Teachers Excursion to Saharna and Ţîpova

This past weekend, I joined the other teachers from my school on an “excursie” (field trip) to two monasteries in the northern part of Moldova, Saharna and Ţîpova.  We departed from our village in a rented rutiera (small bus) at 5:30 in the morning.  It was a bit over 3 hours from our village to our first stop in Saharna.

Some of the teachers from our school (my partner teacher is waving)
Most of the teachers that went on our excursie
Doamna Tatiana and Doamna Valentina (my grant/project partner)

We walked around the Saharna monastery for a bit, visiting the main church. On the hills surrouding the monastery there are crosses that you can walk to.  We walked up to one of them- it was a somewhat difficult, steep hike. Here, there were gorgeous views into the valley and overlooking the Nistru.

Our whole group (I’m in the front row on the far right)

On our way back down the hill to the monastery, we stopped to take some pictures as a group.  I handed my camera off to Maxim, the seven year old son of one of the other teachers, so I could get in some photos.  He did a pretty good job!

Most of the rest of our group visited the izvor, or spring, that is located in the woods at the monastery.  Here, you are supposed to change into a nightgown or robe and dunk yourself fully in the freezing cold water.  The water is said to have healing powers.  I did not participate, but I walked down to see the izvor.  There were a lot of mosquitoes, so I went back to the entrance of the monastery with the Russian teacher from my school and we waited there for the rest of the group.  While sitting by the entrance, I saw a woman who I thought was another volunteer, and it was!  She was also visiting the monastery with her school.

Doamna Tatiana (math teacher) and Doamna Galina (town librarian)

A small part of the steep hike down to the cave monastery

From Saharna, we headed to Ţîpova Monastery.  In addition to being a cave monastery, it is also a historical site and museum.  We started off at the church at the top of the hill, which is actually a different monastery.  From there, we walked down a steep incline and then back up and then down again.  Ţîpova is located right along the Nistru River and the views were incredible!  There is an entrance fee, though it’s pretty small, and our group paid for the guide.

The church and other rooms are built into the caves here

Part of the monastery that was used by the monks for daily living

Ţîpova is one of the oldest monasteries in Moldova, built in the 14th century.  It is a cave monastery, built into the side of a small cliff.  During Soviet times, it did not function as a monastery and fell into disrepair.  Although some renovations and restorations have occurred since Moldovan independence in 1991, they are currently raising money to do more complete restorations, particularly, of the sanctuary built into the cave.

One monk’s “room” built into a cave
The Nistru from above

We visited the sanctuary, where services are held Saturday evenings and on major holidays.  There is a small exhibit/museum off the sanctuary with some of the history of the monastery as well as images showing what they hope it will look like when restorations are complete.  We also checked out some of the smaller caves down below and above, where the monks would have lived and worked.

After climbing back up the hill to the church on top, we headed back towards home.  After a difficult day of hiking and climbing, we were all very tired and hungry.  According to Orthodox faith, you aren’t supposed to eat before you visit a monastery, so our first meal of the day occurred an hour later when we stopped by the side of the road around 3:30 in the afternoon and had a large picnic.

Each of the teachers had brought boiled eggs, placinta, bread, sarmale, and other foods.  Of course, there was also plenty of house wine!  There were also some of the first cherries of the season!  Once we had finished eating, we drove the final two plus hours home, getting back around 6:30.  It was a very exhausting day, but it was fun!  I especially loved Ţîpova and would recommend going there if you’re ever in Moldova.

A Look Back: The Second Six Months

Today marks one year in Moldova.  This means I am close to half through my time here in Moldova.  The time has passed incredibly quickly.  Though not without challenges, my first year here has been a positive, amazing journey.  Here’s a recap of my second half-year in Moldova (you can find a recap of the first six months here).

Month 7: December.

I participated in Dressember, to raise funds and awareness about human trafficking.  I took a weekend trip towards the north and Criuleni for a yoga retreat with other volunteers, stopping on the way in Chisinau and checking out some of the tourist sites while the snow fell lightly.  I got used to the winter weather, spent many evenings eating sunflower seeds with my host mom and talking, and continued to bucket bathe (though much more rarely as it was cold!).  I went to my raion center (Stefan Voda) to run errands with my host mom on the oldest bus I’ve seen in Moldova.  We celebrated the holidays at school: I taught my 3rd and 4th graders “Jingle Bells”, my 4th grade students surprised me with balloons for my birthday, and we had a afternoon and night of festivities at the school, with songs and dance.  I spent Christmas Eve in Chisinau with some other volunteers and ate at a really nice Italian restaurant for my birthday.  On Christmas morning, I headed back to my village and celebrated my birthday with my host family, school director, and partner teacher and her family.  The next day, my colleagues at school surprised me with a beautiful birthday present.

