Have you ever wanted to go on a culture-wine-food tour? In California? France? Italy? Please, have some imagination! Be a little adventurous and go on one in Romania and Moldova.
It was my good luck to participate in a tour organized by Ways Travel, during which i checked out the many wonders of Romania and Moldova.
Our group on the bus was an international gang of nine – a Belgian, a German, a Norwegian, an Australian, a few Americans of interesting ethnic alloys and me, dual Dutch and American citizen. What can I say, it was an experience just sitting on a bus with these people and hear their war stories and get initiated into the workings of the behind-the-scenes travel industry.
Leader of our tribe was the fabulous tour guide Victoria, who speaks four languages, English, German, Russian, Romanian, one of those people who makes a simple bilingual person such as myself feel humble and uneducated.
The trip was a symphony of history, food, drink, music and dance. Dancing with the Gypsies no less. I tell you, it was fabulous, it was intoxicating. We got history – a dizzying whirl of wars and battles and bloody strife. Of conquests and annexations, of armies rampaging through the countryside, raping, pillaging and impaling. We heard colorful tales about Dacian tribes, the Roman Empire, the Red Horde, the Saxons, the Ottoman Empire, the communist era under Ceausescu. And let’s not forget to mention good old Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, who hailed from Transylvania. Really, we deserved every drop of hootch we got along the way to recover from all the tragedies we vicariously suffered through.
In Romania we loved the beautiful towns of Sibiu and Sighisoara. In Sighisoara we missed seeing the house where Dracula was born because a movie was being filmed and they’d closed it off for visitors. Fortunately, we had a liqueur and brandy tasting to cheer us up. We hadn’t had lunch yet and our stomachs were empty, which helped raise the mood quickly.
A highlight was our visit to the home of a Roma family in Transylvania and learning more about their culture and lifestyle. (You can read a story about this on my blog here.) Not all Gypsies are beggars living in the streets of large cities. It’s always a good thing to be disabused of your prejudices and preconceived notions.
We stayed in excellent hotels and lodges, as well as in a humble hostel run by a monastery. We ate fancy restaurant food as well as simple village fare. We saw exquisite as well as cheery architecture, visited opulent cathedrals as well as the modest underground monastery chapel in Orhei Vechi, not far from Chisinau. The vino flowing across the miles was a charming mix of the good, the bad and the holy. The holy being the wine we tasted in a monastery, blessed by the priests. Unfortunately, the blessing did not transform it into nectar of the gods, but the dinner there was quite gourmet, all prepared from food grown by the monks without chemical assistance.
We also visited Transnistria, which is a rather unique place, as most of you will already know. It is also home to the famous Kvint brandy factory and would you believe, we went there for a brandy dégustation – seven varieties of brandy. It was very informative, interesting and intoxicating. It was also lunch time, but fortunately there was food. We eventually struggled out of there, back on the bus, across the border that is not a border, and traveled down to the Purcari wineries in the south of Moldova where we were treated to . . . you guessed it . . . a wine tasting. Of ten types of wine. Not just any old village plonk, either. No, we got to sip the wine of kings, queens and tsars. Our livers got a workout that day.
I’m going to stop here. There was more, much more, but I don’t want to give away everything, because what you should do, really, is check out Ways Travel’s website at www.ways.md .