Famous for its wine and winery tours, little Moldova — located between the Ukraine and Romania — has a lot going for it in-between all the celebrated vineyards. Miles of sunflowers stretch like tall yellow sentries, rolling meadows bloom with vibrant wildflowers, gigantic sweet watermelons grow prolifically in the hazy fields, Roman ruins dot the landscape — monasteries imbedded in limestone — while tiny villages sprout up every few miles along the old winding roads. Best of all, the people, not accustomed to scores of tourists, are happy to greet you with a smile.
Moldova became independent in 1991, forming the same boundaries as it had under Soviet dominance when it was Moldovan SSR. Recognizing that the USSR was collapsing, the Soviet-leaning Transdniestr region and the Turkish Gagauzia region both declared independence separately at the same time, causing a tragic civil war.
Today, Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, yet prices aren't cheap. If you were in Romania and cross the border to Moldova, you'll notice the prices are exactly the same. Moldova would like to join the European Union but first has to prove its financial books are in order. A good percentage of its population ekes out a living on less than two US dollars a day.
In the city of Chisinau, you might be surprised to encounter excessive and conspicuous wealth—fancy boutiques, snazzy cars, fashion-clad youth lining the streets and cafes chatting on their cell phones, and expensive restaurants and nightclubs in the center of town. Where does the wealth in this oh-so-poor country come from? Nobody wants to say out loud. The striking disparity between rich and poor seems to be accepted by everyone, unfair and probably illegal as it is. Although pictures of the city display ugly concrete mega-buildings as was the norm in Soviet-era architecture, it's actually not nearly as gloomy as many other East European cities. The city was fully rebuilt following the Second World War after being wholly bombed by the Germans, and the 1940 earthquake didn't help matters. Remember that if you veer off the main drag you'll find the pleasant surprise of green verdant foliage, parks galore, lovely wide avenues and even lakes rimming the city.
Travelers tend to blog about how fun this city is, and how shocked they are to find that a communist government (yes, they elected a communist government in 2001) can have a city so hip. Moldova nightlife is what many people seem to live for, probably due to the Slavic influence known for enjoying life to the hilt no matter how bad the day was.