Saturday, April 21, 2018

Russian Federation banned the import of Moldovan wine in 2013 (H.Res.745)

Okay, I'm not going to lie, Moldova is probably not going to make it to the top of tourist lists any time soon, but if you just want a relaxing weekend in a laid-back city, there are worse places than Chisinau. For starters, it's comparatively cheap. For our usual budget, TJ and I landed a room with a view at City Park Hotel (top left). I mean, c'mon, sparkling wine was free as part of the included breakfast buffet (top right). Chisinau is pretty sleepy, although it was hard for us to tell how much of the slumber was due to Orthodox Easter, or due to a more innate quietness. The pedestrian street outside our hotel was frequently devoid of people besides some statues (bottom left). When people did come around, they posed like statues for photos (bottom right). 
Because of the holiday, we knew most establishments would be closed on Sunday and Monday, so our plan for Saturday was to focus on the city's beer scene, which was more robust than we expected. We got an early start at Vdrova Pub, which we stumbled upon right around the corner from our hotel on Friday night (top). It was an outlet for Balti-based Beermaster, which makes a fine IPA for this part of the world. The next day, we went much farther afield, getting quite lost in an industrial lot trying to find Litra Brewing Company. After many inquiries to wary locals, we tracked it down. At first, the proprietor didn't seem excited to serve us, even though the brewery has a nice vat-side tasting room (bottom left). But eventually, he relaxed and offered us some off-the-list items, including a Pumpkin Ale, one of the best I've ever had, and a Lucky Porter, a dangerously delicious imperial chocolate porter (bottom right).
Back in civilization, in the center of town, we hit up Smokehouse for a late lunch (top left). The BBQ bar, opened by a former Peace Corps volunteer, served up actually American versions of pulled pork and quesadillas (top right). In order to have more beers on tap, the bar has a second outlet, Taproom 27, upstairs in an enclosed patio (bottom left). There, we were able to try some more quality local brews, including Cahul-based 0,5 Pub's Albeer IPA and Chisinau-based LaBREWtory Brewing Company's Irish Stout (bottom right).
During our pub crawl, we did see some Chisinau tourist attractions, including the Assumption of the Virgin, the oldest wooden church in the country (top left). The main structure and its free-standing bell tower are located near the Botanical Gardens (top right). The chapel and its contents, including a bunch of bells, were moved piece-by-piece from the nearby village of Hiriseni in 2010 (bottom left). The great care taken during the reassembly is clear when you see the well-preserved 18th-century iconostasis inside (bottom right).
We managed to catch a glimpse of the Central Market before all the vendors closed down for the holiday (top left). A lot of fruit and veggie stands were still doing brisk business, but the scales were already being wiped down at the counters in the dairy building (top right). On the other hand, the 24-hour Flower Market never closes, and of course, it was operating at a good clip providing gifts and decorations for Easter celebrations (bottom).
Most people were carrying lanterns, not bouquets, as they made Easter Eve visits to the Nativity of the Lord Cathedral, the city's main Orthodox church (top left). Lights of all kinds, including candles, play a big role in the Easter vigil, which lasts from the Resurrection announcement at midnight until dawn (top right). The ceremony is for the seriously devoted, but that doesn't preclude casual participation, including candle-lit conversation on a warm spring night (bottom).
As expected, most of the city was empty on Easter, but one place that was bustling was the central bus station, where people were coming from or going to villages for family gatherings. We jumped on a minibus to Straseni, a nearby wine village. We had no illusions that Straseni Winery would be open, and it wasn't (top left). But we were able to peak through its gates to see the operation's equipment (top right). Besides, it was a beautiful day to take an aimless stroll through the countryside (middle). In a happy coincidence, when we returned to Chisinau, we found a locals wine bar open -- and serving a Straseni red and white (bottom left). Fellow patron Sergei tried to talk us into staying and slurping up some sweeter vintages, but we moved on before the 1-buck chucks became too intoxicating. We opted for beer with a snack at Regal Pizza (bottom right). Italian pies seemed to be the only allowable Easter entrees; we ended up eating dinner at Pizza Mania, one of the only other open restaurants.
On Monday, the observed holiday, we had a good deal of the day available before we had to head home. But once again, we knew that tourists sites like the National History Museum -- which displays a catapult, helicopter, and tractor in its courtyard -- would be shuttered (top left). The City History Museum, which is housed in an old Water Tower, also was closed (top right). It was no surprise that most people were spending the day enjoying spring in the city's green spaces, such as Park Valea Morilor (bottom).
In Cathedral Park, there seemed to be even more people than before midnight Mass (top left). Many of them were taking their photos next to the over-sized pysanka eggs near the Triumph Arch, which somewhat ironically commemorates the Russian defeat of Ottoman aggressors (top right). Even besides the eggs, Easter seemed to be lingering. For the second time during the weekend, we saw a film of the Crucifixion being shown in a public square (bottom). However, this time at the Cathedral Teodora de la Silha, there were fewer (read: no) people watching.
If Moldova ever does become a top tourist destination, it likely will be due to its wine industry, which really has stepped up its game to attract the European market now that Russia ain't buyin'. The mass-production brands like Straseni are solid, but the boutique market also is building a following, as we found out at Carpe Diem Wine Bar (left). After a flight of four tastes, TJ and I enjoyed a full glass of our favorite -- well, one inspired by a favorite for him (right).
We could've stayed longer, but we knew we should have more than a flight in our stomachs before our flight home. In our last attempt at a traditional Moldovan meal, we headed to La Taifas, whose ambiance was certainly promising (left). The meals went beyond expectations, at least in terms of size. I could barely finish my Moldovan meatballs, and TJ struggled with the last forkfuls of his mamaliga with pork (right). Our two-leg trip home, including a delay, meant we had plenty of time to digest before we landed back in Kyiv.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

