Wandering around Chişinău on Sunday, still trying to put my finger on what I find so interesting about the place, I decided to focus on the buildings. As I said, it has none of the gobsmacking beauty of Budapest but there are a few gems tucked away here and there – a random mix of styles that keeps you guessing and plenty to be seen once you venture off main street.
I was strangely taken with the Parliament building which was built in 1974 in the shape of an open book (I am smiling to myself at the implied transparency and wonder what was running through the architect’s mind when he designed it). It seems to be unoccupied right now though – no lights on at night – no guards – no life. And an election coming up. The mind boggles. The President’s building just across the road is quite impressive, too.
It’s strange to think what passes for a tourist sight. The official tourist map has 18 places marked on it and I’m sure that there are as many again that didn’t make the cut. I wonder who decides what’s ‘worthy’ of tourist attention. Perhaps I should offer my services to the city of Chişinău – I think it’s missing a few tricks.
Sunday is definitely a day of rest though – what with the sidestreets near the market overflowing with stalls selling everything you could imagine wanting… and more; and the park full of arts and crafts and pictures and old brass and silver and all sorts – it’s a day for wandering and sitting and chatting. It seemed as if all was well in the world – well, except for one couple who were having an absolutely blazing row outside a church, just after the service. What a place to pick for a domestic. I didn’t understand a word that was being said but with the gestures and the miming, I reckon one Moldovan man got caught between someone else’s sheets!
Lots of random buildings seem to warrant police protection. I put my bag down on a window sill while I was trying to sort out where I was and was promptly asked to remove it. How do cops manage to make themselves understood??? I didn’t quite figure out what the building was or why it was important but I’ve made a note for next time that it’s on the corner of Puskin and Bucharest strade.
There are police everywhere – and sometimes they walk up the main street in a neat column of pairs. Shift change? Not sure. Some of them look as if they might still have their confirmation money. The more serious-looking ones get to drive the newer squad cars while others are relegated to old colourful Lada-like cars that wouldn’t look out of place in a comedy show. There are so many walking the streets and minding the buildings that it’s nigh on impossible to get a photo without them popping up in it. Come to think of it, when walking through the park last night, with minimal lighting and lots of shadows, I never once felt afraid. Why don’t Hungarian policemen instill the same sense of security I wonder?
Chişinău definitely has its moments. And it’s quite refreshing not to have it all served up to you on a plate. It makes a pleasant change to have to do some work – to find things out for yourself – to walk the streets and discover without the aid of maps and guidebooks. It puts the adventure back into travel and the touring back into tourist. The language barrier is quite real – and the scarcity of street signs makes you wonder just what the city is hiding. In the taxi, on the way to the airport, I noticed the Ciuflea monastery – which was within walking distance from my hotel, had I ever turned right instead of left. So, that, the possibility of a live rugby match, the wine, and the mămăligă, have ensured Chişinău a place on my list of cities to revisit.