When I arrived into my apartment, I turned on the television and flicked through the channels – mostly Russian language, or Romanian channels ruled the waves. No BBC World, no English channels, instead a crude Russian spy movie with Romanian subtitles. On another, Dara O Briain bounded around the stage pestering the audience in thick Russian. I was almost certainly in an alternate universe.
The next morning, I met my guide Natalia, and Mihaela, from a local tour company. I was surprised to hear them speaking in Russian. Natalia explained that as she was the eldest and a native Russian speaker, this was their first choice language. We drove North towards Transnistria, a quirky wannabe state, where everyone speaks Russian. See my Transnistria blog here.
Next on the visit list was Cricova, the state run winery. Putin celebrated his 50th birthday here, but it has seen many other famous guests whose pictures adorn the walls – Angela Merkel, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Manuel Barroso, Donald Tusk, John McCain, Erdogan, Jiang, China’s former president, Yuri Gagarin (of first-man-in-space fame), Sepp Blatter (ahem), as well as sitting presidents from Poland, Ukraine, and beyond. The cellars are impressive, and stretch for 80km, with a small collection of private cellars for some of the rich and famous, as well as a wine Jerusalem from 1902. Moldovan wine is available in much of the world these days and Cricova leads the way.