Chisinau (ki-shi-no), the capitol of Moldova, ascended to the top of my list of all time favourite cities within 24 hours of my arrival.  Strangely, there are very few items of tourist appeal to indulge in here (even less now as they have closed one museum and merged two others), yet I deeply enjoyed myself.

To start, the people are just wonderful.  Friendly, helpful and genuine.  Ask directions from someone in Bucharest and you probably won’t get much more than a grunt and a head nod in a vague direction.  In Chisinau, the person you’ve beseeched for help will come out of their store, take your arm (like the Romanians, Moldovans can be very tactile) lead you to the street and give you specific, careful instructions.  This would have been endearing enough as a traveller, but as a guidebook researcher, this mentality saved me untold time and hardship.  Merchants, hotel staff, museum directors, strangers at bus stops, whether there was something in it for them or not, they all dropped everything, offering me information, coffee, the use of their telephones, whatever.  It was an absolute joy to work there.

Also, they have a restaurant and nightlife scene that is so grand and extensive that it’s going to kill me to have to cut those sections of the book down to a reasonable length.  The downside is the hotels are absurdly expensive and not all that great.  But there’s a number of ways around that, namely home stays, which brings me to yet another Chisinau rave.

While I was in Chisinau, I stayed with Marisha, a guide and general authority on all things Moldovan.  This woman is an angel.  Her web site is exploding with pertinent Moldova travel information and if you contact her directly she can be counted on to confidently answer any of your queries (within reason). She also arranges home stays in Chisinau and Tiraspol.  Not only are these home stays infinitely less expensive and more comfortable than staying in a hotel, but you get the added bonus of insight into the lives of the locals.  And of course, on a personal note, I came to depend on Marisha for clarification on my research facts and general discussions on Moldova, its people and culture.  There are several wonderful guides in Chisinau that I’ll be writing up in LP, but Marisha is the only one who is truly trying to reach out and help travellers before they’ve entered the country.

I also met Vitalie another person who is working hard to expose people to Moldova through his blog, seemingly just for the pure joy of writing about his country and meeting people online as a result.  I spent the better part of a day combing over his web site before leaving.  He’s got a lot of negative things to say, which I’m sure just about anyone might for any country, but it’s balanced with information that I found extremely helpful.  Through Vitalie I met Dan, a Fulbright scholar from Arizona, teaching a journalism class in Chisinau.  The three of us met one night, along with several of Dan’s students who were invited along to pick my brain about freelance writing in America, but like good journalists, they mostly focused on personal questions; e.g. “Are you married?  Why not?”

Through this meeting I was deeply fortunate to acquire the translating services and enthusiastic company of Tanya, one of Dan’s journalism students, who volunteered to accompany me into Transdnistria when Marisha fell ill and I was facing the prospect of heading into the dicey region alone. Tanya’s fearlessness, flirting skills and can-do attitude saved me from several bribe shakedowns, detention both in Tiraspol and at the border and is ultimately the sole reason I got any work done at all, as it became clear that one cannot function in TransD without fluency in Russian.  The trip, which I will detail at a later time, was high tension all the way due to the deteriorating political and economic situation and probably would have ended in disastrous fashion had she not been there to help me.

Through poor timing and general exhaustion I was never able to indulge Chisinau’s increasingly exciting nightlife.  I was very interested in exploring this, particularly after Tony Hawks trashed it in Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, as Chisinau was a very different place in the early 90s during his visit.  Alas, as usual work consumed me and play time was sacrificed. Well, now I have a good reason to go back.

Hell, I have tons of good reasons to go back.  I know a bunch of great people, I have wine tours that I’d like to take without shouldering the responsibility of looking professional, taking accurate notes and driving myself home and it goes without saying that effective girl ogling simply cannot be done until the weather permits them to leave their jackets and leggings at home. 

Add another city to the list of places I need to revisit.