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.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekend in Soroca, Moldova: October 20, 2013

The weather at the end of the week suddenly became glorious, warm, and sunny.  It was like Moldova was finally having a summer, and the high temperatures approached 21 C (70 F). Itching to explore Moldova outside of Chisinau, we found a place to rent a car. Dan's co-workers assisted in the arrangements, and Saturday morning we showed up at AVR Car Rental ready to pick up our Toyota.  Unfortunately, the person who had rented the Toyota earlier in the week still had it. They offered a Hyundai Tucson with Lithuanian plates at the same price of 35 Euro/day.  It took almost two hours to rent the Tucson as the vehicle was newly acquired by the rental agency and much paperwork had to be done first.  The agency owner apologized for the delay saying he knew that in the US it takes only about five minutes to rent a car.  That's not quite true since US rental car companies try to sell you extra insurance and other unnecessary options before you are free to go.  Finally, we were on our way.

Armed with road maps and Google Maps directions we headed north.  Our first stop was at Ţipova Monastery.  The signs led us toward a church that, although not obvious to us, sits near and above the cave monastery.  We had to ask a local person in the town of Ţipova where the monastery was located.  He led us through the gate, past the blue church, and to the rocky cliff that sits above the Dniestr River. At the point where the trail descends the cliff face, there is a sign pointing out where the cave monastery and various waterfalls are located.

We began the walk down the cliff face on a trail of rocky steps and dirt toward the monastery.

The cave monastery was located on the shaded side of the Dniestr River.  The sunny side is Transnistria the name of a non-recognized Republic or a state that does not formally exist.

Because of the deep shade and the icy wind, it was quite cool at the monastery.  Even so, several art students were scattered about the grassy area absorbed in their paintings.

The three-level cave monastery was established in 15th century, but has been greatly modified over the centuries. There is a lovely church on the second level that has been enclosed by bricks. There are several alcoves/cells on the ground level and one of them is being utilized as an informal chapel.

Making our way back to the top of the cliff, we headed toward the town of Soroca.  Soroca is about 160 km (less than 100 miles) north of Chisinau over a road that alternates between multi-lane highway and narrow, pot-holed stretches with road construction.  The hilly countryside is beautiful with lots of fall color and fields of of dried sunflowers and cornstalks being cleared. The apple harvest was also underway.

We arrived in Soroca just as the sun was about to disappear.  Although Soroca has a population of almost 30,000, Soroca has an abandoned feel to it. Driving in late on Saturday afternoon, most of the business were closed.  There was one wedding caravan underway on the streets but few pedestrians.  We checked into the Hotel Central.

The main tourist site is the Soroca fortress which sits on the western bank of the Dniestr River across from Ukraine.  It was closed and under renovation.  The temperature in this northern part of Moldova was quite chilly when the sun went down so we went back to the Hotel Central for dinner and the night.

The Hotel Central is located on a square that once must have been exciting.  The Dacia Cinema sits just across the paved area from the hotel.  Unfortunately, the Dacia Cinema closed shortly after the Soviet Union dissolved.  Now its front facade serves as a place for a car wash to advertise.

Just to the left of the cinema is another formerly beautiful building that the hotel receptionist said was once the government building that registered marriages.

There are several factories in the Soroca area.  One factory sews fine clothing for export to Italy. Two factories process/make dairy products.  Ironically, at dinner the hotel restaurant had no butter and at breakfast there was no milk for coffee.  There was also a working espresso machine, but no coffee beans.

Both of the hotel receptionists were very helpful in trying to answer our questions about Soroca. The ethnographic museum was closed on Sunday, but the receptionist called around and found out that the historian, a man named Nikolai, would be at the fortress about noon.  We went for a walk along the Dniestr River near the fortress.

At this part of the Dniestr River, it is Ukraine that is on the eastern bank.  A small ferry with immigration/customs services plies the river crossing between Moldova and Ukraine.

