Today we went on a 13 km (8 mile) hike with NORLAM (Norwegian Law Advisors to Moldova). It was a pleasure to be hiking again. The Moldovan countryside surrounding Chisinau was beautiful. The hike began about 40 km (25 miles) north of Chisinau in the small town of Furceni.
The first half of the hike followed along the Raut River traversing pastures with sheep, cattle, and herdsmen. It was such a nice day and the scenery was so stunningly lovely that I could feel myself becoming excited about being in Moldova--finally.
At some of the wider points on the river, several small barricades spanned the river's width. I wasn't sure of the purpose until we came upon a fisherman sitting on the platform that leads up to the barricade. The fisherman stretches a net across the open channel in the barricade and fish flow into it.
The fisherman's transportation was an old Soviet made motorcycle with sidecar. While we were eating our lunch, the fisherman, zoomed past us on his old piece of machinery.
After our lunch stop we followed the trail up and out of the river valley.
The climb up was quite steep, but not very long. Once above the river, we walked along a ridge that seemed to circle the valley. The scenery above was strikingly different. Instead of being grazed or fished, the land was farmed with orchards and vineyards. It is harvest season in the vineyards, and families were picking and transporting grapes. Each vehicle that passed us filled the air with the lingering fragrance of grape juice.
Our destination was the town of Butuceni and Orheiul Vechi (Old Orhei). When we arrived on the high trail we could see the new church at Orheiul Vechi far in the distance. Now, we were almost there and could also see the 12th-century cave church carved into the side of the ridge.
The cave church is located under the bell tower that stands at the end of the rocky ridge. The inside of the 12th-century cave church was lit by candles and by the open door. Stepping through the open door, the view from this small rocky terrace was of the Raut River valley and our traveled path along the ridge line.
Orheiul Vechi is one of the photogenic sites that is mobbed by brides, grooms, and their respective photographers. Bridal groups drive to this site and the parking area at the bottom of the hill is packed with brides in big, white dresses and their decorated vehicles. Those puffs of white confection are an incongruous contrast to this simple, mostly monotone landscape.
It was a beautiful walk and the best way to visit Orheiul Vechi.