Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Leaving Chisinau: November 7, 2013

As John Lennon sang, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  Just before we left on our short trip to Romania, my 80-year old mother fell and broke her hip. Through the wonders of Skype, I have been able to talk with her everyday.  She has been in the hospital surrounded by her sister and some of my brothers.  Friends from her church have been faithfully visiting her.  My brothers who live farther away check in daily with her as well. Last week she had surgery to fix the broken hip.  The surgeons inserted a metal plate and screws to hold the joint together. The day after surgery, the staff had her begin walking with support. Yesterday, she was transferred to an intensive rehabilitation unit within the hospital.

Even with all the support she is getting, I need to go home. I want to be with her and help with the rehabilitation. If my flights are on time, I will be home late on the 7th.  I told her to expect to see me at the hospital on November 8th.

I look forward to going home, but there is much I feel that I will have missed here in Moldova. And, of course, I regret leaving Dan behind. We are not often separated, but he still has much work to do here and will return to California as planned on December 6.

So, till the next adventure........

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Visiting Moldova in Romania: November 4-5, 2013

We began our last day of touring Bucovina with another monastery that looks like a castle and was intended to be a fortress against Turk and Tartar invaders.  The Dragomirna Monastery was built in the first decades of the 17th century after the time of exterior frescoes.

The church is the tallest in Bucovina and it was built in gothic style.  The tower is adorned with sculpted squares of floral and geometric shapes.  This is a working convent.  The nuns have a pond for raising fish and they have a herd of cattle that are a hybrid breed that is good for both giving milk and meat.

Going backward chronologically, we visited the 15th-century church at Patrauţi.  This church was built in 1487 by Stefan the Great.  It is a small structure with bits of an exterior fresco.  The interior frescoes are currently being restored.

One of the interior frescoes shows Stefan (as donor) and his family: serial first and second wives, and two daughters.  This fresco covers an earlier fresco in which Stefan's family includes a son. Stefan's legitimate son died so the fresco was repainted to include a second daughter.  It was here that we learned that Petru Rareş was the illegitimate son of Stefan the Great.

On the way to lunch in Rădăuţi, we passed a cabbage market so, of course, we had to stop and roam among the vegetables.  The sellers were very agreeable allowing us to take photos of them. In fact, two of the cabbage sellers insisted that I take a cabbage with me for a souvenir.

Many of the horses pulling wagons wore red tassels--sometimes one, sometimes two.  Our guide said the red tassel was meant to deflect the evil eye and provide protection.  The horses are strong, working horses required to pull heavy loads of vegetables, wood, dirt.

Lunch was at the National Restaurant in Rădăuţi where we had the town's specialty:  a slightly sour soup called ciorba made with broth, vegetables, chicken, and and a dash of vinegar.  While it sounds terrible, the flavor was fabulous.  Sour cream is added to the bowl of soup and it is eaten with a pickled, hot pepper.

In the villages around Rădăuţi the aroma of sauerkraut hangs in the air.  Along the road, large wooden casks are filled with shredded cabbage and vinegar.  Once pickled, the cabbage is ready for winter preserves.

Our next stop was one our guide described as the "Mecca" for Moldovan/Romanian people. The original church built in 1470 by Stefan the Great was the first church built by Stefan. That church was destroyed by landslides and by a Cossack invasion.  The current church is a 17th-century creation.  It is occupied by monks who also run a museum that houses an amazing collection of preserved medieval textiles.

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin at Putna Monastery is the final resting place for Stefan the Great who died July 2, 1504.  Stefan's first wife is in a smaller tomb next to him and his second wife is entombed across from those two.  Stefan the Great got his name because he was either undefeated or lost only two small battles in his life.  He was sainted about 10 years ago.  His tomb is a pilgrimage site for Orthodox believers.

The cave occupied by Daniil the Hermit, confessor to Stefan the Great, sits outside the walls of the Putna Monastery.

