Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sunday in Chisinau, Moldova: September 29, 2013

We've been in our Chisinau apartment one week now.  It is nice and comfortable.  We live in the tall modern building behind this older building.  Our apartment is on the second floor on the backside of the building.  Our view is of trees and a playground at a small school.  We can also see the tower from our bedroom windows.  One of Dan's co-workers, Iulia, told us that we live in an older portion of Chisinau and that the only remaining radio tower used for blocking Voice of America radio signals is near our apartment.  I don't know if the one shown in the above photo is a "VOA-signal blocking tower" or not, but it is an interesting bit of trivia.

The weather has been cold.  Dan's co-workers told him that 2013 has been abnormally cold and rainy.  Someone else told us that fall temperatures arrived three weeks earlier than normal.  Many apartments and houses have "city" heat.  The city does not turn on the heat until the high temperature is no more than 8 C (46 F) for three days in a row.  Our building has "building" heat which also has not yet been turned on.  Fortunately, our apartment has two air conditioner/heaters that we have turned on to take the chill off our space.

This weekend was gloriously sunny and crisp.  On Friday afternoon I finally regained my health and began to enjoy life here.  Friday night we went to a wine bar called Carpe Diem Wine Shop/Bar (  We don't know anything about Moldovan wine and the wine shop seemed like a good place to begin.  We tasted three wonderful wines (Et Cetera Chardonnay 2012; Mezelimpe Cabernet-Sauvignon Rose 2012; and Equinox Merlot 2011) from small wineries. We bought two bottles of the wines we tasted.  When we were paying our bill, a man at the bar introduced himself as the winemaker/owner from Equinox.  He shared a glass of his best wine with us. His vineyard is small producing perhaps 1000 bottles each year.  He said he makes his wine and bottles it at the nearby Mezelimpe Winery.  We had a plate of cheeses and prosciutto and had a great evening in the wine shop.  Next weekend is the big Wine Harvest Festival in Chisinau.

On Sunday, Dan and I did some more exploring of streets that we had not yet walked down.  We eventually made our way to the Central Market.  We began in the cheese/butter section.  Dan tasted butters and we both tasted cheeses.  "Unt" (butter) is the first Moldovan/Romanian word we learned.  Sometimes at dinner we order bread.  Here, bread is not served with butter.  After the first couple of times of trying to obtain butter, we learned the word: unt.  Now we know.

Most of the signs in this butter/cheese section were in both Cyrillic Russian and Romanian Latin alphabet. We've been amazed to see how much Cyrillic and Russian is still used here.  I still have trouble with numbers, though, and merchants simply hit the numbers on their calculators to show me the price.  We'll be back.


The Central Market has everything and anything.  It is also a great place for people watching.  

Our walking path always cuts through Cathedral Park.  Today was no different.  It was such a lovely autumn day that brides seemed to outnumber the non-wedding park visitors.

The area between the bell tower and the cathedral was filled with huge white limos and vintage vehicles.

Brides always attract a crowd, and I like to take photos of people taking photos of brides.  As the bride moves along she is trailed by paparazzi of all types--those who know her and those who don't.  Here the bride and groom are being documented locking a padlock onto this heart shaped piece of iron with the TV station logo in the center.  The bride kept the key.

The City Cathedral was very busy with wedding after wedding.  After this wedding, two different wedding parties showed up.  The priests conducted the two weddings at the same time.  Each wedding party brings a rug/carpet that is unrolled and the wedding party stands on it.  The bride and groom may also bring their own icon which is blessed and returned to the couple.

At the end of the day, we again crossed into Cathedral Park.  The light was fading and shadows were long, but brides and their respective photographers were still working.  It's interesting to watch what gimmicks wedding photographers use to make their photography unique--or at least different.  We saw one female photographer bring out a long length of red tulle.  She had the bride sit on one end (facing away from the fabric) and stood the groom with the other end over his shoulder with his back to his bride.  Then he had to act like he was pulling her along while she was sitting on the red netting.  We saw brides in cheesecake poses drape themselves over stretch limos for that "unique" shot.  The most startling gimmick was to have the groom shake up a bottle of champagne, uncork it, and let the ejaculation of white foam arc over the bride for the photograph. Really?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hike to Orheiul Vechi: September 28, 2013

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. 

The foliage of smoke trees along the path were high red and the grasses long golden.

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.

Back in Chisinau, Dan and I went to one of the Ethno Jazz Festival performances.  We loved it--especially the World Kora Trio--amazing music.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chisinau, Moldova - First Weekend Discoveries: September 23, 2013

We arrived in Chisinau on Wednesday, September 18, met Dan's co-workers, and settled into our hotel.  Dan went to work on Thursday and Friday taking a little time out to look at three apartments. Thursday night I got sick. The beginning of this adventure has been a little rough so far.  On the weekend I was somewhat better so we did some strolling around Chisinau.

Our stroll began in Cathedral Park.  It was a nice day, and brides (and grooms) were scattered about posing for photos everywhere.

Cathedral Park is so named because the park surrounds the City's main Cathedral.  The City Cathedral was completed in 1836.  The architecture of Chisinau suffered both from the Soviet occupation in 1940 and a catastrophic earthquake later that year. Then, there was the retreat by the Nazi and Romanian armies, air raids, etc.  As a consequence, there aren't many old structures still standing.  Those that remain are listed as historic structures and are either being restored or waiting to be restored.  This cathedral was mostly destroyed in WWII, but was eventually restored to its original condition.

