First impressions

There’s a distinctly southern feel about this city. Lots of pizzerias, ice cream parlours, verandas, roman columns, skinny men in oversized suits, carbineri as police officers. It’s what I imagine Italy would look like without ever having been there.

The hostel’s free breakfast is skimpy, just some bread and milk. I went out and figured I’d find something to eat on the way to the Socialist Party offices. Too optimistic, all the cafés are closed in the morning. I got an ice coffee from a stand in the park. It was proper strong coffee too, made with beans and milk in a machine. Next time I’ll ask for more sugar.

Wandering around the city centre is pleasant, there’s a light breeze and the tree-lined avenues provide plenty of shade. It gets uncomfortably hot in the afternoon.

There’s a protest hut outside the Palace of the Republic. I passed it twice and both times it looked empty. Maybe the occupant has a day job and sleeps in it at night?

The walls adjacent to the US embassy are daubed in anti-American graffiti. I don’t understand this, the US has no military presence here, no influence. They’re far away, so why is there such a bitter feeling toward them?

Later on, in the office of the Socialist Party, I’m nervous and hungry, they’re looking for someone to speak to me about the elections. Meanwhile there’s an old man in the corner quietly tallying results from around the country. The staff here have stayed up all night, they move slowly.

Every few minutes the phones ring and nobody picks up. Across the room there’s a TV tuned to a Russian channel, it’s currently showing a report on police violence and racism in the USA.

This feels like real journalism, turning up in person and asking questions directly. Unfortunately they keep me waiting for over an hour before advising me to come back tomorrow morning. I moved on to look for the headquarters of the Communist Party, but it’s difficult to find and I soon give up.

I was still hungry so went to get something to eat. The exchange rate is really badly unbalanced, a two-course meal plus lemonade in a fancy restaurant cost me the equivalent of £5. I’m not used to the formality of eating in expensive places, the waiters are rude, I feel like klutz. Going to stick with pizzerias from now on.

newspaper boxes

History museum

I’m currently writing all this in a café while waiting for the rain to subside. Anyway, at 3pm I felt like I’d wasted enough time playing journalist, time to do some touristy holiday stuff. I visited the historical museum. In the basement there’s an exhibition of ancient jewellery, most of it excavated from around Dubasarry. The old inhabitants of this land were apparently fond of kitting out their horses with golden harnesses. It’s the 6th-Century equivalent of putting golden rims on your sports car.

The basement also had an exhibition about the gulags, this was one of the areas from where Germans were deported before the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union.

First floor has got more ancient artefacts, mostly pots, followed by an exhibition of weaponry throughout the ages. Most if it was unremarkable save for a particularly brutal-looking mace, and one cabinet about the evolution of the Kalashnikov rifle. It showed that the AK-47 didn’t just emerge out of the blue from Mr. Kalashnikov’s imagination; it was inspired by other guns and refined over several iterations.

The top floor of the museum is worth seeing even without the exhibits. The ceilings and walls are decorated with classical ornaments, lit by large electric chandeliers like the inside of a stately home.

The top floor tries to trace the (quite diverse) history of Moldova. Here are the main moments:

It was part of the Holy Roman Empire,
then in the 12th Century it was invaded by the Tatars,
then in the 14th Century by the Golden Horde.
Then it was part of the Ottoman Empire as part of a wider province also including present-day Romania.
In 1812 it was ceded to the Russian Empire as Bessarabia.
At the end of the First World War there was a brief Moldovan Democratic Republic, though some of the soldiers fought for the Red Army.
Transnistria split off to join the Soviet Union as the Moldovan ASSR, and the rest merged with Romania.
The remainder of the country was ceded the Soviet Union by Romania in 1940, who reconquered it along with the Nazis in 1941, only for the Soviets to take it back in 1944.
Then of course there’s independence in 1991.

There was only one brief mention of the Transnistria conflict towards the end, commemorating a lawyer who died in the fighting. The Red Army crossing of the Dniester river was obviously an important battle during the Second World War, which also helps explain why Trans-Dniester remained such a sensitive area for Russia.

Lastly, the museum entry cost only around 75p (20 Leu). Again it’s an example of the totally warped exchange rate here.