The final stop was at the village of Arbore where the Church of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist is located.  The church was built in 1503.  The slightly newer (1504-1523) interior frescoes depict the beheading and preserving of the head.

The predominant color of the exterior frescoes is a blue-green.  The finely detailed clothing shown in some of the restored interior frescoes caught my eye.

The interior frescoes are currently being restored and cleaned.

Our short vacation was wonderful and stress-free thanks to our guide, Gigi of Axa Travel (  We stayed in a very comfortable apartment (Union Apartment #185) owned by him which is located in the center of Suceava.  It was within walking distance to good restaurants: Centru Vechi and Latino.

Our minibus back to Chisinau departed Suceava at 6:30 am.  The bus ticket lady, actually two different bus station employees, told us the fare was 50 Romanian Lei per person but to pay the driver directly.  We gave the driver 100 lei for our two tickets.  He asked for an additional 10 lei. I don't know which amount was correct, but at 110 lei ($33) the return trip was about the same cost as what we paid in Chisinau.  This driver did not stop to pick up extra passengers and baggage along the way.  We arrived at the next stop, Iaşi, 45 minutes early so had time to stretch our legs and go to McDonalds for a breakfast and bathroom stop. It is the first time I have ever visited a McDonalds in a foreign country, but the stench from the portable toilets at the Iaşi Bus Station drove me to it. We breezed through customs at the border because no one would smuggle cigarettes into Moldova.  Strangely, the Moldovan Border Guard wanted to know if we were bringing money or credit cards into Moldova.

Arriving back in Chisinau after our Stefan the Great highlights tour, it was good to be at our home away from home.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Painted Monasteries in Romania: November 3, 2013

Today, our tour took us to four of the eight Painted Monasteries of Bucovina which are now UNESCO heritage sites.  This was definitely the highlight of our little vacation.  Our first stop was at the Humor Monastery near the Romanian town of Gura Humorului.  It is a monastery for nuns.  The current structure was built in 1530 by Petru Rareş the son of Stefan the Great.  Petru Rareş is responsible for creating the exterior frescoes on the "Painted Monasteries."  Red and brown are the predominant colors of the frescos of Humor Monastery.  The colors were created from minerals. The exterior frescoes are in pretty good shape for being almost 500 years old, but the north side has mostly been erased by weather.

Not far away is the Voronet Monastery, a convent, that was also built by Stefan the Great and Daniil the Hermit (confessor to Stefan) in less than 4 months during 1488.  Blue is the predominant color of the frescoes on this monastery.  The blue was created from lapis lazuli and is so brilliant that the color is known as Voronet Blue.  The frescos were painted in 1547 at the direction of Stefan's son, Petru Rareş.

At the Voronet Monastery, the entire west wall is dedicated to the The Last Judgment.  It is something that needs to be seen in person as no photos do it justice.  The figures of the zodiac and God are in the top band.  Jesus, flanked by Mary and John the Baptist are the major figures populating the second band.  The Holy Spirit represented by a dove is in the center of the third band with a kneeling, humble Adam and Eve on either side of the dove.

The three upper bands observe the judgement and separation by Archangel Michael of good (left) and bad (right) in the two lower bands.

Next, we visited the Modoviţa Monastery.  It was built in 1532 by Petru Rareş (Stefan's son).  It was built as a barrier against the Ottoman Empire threat from the East.

In addition to depicting the lives of saints and stories from the bible, one fresco illustrates the "Siege of Constantinople" which commemorates the intervention of the Virgin in saving the city of Constantinople from Persian attack in A.D. 626.  On monasteries built after the Ottomans controlled Moldova, it became politically dangerous to show Ottomans in a bad light; however, some creative artists painted Ottoman-style turbans on the heads of those in hell.

Yellow is the predominant accent color of the Modoviţa Monastery frescoes.

The last visited painted monastery of the day was the largest monastery.  Suceaviţa Monastery built in 1585 was not built or painted by either Stefan the Great or his son Petru Rareş.  It is one of the last monasteries with exterior frescoes.  It was built as a defensive residence and a monastery so it looks like a castle with its surrounding walls. Green is the predominant color of this monastery.