Continuing our stroll along Stefan cel Mare Street (the main boulevard), we found an art/crafts/junk open-air market.  One of the merchants told us it was a daily event.  We don't have a guidebook for Moldova, so to find something will truly be a "discovery."  There hasn't been a Moldovan guide in English printed since 2007.  Our hotel and another one we consulted provided us with maps of the city center but besides hotel locations, few other "landmarks" are marked.  No museums or theaters are listed on these maps. There are no English-language Moldovan newspapers.  There is no "What's On Chisinau."  All our information is coming from what I can glean from the internet or what we see on the street.

Next to the open-air market, we discovered banners on the Organ Theater for a four-night Ethno Jazz Festival coming up next weekend; we now have tickets for one of the nights.

Sunday morning was gray and rainy, but we could hear music coming from the Grand National Assembly Square across from Cathedral Park.  Once there, we discovered a celebration of all things related to bicycles.  The square is a one-block section of Stefan cel Mare Street that is in front of the Government Building.  This one-block section is closed to traffic when there is a special event.

We found the Pushkin Museum located in a house that Pushkin lived in for a couple of months during his three-year exile (1820-1823) to Moldova.

In front of Pushkin's Temporary Quarters

Wandering on, we found the National Museum of Art on Pushkin and 31 August 1989 streets. The museum is undergoing extensive restoration leaving just a few rooms open. The collection on view is mostly 20th-century Moldovan/Romanian art and 18th-20th-century icons. The museum is actually three buildings (two were personal residences) built in 1897, 1901, and 1906. When the restoration is completed, the museum will be art in its own right.

We walked through the two city parks on the way back to our hotel.  It was early evening and families strolled along the sidewalks while lovers huddled on the park benches.  Fall is coming and the leaves are beginning to change color and drop. The cawing of returning crows marks the beginning of evening. The temperatures are cool, and I'm already wearing a winter coat.  

A Moldovan friend of mine told me that while Moldova has few tourist attractions, it has nice people, good food, and very good quality wine. So far, the people we've met have been very welcoming.  The food has been tasty and very reasonably priced.  Because I've been sick, I've eaten quite a few bowls of a Moldovan National dish called zămă (chicken/vegetable/noodle soup).  Now that I'm better, we'll add wine to our meals. We're looking forward to visiting some of the wineries.  The largest underground wine cellar in the world is here in Moldova, and the first weekend in October is Moldova's annual wine festival.

Today, we agreed to take the first apartment we viewed last week.  Nicely furnished, it has two bedrooms, 1 bath, and is on the second floor of a newish apartment building.  It is located in a quiet area (near Pushkin's Museum) about a 10-minute walk from Dan's office.  We will move in tomorrow.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Moldova - Getting there, eventually: September 18, 2013

Whoever first said, "it is the journey not the destination," never traveled by plane in the post 9/11, 21st century.  It is the possibility of the destination that enables me to survive the journey.  We began our journey at 10:45 a.m. on September 15 when a SuperShuttle van picked us up at our home.  The van delivered us to Sacramento airport about one hour later.  Arriving two hours before our plane to Chicago was scheduled to depart, we were two of the first passengers attempting to check in for the flight.  Before the check-in process was complete, a United Airlines employee advised us that the plane to Chicago would be delayed at least 3 hours due to mechanical issues causing us to miss our flight connection in Chicago.  She re-routed us on a Lufthansa flight to Munich leaving from San Francisco.  We arrived in San Francisco about 3:00 p.m. via a United Airlines paid taxi van.  Our flight to Munich was scheduled to depart at 9:05 p.m.  It was a really long day, and we were still in California.

Nearing exhaustion, we slept most of the flight.  The plane landed in Munich about 5:30 pm on September 16.  Our flight to Chisinau, Moldova did not leave until 9:25 a.m. the next day.  We took the train into Munich to overnight in a hotel.  The next day we took the train back to the airport.  Unfortunately, the first train we got on was going the wrong direction so two stops into the journey, we got off and waited for a train going the right direction.  That put us at the airport only 25 minutes prior to flight time.  At check in, an über-efficient Lufthansa employee insisted that we had to arrive 40 minutes prior to flight time and refused to let us run for the plane.  She called baggage to make sure our luggage wasn't on the plane and sent us to ticketing to have our ticket changed.

The ticketing agent, after discovering that we were in transit and didn't need to have baggage checked, told us to run for the plane.  We ran, eventually passed security, were stamped out at immigration, and got to the gate to find that no one was at the gate 5 minutes before the scheduled departure.  We made our way back through immigration to re-enter Germany and returned to the ticketing agent.  Our morning train mix-up cost us $300 each to rebook the flight to Chisinau the next morning.  We had another overnight in Munich, but this time, we stayed in a hotel very close to the airport.  In the afternoon, we went back to central Munich for some window shopping and another Bavarian dinner.

It's September and Munich shop windows are dressed for Octoberfest and all things Bavarian.  A German friend told me, "Oktoberfest is in September, that is due to when the calendar was changed a few hundred years ago.  The name stuck, the month didn't." Despite the weather, people dressed in lederhosen were wandering the streets.  

Munich's city center looked lovely.  Someday, maybe we'll be here longer than two separate layover nights.

After our second night in Munich, we did arrive by hotel shuttle bus on time at the Munich airport.  We got to our gate 55 minutes before flight time, and the flight left 30 minutes late--but we were on it.

In Chisinau, the airport arrivals door is labeled in 3 languages: Romanian/English/Russian.  Even though Moldova is known for its wine industry, the very first advertisement we saw at the airport was for Chisinau Blonda, "Beer of Good People"  "Welcome to the Land of Good People."  

It rained in Chisinau before we landed so the city looked a little gray and wet. Some of the city streets were flooded--an apparent common event here after heavy rain. We are very glad to be in the Land of Good People--finally!