I stayed for about one week with our Chisinau ambassador Mr. Selim Kartal and his family. First of all, I would like to thank them for their hospitability once more. It may look like easy from outside to present your country. Anyway, doesn’t every job seem so? As I was managing our restaurant my friends used to come and say: “Buddy what a snap job you have” and I used to reply “Yeap, just a cakewalk (!)” In the case of presenting your country, you could cause a crisis between two countries’ relations or you would be such an ambassador that the people or administrative of the country look forward to meet you and focus on studies related with Turkey. Mr. Kartal is not only revered by his employees but also by the establishment of Moldova. I also saw the same trait owned by our Mongolia ambassador Asim Abi (Elderly brother in Turkish). In fact, as you already might have recognized after a while our relationship turns from formal to informal. The wife of our Chisinau ambassador, Banu abla (elderly sister in Turkish) is so well aware of what I’m lacking for during my travel. She let it cooked the most delicious Turkish meals for me. Sefa an embassy employee escorted me for sightseeing tours in the city during my stay. Banu Abla is just like my mother: “Sefa, don’t be late.” “Gurkan call your mother right now. Let her know that you are here with us.” Things changed abruptly, just a couple of days ago I was travelling in dirt and dust through Carpathian Mountains like a backwoodsman. Adaption to changing conditions is not easy buddy.
Selim Abi immediately informed the press. He also got permission for me to ride through the world’s biggest wine cellars with my bicycle. This was really an extraordinary event. I had attended lectures about wine given by several institutions in Turkey, before. And I like to drink wine. I must express that these superb Moldovan wines were the best I had ever tasted. On top of it, you do not need to go to a store to buy bottles by bottles or order the best wine in a restaurant. Buddy, they make the best home-made wine in almost every village house, for sure. I had never seen nor heard about such an extraordinary example before. You might know that during Soviet Union era, every region had to be specialized in a certain produce. Azerbaijan petroleum, Turkmenistan natural gas, Kazakhstan and Mongolia charcoal, Romania in the field of carpentry Moldovia (the name changed to Moldova after independence) winery. I’ll come back to this subject once more later on.
As I was entering the city, the many walnut trees caught my attention as I mentioned in my previous article. You may encounter these trees all over the city planted to refresh the air of the city. This turned out to be also an economical investment. There are even Turkish businessmen exporting walnut from Moldova to Turkey. I must say that walnuts are dirt cheap here. I received also 4 pounds of walnuts as travel bag stuff which I appreciated a lot.
On the first day I visited the National History Museum of Moldova. I also visited the history museums in Bulgaria and Romania. What caught my attention was that in all the three museums Christianity was highlighted. The icons of Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ so on. You wonder whether these are institutions tied to churches or history museums. The Moldovan museum, on the other hand, may reflect the history of Chisinau which was built as a monastery town. Why I felt myself being in a church in all of these museums? When you visit history museums in Turkey, did you ever feel being in a mosque?
Secondhand stores are also popular in this country. You would find one at every corner. Also, secondhand trinkets are sold. People are drawing pictures on the streets. To use the paint brush in this cold weather requires really a good portion of skill. You can buy really good quality works on these street bazaars.
The house of Pushkin where he lived for ten years is situated just next to the history museum. I went also there but unfortunately that day it was closed and I hadn’t time to return the next days. At least I saw the house of Pushkin one of the greatest Russian poets, but from outside. His fame through his love affairs outreached his poems in this country.
Sefa took me for a sightseeing tour with car. Chisinau is a small city with rather level landscape. It could be suitable for cycling if the roads and sidewalks hadn’t been in such a bad condition. Even worse is the traffic. Although the cars slow down as they recognize me cycling on the road but nevertheless the traffic is far from being secure. Only the walnut trees were taken care of in the city. The city parks are rearranged only recently. After visiting Bulgaria and Romania you see the difference when a country has not received any European Union funds. On the other hand, compared to these countries the external national debt is much lower. The investments are focused on different subjects. The only shopping center of the city, the hospital and one of the best hotels in the city were built by the Turkish Sunma Group which are also run by the same group. There are Turkish businessmen running textile factories, Turkish GSM operators cooperating with regional corporations. The company Efes has a beer producing factory, in food sector there is the trademark “Nefis”, also in the pharmacy field… That is, there is a huge commerce opportunity and the owners of the best corporations seem to be Turks.
