The Travel Bug

8 years ago, in Yosemite National Park, California

Today, both Facebook and Google Photos gave me reminders of what I was doing on this day in past years, and it’s clear I was “bit by the travel bug” quite some time ago. 8 years ago I was in California at Yosemite National Park, 4 years ago I was in Peru (in Cusco), 2 years ago I was in South Africa, and now I’m in Moldova, where I will soon finish 2 years of Peace Corps service.

4 years ago, in Cusco, Peru

I’m incredibly lucky that my parents love to travel and made sure we traveled somewhere new each year, whether it was an hour from home or across the country. I doubt I would be in the Peace Corps now if it weren’t for them cultivating this love of travel and experiencing new places in me and my siblings. While I haven’t traveled as much as some of my fellow volunteers, I’m thankful for the trips I’ve taken and the places I’ve gotten to explore.

2 years ago, at Wilderness Beach, South Africa

I’m sure some of you are wondering “what’s next?”. Truthfully, I don’t know yet. But the first thing I’m planning to do when I finish is to travel somewhere in Europe (I’ll tell more about where later) together with my parents and brother (my sister, though jealous she won’t be going with us, will be on a trip of her own, also in Europe, so I don’t feel too bad for her). After that, I’ll be returning home, where I’m excited to attend a big family reunion and my cousin’s wedding in the first couple of weeks back in the United States. I’m giving myself some time to spend with friends and family, do the things and eat the foods I’ve missed, and adjust back to live in the USA before I figure out my next steps.

Top Memories 2017

2017 was a good year.  This was my only complete calendar year spent in Moldova, and I’m so lucky that I’ve had such an amazing adventure here.  2017 wasn’t without its challenges, but it really was a year full of wonderful memories, fun adventures, and special moments.  Here my top 20 memories and moments from the past year.

Graduation Ball.  In July, the 9th grade students graduated from our school and had a dance and ceremony.  I think this will remain one of my very favorite memories of my time here.  It was one of the first moments when I felt completely a part of my community.  Together with the new graduates, their parents and families, and the other teachers at school, I ate and danced until the early hours of the morning.  It was a special celebration and I was so glad I got to be a part of it.

Walking through the fields.  In August, right before the first day of school, I walked through the fields on the margin of my village with my host mom, host sister, host niece, my sister, and a fellow volunteer.  It was such a beautiful day and it was such a nice escape into nature before the school year started again.

Visiting Et Cetera Winery.  When my sister was visiting, we visited this winery with a friend.  It was such a peaceful mini-vacation with excellent food, great lodging, and friendly people.

My parent’s visit to Moldova and our trip to Romania.  It was so cool to be able to show my parents around the country that is my home now, as well as to go to Romania.  It was a wonderful vacation and I’m so grateful they were able to make the trip.

My sister’s visit to Moldova.  On the same note, I was so happy my sister was able to make it here as well!  It was fun to show her around Chisinau and my village and my students still talk about her sometimes (she went to the first day of school with me).

Language Day Celebration.  Our village went all out this year for the Language Day and Independence Day celebrations, with culinary competitions, dancing, and sports competitions.  The pole climbing competition made me a bit nervous, but was fun to watch.

My host niece dressing up in my clothes.  One afternoon, my 7-year-old host niece, Valerica, dressed up in one of my skirts, my sunglasses, my earrings, and even my name tag!  She then declared she was a model and I was her photographer.  It was a fun way to spend the afternoon and she always makes me laugh!

English Club.  This is more like a lot of wonderful moments combined.  So many of my best days in the last year are thanks to the English Club I do with my 7th to 9th grade students.  Most recently, some of my students in 7th grade told me that they don’t want me to leave this summer because everything is better now that I’m here.  When I asked them what they meant, they said that they want to come to school now and that they love having something to do after school.

Teacher’s Day Party.  Instead of doing a small celebration at the school like they normally do, the teachers at my school decided to pay a bit of money and have a larger celebration at a restaurant in the next town over to celebrate Teacher’s Day.  We ate, drank, and danced the night away and everyone (including me) had a lot of fun.  I also mastered (at least as much as I probably ever will) our village’s version of Moldova’s national dance, the hora.

Mini-Vacation to the North of Moldova.  This past spring, my friend Andrea and I took a weekend trip to the northern part of Moldova and also spent some time in Chisinau.  We visited Curchi Monastery and Orhei Vechi on a guided tour.  We also ate at some nice restaurants in Chisinau and attended the opening of a Himalayan restaurant.  It was a really nice trip before the last leg of school.

Winter Walk to Ermoclia.  Last winter, after a snowstorm and freezing temperatures for too many days, my host mom and I took a long walk to the next village.  The snow was pristine and the temperatures warmer and after several days cooped up inside, it was a welcome escape.  We visited her friends there then walked halfway back before someone offered us a ride back to town.