Month 8: January.

I celebrated the New Year with my host parents at home, enjoying the fireworks many of the neighbors set off.  I attended the village’s Winter “Carnival”, which was like a variety show, with my host-niece.  We celebrated the old (traditional Moldovan) Christmas and New Year, complete with carolers coming to our house (mostly my students).  The bathroom was finished (though the shower didn’t work) and I no longer had to use the outhouse!  We had a big snowstorm and very cold temperatures for a week.  I walked to a nearby town with my host mom.  I participated in the Blogging Abroad New Year’s Challenge (my posts: 7 Ways Globalization Shows Up in Moldova; 5 Ways My Students Give Me Hope; Cheating? What’s That?; and Looking Beyond Our Assumptions) and was featured on Design Mom.  We had a conference on grants and projects in Chisinau, and I visited MallDova for the first time.  I received a big, amazing package from my friends with all my most-missed foods.

Month 9: February.

My partner teacher and I held “English Week” at school.  We also had our first “open lesson”, which is an observed lesson.  I observed a couple of “open lessons” as well, a homeroom lesson and a Romanian lesson.  The weather changed and spring approached. I visited my host sister in Boscana and some other extended family near there.  We celebrated Grigore Vieru, a famous Moldovan poet and writer, at school with an assembly.  I went to Stefan Voda with my host mom and nearly got frostbite.  I spent a weekend in Chisinau for a language training.  At school, we had “Festelita Are Talent” (Festelita Has Talent), celebrated Dragomete (sort of like Valentine’s Day), and started our weekly English Club.  Peace Corps week started, and I skyped with my mom’s 5th graders in the United States.

Month 10: March.

We finished Peace Corps Week: my students helped create a video, and I participated in a Peace Corps Week event in Causeni.  Marţişor, which is the holiday that welcomes spring in Moldova, was celebrated.  My English Education group of volunteers gathered at our fellow volunteers’, Champa and David’s, to enjoy Nepali food and American desserts.  We had a short spring break off from school and celebrated International Women’s Day.  We had “control” at our school- which is essentially an audit and a week of observations.  I completed and submitted my VRF, which is the document that Peace Corps uses to monitor our successes and work in country.  My host mom and I went to my school director’s birthday party.  I spent a day in Chisinau for mentor training for the new group of volunteers.  The weather was beautiful and warm!  My partner teacher, Ina, returned from her maternity leave.

Month 11: April.

I went to Chisinau for a weekend to celebrate a fellow volunteer’s birthday and enjoy the gorgeous weather.  My host niece, Valerica, visited for a few days.  My English Club at school skyped with a friend’s 3rd grade class in the United States.  We enjoyed gorgeous spring- and even summer-like weather.  Tracey, our Peace Corps Moldova country director, visited my school and came to an English Club meeting.  My school and I worked on and submitted a grant proposal for a Peace Corps SPA grant.  I enjoyed Easter Break, and celebrated both Easter and Memorial Easter.  I walked with my host mom and visited her sister, who had a baby calf!  We had a huge, late snow storm that caused wide-spread damage throughout Moldova and left us without power for 2 full days.  Good weather returned quickly.  I went to Chisinau again with a partner from school (a Romanian teacher) to present our grant proposal (and we were awarded the grant!) and also visited my host sister in Boscana.

Month 12: May.

I spent a lot of time outside on the wooden swing my host dad built.  We celebrated Labor Day (which was uneventful in my village) and Victory Day (celebrated by all of the students gathering by the monument in our village, a few gun salutes by veterans, and flowers laid by the monument).  I took a mini-vacation within Moldova with my friend and fellow volunteer Andrea.  We visited the Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame monument and park in Chisinau and attended the opening of a new Himalaya Restaurant, along with a number of other volunteers.  The following day, we went on a guided tour to Curchi Monastery and Orhei Vechi.  I wrapped up my English Club for the school year with a competitive game of Jeopardy.  School began to wrap up with end-of-year exams and restless students as well as a Saturday day of classes in the form of a Day of Sports.  I helped my host mom harvest flowers from locust trees (used to make tea) and we took an afternoon trip to a nearby town’s hram (where we met up with fellow volunteer Erika).  I ate the first strawberries of the season and helped my host mom pick locust flowers to make tea with.  And, finally, the school year ended with the Last Bell Ceremony.

It has been a pretty good first half of this Peace Corps journey!

