This week I had a short two-day trip to Chişinău. Of course, there’s only that much that you can see of a country within less than 48 hours (bunch of what you’re spending asleep anyway). However, it was enough for a couple of observations.
Moldova is widely recognised as “the poorest country in Europe” with a per capita GDP of less than $3,000, putting it slightly behind countries such as Mongolia and Congo. For what I know, it may well be the poorest country in Europe, but its GDP is certainly higher than the reported figure. It is basically a cash economy and, given the traditional lifestyle, a bulk of things that people do with their cash is not going to show up on any kind of official reporting. Although it would be a stretch to say that Chişinău was “wealthy”, it certainly wasn’t “poor” either. Of course, only about 600 thousand of Moldova’s total of 4 million people live in the capital, and one would suspect that the countryside is a different story altogether.
We did get a small glimpse of the countryside when driving to famous Mileştii Mici – a small village few kilometers out of Chişinău that used to be a quarry for most of the white stone that Chişinău is built of. That all changed (or rather, got a new meaning) when in 1969 somebody got an idea to start storing wine in the shafts of the stone-mine. By that time they had about 200km worth of shafts, quarter of which is now in use as the world’s largest winery. That fact was officially recognised in 2007 Guiness Book of Records – this is apparently a source of immense pride among the locals.
The place itself is actually quite impressive – you will drive a car into the underground network of tunnels, which at lowest point reaches to more than 80 meters below the ground. It is not a good idea to visit if you have even a slight hint of claustrophobia, something that a friend of mine only found out once we were about 10 minutes into the mines. The sides of tunnels are lined with huge 700l barrels filled with different sorts of wine that all will eventually get bottled and then stored in special underground collections until they are finally ready to be sold. The whole place houses more than 1.5 million bottles of wine that are kept stacked in stone alcoves of 50 bottles, three alcoves on top of each other, stretching as far as the eye can see. And I hear some of that stuff is pretty good. I got myself three bottles – a sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and a signature wine called “Negru de Purcari”, so I will probably find out soon.