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Squashed between Romania and Ukraine in eastern Europe, not too many people around the world know much about Moldova. For me, it’s a place that’s weird and quirky with a disproportionate amount of gorgeous people, within a general population that’s enjoys regular intoxication. There is something fundamentally unique about Moldova in a European alternate-universe sort of way.

Sure, you could learn about Moldova from a tourism brochure or something equally bland but there’s no better introduction than all of the randomly unifying characteristics that make it so interesting. Characteristics that most Moldovans – a people whose practicality arises from hard realities – accept and embrace in varying degrees.

1. The Capital Chisinau Is Not Pronounced “Chisinau”

chisinau cathedral

I’m glad several people told me this before I went around asking folks about “Cheesy-new”. Chisinau is actually pronounced like, “Kishi-now”, the confusion stemming from the crude translation of Latin characters from Romanian to English.

2. Moldovan Is Actually Romanian

chisinau market

Speaking of Latin script and languages, Moldovan is Romanian – sort of. In 1939 the language’s alphabet was converted to Cyrillic, a move by the Soviets to distinguish (and divide) the Moldovan ethnic group from Romanians. Shortly after Communism fell in 1989, the Moldovan government passed a law switching the alphabet back to Latin script. Moldovans themselves though are still roughly split as to whether they speak “Moldovan” or Romanian.

3. Parts Of Moldova Used To Be Romania In The Mid-1800s

bucharest art

The land that makes up current Moldova has seen a number of conquerors, rulers, and kingdoms vie for its strategic position (mostly) in between the Dniester and Prut Rivers. Aside from being a part of the Romanian nation state (Romanian United Principalities), modern-day Moldova was also once a vassal state to the Ottoman Empire and part of the Russian Empire.

4. Europe’s Largest Jewish Cemetery Is In Chisinau

chisinau jewish cemetery

Prior to World War II, Moldova had one of Europe’s largest Jewish populations. Although many fled before the Germans arrived, nearly 60,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust in Moldova; sadly, more than 23,500 are buried in this cemetery on the outskirts of Chisinau.

5. Moldova Has A Break Away Territory

subway tunnel moldova

Transnistria, which sits just on the other side of the Dniester in what is officially Moldova, declared its independence in 1990. It is not officially recognized by any country in the United Nations (UN) and since the end of the War of Transnistria in 1992, has held a de facto independent status. Travelers can however visit Transnistria from Moldova (a day trip) but you’ll need your passport to cross the border.

6. Moldovans Drink More Alcohol Than Anyone Else In The World

red wine moldova

As I mentioned on my Facebook page, this is probably one of the reasons I enjoyed Moldova so much. As far as their drink of choice, Moldovans are fairly even split across beer, spirits, and wine…which brings me to my next point.

7. The Largest Collection Of Wine Is In Moldova

milestii mici

Perhaps not surprising given that alcohol consumption is higher in Moldova than any other country in the world. In 2005 The Guinness Book of World Records deemed Milestii Mici the world’s largest collection of wine; so large in fact it’s over 100 kilometers long. I wasn’t allowed in (a long story I’ll be writing about soon) so instead had impromptu homemade champagne with my cab driver. In Moldova, everyone’s prepared for the worst.

8. Moldova Has A Faster Internet Connection Than Norway, America, And 150 Other Countries

moldovan taxi driver

Also perhaps not that surprising as Moldova is right next to Romania, whose Internet is really damn fast too, except that Moldova’s GDP is 3% that of Romania’s. In fact Moldova has a lower GDP than countries like Laos and Madagascar but their connection is so good, Orange launched high-definition mobile service there 2 years before anywhere else.

A Random Grouping Of Travel Experiences

I can’t categorize or sum up Moldova easily; it has too many elements of other seemingly arbitrary places I’ve been to in the world. The guise of organized lawlessness and frontier feel was reminiscent of northern Iraq, while the straightforward kindness reminded me of Georgia. Chisinau’s young, modern, and well dressed residents – along with the city itself – might as well be an extension of Bucharest. And the local food could well be found in a Turkish-fusion restaurant.

Ironically, it’s this collection of everything else that gives Moldova a distinct character, which is witnessed with much less difficulty than it is described.