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Published: March 21st 2016
It was a Bank Holiday in Moldova. We wondered why it was so quiet in the streets of Chisinau. International Women's Day apparently. It was worldwide, but the Other Half didn't get a day off in the UK or she could have added Transnistria to her collection. An open air concert was in full swing. Well, not quite - but it was happening. The combined total crowd was about 150. The compere was a reincarnation of a 60's version of Sonny Bono. He looked pleased with himself, as he introduced the top acts of Moldovan music. The enthusiasm of the crowd suggested perhaps, but the numbers did not. The Matt Munro of Moldova came on. He failed to ignite the crowd. A blonde bombshell spruced herself up in the changing area - a van - and came on to more promise. A few in the sparse crowd tapped their feet, a couple of women clapped in time to the music and one older couple auditioned for Strictly Come Dancing in front of the stage. I have been waiting to use this title for while now. The honour nearly fell to the Miad of Orhei with her drum. It seemed apt with
our trip. There had been fighting in eastern Ukraine and bother in Crimea. There was no obvious sign of bother between Moldova and Transnistria and the couple danced the afternoon away. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance! Anyone know the tune to the Party Line?
We had arrived in Chisinau the previous Thursday. The side trips to Tiraspol and Orhei had occupied our time, but now it was time to see what Chisinau had to offer. The transport in from the airport was a bargain in a shared minibus. Right out of arrivals - ignoring all taxi offers as is customary in these parts - and at the end of the building a line of Minibus 165 will be there. A fare of a mere 3 Moldovan Lei - bearing in mind the exchange rate of nearly 28 to the £ and 20 to the US$ - makes it the steal of all airport transportation. It was almost door to door service to the Hotel Cosmos - a "turistic complex", no less. I looked in vain for the man on horse statue as we closed in on where we needed to be, but he was shrouded in
darkness - overtaken by the new heroes in society - the lights from the adjacent shopping centres. The hotel was genuine communistic - overlook the occasional malfunction of the electrical sockets and in this case, the shower that apparently dispenses water into the room below. The shower tray in fact had a positive trampoline quality, but I am sure in refurbished quarters elsewhere this has been eliminated. The breakfast room was on the 1st floor, but only reached via another stair case from the reception. The reception area had thoughtful extras - a casino, an antique shop which never opened, a photocopy shop, a nail bar in the basement and in case you were short of 2 wheel transport, a scooter showroom. Who could ask for more? The breakfast room had a series of 1960s style TVs banked up to one side. It resembled a sort of mini aircraft hangar. The old ladies in charge were extremely vigilant in ensuring all had the correct vouchers to dine on the fayre - a form of cabbage pancake an in-house speciality. They tasted better than it sounds - almost a spring roll. The Cosmos had a resident footballer population. If you have
read my previous blog, you'll have noticed that we had been to watch football at Milsami Orhei. It seemed that a number of the foreign imports were resident in the hotel and were evident in the reception waiting to go to training, at breakfast or generally just milling around. I suggested that they had disappointed us with their goalless draw the previous day against Dinamo Auto. " Football is very difficult in Moldova"
offered one as an excuse, struggling to fully convey how frustrating it was for a team to just defend for 90 minutes when playing away from home. Performances better improve or they will no doubt be relegated to the economy rooms.
The main artery of Chisinau is Stefan Cel Mare Street, which ran north from our hotel. The contrasts of Moldovan life were there to see within a hundred metres. There were 2 quite flashy shopping centres - Ross was tempted with more adidas gear. Over the traffic island, people were selling any possessions - items of little value all laid out on the footpath. On the one hand we have Adidas and Nike stores and on the other second hand blackened frying pans
for sale. The initial section around the Bus Station area is taken up with retail and markets and the obligatory Andy's Pizza. We eventually decided to try it 1 night and it was actually much better than some of the press it received. The street gives way to grand buildings including the Interior Ministry and Mihai Emenescu Theatre. Government House stands to the left, opposite Cathedral Park. As in Bucharest, a mini version of the Arc De Triomphe is in place at the entrance to the park. The Arc was built in 1840 to mark the Russian victory over the Ottomans in the region. A makeshift camp of protesters stands guard outside Government House - part of the ongoing protests by Moldovans against the current political leaders. The Stefan Cel Mare - Stephen The Great - Park stands next to Government House and a statue of Stephen is busy watching over proceedings. The Parliament Building of Moldova is slightly further on. A number of riot police were stationed at intervals outside and in the trees to the side. The reason. A much larger tent village of protest was erected on the road outside the main entrance and there have been
flashpoints in recent months.