Mini-Vacation: Orhei Vechi

From Curchi Monastery, we continued on to Orhei Vechi, stopping briefly at a small monastery that was out of the way for a peek.  Then we continued on until we reached a vantage point.  Orhei Vechi is located in a large bowl-like valley, with cliffs on two sides and the river weaving along the edges.  We could see the Orhei Vechi Monastery on the other side of the bowl.

Turkish Baths:

From here, we took a short detour to view the remains of a fortress, as well as some Turkish baths left from one of the various points in history Moldova was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Caves in Orhei Vechi:

We also hiked up to some caves, which though natural and impressive, have been covered in graffiti and litter.

Orhei Vechi Monastery:

Then we finally arrived at our main destination: Orhei Vechi Monastery.  We looked around the small museum, then walked with a guide up to the cave monastery, located under the bell tower.  Inside, there is a small chapel and a room with a low ceiling carved into the cave.  This is where the monks lived and spent most of their time, laying and sitting on the hard stone floor.  The monastery dates back to the 1400s and also includes a church.

Peasant House:

Our last stop on the tour of Orhei Vechi was a “peasant” house.  This is a preserved old home that shows how Moldovans used to live.  There was the main house, which consisted of a living room to the left (with space above the soba, or stove for about 8 children to sleep), a central hall, and a casa mare to the right.  The casa mare would have only been used for guests or when there were special events and occasions.  In another building, there was a separate room that would have been used in the cooler months for the entire family.  Two small beds would have been for the parents, and a sleeping loft of sorts above the soba would have slept about 10 children.  There was also a beci (pronounced “betch”, underground root and wine cellar) next to this.

This wrapped up our guided tour, and we headed back to Chisnau for the night.

A Mini Vacation: Curchi Monastery

On Sunday morning, we headed towards Orhei Vechi, which is probably the most popular tourist destination in Moldova.  We had hired a guide, and both of us were really happy to ride in a comfortable, air-conditioned car instead of a rutiera! On our way, we stopped at Curchi Monastery.  The monastery was built in the 1700s, though the current churches were built in the late 1800s.  When we arrived in the parking lot, we got out and got our first glimpse of the church, which is situated above a pond.

We walked around the grounds, and even caught part of a church service.  Pictures aren’t allowed inside the churches, but they had been beautifully restored.  In comparison to other churches and monasteries I’ve visited here in Moldova, these were decorated in richer colors.  The entire inside was covered with large murals.  The monastery had been used during Soviet times to store grain, and renovations were completed in 2006.

A Mini Vacation: Chisinau

This weekend is yet another long weekend, thanks to the Moldovan holiday, Victory Day, tomorrow (Tuesday).  Another volunteer and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend to do some travel this weekend and then rest up on Monday and Tuesday back at site.  It was a jam-packed and really fun little break from school and daily life.

We started off with a trip into Chisinau from our sites (me in the south-east and my friend in the north-west).  The rutiera (mini-bus) I intended to take at 6:00 in the morning never showed up, so I ended up waiting until about 8:00 to make my two-hour trip.  While frustrating, it allowed me to get a bit of school-related work done before I headed out.  I hitched a ride to the nearest nearby “town” (here in Moldova, that means a town that has multiple transportation options and stores and such) with the help of my host dad, who flagged down my ride.  From there, I took the nicest rutiera I’ve ever seen to the capital.  There were leather cushy seats, a television, and even seat belts!  I spent some time catching up with a group of other volunteers at Peace Corps and sat outside for a bit enjoying the gorgeous, warm weather.

Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame:

After my friend arrived, we checked into our apartment, which was in a perfect location near the center, then started our walk across town to the Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame.  This small park, monument, and cemetery was built during soviet times to commemorate the victory over the Nazis in World War II.  It is pretty Soviet in style and also very beautiful.  The park wasn’t crowded, and it was peaceful to walk around.  Because Victory Day is tomorrow, a crew of Moldovan soldiers were working to get the park and cemetery nice and neat.  In the center of the large monument, there is the eternal flame.  Flowers had been laid near the flame in memorial of soldiers who had died.

Himalayan Restaurant Opening:

After our jaunt in the park, we headed to celebrate the opening of a new Himalayan restaurant.  One of my fellow volunteers and good friends is Nepali, and she and her husband had invited us to celebrate the opening.  Many other Peace Corps volunteers came as well, and we enjoyed the company and delicious food!

Cathedral Park, Chisinau:

After our trip to Curchi Monastery and Orhei Vechi, we returned to Chisinau and ate a nice meal before walking briefly around Cathedral Park.  It was threatening to rain, making the sky look moody.  Despite this, evidence of spring and the coming summer were all around.  I was happy to see a garden of irises in from of the cathedral.

It was a really wonderful weekend.