Enthusiast

Clear Moldova

13 to 22 September 2019
Moldova, Ukraine, Romania

Moldova is one of the least visited countries in Europe, but now it is opening up to tourism and it is becoming easier to organise tours, both cultural and railway oriented. Although mainly rail enthusiast oriented, we will take the opportunity of a mid-tour break to visit the famous Mileștii Mici wine cellars – Moldova supplied most of the former Soviet Union’s wine.

Motive power in Moldova is from the Soviet era though new GE locomotives are now arriving. Much of the railway network is now freight only, so this tour offers a unique opportunity to travel several freight branches plus the two long freight routes to the south of the country, as well as all the passenger track. Some days are rather long, so our train includes a restaurant car for lunch, and sometimes dinner as well. Just for good measure we include some Ukrainian lines while visiting the north of Moldova, and finish the tour by taking a service train through Transnistria to the Ukrainian port of Odessa. Haulage by at least one 2TE10L locomotive has been requested but, at the time of writing, is not confirmed.

We aim to travel on all open lines that are safe for passenger traffic and to visit the major railway depots. This is a one off tour and unlikely to be repeated.

Click Here for detailed rail map of Moldova

Maximum participants is 40 people with a maximum of 22 single rooms.

Highlights

  • Rare and ‘difficult to do’ track
  • Depot visits
  • Mainly locomotive hauled by Soviet era diesels
  • The world’s largest wine cellar
  • Historic city centres
Itinerary

Day 1 – Friday 13th September 2019 (D)

Flights from the UK to Iași (pronounced Yash). This is the second city of Romania, dominated by the vast St. Paraschiva Metropolitan Cathedral and the nearby Three Hierarchs Monastery.  Night at the 4* Ramada Hotel

Day 2 – Saturday 14th September 2019 (B,L,D)

Our journey starts from Socola in the eastern outskirts of Iași. This is the end of the Russian gauge line which crosses the border from Moldova and for the last few years has enjoyed a regular passenger service to Chișinău operated by refurbished DMUs. The tracks are actually dual Russian Gauge and Standard gauge, the latter extending as far as Ungheni, which is just across the border in Moldova, and will probably be where our passports will be checked.  We cross the River Prut by the bridge built by Gustave Eiffel which opened in 1977 and still has border guards.

In Ungheni we will visit the gauge changing facility and our train will travel a few kilometres up the main line to Chișinău to cover the side of the triangle which would otherwise be missed, before proceeding north to Bălţi. We have been refused the long freight line to Glodeni, rumoured to be in the process of being lifted.  Bălţi (pronounced Belts) is the second city of Moldova with the St. Nicoale Cathedral and two great squares being the main attractions. There is a loco depot which we hope to visit before our chartered trolley bus from the station to the 4* Hotel VisPas.

Day 3 – Sunday 15th September 2019 (B,L,D)

Today we travel east from Bălţi Sloboţia station on the line to Slobidka in the Ukraine.  In recent years the passenger service has been cut back to Rogojeni, but we shall continue through the scenic upper valley to the border town of Mateuţi where there is a short tunnel guarded by security forces as well as the large works owned by Lafarge Ciment Moldova.  We have approval to continue to Ribniţa, which is in Transnistria, the Russian dominated eastern part of Moldova. This is virtually a separate country and we will probably have border formalities to go through. Ribniţa has a steelworks branch which we have requested, as well as permission to continue as far as possible through Transnistria towards Slobidka.  We return to Bălţi for a second night in the Hotel VisPas.

Day 4 – Monday 16th September 2019 (B,L,D)

An interesting and varied day!  We will continue our northward journey towards the Ukraine, stopping after two hours at Rediul Mare to reverse and travel the 28km freight line to Brătușeni, which has the Cupcini-Cristal sugar factory and the Natur-Bravo canning factory.

After returning to Rediul Mare we continue north to the important junction station of Ocnița, where we will take the line to Vălcineț used by the Chișinău to Kiev trains. There will be border formalities at Vălcineț to leave Moldova, then again at Moghiliov-Podolskii across the border in Ukraine.  We now leave our special train for a 3½ hour journey by coach to Cernăuți, also known as Chernivtsi. This is a large city, once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and historically a cosmopolitan community, once dubbed “Little Vienna” and “Jerusalem upon the Prut”. Today the Central Square and the University, the latter a UNESCO world heritage site, are the main attractions. We stay in the Hotel Bukowina.

Day 5 –  Tuesday 17th September 2019 (B,L,D)

After breakfast we board UZ train 968 which departs at 08:30 for the 5½ hour journey to Sochireni during which it makes 19 stops.  This is reported to be a mixed train, conveying passenger carriages and freight wagons.  From Sochireni the 12km to Ocnița is freight only, but we will have our Moldovan special train waiting to take us over this very rare track. Special arrangements have had to be made to complete immigration formalities. Once the locomotive has run round we will make the best speed possible for Chișinău, this time taking the third side of the triangle at Bălţi and the Ungheni avoiding line.  We are expecting a late arrival into Chișinău, so our evening meal will be in the restaurant car. We will stay at the 4* Best Western Flowers.