The frescoes, painted in 1601, illustrate stories from the old and new testaments.  My favorite fresco is called "32 Vanities."  The fresco shows people climbing with a "vanity" on every rung of the ladder. One person makes it all the way to the last rung of the ladder, but is cast off the ladder because he still harbored one vanity.  The rungs are labeled, but so far up that I couldn't read them.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Visiting Moldova in Romania: November 1-2, 2013

We decided to see a little of Romania while we are so close.  Last week, I figured out how to get to the South Bus Station in Chisinau to buy bus tickets to Suceava, Romania. Most people wait to buy them at departure time, but we didn't want to leave anything to chance since we had already booked our lodging and tour. The cost for two one-way tickets was about $32.

Friday morning, we arrived early at the bus station.  Just before departure, there was a little confusion because there were more passengers than seats.  The ticket lady came out and checked the tickets of everyone who was on board.  She kicked one young man off and other passengers were left behind.  Exactly on time (8:45 am), we left Chisinau via a 19-passenger minibus.  It was not the large-sized, WiFi-equipped bus that we had anticipated.  As the minibus driver left the parking lot, he stopped to pick up the young man who had just been kicked off.  During our very slow journey (190 miles/306 km), the driver stopped for every traveler standing near the road. Sometimes, he stopped to pick up bags to deliver elsewhere.  Eventually, there was standing room only and an aisle full of duffle bags on this 19-passenger minibus.

Just before the Moldovan/Romanian border, the driver opened a carton of cigarettes and handed several of the passengers 2 packs each. After safely crossing the border, the driver handed a bag to the passenger behind him.  She went down the aisle collecting the packs of cigarettes from those passengers who assisted in the smuggling.  When the driver had the bag again, it must have felt a little light because he asked the woman behind him to count the number of packs. Fortunately, the number reconciled so none of the passengers had to be searched for contraband cigarettes. We later found out that two packs of cigarettes is the magic number allowed per person into Romania.

The Moldovan border guard asked Dan and me if we were carrying any drugs or guns.  We said, "no."  He asked a second time if we had any guns--"No, we don't have any guns!" The Romanian border guard wanted to know how many packs of cigarettes we had.  Dan had two.

Seven hours later, we arrived in Suceava, Romania.

Suceava is in Moldova--the geographic area of Moldova.  The Republic of Moldova, where we currently live, and the geographic area of Moldova in Romania used to be one.  During the days of Stefan the Great (15th century), Suceava was the capital of Moldova. The historical geographic area of Moldova is now spread over several countries: Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.  We came to see the beautiful 15th and 16th-century "painted" monasteries that remain in Romania's Moldova.

The first day of sightseeing took us first to several monasteries and a fortress used by Prince Stefan the Great (Stefan cel Mare).

The construction of Neamţ Monastery commissioned by Stefan the Great was completed in 1497--5 years after Columbus was credited with discovering America.  A young monk named Gregory asked where we were from. When we said California, he immediately began listing California cities: Redding, Sacramento, Los Angeles, etc.  When he found out that Dan's daughter lives in Virginia, he said Dulles International Airport.  He sang "Cecilia" to me. He also discussed US current events (shootings, of course) with us. He'd be really good at Trivial Pursuit.

The next stop was at the nearby Agapia Monastery (built 1642-1647).  This monastery is occupied by nuns.  There was a religious service underway so we didn't go inside.  The songs of the nuns and their angelic voices drifted outside the church keeping us company while we strolled the grounds.

The next stop was at the 18th-century Varatec Monastery which is also occupied by nuns.  In fact it is the largest convent in Romania with about 450 nuns.  Only the nuns live in the village surrounding the monastery.  No men in the village; the nuns looked quite serene.  We walked around the village before entering the monastery.  Every house was immaculate and was surrounded with a low fence.  Small grassy trails between the properties connect to the road.

