An exciting travel company specialising in quirky off the beaten track adventures across the world. As the travel arm of the award-winning independent wine merchant The Smiling Grape Company many of our tours attract foodies, wine and beer lovers.
Friday 4 May 2018
Arrive in Bucharest at your own leisure and check into the hotel.
Group meet up in the hotel lobby, where you will be introduced to your guide.
We head out for a group meal at the world famous Caru Cu Bere, one of Bucharest's finest, historic and most impressive restaurants.
After sampling some incredible local cuisine, we sample some of Romania’s finest wines.
We then enjoy some of Bucharest's nightlife with a pub crawl in the Old Town.
Overnight in Bucharest.
Saturday 5 May 2018
We have ‘Soviet Champagne Breakfast’ at the hotel, check out and leave our luggage in the hotel before we meet up in the lobby at 10am for a city tour of Bucharest.
From military history, impressive architecture, Dracula and a Communist dictatorship past, Bucharest has something for everyone's tastes. Our tour will incorporate all, from abandoned yards full of Soviet military hardware; bullet riddled and blasted streets from the Romanian revolution, the third biggest building in the world, the former palace of Dracula / Vlad the Impaler and beautiful Parisian style architecture.
We will enjoy lunch in an authentic Lebanese restaurant in the centre of Bucharest.
We then provide some free time for independent exploration of Bucharest or join us to relax in a wine bar with flights of delicious Romanian wines made from unpronounceable grapes.
At 6pm we meet up at the hotel and gather our luggage before heading to the train station.
We gather supplies from the many vendors at the station and board our overnight Soviet sleeper train to one of Europe's most undiscovered countries, Moldova.
The train is old, originally from East Germany, but it is an experience and the beds are comfortable. Most of the time it is half empty and usually boasts a bar cart with a grumpy Russian attendant. We enjoy some drinks as the train rolls through the night. Around midnight, the train will be lifted into the air for the wheels to be changed. This is an old Stalin-era system, in which different gauges were used in different Republics to prevent Western military invasion.
Overnight on Soviet sleeper train.
Sunday 6 May 2018
We arrive into Chisinau around 9am, gather our bags and begin the short walk to the Hotel Cosmos, a Soviet era hotel with Western standards, a bar, restaurant and great service.
After some free time to freshen up and rest after the train journey, we meet up in the hotel lobby for our city tour of Chisinau.
We will start by seeing the Soviet WW2 statue near the hotel, the beautiful Orthodox church with golden domes, the only monument to Leo Tolstoy in the world, the Tsarist era prison still in operation, the incredible Soviet monument park in memory of world war two boasting multiple Soviet murals and a hulking red bayonet statue.
We then head to Chisinau military museum, with some great displays on WW1, WW2, USSR and the Transnistria civil war, outside there are Soviet tanks, jets and artillery on display.
We will grab lunch in a local restaurant and visit the Chisinau market which is great for bizarre souvenirs, t shirts and local products, see the Moldovan parliament building, the city park and main square.
We will then board our private minibus to head to the Orheiul Vechi, an ancient cave network which displays the remains of different civilizations over thousands of years. This location is also famous for its cave monasteries.
After exploration and some wine tasting at Chateau Vartely (one of Moldova’s top wineries both locally and internationally), we head to the world famous Cricova producing excellent sparkling wine. Many world leaders have their wines stored in the cellars, including Putin himself, who actually celebrated his 50th Birthday here.
We will see the winemaking process, tour the cellars and of course, as this is the best wine in Eastern Europe, we will sample some too alongside traditional Moldovan dishes!
On the way back to Chisnau we will visit Chateau Cojusna for dessert wine and brandy tasting.
We enjoy some free time before heading out for a group meal with craft beer matching!
Overnight in Chisinau.
Monday 7 May 2018
We enjoy breakfast at the hotel before boarding our private minibus to Milestii Mici, home to the largest wine collection in the world - a Guinness World Record for storing the biggest wine collection with a whopping two million bottles in total!
We taste wines here in a very traditional Moldovan way - wine served in hand-made ceramic pots, paired with local delicacies and Moldovan instrumental music.
We jump back into our minibus to take us to the autonomous country of Gagauzia, who clawed an uneasy independence for themselves from Moldova during a civil war. The Gagauz people are a Turkish group. The Gagauz language is listed by UNESCO as a critically endangered language.
We will stop for photos at the huge Soviet entry sign to Gagauzia, before arriving in Comrat, the capital of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, we will then be taken on a city tour.
We will see the the National Gagauzian Museum of History and Ethnography in Beșalma village which reflects the history, lifestyle and culture of Gagauz people until present times. Visitors of museum will get acquainted with the colorful wedding ceremonies, customs and traditions of the Gagauz people.