Day 6 –  Wednesday 18th September 2019 (B,L,D)

Chișinău is the capital and largest city of Moldova and is ringed by Soviet Era apartment blocks. The best sights are the around Cathedral Park, a plaza with a Triumphal Arch celebrating Russia’s 19th-century victory over the Ottoman Empire next to the Nativity Cathedral.

In the morning we will visit the loco depot – the largest in the country – and expect a motley selection of Soviet era motive power with maybe some of the new GE diesels. There are several kilometres of industrial branches in the city, and we have asked for a short tour of some of them on our special train. If this is not possible we will enjoy free time for sightseeing in central Chișinău. 

The afternoon is devoted to a visit to the famous Mileștii Mici tunnels. Once a limestone mine this underground cave network now houses the world’s biggest wine cellar situated at a depth of about 85 metres under the ground. There are over 200 km of underground ‘streets’, over 50 km of wine galleries and over 2 million bottles of wine, some which date back to 1968. We will enjoy wine tasting and a traditional dinner.  Second night at the Best Western Flowers.

Milestii Mici Winery Wines Industrial Complex Underground Galleries Tunnels and Interior. ID 140220481 © Aleksandar Pavlovic | Dreamstime.com

Day 7 –  Thursday 19th September 2019 (B,L,D)

An early start as we have a lot of ground to cover. We head east, soon seeing the ‘new’, direct line to Căinari diverge south. We take the ‘old’ route to and may encounter Transnistrian immigration before reaching the town of Bender where we leave the line to Tiraspol and Odessa and join freight only lines. At Bender 1 we have asked to reverse around the triangle toward Tiraspol, but it is not clear whether we have time for this as apparently it will take a long time. Soon we leave Transnistria and turn west towards Căinari. Now our route leads south, crossing through part of Ukraine before arriving at Basarabeasca. A single passenger train, frequently suspended, reaches here in the middle of the night. We continue south passing through another part of Ukraine and the town of Vulcănești, part of the autonomous area of Gagauzia. South of Etulia we enter Ukraine proper, passing through the small town of Reni and re-entering Moldova at the Danube port town of Giurgiuleşti. Dual gauge tracks continue to Galaţi in Romania, but are considered unsafe for passenger use, so we turn north, dining on the train,  to reach our overnight accommodation in the city of Cahul. Stay at the 3* hotel Azalia.

Day 8 – Friday 20th September 2019 (B,L,D)

We travel north on yet more freight only lines to Prut, where a short line, now out of use, used to enter Romania at Fălciu. East now, on winding tracks to Abaclia where we rejoin the outward route and proceed into Basarabeasca. We visit the loco depot and wagon works, which between them provide most of the employment in the area. Leaving at about three, we retrace our outward journey as far as Căinari where we take the ‘new’, direct line to Revaca, built to avoid passing through Transnistria and dramatically shortening the journey back to Chișinău where we spend a further night at the Best Western Flowers.

Day 9 – Saturday 21st September 2019 (B,L,D)

Today we travel by service train from Chișinău to Odessa in the Ukraine, passing through Transnistria and its de facto capital Tiraspol. The train is a refurbished DMU and arrives at Odessa at lunchtime, giving us time for sightseeing in this important port on the Black Sea. The city is known for its beaches and 19th-century architecture, including the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre. The monumental Potemkin Stairs, immortalised in “The Battleship Potemkin,” lead down to the waterfront with its Vorontsov Lighthouse. Running parallel to the water, the grand Primorsky Boulevard is a popular promenade lined with mansions and monuments. We stay at the 4* Hotel Black Sea.

Day 10 – Sunday 22nd September 2019 (B)

End of tour. 

Recommended Flights from UK

EZ8935/OS645 07:00 Gatwick, Vienna, Iasi (arriving 15:20)
BLUE 10:40 Luton to Iasi (direct arriving 15:50)

FR2668/2435 12:50 Odessa, Krakow, Stansted (arriving 18:25)
FR2668/W6-5003 12:50 Odessa, Krakow, Luton (arriving 20:10)
LO768/289 14:45 Odessa, Warsaw, London City (arriving 18:10)

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Place(s) available

A few places left

Holiday Prices (per person)

  • Full 10-day holiday (excluding flights) but including all meals and accommodation = £1,985 per person (2300 euros)

Options

  • Single room supplement: £220 * (255 euros)

Deposit

  • Deposit £500 per person

Price includes

  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • en-suite hotel accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our local tour manager.
Online Booking
Strictly limited to 40 people and we only have a few places left (as of 29th May). To check availability and to book call us on 01235 227288 (+44 1235 227288)

please note that due to lack of available accommodation for the night in Cahul people will have to share twin rooms.

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Please note that you cannot book a flight inclusive trip on our website but if you select the flight option you prefer then we will contact you with the flight details and convert your booking into a flight inclusive package.

 

We recommend you also check the FCO website for the latest travel advice https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice