I went to Moldova to buy wine. No, not a bottle, but container loads. You see, I was in the business.

At the time I was living in Kiev, Ukraine so decided to take the overnight train to Moldova. As with my other train trips in Ukraine, I boarded the train in the evening, went to my cabin where the bed was already made, and drank some of the vodka I brought with me, along with some spoons of cavier, the traveler’s staples in any former Soviet State.

About midnight I was wakened by border police demanding my passport, first the Ukrainian police. A while later the Moldovan police, at least that is who I assumed they were, came aboard checking passports. I went back to sleep. A few hours later I was once more wakened. This time by more border police. I thought to myself, Ukraine and Moldova share a border so there should only be one checkpoint. But here was a second and we were surrounded by military units. I gave the intruders my passport. A short time later still another border police detail boarded the train and once more I showed my passport. They left me to muse on what had happened.

Then it hit me, the train had passed through the breakaway, self proclaimed, “Republic of Trans-Dniester,” one of those enclaves of Russian speaking peoples scattered across the newly independent states formed from the old Soviet Empire. The latest ones to hit the news were South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia where Georgian and Russian troops duked it out for a brief spell last year. I added another name to my litany of countries visited and went to sleep again.

I awakened the next day to a living fairyland. Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, was an intact, perfect example of an old Soviet city. I stepped 50 years back into history. Wide streets arranged in a seemingly random pattern sparsely populated by old Russian cars and trucks, chugging along at a liesurely pace. Lots of trees, but few shops and other signs of commerce. My hotel was right out of Soviet utilitarian design.

I wandered around the town eventually finding the Peace Corps Office where I called on the staff to ask them to encourage the volunteers to join the National Peace Corps Association when they came home, since at the time I was on the board of the Association representing RPCVs who had served in Eastern Europe. I also met with a few volunteers to make the same pitch.

I then found a fantastic restaurant with a menu the size of a small town phonebook, exquisitly bound in real leather. I ate and drank all I wanted for maybe $3. I finished off my first day by spending time at the town’s casino where I made a few bucks or rubles or whatever the local currency was.

Next day I was off on my main mission, to buy wine. I visited two wineries that day. Walking around the first one I saw something that stopped me in my tracks and is still etched in my mind. Wineries have lots of pipes running from building to building and to storage tanks. But the pipes here were different - they were made of glass! Imagine seeing a 200 meter glass pipe running about 12 feet over your head fillled with purple wine slushing along at a fast pace. And here was a whole industrial site with glass pipes filled with wine running hither and yon. I asked my hosts, why the glass pipes? They responded that the winery was built in the 1950’s when they had no stainless steel, which is the usual material used. They had to use glass.

After visiting the two wineries I found one wine that merited import into the USA. This varietal is named Feteasca and if you ever see it, buy the white version. It is a fabulous white wine.

The next evening I boarded the train back to Kiev. This time prepared for two border crossings.