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a touristic taste of Moldova

With exciting tourist possibilities – the opportunity to see a pack of wild dogs polish off an impala or to watch elephants at the watering hole while hanging out with the safari camp’s pet kudu – we had a veritable parade of visitors when we lived in Kenya. Far fewer people appear to be tempted by Moldova’s wineries and pastoral idyll, but we are hoping that Munchkin’s cuteness lures at least a few friends and family to visit us in Chisinau. Thus far, we have had just one visitor – S’s mom, who helped her make the daunting trip from one little-known place in northern Maine to another in Eastern Europe.

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After being cooped up in her parents’ house for two weeks, S had grand ambitions for her return to Moldova, which coincided with both her birthday and a long Easter weekend. At first she hoped to make a trip to the seaside town of Odessa, but given the political turmoil and recent violence in Ukraine, she thought better of it and suggested we venture to Romania instead. D thought it was a little crazy to go on a road trip with a potentially jet lagged infant less than 24 hours after a cross-Atlantic flight. The point proved moot, however, when D had to work on the holiday Monday. And while Munchkin handled the move with aplomb, S ultimately was glad to have a chance to settle in again.

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Even if she did not get to see much of Eastern Europe, S’s mom was happy to have the chance to spend another week and a half with Munchkin. Still, her “staycation” proved to be more of a “workcation”. S really wanted one room in the house to be distinctly Munchkin’s – without the usual glum Drexel Heritage trappings that come with the State Department housing the world over. Soon after we moved into the house, we had the room painted a cheerful teal color, but it remained empty, save for a small bookcase and a few gifts we had received. Knowing that both her mom and sister are good with arts and crafts, S commissioned her sister to make a mobile and an assortment of wall hangings, and asked her mom to sew together a crib quilt and sheets as well as some curtains. S and her mom went to work right away, feverishly unpacking suitcases and our Layette shipment, which had arrived and was sitting half unpacked in the basement. It took several days to decipher the various baby item manuals, which were not as straightforward as could be hoped, but by week’s end the nursery looked just as S had envisioned it.

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Somehow more than a week flew by and the only part of Moldova S’s mom had seen consisted of Malldova – Chisinau’s aptly named mall – and a few stores and local restaurants. S’s mom was intent on taking care of business first, which included making sure we hired a new housekeeper and nanny, and then providing some hands-on training. But even a workcation can’t be all work and no fun. S sought to rectify this imbalance and planned a day of sightseeing. First she took her mom to see the wine cellars of Cricova, the pride and joy of Moldova. Not only is it one of the very few wineries in the world that produces sparkling wines in the traditional French method, but it also has over 75 miles of underground labyrinthine limestone roadway. After driving down Cabernet Lane and Riesling Way, the guide led the way into the grand cellars, which house a remarkable assortment of wines that includes private collections set aside for politicians, famous visitors, and other well-to-do’s, as well as prized wines confiscated during the Second World War. The tour ended in an ornate tasting room, which gave Munchkin a chance to gulp down some milk while S and her mom sampled a wide variety of Cricova’s offerings.

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After the underground tour, S took her mom to Orhei Vechi for some traditional lunch fare. She felt slightly guilty that her mom had still yet to try a single traditional Moldovan dish, though it seems she was more impressed by the wines than the cuisine. S has visited Orhei several times already, so she knew her way around. After lunch, she led her mom on a quick walk up the hill to visit the 14th century Orthodox monastery and to walk among the caves set into the hillside. Munchkin was a trooper throughout the excursion but it was dusk by the time S pointed the car back towards Chisinau and he slumbered all the way home.

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