Around the World in 18 Barbers’ Chairs

Sitting in a barber shop in the coastal city of Split, Croatia, I struggled to answer the stylist’s simple question: How long would we be visiting Croatia? I had learned a smattering of Croatian words, but the names of the months had so far escaped me.

Remembering the calendar hanging above my head – albeit adorned with nude calendar girls – I flipped through the weeks and pointed to a date. As I exposed each month’s voluptuous model, the 70-something barber’s moustache-framed mouth curled into a mischievous grin. However awkward the method, I had satisfied his curiosity. Clearly I was in male territory, though.

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The Windows of Moldova

Windows of Moldova Architecture

Viewed from afar, Moldova’s villages resemble a cluster of gingerbread houses. The plaster adornments framing the windows and doorways look as though they were made by the steady hand of a pastry maker piping on frosting, and the wooden cut-outs gracing gables reminded me of the lacy paper snowflakes that I used to make as a child. The catch is, my creations never looked so symmetric, nor as intricate as Moldova’s home adornments do! Coupled with utilitarian and decorative water wells, the homes make strolling Moldova’s villages a joy.

Villagers were amused that I appreciated the homes’ folk art decorations so much. Some invited us to enjoy a glass of homemade wine on their lawn, another shared grapes with us, and one school teacher even insisted upon giving me a coffee table book on the topic of Moldovan architecture.

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An Apple for an Apple: An International Tale of Citizen Diplomacy

As the midnight train bound for St. Petersburg rumbled through the pitch-black Moldovan countryside, I tried valiantly to remain asleep, but my attempts were futile. The cabin was cozier than expected. We had plenty of room to stretch out and we were given care packages filled with comfortable bedding. However, the atmosphere was sweltering hot and unfamiliar. Romanian-Moldovan and Russian filled the air, and even though the train was nowhere near capacity, the cacophony of noise made it hard to drift into a deep slumber.

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Growing Together: Moldova’s Family-Run Et Cetera Winery

 

For years, we had our sights set on participating in a grape harvest. As the golden months of the summer of 2014 dwindled, and Europe’s grapes grew plumper and riper, we decided to meander to Moldova to meet the newest vintage. It’s said that a whopping 25% of Moldova’s working population is involved in winemaking, and we instantly sensed this upon our arrival in the Eastern European country. Much of the autumnal landscape was dotted with vineyards, grape motifs favored heavily on the village architecture, and winemakers of the amateur and professional sort abounded. One of our first nights in the country, locals spotted us strolling the streets of a quiet village, and asked us if we wanted to try a glass of wine at their home. (Of course we said yes!) This warm extension of hospitality would continue for nearly one month, even as we hopped from locale to locale. Sometimes we were offered golden bunches of grapes, while at other moments we were given a generous glass of homemade wine.

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A Land of Hidden Gems: Moldova’s Wine, Food & Monasteries

On a quest to discover Moldovan wine, food and culture, we embarked on an adventure in the countryside, having just left the small European country’s capital city of Chisinau. Roadside merchants sold their wares: wicker baskets, colorful mums wearing autumnal hues, and large bowls containing green grapes fashioned into a pyramid shape. Farmers picked apples in orchards, a grape-harvesting crew took a break by lounging in a vineyard, and cows and goats grazed on the expansive golden plains.

If ever a swathe of land could be called ‘wine country,’ Moldova would be one of the most deserving to wear the label. Nestled between Ukraine and Romania, the country is abstractly shaped like a cluster of grapes. Winemaking accounts for 7% of the country’s exports, and when you go there, you get the sense that every family has an amateur winemaker in its ranks. Though family-made wines are common, the country is also becoming increasingly well-known for its high-quality, commercial wine, which is now made with adherence to international, modern standards. A National Office for Vine & Wine was established to help regulate the industry and promote Moldovan wine abroad.

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Grape Diplomacy in the Moldovan Countryside

 

In the late-afternoon light, the gingerbread homes of the Moldovan village, Rosu, were bathed in golden hues. The homes’ green and periwinkle-blue fences, and wooden adornments on their gables cast frilly shadows on the dirt road, as Shawn and I embarked on an evening stroll.

The wire arbors over the homes’ driveways were brimming with grapes wearing muted amethyst, plum, and seafoam-green hues. They ranged from smaller clusters to plump specimens, calling me to spirit away a bunch or two. They looked so tempting.

As I stopped to photograph a green trellis studded with grapes overhead, two women chatting on the street, called out to us in Moldovan.

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The Water Wells of Moldova

Water Wells of Moldova

The Republic of Moldova is perhaps best known for its impressive wine – something it’s produced for thousands of years – and its former status as one of the 15 Soviet republics. If you’re scratching your head and feeling geographically-challenged about where Moldova is in Europe, rest assured that others are often perplexed too. In the UK, a family board game called Where is Moldova even exists.

When we arrived to Moldova one week ago, I also became quite taken by its gingerbread-like homes in all shades of blue and its intricately-decorated water wells, most of which are still in use in Moldovan villages. In Moldovan, the wells are known as fîntînă.

The wells are a ubiquitous site in the village of Rosu. Some are more basic, with only the requisite equipment and roof overhead, whereas others wear latticework, twisted iron adornments, even hand-cut metalwork depicting the silhouettes of people, flowers and flourishes.

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