Back at the fortress we did meet Nikolai as he was opening the fortress for groups of school children.

The fortress dates from the 16th century and was designed by an English architect.  It is Norman in style although the Normans were never here.  Nikolai said the fortress is 75% original. Walking into the fortress before the school children arrived, the fortress had the feel of a perfect, small round jewel box.

On the way out of Soroca, we stopped at "The Candle of Gratitude" memorial.  This memorial was built in 2004; I haven't a clue what Soroca was so grateful for that they were motivated to built it.  We made the climb of what seemed like thousands of steps up to the candle.

The "candle" with its souvenir shop inside wasn't so interesting, but the view was spectacular. Moldova is the near bank and Ukraine is the far bank of the Dniestr River.

Back in Chisinau, we dropped off the car at AVR.  Although the gas gauge showed full, the owner and Dan went to a nearby gas station to see if the tank would accept any more gas.  It took about 1-1/2 liters more.  The car rental agency owner said that if the gas deficit was less than 2 liters, he paid; if the difference was more than 2 liters, the renter paid.  We were charged 100 lei (less than $8 USD) for a car wash because, unknown to us, we were to bring the car back clean.

All in all, a very successful, enjoyable weekend.

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.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Beating A Path, Chisinau, Moldova: October 13, 2013

Bored with my inactivity, last week I began walking during the day to discover what there is in Chisinau.  The first day, I headed west.  I was looking for a gym that someone had told me about.  I did find the gym, but what I discovered before that was the most lovely lake.  This lake is Lacul Valea Morilor.  There is also a park.  The sun was setting as I arrived, and it was beautiful.  People were strolling or fishing from the walkway.  Finding such a beautiful place in Chisinau, I felt like Columbus must have when he set eyes on land.

After spending sometime exploring Chisinau via Google Maps, the next day I headed northeast to look for the Circus. The Circus is just over the river and not far from our apartment.  Sadly, it is a shadow of what it once was.  It has become derelict and abandoned. This drum-shaped building must have been fabulous in its day.

The next day, I went southwest to the "Armenian" cemetery.  It is called "Armenian" because it is situated where Armenian Street begins/ends. While I was there, another person quietly strolling suggested I visit Dendrologic Park.  He told me it would be a beautiful place to take photos.  On Saturday, Dan and I headed toward Dendrologic Park.  We didn't know where the entrance was but found a hole in the fence--that we crawled through.  Once inside, we realized that there is only one entrance/exit gate because an admission is charged. The park is huge and beautifully landscaped with paths, lawns, gardens, and groves of trees.  When we finally found the official exit, we slinked out.

Then I took Dan to the lake I had found a few days before.  Again, it was stunning and the sun was shining.  We ran into a bachelorette party group and took their photo.  We chatted with them and they shared a bottle of champagne with us.  The bride, with the white veil, is getting married next Saturday.  The ladies had already finished 2 bottles of champagne before we met them.  They were strolling around taking photos of themselves and the bride to be before they finished their party at a restaurant for dinner and more drinks.

On Sunday, Dan and I went south toward the train station.  Before we found the train station, we stumbled upon a weekend market of used clothing, ephemera, and treasures.  It went on for maybe a couple of kilometers before the train station and then circled it.

The Chisinau Train Station has been restored, but the interior is mostly empty.  It is not busy or grand in any way.  There is a poignant monument in front of the train station remembering those men, women, and children who were deported during the Communist regime.

Chisinau is not a large city, but exploring the compass points by foot does make a long, tiring day.  We took our first bus which, unfortunately, ended up turning off quite far from where we wanted to go.  Dan and I were hoping to see a garden of sculptures created in Soviet Moldova. We didn't find it, but we ended up at yet another park and lake. This one is called Parcul La Izvor and is located in the northwest part of the city. We got there just before the sun set and had an enjoyable walk around the lake.  

We caught the correct bus back to the city center.