Visit of a local winery and enjoy wine tasting paired with gagauz traditional meals. Gagauz cuisine is unique. It draws on the nomadic past of the Gagauz people; many dishes feature milk, cottage cheese, and meat. Some of the most popular Gagauz dishes are: gozleme, hand-rolled sheep cheese pastry, and mandya, a sauce with meat and red pepper pasta.
We drive back to Chisinau and enjoy some free time before a group meal - tonight is local vodka tasting!
Overnight in Chisinau.
Tuesday 8 May 2018
We board our private minibus to the war torn, breakaway country of Transnistria. This unrecognised country tore away from Moldova in a viscous civil war during the collapse of the USSR. Known as ‘’Europe’s North Korea’’ this is the place where time has stood still and the KGB still operates…
After clearing the border control point bearing the hammer and sickle, we cross the demilitarised zone.
We will then arrive in Tiraspol, on the road in you will see bunkers, outposts, Russian peacekeepers and tanks.
We will check into hotel Aist for the ultimate Soviet experience, we are usually the only guests here and have balcony rooms overlooking Tiraspol and the river. Aist Hotel is a VERY Soviet experience. If guests prefer to upgrade this hotel this can arranged for a small surcharge.
We then head on a fascinating city tour of Tiraspol, starting with a stroll down October 25th street, taking in the House of the Soviets with Lenin outside, the embassies of the other breakaway countries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
We will then see the hulking statue of the Russian general Suvorov, see the eternal flame memorial to the Transnistria civil war and WW2, visit the Transnistrian parliament building with the biggest Lenin statue outside of Russia, Russian T-34 tank memorial.
Lunch at Andy’s Pizza, a locally famous restaurant in Transnistria with 50 cent shots of vodka!
Visit to the Kvint Distillery with tour and tasting of local brandies.
Visit the memorial to WW2 that is ironically covered in heavy battle damage from the civil war.
We will then drive back to Tiraspol and visit a local store where you can find Transnistria and Putin souvenirs, $1 bottles of Vodka and $3 bottles of the world famous Kvint brandy.
Group dinner and drinks in one of the countries few nightclubs - order the special shot in the colours of the Russian or Transnistrian flag and the bar will blast out the Russian anthem.
Overnight at hotel
Wednesday 9 May 2018 - Victory Day!
We get up early and go to the centre for a Russian Party Style Breakfast! There will be many outdoor Shashlick stands on October Street selling very cheap Russian BBQ, salads and vodka! Take your pick of a good area and sit at the many tables lining the road.
After our Russian Party Breakfast, we walk down October Street viewing all the Soviet attractions, including live music and dancing.
We then stop at 7 Fridays. The most popular Western Style Cafe in Tiraspol. There is a menu from around the world and cheap Russian beer and vodka. We take a private table and wait until the start of the parade.
When the parade is about to start we go outside and walk to the centre for the best view of the Soviet Style Army Parade! Bring your cameras! There will be no western journalists here, so your photos and videos will be priceless. We will also witness the speeches of the Transinistria President and Russian Diplomats from Moscow. *Maybe even Putin?*
We will then board our private minibus to transfer over the river by Soviet barge to visit the villages where the civil war raged, here we will see Transnistrian rural life, visit the Orthodox monastery of the church of Tiraspol, see a huge bullet riddled head of Lenin in front of the abandoned house of culture.
Visit the catacomb like abandoned tunnels used by the Red Army in WW2 and still covered in graffiti left by Soviet soldiers.
We then transfer to the black caviar factory of Tiraspol. Here guests will learn about fish farming: stories about sturgeon fish, history, technology. We then enjoy some Caviar tasting.
We then transfer back to Chisinau, stopping in the border town of Bendery for a short tour, this town took the brunt of the violence during the civil war.
Upon arrival, we will check out a local market where you will have the chance to buy Soviet antiques, souvenirs, fresh food and other things.
We then continue down the main street of Bendery until we reach Lenin park, with a quintessential statue of Lenin, Soviet fountains and an ornate Soviet theatre over the street, it’s unlikely that you will find Western movies on display, which were actively protested against by locals who declared it as Western propaganda.
We will then see the Bendery city hall, still riddled with bullet holes that demonstrate the ferocity of the fighting that raged through here.
We then continue to Bendery train station, an almost abandoned ghost town due to the very few trains that actually stop here.
Next to the station we will see a huge Soviet steam train from the second world war complete with hammer and sickle on the front. There is a museum to the Transnistria civil war inside filled with war relics and photographs.
We then take a walk down to the beautiful river and visit a functioning 1950’s Soviet amusement park which will give you an idea of how Chernobyl amusement park once looked. The rides all still work and are naturally very cheap.
We then cross the DMZ and border control and return to Chisinau via the Asconi Winery tasting a range of delicious local wines.
Check back into hotel and head out for some farewell drinks with local liqueur tasting and a last meal together.
Thursday 10 May 2018
End of tour
Optional transport can be arranged to the airport or to Bucharest.