Chisinau

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Chisinau
Population: 667,600
Main industries: consumer and electrical goods, building materials, machinery, plastics, rubber, textiles
Mayor: Dorin Chirtoaca
Founded in 1436
Interesting fact №1: Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet head of state, was appointed Party First Secretary of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1950 and lived in Chisinau for two years.
Interesting fact №2: Avigdor Lieberman, former Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister, was born in Chisinau.
Interesting fact №3: After legalization firearms in 1998, crime rates in the city have fallen dramatically.
Sister cities: Grenoble, France; Reggio Emilia, Italy; Mannheim, Germany;, Sacramento, United States; Odessa and Kiev, Ukraine; Bucharest and Iasi, Romania; Yerevan, Armenia; Minsk, Belarus; Tel Aviv, Israel; Ankara Turkey; Tbilisi, Georgia
Helpful contacts: Gabriela Ciumac, head of the city foreign relations department (+373 (22) 20-15-04, dri@pmc.md); Tourism portal:  allmoldova.com

CHISINAU, Moldavia — "The damned city of Kishinev" is how Alexander Pushkin described this small town in the territory formerly known as Bessarabia. The poet's outburst is understandable, because he was forced to spend three years in exile in a place, which was, in his opinion, comparable with Sodom. "Kishinev cannot be compared with that lovely town," he wrote, with no small degree of sarcasm.

But the settlement on the outskirts of the Russian empire that was once considered a place of punishment is now the economically emerging and capital of the independent Republic of Moldova. Renamed Chisinau in Romanian after the collapse of Soviet Union, it still preserves its old name in Russian.

At first glance, the city may seem too rural, even boring. Is it really the economic center of Moldova? In fact, Chisinau is place which reveals its intricacies only to those who dig deep and are ready to be surprised and fascinated.

The founding of the city dates back to the 15th century, when a monastery village was built around a small spring. In 1812 Chisinau was annexed by the Russian Empire as a result of the Russo-Turkish war and became the capital of the newly formed Bessarabian region.

The city evolved thanks to a generous urban development plan. Railroads were built, new houses sprang up, and the city turned into a wealthy and prosperous economic center vital for the empire. During the Russo-Turkish war of 1871–72 Chisinau played an important role as a key staging area for Russian troops.

Major Businesses

Moldcell (3 Belgrad Str., +373 (22) 206-206, moldcell.md/eng/private). Mobile network operator (part of TeliaSonera), provides telecommunication services.
Efes Vitanta Moldova Brewery S.A. (167 Uzinelor Str., berechisinau.md/bc/company.aspx). Founded in 1974, producer of popular local beer Chisinau.
Tutun-CTC (116 Ismail Str., +373 (22) 57-08-00, tutun-ctc.md). The largest tobacco factory in Moldova; A leading cigarette manufacturer, it was one of the most technically advanced tobacco enterprises in Soviet Union.

The city had attracted numerous Jewish merchants and businessmen by the end of the 19th century, before the notorious Kishinev Pogrom took place in 1903. Many Jews who were left alive emigrated after that incident, which represents one of the most tragic pages of city's history.

Chisinau was heavily damaged after an earthquake in 1940 and then in the Second World War. A team of architects headed by Alexey Shchusev developed a general plan for the reconstruction of Chisinau. Eventually the shapes of numerous nine- and twelve-story apartment blocks invaded the skyline.

But Chisinau has preserved a rural charm that blends with its relatively new status as a capital.

The unique contrast is seen in the city center, which has 20-story skyscrapers in close proximity to parks and the Old Town architecture of the city council building and central cathedral. The eclectic combination makes it a favorite place to spend time for locals and visitors alike. The rural feel of the city is reinforced by the great abundance of shrubbery, trees and other greenery.

One more fringe benefit of Chisinau's provincial nature appreciated by locals is the lack of vehicular congestion so common in other cities.