I held a presentation at Ulin University thanks to the efforts of Turkish Embassy. Of course, I had also a university life… Lectures, social circle, having parties, etc. You also know that I held several presentations at Turkish universities. Well, now when you see a beautiful girl you might say: “Bro, this is the most beautiful girl of the university.” Let’s say just a couple, at most 10 beautiful girls you might encounter in a university. Add 10 more on my account and say 20 beauties. Well, I entered the Ulin University walking around quite normal. “Wow, what a beautiful girl.” “ how pretty”. “What kind of a university is this?” Sefa brought me there for the presentation. I ask him: “Sefa, buddy, is this a modeling agency here?” Wow, look she is also very pretty. Boys are also very handsome but do not attract notice among the beauties. Ismail Hoca (teacher in Turkish) is giving Turkish lessons at this university. He teaches to about 90 students. Our government has charged approximately 160 teachers abroad. They teach Turkish language at several universities. Anyway, we entered the room where I’ll hold my presentation. Meanwhile, my presentation’s advertisement is running on the public screens placed in the university. Students read interestedly. Many saying: “Dude, that man must be maniac.” Well, I guess, therefore the rate of attendance was high.I held the presentation in English which was simultaneously translated into Russian. The ones who attended my presentations know that it is funny, enjoyable and instructive. This presentation was very important for me. For the first time in my life, I held a presentation in a different language to the university students. It is really very difficult to express yourself in a foreign language. Sometimes we are not able to express ourselves even in our native language. This happened also to me that I was not able to express what I had undergone. But…. The very first applause… I was just at the very beginning of my presentation. After each of my travel experiences I was talking about applauses came one after one, laughter, participation to the presentation…. After a while I was holding my presentation together with the students. They became a party to this dream. Here! That was what I sought for. This was one of the happenings what I was dreaming for. To achieve awareness of the people not only in my country but also abroad that bicycle is a transportation vehicle. I did it and it happened. J If only I get support. I mentioned all my sponsors and supporters at the end of my presentation one by one. I gave the link of my web page. You said winter is coming, it would be very difficult. Here I’m, the wonderful remarks of my followers and their belief into me, gives me the power to continue. As there was the big applause at the end of the presentation… What would you have felt?
After the presentation everyone wanted to have photo with me but one came first, a Turk. A retired colonel whose name I don’t remember, his eyes gone wet, shakes my hands. “My son, the words fail, I don’t know what to say. May god bless your parents. May god speed you. You made us proud in this school far away from your country”. Two Turks come, students of this university. “Abi we are proud of you. We’ll tell about you everyone”. Then there is a big popularity on me. Sefa is talking to our ambassador on the mobile I guess. “Sir, it is very crowded (there is a stampede), everyone wants to talk with Gurkan, we might be late.” The most famous television Jurnal TV presented me both in morning and evening news.I was on all the newspapers, even on whole page in the greatest three newspapers. I attended the most famous TV show presented by Andria and Nata with my bicycle.
I went to “Quality Schools International” at which Ali Berk son of Selim Abi and Banu Abla is a student. I held also a presentation to the pupils. They asked me where I sleep in winter. I showed my sleeping bag and presented how I sleep. “Well, how do you cook?” I immediately took my camp stove out and also showed the food I carry in my bags. Now, would these kids ever forget all these? How many kids are there cycling at a weekend in this cold, could you guess? After how many years did our ambassador buy a bicycle for himself? Guess, what plans has Ali Berk started to think about? I was also invited by a Turkish school for a presentation. Well, that was what I did in a week in Moldova pretending to stay for only two days. The project “pedal for future” is first of all my own odyssey and then reminding the world that bicycle is a vehicle for education, for life, for sightseeing, transportation.
