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    Chisinau is a surprisingly green city on the banks of the Bac (Byk) River, flanked by parks and lakes. Despite being the transport hub of the country, its pretty tree-lined streets resemble a provincial town in Romania rather than a capital city. Bombs in WWII destroyed nearly two-thirds of Chisinau's old buildings, and it's obviously a city on the remake. It still has a wealth of stately old buildings and onion-domed cathedrals, but mixed in with these are the stark, Gulag-grey boxy buildings from the Stalinist era, offset by a number of funky bars and cafes sprouting up around the city and trying hard to swim against the prevailing economic current. Once in the surrounding rural areas, however, the extent of the poverty becomes obvious.

    With the exception of the statues of the famous writers Alexander Pushkin (who spent his exiled years in Chisinau) and Mihai Eminescu, nearly every other piece of upright masonry in the city is a war monument of some sort. Inside the Stefan cel Mare Park, which dominates the western flank of Blvd Stefan cel Mare, is the statue of Stefan cel Mare. Needless to say, the medieval warrior-prince is still something of a hero in Moldova.

    There are a number of art and history museums scattered around Moldova, but there's a truly mind-boggling exhibition in the National History Museum. It's a life-size rendering of the Soviet invasion of Chisinau in 1945. As if the original wasn't enough! As an antidote to all these slate grey men on slate grey horses, head off to the Exhibition Hall, where contemporary art is exhibited. The Galeria Brancusi, inside the hall, has pieces for sale for those interested in collecting international objets d'art.