For MT
Dorin Chirtoacă,
Mayor of Chisinau
Q: What are the city authorities doing to make Chisinau an attractive place for investors?
A: Every investor should have access to infrastructure and certain standards to which he is accustomed. We plan to connect the airport with the city center via railroad. Also, world-famous hotel chains will appear in Chisinau in a short time.

Q: What are the main advantages and unique features of Chisinau as a business city?
A: Chisinau possesses the most developed infrastructure of any city in Moldova. The municipality is formed by 19 towns and communes. We have already issued a "manual" for investors describing all the benefits of these clusters. We have also presented 35 investment projects in such sectors as agrotourism, energy efficiency promotion and the improvement of public and commercial services.

Q: What sectors are in need of investments?
A: We are focused on the development of public-private partnerships in several sectors: from construction engineering, infrastructure and transportation, to recycling of household garbage, glass and waste paper. We also offer land for businesses in industrial parks and have special offers to make in the IT sector.

— Anton Leshchinskiy

"Chisinau is a uniquely compact city where you can plan not one, not two, but five or even six meetings in one day," said Pavel Zingan, chief executive of media holding Zingan.com. "Still, foreign investors face corruption and an ongoing brain drain."

The deficit of educated personnel is acute. Despite steady economic development, many men and women prefer to go to neighboring countries to find more attractive jobs with higher incomes. Young people endeavor to make it to Russian, European or American universities to study, and eventually work, abroad.

"The main reason why I decided to move from my hometown and to study in Russia was that I realized there were no opportunities for me to develop my future career," said Ksenia Chetrar, a Chisinau native and third-year journalism student at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).

Though the Moldovan capital is holding its ground, it still needs a lot of investment into infrastructure, the service sector and industry modernization. The local administration is developing a program to deal with these issues, which will turn Chisinau into an attractive destination for foreign investors.

With 24 universities, more than 10 museums, 12 theaters, numerous galleries, festivals and nightclubs, the city has a serious cultural foundation. After the collapse of Soviet Union, The National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Moldova was one of the few to hold its position as one of the leading ballet companies in Eastern Europe.

Moldovans, Russians, Ukrainians, Romanians, Bulgarians and enterprising expatriates from Western Europe and North America are helping to build Chisinau's image as a fast-growing multicultural city. Foreign citizens are not only fascinated by the local culture and delicious cuisine—especially wines and banked goods, but are also pleased by the living conditions. According to the consulting firm Employment Conditions Abroad, Chisinau had the lowest cost of living among all major European cities for expats in 2011. For example, a four-room apartment in the city center can be rented for $1,500 a month. Office rental rates are also low, while charges for domestic services like housekeeping and gardening are very affordable.

But despite the economic vagaries, residents of Chisinau maintain great pride in their ethnic celebrations. As with many cultures, the coming of spring brings a major feast day. Martisor is celebrated March 1, and has locals presenting red and white jewels to each other, which they pin on their clothes. The festivities are now as much of a holiday in honor of love and appreciation, as they are a marker of the seasons.

What to see if you have two hours

With its calm and tiny streets, Chisinau is well suited for long and tranquil walks. Take a stroll through Stephen the Great Park in the very center of the city. It was laid out in the 19th century and is named after Stephen III, who was Prince of Moldavia in medieval times. The main avenue in Chisinau also carries his name, in witness to the immense respect Moldovans have for their history.

For MT
Pavel Zingan,
CEO of Zingan.com media group
Q: How is Chisinau's mass media supporting tourism?
A: We work in two directions. Firstly, mass media generate content aimed at promotion of city's touristic sites. Secondly, we publicize information about upcoming events, like exhibitions, festivals, concerts and so forth.

Q: What recreational facilities does Chisinau lack?
A: Special facilities for skateboarders, snowboarders, rollerbladers and bikers as well as mixed-concept locations like a combined cafe and reading room.

Q: What is the best place in Chisinau to spend free time?
A: I prefer spending my time in Loft Café in the very center of the city.

— Anton Leshchinskiy

In the park, surrounded by acacias and lime trees, visit the Alley of Classics, which holds bronze busts of prominent Moldovan and Romanian authors and political figures. There is also a bust of Alexander Pushkin, in honor of his exile in Chisinau. At the far end of the park you can find a monument to Stephen the Great.

