Until I met Natalia — a native Moldovan — I’d never thought about visiting this country. I had to google “Moldova” to learn how this corner of Europe has been conquered and occupied by almost every major European and central Asian power. Moldova’s borders have changed many times and are still changing.

Moldova is the size of Maryland. Nine rivers meander peacefully through its rolling hills, the highest of which is only 430 meters above sea level. Locals will tell you that their country’s most scenic spot is the viewpoint of The Heart of Moldova, a heart-shaped island on the Ukrainian border. Moldova’s most visited place is the Orheiul Vechi, an historic cave complex on a narrow bend of the Răut River where man-made caves have been inhabited since the Stone Age, and eventually became an Orthodox monastery in the XIV century.

Moldova is the most agrarian country in Europe with 57% of its 2.6 million citizens living in rural areas. Although Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries, there’s a refreshing simplicity about a place where people get their water from wells, use horses and donkeys for transport and grow their own food.

With fresh, organic food and with vineyards covering 5% of the country, Moldova is a dining and drinking paradise. Every meal I had here was memorable, from the country lunches to the feasts served at wineries. Note: Although Moldova is the 139th largest country by area, it is the 20th largest wine producing country in the world.

Moldova’s capital and largest city is Chişinău, population about 500,000. This is an attractive, modern city graced by early XX century buildings and plenty of green city parks.

I timed my visit to be in Chişinău on August 27, the 32nd anniversary of Moldova’s independence. National Day is celebrated with speeches, music and parades. Click the video above to see the opening ceremony and part of the national anthem.

After President Maia Sandu made her speech, the crowds were treated to three of the best marching bands I’ve ever seen. The video above is 27 minutes of marvelous music coupled with cool choreography. Can you play a trumpet while dancing?

In a small country like Moldova, it’s possible to meet the president. After the bands finished playing, President Maia Sandu mingled with the crowd to shake hands with citizens … and even a few non-citizens like me! Thanks to her media connections, Natalia and I were interviewed on TV about our travels. Here’s the first interview.

Finally, here are two vlogs Natalia produced of our Moldovia road trip, going from north to south.

Chişinău is the least visited capital city in Europe. With this blog, our two TV interviews and these videos, Natalia and I hope to change that.