Of course I did also other things. There aren’t many places to visit in Chisinau. Nonetheless, this country is proud of its wines and women. Let me talk about Moldovan wines first. Ranging from the north to south, east to west one can see vineyards at every spot of this country. It is for sure that Moldova was registered in the Guinness World Records in 2007 for winery and wine collection. This country was the wine barrel of the Soviet Union. Even, for a certain period, some famous French wine producers bought wine from Moldova labeling as French produce. Well, why these wines remained unknown? When you live in 21st century and do not advertise, your produces remain unknown. A new selling strategy has been introduced recently. In every village home-made wine is produced in this country, only foreigners buy wine. They have two huge wineries, Circova and Milestii Mici. The total length of the underground tunnels of Cricova is 120 km and that of Milestii Mici is 250 km holding the world record. Milestii Mici has a wine collection of 1.5 million bottles which is recognized as another Guinness record. J Is it possible to visit such a place and not to buy a bottle of wine? A bottle of sauvignon wine dated to 1953 is now residing in my bicycle bag, buddy. I have never seen such a presentation or such a place.
During the last era of Soviet Union Gorbachev banned alcohol and ordered the bottles to be removed, or actually destroyed. A fake wall was built inside the cellar to establish a treasure trove for the finest wines. Nonetheless, Soviet Union fell apart and Moldavia became Moldova. So, these superb wines lasted up today. Until I drink a better one, the best wines for me are the Moldovan ones. I would like to thank once again to our ambassador Selim Kartal providing me this opportunity to visit Milestii Mici which is in a category of its own when it comes to winery.
“Gurkaaaaaaannnnnnnnnm, my dear friend, I’m in Moldova!” This message was sent by Didem. Since she didn’t know my tour route, she sent me this message reading my Facebook share “the next country Moldova”. We were able to meet only twice since I was in the mid of a heavy rush. During my Turkey-Japan tour Meric a close friend of mine sent a message while I was in Mongolia. He was working for a Turkish company in Mongolia.
Well, Didem is here. Even, after a couple of days also Meric joined us. We had dinner altogether and amused the Chisinau bars. Initially Sefa, then Burcin whom I met here and became friends in a short time showed me around. And how! J Our Kenya ambassador Avni Abi had sent her a message: “Burcin, Gurkan is in Moldova, look after him”. So, Burcin said: “Let’s go out on weekend and see how people kick up their heels.”
Now, the second remarkable point of this country: the women. I would talk about the touristic attractions, history, marvelous nature, cuisine of this country. The famous Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi wrote: “.. the beautiful Slavic women..” in one of his texts. This hasn’t changed. You might not encounter in my writings about this theme. But, if a country is proud of the beauty of its women then I’ll mention about this issue. Even in every TV program I attended, in every interview I have given I was asked about the beauty of Moldovan women. I went to night clubs to dance, to bars and cafes. I have never seen so many beautiful women go hand in hand. One day, I run into a fashion show at Fashion TV Club.
Burcin had reserved a place just behind the stage for us. Also Didem and Meric joined us (hahahhaha). The show started. I won’t forget Meric staring open mouthed the stage in my life. There is no need to make a comment about the models since the whole country is like a huge stage. The same beauties walk on the street.
You go out at night for having fun and don’t know whether the one dancing next to you is a minister or prime minister. They are in all terms relaxed people. There is not a class distinction. You might be a manager, but your employee comes next to you to have a drink and the next day you go to work. There is very seldom a fight. Happy people, happy faces. No matter what problem they have, they have fun at weekends. I saw in every village a bar. Similar nightlife also goes on in the villages.
The streets of the city are built widely to allow airplanes land in case of emergency. But what happened to the asphalt in the mean time? Looks like patchwork.