Cathedral Park is situated on the other side of the same avenue. The Cathedral of the Nativity, one of the main churches in Chisinau, was built in the 19th century. The belfry was restored after the collapse of Soviet Union.

Right in front of the bell tower there is a majestic triumphal arch, constructed in 1840 in commemoration of victories in numerous Russo-Turkish wars.

What to see if you have two days

Extra time will allow for visits to some of the city's museums.

The National Museum of Moldovan History and Archaeology (121A 31 August 1989 Street, +373 (22) 24-43-25, nationalmuseum.md) is definitely worth stopping by. The museum possesses a vast collection of archaeological items, history exhibits, arms and armour, ancient coins and other artifacts. In front of the building there is the famous Capitoline Wolf, an exact copy of the monument in Rome. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., standard entry fee is 10 lei ($0.81).

The National Museum of Fine Arts (115 31 August 1989 St., +373 (22) 24-17-30, mnam.md) is on the same street. The Moldovan, Russian, European and Oriental masterpieces represented there make it an attractive cultural spot. You can visit exhibits from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Mondays, and it also costs 10 lei.

For those hunting for unique hand-made and vintage clothing and accessories the "Yard Sale" flea market is a must. Though it does not specialize in souvenirs or traditional crafts, you may get lucky and find something local. This bright and colorful event occurs several times a year at different venues in Chisinau and is rapidly gaining popularity among local youth (you can find out more on Facebook page).

Taking a trip to the surrounding countryside will bring you even deeper into the local frame of mind. Old Orhei has become one of Moldova's No. 1 tourist destinations. This ancient archaeological complex is located in Trebujeni, 60 kilometers north-east of Chisinau. It is famous for its cave churches and the Orhei Fort. Traces of different civilizations can be found there, including ruins of the Golden Horde period. You can take a bus or a shared taxi from the central bus terminal for about 20 lei. But the safest way to organize a trip is to book with a local tour company (Canonic Tur: 10 Negruzzi Blvd, +373 (22) 27-27-28, canonictur.com). You can book a group excursion for 97 to 1,600 lei depending on the size of the group.

On the way back you can visit the legendary Cricova, Moldova's wine Mecca. It is famous for its wine cellars, which attract tourists from all over the globe. Sparkling wines are produced there in accordance with the classical French method. Château Vartely is another winery near Old Orhei. It calls itself as a "small Switzerland of Moldova." Its wine is exported to China, Germany, France, the USA and many other countries.

Milestii Mici, another winery 12 kilometers south of Chisinau, is also worth a visit. Its cellar has the Guinness World Record for being the largest wine collection in the world, at 2 million bottles.

What to do with the family

Aventura Park (1 Ghioceilor, +373 (22) 71-99-65) is only five-minute drive from the center and a good place to take the kids. It is different from spacious European and North American amusement parks with their giant roller coasters, but Aventura is still a very nice place to spend a day with the family. You can play darts, paintball, arcade machines or drive bumper cars. It is open Tuesday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; closed on Mondays. The prices for different attractions range from 10 to 30 lei.

The new shopping center Malldova (21 Arborilor Str., +373 (22) 60-32-55, shoppingmalldova.md) offers a wide range of typical mall attractions, inlcluding bowling and arcade machines.

A favorite for children is a visit to the local zoo (50/7 Bulevardul Dacia, +373 (22) 76-37-33). In 2007, the zoo welcomed Steven Seagal as a guest, though it is not clear if he had to pay the 20 lei entrance fee.

Nightlife

Chisinau is a great place to soak up national spirit as well as to see spectacular operas, ballets and plays performed by the most talented Moldovan artists. For high-end cultural experiences the National Opera and Ballet Theater (152 Stefan Cel Mare Blvd., +373 (22) 24-51-04, nationalopera.md) is the place to go. "The Nutcracker," "Romeo and Juliet," "Eugene Onegin," and "The Queen of Spades" are performed by ballet dancers and opera singers of one of the most prominent companies in Eastern Europe. Ticket prices range from 30 to 180 lei.