A guy selling hats was sitting outside the monastery.  Dan, still searching for that perfect hat tried on first a gray lamb's wool hat and then a black one. We couldn't decide, so we told the hat seller we'd think about it as we walked around the town. When we came back, he was gone so Dan still doesn't have a hat.  I think the black one was the best.

Before leaving Varatec Monastery and village, we stopped in at the bakery run by the nuns.  We left with several sweet cheese, apple, cherry pies.

With winter just around the corner, we saw lots of wide-load wagons piled with cornstalks gathered as winter food for animals.  Village houses had cornstalks piled up pyramid style or leaning against the sunny side of fences and houses.

We stopped at a small museum and art workshop created by Nikolai Popa and his wife.  Nikolai was a sculptor and his wife made masks.  Sadly, Nikolai died last year, and his elderly wife has Alzheimer's disease.  The museum galleries are being maintained by their daughter and her son.

The main part of the museum is a traditional house from this area of Bucovina.  This area of the geographic region of Moldova was named Bucovina by the Austrians when they controlled the land in the 19th century. Bucovina means Land of the Beech Trees.  Every part of the house is filled with art created by Nikolai and his wife and treasures from Romania's past. Nikolai's sculptures dot the yard and the foundations are decorated with drawings made when the plaster was wet.

Our last stop of the day was the Neamţ Fortress.  It is a half-kilometer walk up to the fortress from the parking lot.  In some sections, the walk was so steep it might as well have been a ladder, but the view at the top is beautiful.

The Neamţ Fortress was built in the 14th century but expanded and made more defensive in the 15th century by Stefan the Great.  For instance, Stefan the Great closed the original lower entrance and built a long ramp connecting to another entrance.  This long entry ramp gave his army a tactical advantage exposing would-be invaders long before they made it to the front door. The Neamţ Fortress was part of Stefan the Great's defense system, along with fortresses in Suceava, Hotin (present-day Ukraine), Soroca, Orhei, Tighina (present-day Transnistria), Chilia and Cetatea Albǎ (both in present-day Ukraine).  Soroca and Orhei are in the Republic of Moldova.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Warmer weather: October 28, 2013

Last week the weather was warm and beautiful.  I saw the sun everyday and had lunch with a friend, both of which helped my psyche immensely.  Dan and I also joined a gym a couple of weeks ago, and that has encouraged me to get out, too. When the sun is shining, I make a point of strolling through the beautiful parks in the late afternoon.  Cathedral Park is a gathering place. Along one side of the daily papers have been posted for all to read.  People sit on the benches, chat, and enjoy the weather.  Mothers with toddlers and strollers come each afternoon to let their children play in front of the cathedral. Men, mostly, play chess nearby.

The triumphal arch on Stefan cel Mare Boulevard sits directly across the park from the Cathedral.

Diagonal from the arch is another park.  This one is named for Stefan cel Mare who was a king in the 15th century.  Since it has been cold all the fountains have all been turned off.

The park was established in the late 19th century.

My Moldovan friend Lidia whom I met in Macedonia came to Moldova to visit her family this week.  She currently lives in Finland where the weather is both colder and darker.  We met Friday at noon and she took me to lunch.  It was wonderful to be able to chat with a friend and compare life in Moldova and Finland.  

On Sunday afternoon, Dan and I went to a park called Parcul Valea Trandafirilor located in the Botanica district which is south of the center.  The air was filled with smoke from barbeques and the aroma of cooking meats.  There were family picnics, brides, and horse rides for children. Here are some of my favorite photos from yesterday.

Parcul Valea Trandafirilor has a chain of three small lakes. We saw several fishermen along the edge.  One guy had a net attached to his pole.  Every so often he'd pull up the net and put the tiny little fish into his bait bucket.

Two of the lakes rent small peddle boats shaped like swans or dolphins.

Once the light was gone, we walked back to our apartment.

We're hoping to visit the eastern portion of Romania next weekend.