So, for no explicable reason, did brave little Luxembourg (114Cong.Rec.Bound)

So that title is actually a lie. I have been intending to make a pilgrimage to Luxembourg for a long time because it's the place my brother was living when he died. And from what his friends tell me, he was having big fun in that little town. So I wanted to see for myself what his time there might've been like.

We arrived by train at the main station, a depot I'm sure he set foot in. We stayed across the street at the Hotel Empire, which I'm pretty sure he never had reason to set foot in. After we checked in, we headed to the Corniche, the balcony of Europe (top left). I didn't smoke any cigarettes while strolling and surveying the valley, but I suspect he did. On our way there, we stopped at Independent Cafe (top right). When my brother lived in Luxembourg, he worked part-time at a bar. It likely wasn't this one or The Tube (bottom left) because they didn't exist then, but that didn't stop me from imagining him being there anyway. I certainly hope that at some point he had a doner at the same divey place we did (bottom right), but I'll never know for sure.
Possibly he bought some fresh flowers or groceries at the weekly market in Place de Guillaume II, named after the Grand Duke of Luxembourg (left). But even if he didn't, it's probable that he passed by the plaza's City Hall once or twice (right).
We ambled through the plaza as we were waiting for a bus to Larochette, which is about an hour's ride away. I have no evidence that my brother ever was there, but I'm willing to bet he and his classmates made the village a day trip, if only to see its castle (left). Or maybe they used it as a base for some hiking in the nearby hills (right), which I know my brother enjoyed.
If my brother did go there, I wonder if he was surprised as much as I was by the Portuguese influence. As we climbed down from the castle, we passed some small saintly shrines (top left). And when we got back to town, some of the side streets seemed straight out of Lisbon (top right). My brother's French and my Russian would've been equally unhelpful at Fielser Stuff, but luckily TJ's Spanish background taught him enough Portuguese that he could easily order a few "imperials" (bottom).
My brother didn't have the opportunity to enjoy the panoramic view (top left) at the top of the elevator to Pfaffenthal (top right) because it opened decades after he lived in Luxembourg. But being an explorer, he probably found all the nooks and crannies of the city, including scaling the steps down to the valley and walking along the Alzette River (bottom).
Even if it had been open, I suspect my brother wouldn't have enjoyed the Big Beer Company, located in a nightlife strip not far from the city's Youth Hostel, where we stopped for a beer when at first we had trouble finding the bar. Upon seeing how much of a party place it seemed to be, we weren't very disappointed to find it closed, prompting us to push farther down the Petrusse River into Grund.

Here, we easily found our destination, the Liquid Cafe, a craft-beer bar that felt very British, and not just because rugby was on the TVs (left). In this comforting place, I drank to my brother's honor with De Struise Brewers' Old Fisherman's Ale (right), a Flemish specialty that is somewhere between a dark ale and a stout -- and a far cry from the Killian's we once drank together. Here's to you, Chris.