The Stadion Dinamo had been noted a few blocks back. Ross had an old black and white photograph and he was keen to try and recreate it. We had therefore ventured to find it on our return from Orhei. The Stadion gates were surprisingly open. Two guys were welding something in the building behind one goal. There ws no challenge was we wandered across the pitch in pursuit of the photo position on the old photograph. The ground appeared unused for football. A typical old communist main stand was still in reasonable condition. A press box was stationed to one end, bizarrely entitled "Mass Media". We found ourselves in the vicinity again and Ross found another location of interest - a coffee and cake venue, Caramel. The verdict was the best pastry of the trip. We would be back again.
Couples were wandering around in the sunshine in the Valea Morilor. A large lake is at the centre. It was a steep descent from near the University and an equally steep climb back past some foreign embassies. Two policemen stood guard outside the French Embassy. One of the stand out
sights of Chisninau is the Victory Memorial. The red structure stood out against the bright blue sky. A series of equally red plaques ringed the park, detailing the path to victory. A couple of soldiers stood guard over the Memorial and ocasionally marched round it in ceremonial fashion. The next shift were having a crafty fag in the shade. The temperature had soared. Spring had arrived in Moldova. We walked through the Armenian cemetery to the Duminica Tuturor Sfintilor Church. Flower sellers plied their trade. An old woman tried to extract some money from us, only for her friend to suggest it wasn't in the rules. Where the Victory Monument was red, the Cathedral of Theodor Tiron was the colour of the sky. It reminded me of St Michaels in Kiev. The golden domes glistened in the sun. The old Hotel National crumbled as a backdrop. We had seen another crumbling relic earlier in the afternoon - the Stadion Republican. The old gate remains, as do the odd turnstiles and some crash barriers on the approach. The inside of the stadium is pretty much completely demolished. This was the scene of a debut for the young David Beckham on 1
September 1996 - the place where he made the first of the 115 appearances. It was a long way from Manchester, Madrid, Milan, LA, Paris and indeed, Preston.
We had set out in the morning to possibly go out of town to some wine cellars or a monastry, but never quite found the bus. I was pleased. It would have been a shame not to see the city bathed in bright sunlight. We retreated for a couple of 55 pence pints of beer. What is not to like about Chisinau? There was only one thing on the tick list for the morning before the plane. The obligatory chocolates were already in the bag - prunes in chocolate, no less! for for We took the bus to the Zimbru Stadium. The most modern incarnation in the Moldovan leagues outside of Tiraspol, the way inside was blocked by Mr Security. He relented and allowed us inside for a few photographs, before the desire to read his local equivalent of the Daily Mirror became more appealing. The green seats banked round. There was no way through to the small stadium with artificial turf, where Zimbru had played at the weekend.
Ross saved his photography for a Scotland visit to play there. The Stadium was used for part of Milsami Orhei's European adventure, but the form of the tenants, the"European Bisons" makes the likelihood of their own games there remote in the immediate future.
We had lunch in a restaurant on Armernian Street. We concluded the trip with spending the last few Lei on another trip into cake land at Caramel. Meanwhile Ross was plotting for the future ............. he had spotted the new Transnistria - the autonomous region of Gagauzia in the south of Moldova, or as I have just read on the internet - the land of the Straight Nosed Turks! Who play in Gagauzia’s capital Comrat? I guess at some point, it will be on a list!
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