Sports Writer Alistair McMurran visited Moldova this year
and has now been to 195 countries and territories on the Los
Angeles-based Travellers Century Club list. His travelling
companion David Horne has been to 258 of the world's 321
countries, more than any other New Zealander.
Moldova is world famous for its vineyards and wineries. The
Milestii Mici Winery was entered in the Guinness Book of
World Records in 2005.
It was registered for having the biggest wine collection in
the world with 1.5 million bottles. It now has nearly 2
''It really has more than that but for commercial reasons it
limited the number to that,'' our winery guide Natalia said.
''It has over 65 million litres of wine stored underground.''
The Milestii Mici Winery is just outside the capital city of
Chisinau and was established in 1916. It employs 250 people
and is surrounded by acres of its own vineyards.
At the entrance of the winery there is imitation red wine and
Champagne tumbling out of fountains into overgrown glasses.
The winery has more than 200km of underground roadways. We
travelled by car to a depth of 85m, stopped at a natural
waterfall and walked into a vault where vintage wine is
Each group of bottles lies flat and is enclosed in a case
that contains between 150 and 1500 bottles.
The oldest stored wine dates back to 1972. White wine can be
kept for 25 years, reds for 56 years and classic for 200 to
Last year a Chinese man purchased a vintage collection.
We were shown a ''secret room'' where wine was stored after
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced his ''Dry Law''
that was intended to stop Russians drinking too much. More
than 2000 bottles were stored in 1985 in case the Soviets
came to destroy the wine.
Wine is kept in barrels for two months before being bottled.
In the wine-tasting area we tried a white Sauvignon, a red
Merlot and a sweet dessert Marguerite.
With the wine we were given a bowl of dried apples, plums and
While we sipped the wine, two men dressed in native costume
serenaded us with traditional Russian and Bavarian tunes on a
piano accordion and violin. In the cool limestone tunnels
thousands upon thousands of wine bottles are stored. They all
There were photos of celebrities who had visited the winery,
the most prominent being former United States president Jimmy
We stayed at the Best Western Flowers Hotel in Chisinau and
Victor, the manager, arranged local tours for us.
Our driver was Metri, a jovial man who comes from Bulgaria
and who jokes with the locals. He takes on extra work to help
out his grandchildren who are aged 9 and 5. He showed us a
photo of them at the beach.
Our guide for other tours in Moldova was Natalia Cojuhari
(32), who studied languages at university and worked as a
teacher for a short time before switching to tourism nine
''I only made 200 euros a month and that wasn't enough to
support my parents as well,'' she said. She now works as
incoming manager for ''Ways Business Solutions''.
We visited the 13th-century Cave Monastery of Orheiul that
still operates as a Russian Orthodox Church and overlooks the
In the vicinity are huge cliffs that contain another six
complexes of interlocking caves. The remains of a Turkish
bath house were located close to the river.
It was a Sunday morning when we visited the area and Mass was
in progress when we entered the Church of the Virgin of the
Ascension. It is a walled fortress that was built by the
At the back of the church are small meditation cells where
monks once lived.
Seven hundred people live in the small village of Trebujeni
that is close to the church. There is no running water, so
locals collect what they need from the village well which has
become a meeting place for people.
We entered a small stone house with a low door.
''It was built this way to force people to bow to the gods as
they entered,'' Natalia said.
It is a Russian-style village. Its domestic gardens are
filled with fruit trees and vegetables. Wooden fences were
painted in bright hues of blue and green.
Moldova was the bread basket of the Soviet Union in communist
Natalie is not a supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev, who is the
darling of the West.
''We were a wealthy country under the USSR,'' she said.
''We produced food for the Soviet Union and had a space
industry. We made space pencils, microchips and weapons for
In the Soviet days people were able to travel to all parts of
the USSR without having to go through country borders.
There was also free education and medicine.
''We were very happy in Soviet times,'' Natalia said.
''Now 90% of the population have to pay for their education.
Life is a lot harder now.
''The Moldovan grape crop suffered under Gorbachev's Dry Law
when the grape crop was reduced from 300,000 hectares to
Natalie was a member of the Pioneers in Soviet days and felt
that it gave stability to teenagers. There were no great
differences in income.
''There were no super rich and no poor,'' she said.
''There were no jealousies.''
Otilia, a waitress at the hotel, had a different view.
''I have read what they did here,'' he said.
''Anyone who protested was sent to Siberia.''
The barman at the hotel aptly summed up the differences
between the communist and the capitalist system.
He has a business degree and worked in Ireland for a time.
''I tried to get jobs but found it hard because I had no
experience,'' he said.
''I would like to get into a bank.''
He was too young to remember the communist days but was told
about the long queues and empty shops.
''Now you have everything in the shops but no money to buy
them,'' he said.
• The Republic of Moldova is a landlocked nation in Eastern
Europe located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the
north, east, and south.
Currency: Moldovan leu.
Government: Parliamentary republic.
President: Nicolae Timofti.
Prime Minister: Vlad Filat.
Languages: Russian, Ukrainian, Gagauz, Moldovan (official).