The name of the main street is Stephan cel Mare. He was the only commander able to defeat the Ottoman army, of some 40 000 soldiers, in the 15th century. You encounter his name in many villages, on coins and notes. Although there are people speaking Turkish in the south of the country, Ottomans were not able to assimilate the whole region. The wars between Ottomans and Moldovan as well as Russian occurred mostly in the south. Now, in this region Gagauz Turks are living. The Bender fortress built by Mimar Sinan the chief Ottoman architect is also situated in the south of the country.
In one of these days I attended the event “International Day” in Ali Berk’s school. The foreign students and their parents were going to introduce their country. Banu Hanım (Missis in Turkish) and the whole house crew cooked the best Turkish delicacies. The Turkish students presented a folkdance of Burdur region of Anatolia. It was nice to hear this familiar music and watch their dance. All the parents were wearing traditional costumes. Ali Berk was wearing Efe (leaders of Turkish militia from the Aegean Region of Anatolia of the Ottoman Empire involved in guerilla strikes against Greek forces) costume. But some of the students looked upset making faces, their parents trying to soothing them. Why? “Why didn’t you buy a costume for me?” J The pupils won’t understand the reason, make nothing of everything. If their friends have, they also want the same. If not they make face, get angry. The black school uniforms of our pupils came in my mind and their importance.
Ozlem, Ozgur Dunya (Liberty World, meaning of her name, how nice, isn’t it?), Lina from the embassy and me went to one of the best cafes one night. Ozlem learned all the cheap shops for electronics after living a couple of years here. You can also bargain on top of it. Actually, if I have got a sense of Moldova this is thanks to them. Especially, Ozlem, female version of speedy Gonzales, was a great help! J. Dude, we had so many photos together, but none of them sent me any. Therefore, I couldn’t post them on my webpage.
Time to leave came. Banu abla filled my bags with fried meat balls, boiled eggs and potatoes. J I said good bye to everyone and set forth once again. I came through the mountains, then slept in a warm bed, had a lot fun and now I’m out under the free sky once again. Wow, it is minus 6 degrees today.
Let’s make a tour around the city before leaving. The wine yards just at the skirts of Chisinau catch my eyes once again. The asphalt of the road towards north to Soroca is being renewed. Moldova got some grants from the USA recently. Well, to support countries having close relationships with Russia is a part of American politics. People are taking my photos, honking as the cars pass by. What the hell is going on? There were also people calling me while I was pedaling inside the city and some cut my way to shoot a photo. The country is small and I was presented by the press so thoroughly that I became famous. J This was also so in every villages and small towns.
It is about 50 km to the border. I stopped at a store and saw a car of a construction company on which Onur was written. Hummm… The driver was staring at me and then came next to me.
– Selam, I saw the Turkish flag.
My friend Mehmet one of the engineers of Onur Corporation is from Ordu at the Black Sea coast. He invited me to the construction area 10 km away. “Abi, let’s go with car. It is really pretty cold” “No. Go ahead. I’ll be there in 30 minutes.” I arrived after an hour. It is a new construction area the shanties are still under construction. A young man comes next to me.
– Are you Turk?
– Welcome. Beg your pardon, is your name Gurkan Genc?
– Gurkan Abi I’m a close friend of Baran Zoral. I don’t believe my eyes. I heard a lot about you from Baran and now you are here, unbelievable.
– World is small.
The planet earth is really small for voyagers. Baran is my neighbor since 20 years. He is like a brother to me. I met his close friend in the town Ghindesti near the Moldovan border. J He introduced me to the crew of the construction area where he worked. I was the first to overnight in the brand new guest house. We gathered at the guest house and had a nice evening. I really like such coincidences.
I woke up in the morning, everywhere covered white.
It is the finest way to leave Moldova. J
THE NEXT COUNTRY UKRAINEEEEEE!
Ungheni – Chisinau 116 km
Chisinau – Manestei 70 km
Manestei – Ghindesti 47 km
Ghindesti – Soroca 38 km
Soroca – Border gate 4 km
By the way the second article of our Izmir-Cesme tour is published. You may read it on the webpage of Canavar Kesifte.