Tributes to Stefan cel Mare. Stefan cel Mare aka Stephen the Great aka Stephen the Great and Holy is the namesake of buildings, streets and the likeness of busts and statues all throughout Moldova. He was the prince of Moldavia (as it was then called) during its only period of independence in its history before 1992. Hungary, Poland and the Ottoman Empire all tried to get their claws on the country, but Stefan successfully kept them at bay. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the base of this statue used to support a stone Lenin.
Andy's Pizza. They say that the only Moldovan thing that crosses the border into Transniestria is Andy's Pizza. It's nice that they can agree on something and that that something is a shared love for pizza, ice cream, cappuccinos and some of the meatiest chicken soup I have ever seen in my life. The one above was in Tiraspol and stuck out like a sore thumb, because it was one of the only signs written in Roman characters. (As opposed to cyrillic - according to the tour guide at the Tiraspol museum, speaking Russian was the singular right Transniestrians broke apart from Moldova to protect. So, it's a pretty big deal). The Andy's Pizzas in the rest of Moldova are much cheerier looking, much more wasteful of electricity.
Sterilized Utensils. On our first day in the country, we saw this contraption on the checkout line of a cafeteria. As you pushed your tray across, you could drop the utensils you've collected in to steam in hot water before using them. Andy's Pizza, a huge Moldovan chain, supplied all utensils in little paper envelopes and small cafeneas wrapped forks, knives and spoons up in napkins so tightly that removing it rendered the paper useless.
Jesus in a Box. Roadside altars, crosses and Virgin Marys have been pretty commonplace in this part of the world. However, we've never seen as many crucifixes as in Moldova - and almost every single one was displayed in a plexiglass box. We liked this one the best, because the square in front of Jesus' face was all fogged up, giving it an eerie "I'm alive!" vibe. There are always other little compartments in the boxes, surrounding the cross with other saints or figurines. Just today, I saw a group of people lined up to have a moment with a boxed Jesus. A man approached, stepped up to eye level and kissed him! Then, the next person did it and the next. So, that may be the reason for the box - or just something people in this particular town (Balti) like to do.
Disco Balls. Like in Belarus, restaurants and cafes always look like they're decorated for a party. Here, though, it's taken a step further. No matter how tiny the place, there is inevitably a disco ball strung up somewhere. We were eating in the back corner of this dark spot, sipping soup and munching some cabbage, when another couple came in and sat down in the other room. The woman working there turned on the lights and the disco ball started a-spinnin' as the couple drank tea and shared a piece of cake. Even hotel breakfast rooms have them. It's good to be prepared.
Popcorn. I love popcorn. I miss popcorn. In Moldova, I've been able to eat popcorn to my heart's content. In Chisinau, there were carts popping fresh kernels all day long and seasoning it with sunflower oil and salt. It was the perfect amount, about a sandwich baggie's worth and the perfect price, about 25 cents, to grab here and there throughout the day. At the grocery store, there were big bags of it and microwaveable pouches. Some were butter, some were cheddar, some were salt, all packages were adorned with stars and strips in red, white and blue. It may not seem like something all that unique, but popcorn is really not commonplace in Europe - and for this, I commend the Moldovan people for their good taste.
Tourist Agencies. We're not exactly sure how many people here take vacations to foreign lands, but there are definitely enough tourist agencies around to aid them each individually in finding the destination of their dreams. It was strange how many there were, touting great deals on getaways to Turkey, America, Canada and France. If a town had any sort of Main Street, there was a tourist agency there. Or three.
Chicken Noodle Soup aka Zama. Every country has its signature soup and Moldova's is 'zama.' It's credited to Romania and traditionally includes green beans, but since they're sort of out of season right now, we never encountered any in our bowls. (Maybe when we're in Romania next May they'll pop up more). Zama is on every menu and anytime we ordered it the recipe was slightly different. Some were lemony, some had more parsley than dill, some had a dollop of sour cream on top. The noodles were always homemade, almost breaking apart in the warm broth. Like almost everything, our bowls were served alongside a huge pile of bread.