastery, although he also was a real rally talent. With full speed on the winding roads, and after a few minutes I was back on the Tiraspol bus station. After retuning Chişinău, I followed the advice that the monks gave me to visit some villages in Beltsy. Also a primarily agricultural region with endless grasslands like in the Alps and in every village there seemed to be an English teacher that likes to show you around. Everywhere there are people to invite you for a wine or something to eat. Hospitality isn’t just usual for monastics but it is common for all Moldavian. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy their company any longer because I was running out of holiday time and I had to move on to Ukraine. I have always had warm memories on Moldova, and after that visit I always remembered that although a country doesn’t have spectacular highlights it can still be a great country to visit.


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