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Clare
Clare

Day 3: Cricova

After I'd finished last night's blog we headed out again into Chişinău to get dinner. We'd done a lot of walking already, racking up over 25,000 steps by this point, so we didn't feel like walking several kilometres back into the centre of town again. Instead, we set out on the hunt for restaurants in the suburb where we were staying. We ended up trying a Lebanese restaurant and the food was really delicious; I had beautiful grilled chicken while Tim had beef, both served with a couple of really thin flatbreads.

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When it came to dessert, the waitress told us that they only had two things on the menu. We didn't recognise the names of either of them, so we bravely ordered one of each. The first one that came turned to be very sweet; some sort of milky pudding drizzled in honey.

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The second one was my favourite. Hard to describe but somehow it was sweet and tasted of cheese at the same time!

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We managed to get up a bit earlier on Sunday morning and experienced breakfast at the hotel again. Not only were there pancakes today, there was also something which looked - and tasted - very much like a meat burek :o 

After breakfast we set off into the centre of Chişinău again, having a scenic morning walk past lake 2.

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We were looking for a specific bus stop where we could catch a bus towards the small town of Cricova, located around 15 kilometres to the north of Chişinău. In the absence of a Moldova guidebook I had got the information about the location of the bus stop from a Tripadvisor forum, so I was somewhat relieved when we arrived and it actually turned out to be the right place. The bus turned up at 10.20 as timetabled and we managed to squeeze on and get a seat.

I hadn't found extensive information online about how to buy a ticket for Chişinău public transport, but it seemed to function in a similar way to the airport bus in St Petersburg. Everyone got on and took a seat, then a conductor lady walked up and down the bus selling tickets. She was very persistent and even when the bus was jam-packed with people she was squeezing her way up and down, making sure that everyone paid. The tickets cost 6 Lei each, which equates to 27p!

The journey to Cricova took around 40 minutes, so 27p was good value. We got off the bus next to the town's park, where there was another statue of Stephen the Great.

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In fact, the park was full of busts of figures from local history.

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We even found a statue of Vlad the Impaler.

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After a short walk of a kilometre or so, we reached our destination for the day.

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This is the Cricova winery, one of the biggest and most famous wineries in Moldova.

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We were booked on an English-language tour at midday. We were a little bit early so we waited outside in the sunshine for a while, before going inside and paying for our tickets.

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The tour cost around £30 each - so quite expensive by Moldovan standards - but it was going to include some wine-tasting towards the end :) I was relieved that we were actually booked onto it; booking online had been a bit confusing and we'd originally got booked onto the wrong day.  Once we'd got our tickets we waited outside the main winery entrance for our tour to begin.

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The Cricova wine cellars consist of around 120 kilometres of limestone tunnels, around 60 metres below ground. Fortunately for us, this wasn't a walking tour; visitors to Cricova are driven around on these bright red tourist trains.

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We boarded our vehicle and then we were off, into the network of underground cellars.

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We drove past barrels and barrels of wine, stored down here because the temperature conditions are perfect for it. Every so often the train would stop and we'd get off to learn more about the wine. At this stop we saw sparkling wine in production; I'm not sure I fully understood the reasons why, but these bottles are turned by hand at a certain angle every day.

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There were so many of them in this room!

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Our next stop involved an informational video about the winery.

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We all got a glass of pink sparkling wine to go with it :)

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Then it was back onto the train and off to the next part of the tour.

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When we got off the train at the next stop we walked down some long corridors, decorated with scenes from Moldovan history.

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We passed a chapel...

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...with beautiful stained glass on the roof.

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After a few more corridors we arrived in the part of the winery which is home to private collections.

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People pay to store their wine here because the conditions are so perfect for it.

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Some of the bottles looked very old!

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This display showed some of the famous people from around the world who have wine here.

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There are rows and rows of it, each shelf belonging to a different person.

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The guide pointed out collections which belonged to John Kerry, Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk.

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There were all kinds of unusual wines here.

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Eventually the guide led us down some stairs, towards the tasting rooms.

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Again, there were lots of pretty decorations along the way.

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At times the guide was moving too fast for us to be able to fully appreciate everything.

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We arrived at our tasting room and it was rather grand.

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We sat down at the table, where we were each presented with some wine and some snacks.

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We had a glass of white and a glass of rose...

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...plus snacks including walnuts, bread sticks and small crackers.

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We were told to have the walnuts with the white wine, then the breadsticks with the rose. Walnuts and white wine was a surprisingly good combination!

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Once we'd finished those, we were given a glass of red (to be drunk with the crackers!). And, finally, a glass of pink Moldovan prosecco.

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Both were really good :) At the end, we exited the winery a shop and at this point we were really sad that we didn't have suitcases to bring some wine home with us. The prices were unbelievably cheap, with bottles of wine for as little as £2. Once we'd browsed for a while it was back on the train for a final time, to take us up to the fresh air and sunshine.

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The tour had taken longer than I expected and it was around 14.30 by this point. We walked back into the village of Cricova but couldn't see anywhere there to get lunch, so hopped on the bus back into Chişinău. Another 27p bus fare later, we were back in the capital city, where we got a sunnier view of the cathedral than we had yesterday.

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We found an Italian restaurant not far from the triumphal arch, where I had a lovely pizza and Tim had a lasagne.

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That was followed by another 4km walk across Chişinău to get back to our hotel. It's been another 20,000 step day today but it's definitely been worth it. Part of our motivation for coming to Moldova was definitely to tick it off our country list, but it's been a surprisingly interesting place to visit and we've had a lot of fun. And some really lovely wine :) 




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