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A new country to call home for Eddy the Expat?: Ed O'Connor

Posted 11/14/17

After 7,859 miles and 29 hours, the landing gear deployed and the plane came to a halt at Chisinau International Airport in Moldova, Eastern Europe. 

Chisinau, the country’s capitol, …

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A new country to call home for Eddy the Expat?: Ed O'Connor

This church is part of a monastery in Orhei.
This church is part of a monastery in Orhei.
submitted Photo

After 7,859 miles and 29 hours, the landing gear deployed and the plane came to a halt at Chisinau International Airport in Moldova, Eastern Europe. 

Chisinau, the country’s capitol, was Olga’s home where we met and married Oct. 5, 2005. After saving for five years, we decided to journey back for our 12th wedding anniversary. 

The airport was larger and more modern than I remembered. It had, indeed, been enlarged and remodeled. After clearing customs, which took only a few minutes, we were unexpectedly met by Olga’s friends. After exchanging hugs and pleasantries, we exchanged dollars for the local currency, the lei, and took a taxi into the city.

Darkness was approaching, so we went to meet Olga’s cousin at the apartment that we, sight unseen, had planned to rent. We weren’t too thrilled with the apartment so we decided to stay at Olga’s deceased aunt’s place until we could find accommodations. 

There were not many apartments available as the National Wine Festival is celebrated the first weekend in October. Picture Octoberfest, except instead of breweries, all the wineries in the country are featured. For two days the main square becomes one big wine-tasting event with traditional Moldovan food, plus singing and dancing performances. 

For $11 one got to sample 23 winery treats. A good time was had by all. The event was attended by people from all over the world. We had to wait until the festival concluded to really get settled — we then found a place to “hang our hat.”

The following Saturday was Chisinau Day. The city celebrated its 851st anniversary. Most of the entire six-lane main street was closed. Vendors and entertainment lined both sides of the street. Thousands attended.

With an average monthly income of $267, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, but it was not readily noticeable. I have never seen so much construction. New buildings are going up everywhere, plus renovations of older structures. 

And the cars! So many Porsches, Mercedes, Audis, BMWs, Volvos, Land Rovers and Range Rovers, with the occasional Jaguar, Maserati and Bentley thrown in for good measure, and not the “cheap” models. It was amazing. 

Outside were a Mercedes S600 AMG, 12 cylinder, bi-turbo; two BMW 7 series; a BMW X5; a Porsche Cayenne S Turbo; two Audi A8s and more. Most folks are well dressed and many ladies can be seen attired in dresses or skirt outfits.

We had three weeks of nonstop touring. We started by getting reacquainted with the city on foot. We walked to Olga’s former apartment building and she encountered people she hadn’t seen in 12 years. In the same area where once stood old rambling shacks are now new homes that start at $200,000. What a transformation. 

Chisinau, with a population of 750,000, is a very walkable city with wide tree-lined streets and broad sidewalks. We also took a guided tour by car to some of the outlying areas of the metropolis.

We visited the Chisinau cemetery where Olga’s parents are interred. It is the largest in Europe and is almost as big as Middletown. More than 300,000 are buried there. It is so large that the streets are numbered. I saw a marker for street No. 216 and they went higher.

Our first two memorable tours were to wineries. Not your typical wineries. Cricova and Milestii Mici are the two largest underground wine cellars in the world. They run 93 miles and 124 miles respectively underground, in tunnels and rooms beneath the surface. 

We took vehicles in the cellars. The subterranean streets are named after types of wines. The larger of the two, Milestii Mici, has in excess of 2 million bottles stored along the streets. This does not include the huge 171-gallon barrels. 

Former limestone mines were converted to create both wine cellars in the 1950s. We were as deep as 278 feet and the wine tasting room was at 115 feet. One can have meals or have a wedding catered underground.

Olga was contacted by several former students from her university civil engineering class and they had a mini-reunion. Not present was one of their classmates who is now the defense minister of Israel. Two of them took us on car tours of the city and the surrounding area.

We attended a symphony performance, an opera and a concert by Olga’s favorite performer, Patricia Kaas. And at the opera — “it wasn’t over ’til the good looking, well-built blonde sang.” 

We visited many museums and parks. The one that impressed me the most was the World War II Memorial Victory Park commemorating triumph over the Nazis. At the center is an 82-foot-high pyramid comprised of five styled rifles under which burns an eternal flame.

The countryside of Moldova is very similar to central and north-central Pennsylvania, rolling hills and valleys. The weather is also comparable. Agriculture is the main source of income for the country and one can see expansive vineyards, corn fields, sunflower acreage and orchards. This year was an abundant harvest. 

Driving on Route MD2 in Moldova reminded me so much of Route 322W and Route 15, north of Williamsport. The big difference is that along the main highways and back roads, walnut trees line the highways and byways. The trees were planted in 1980 and anyone who wants walnuts can collect them.

Another impressive tour was the town of Orhei. We went there with Olga’s cousin and her husband. The town was built in the 13th century and ruins of the fort and Turkish baths can be seen. Built into the side of the sheer limestone cliffs are mines and an active monastery. The mines and caves were used by Christians to hide from the Muslims who slaughtered them — 800 years later and not much has changed.

There are 37 monasteries in Moldova and one day we visited three. They are beautiful structures with the signature onion-shaped domes. Two of the monasteries are more than 6 miles apart and are connected by a tunnel.

Our final trip was to the city of Soroco, where we toured a fortress built in 1499, as one of a string of defensive forts to guard the country. It sits on the Dniester River which borders the Ukraine. On the outskirts of the city on a very steep hill stands a 115-foot-high monument, The Candle of Gratitude, complete with candle flame. We climbed the 600 concrete steps to the monument. What a view!

At the last minute, Olga decided to see if she could renew her Moldovan passport. We entered the passport office, took a number, spoke with information, did paperwork, had the photo taken, paid for the passport and left the office. Elapsed time: 18 minutes. She had her new passport in 24 hours.

Unfortunately, we did not see all we wanted. Just not enough time. 

Could we live there? You bet! Will we? Time will tell.

After an interesting Chisinau, Moldova trip … Eddy the Expat

Ed O’Connor, a former resident of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, is an expatriate living in Cuenca, Ecuador.