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.

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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Conference on Corruption: October, 21, 2013

This morning as official photographer for the ABA, I attended the international conference for "Justice without Corruption" held at the Ministry of Justice.  Dan, as regional director for the ABA, was a participant.  We arrived early.  The conference room was lovely with morning sun coming in the east window.  The room was decorated in soft sage greens.  The image of Lady Justice, blindfolded, covered the wall behind the main speakers' table.

I stood at the back with the rest of the press, both TV and print--a first for me.

The most important speakers, (left to right: Head of Action against Crime Department of the Council of Europe,  Head of the EU delegation to Moldova, Chairman of the Parliament, Minister of Justice, US Ambassador), opened the conference with speeches. The big guys spoke and then left leaving the rest of the attendees to make their presentations, argue their points, and put their objections on record.

Here is Dan in one of his animated positions making his arguments about how to find and stem corruption.

Lately, we noticed several billboards with the word "Coruptia" (Corruption) and a telephone number to call to report corruption.

Finding and proving corruption in a country that does not have checking accounts and where most transactions are cash will be difficult.  Many employers direct deposit employee's earnings to the employee's bank account.  As soon as the credit hits the bank, most employees use their debit card to completely withdraw the funds. I read that only about 4% of Moldovans keep their money in banks. I just exchanged Moldovan Lei to buy Euros to pay our rent.  The cashier did not ask for any form of ID.  Our rent must be paid in cash.  Following a money trail is very difficult in a cash economy.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chisinau City Day: October 14, 2013

Chisinau City Day is celebrated on October 14 each year.  It is a city holiday and everyone in the city was off except Dan's office.  He did manage a few hours away from work to see this big event.

In our limited experience with prior Chisinau festivals, only one-block of the main street is roped off for pedestrians.  For Chisinau City Day, almost the entire main street (Stefan cel Mare) is closed to traffic.

In Cathedral Park, the enormous chess pieces were set up for the serious players.  The stage in the Great National Assembly Square was set up for musical entertainment and booths of traditional food, products made in Moldova, and local handicrafts lined the street.  It was another open-air street fair, but larger that the wine holiday weekend.

We strolled the now pedestrian street in the cool, gray morning while the crowds were thin.  For lunch we had a plaçinte (pie) which, in this case, is a round of thin pastry dough, filled with mashed potatoes and herbs, folded in half and sealed, and fried.  It was excellent.  In Moldova, there are many types of plaçinte with assorted shapes and fillings.  Sometimes they look like quiche, sometimes they look like Georgian khachapuri.

Every few meters there was a small stage with entertainment.  There were lots of talented children singing and performing folk dances.

On our stroll back toward Dan's office, the crowd had increased exponentially making it hard to walk let alone take photos.  Only this juggler didn't have a crowd around him--he wasn't very good.

After the evening concert, there were fireworks.  We were home by then, but we can see just a bit of the fireworks from our window.