Partiers will enjoy their time at the new Fashion TV Café & Club (2/1 Decebal Blvd., +373 (78) 53-53-53, allmoldova.com). Its popularity among the local elite has skyrocketed recently. Michel Adam Lisowski (the founding father of Fashion TV), Tara McDonald (the British vocalist featured in the Armand Van Helden's "My My My" single) and many other celebrities can be spotted there from time to time.

Where to eat

Moldovan national cuisine is similar to other Balkan cuisines, which means a variety of vegetable and potato dishes. The fertile earth of central Moldova has been excellent for the cultivation of grapevines, fruits and vegetables since ancient times. You can try famous mamaliga (cornmeal porridge), bryndza (sheep's milk cheese), mititei (grilled mince rolls), placinta (round-shaped cakes filled with soft cheese, pumpkin, apples, etc.) and other Moldovan specialities at La Taifas (67 Bucuresti Str., +373 (22) 22-76-92, allmoldova.com). The three halls, decorated with historical photos of Chisinau and tablecloths with traditional folk patterns, create the restaurant's cozy and friendly atmosphere, which is popular not only among tourists and expats, but also among local ruling elite. An average meal will cost you about 300 lei per person.

Another establishment known for its equally sophisticated interior design and cuisine is the Loft Café Club (3 Nicolae Iorga Str., +373 (22) 89-00-75, allmoldova.com). This restaurant offers fusion, as well as European cuisine. The mixture of different rooms furnished by prominent European fashion houses with wall prints designed by Chanel and Hermes and chillout music make this café a fashionable meeting place in the city center. The veal fillet with oyster mushroom sauce, chicken liver pâté and many other dishes will please your pallet. Dinner without alcohol is about 150 to 200 lei per person.

Where to stay

The five-star Nobil Luxury Boutique Hotel in the city center (49/1 Mihai Eminescu Str., +373 (22) 40-04-00, nobil.md/eng/) is one of the most luxurious and elegant hotels in Chisinau. It offers a business center, a spa and gym, a cigar lounge and two restaurants. Prices vary from 3,000 lei for a single room to 6,000 lei for an executive suite. It is the place of choice for jetsetting stars like the Scorpions, Garou, In-Grid, Seal, and rap star Timati, when they happen to come through town.

Jolly Alon Hotel (37 M. Chibotari Str., +373 (22) 23-22-33, jollyalon.com/) is another option. During the Soviet era it served as the main hotel in Chisinau for official delegations. Situated in the heart of the city beside Stephen the Great Park, close to the Parliament and the Presidential Palace, the hotel has a business center, a spa and a restaurant. In 2006 Jolly Alon was honored as Moldova's leading hotel by World Travel Market. One night in a single room will cost you approximately 1,500 lei, in an executive suite — 2,800 lei.

Conversation starters

A gentle discourse on your view of the national spirit and rich culture will help you to get along with natives of Chisinau. If you mention your enjoyment of Moldovan cuisine, including wine, you'll have no problem carrying a conversation. But it might not be necessary, since the people in Chisinau are extremely sociable and are likely to start a conversation first.

Mentioning the fun you had during the spring Martisor celebration or showing your knowledge of Stephen the Great will be a bull's-eye.

However, one should avoid political issues such as the possible union with Romania, as the population is strongly divided on this.

How to get there

Trains to Chisinau run several times a day from Kievsky station in Moscow. The journey takes just over twenty-four hours. You can get a roundtrip ticket for about 7,000 to 8,000 rubles ($ 220 to 250) in a 4-person second-class sleeper compartment, or for 14,000 rubles in a 2-person first class compartment.

S7 Airlines and Air Moldova are the only companies that operate flights to Chisinau, departing from Domodedovo Airport every day for about 8,600 rubles (3,400 lei) or 30,000 rubles (12,000 lei), economy or business class respectively.

Contact the author at bizwriter@imedia.ru