Teachers’ Excursion.  Last summer, the teachers at my school took a trip one Saturday to two monasteries in the northern part of the country.  We visited Saharna Monastery and Tipova Monastery, taking in the gorgeous views and nice (though very hot!) weather.  On our way back, we had a full picnic on the side of the road.  It was a lot of fun and helped me get to know the other teachers better!

PCV Thanksgiving.  A little over a month ago, I got together with a group of volunteers to celebrate Thanksgiving.  The food was great and the company even better.  After spending the entire autumn in my little village, it was nice to get together with other Americans and eat all the foods we had been missing.

Constelatia Talentelor.  One recent Friday, I got to accompany the student dance ensemble from my village to an international competition in Chisinau.  The students are all my students at school and I went to film it for them.  They did a great job and I spent most of the afternoon with them, helping me get to know my students better.  They actually ended up getting called back for the finals and won Grand Prize!

A Day in Chisinau with Valerica.  This past summer, I spent most of a day showing my host niece Valerica around Chisinau.  Although she’s been to Chisinau, she hadn’t seen most of the tourist attractions, and it was really fun to see it all through her eyes.  We ate (at her request) at Smokehouse, an American BBQ restaurant, where she had mac and cheese and a strawberry milkshake.  Then we walked around Cathedral Park and Stefan cel Mare Park, where she got to ride on a carousel.  Finally, we rode on a trolley bus (a first for her).  We had so much fun!

Harvesting Locust Flowers with My Host Mom.  This past spring, I helped my mom harvest locust flowers to use in tea.  It was great bonding time with her and I was happy to help out with something (although my fingers hurt a bit).

Planting Potatoes and Collecting Grapes.  My family in the United States has a small garden, but I had never really planted potatoes.  I helped my host mom plant several rows one afternoon and can’t wait to do the same when I return to America in our family’s garden.  I also spent some time helping my host parents pick grapes to make into wine.

Welcoming Turul Moldovei to my village.  Turul Moldovei, a group of Peace Corps volunteers doing a walking tour and spreading peace along the way, spent a night with my host family and me this summer.  We visited our school and the local library and cultural center and spent an evening eating great food.

Being Home for the Holidays.  I am so, so happy I had the opportunity to come home for Christmas and the winter holidays.  After spending Christmas abroad last year, it was nice to be home with my family and friends.  We’ve had a great two weeks and I’ll be sad to head back to Moldova later this week (but also excited to see everyone there again as well).  I love my life and experience in Moldova, but there really is no place like home (however cliche that is).

Well, that’s a wrap.  Here’s to a happy, healthy, and successful 2018!

Travel in Moldova: Chisinau

The “Gates” of Chisinau
Cathedral Park
My parents in Cathedral Park

If you’ve been following my adventures here in Moldova, I’m sure you’ve heard me mention Chisinau a fair amount of times.  Chisinau is the capital of Moldova and, though I’ve seen travel bloggers call it “The Most Boring Capital in the World” and other similar titles, I actually really like Chisinau.  It’s a pretty small city, which I prefer (no huge crowds are impossible-to-cross streets).  It’s also a very green city, with lots of tree-lined streets and small parks scattered throughout the city as well as several larger parks.

Cathedral Park
Cathedral Park from the Arc de Triumf
Cathedral Park

There is a good and cheap public transportation city, though if you’re in the center of the city, pretty much everything is walk-able.  There are some great restaurants, an excellent (I’ve been told) opera, ballet, and symphony.  In short, although it’s often-Soviet-style architecture can look run-down at times, some of the streets are sans-sidewalks, and it’s an incredibly small capital, I really like it quite a bit.

Arc de Triumf
My parents under the Arc de Triumf
Arc de Triumf

We spent parts of a couple of days in Chisinau when my parents visited and managed to fit in a number of sights.  We visited Cathedral Park (with the cathedral, bell tower, and “Arc de Triumf”), Stefan cel Mare Park (with the statue of Stefan cel Mare and Alley of Poets), and the Muzeul National de Arheologie si Istorie (National Museum of Archaeology and History).

Monument of Stefan cel Mare
Stefan cel Mare
Stefan cel Mare Park

I showed them the Piata Centrala (Central Market) and Gara Centrala (Central Bus Station), as well as our Peace Corps headquarters.  We walked along Stefan cel Mare Street as well as down the pedestrian-only cobblestone street behind the cathedral.

Alley of Poets in Stefan cel Mare Park
Alley of Poets in Stefan cel Mare Park
Bust of Mihai Eminescu, one of the most beloved poets in Romania and Moldova

We rode a trolley bus out to visit my host sister and her husband, where we also got a peek at one of Moldova’s universities.  We also visited a grocery store and Bucurie, Moldova’s candy company, to buy some treats to take home.

National Theater of Opera and Balet Maria Biesu
The Presidential “Palace”

Notes and tips about visiting Chisinau:

  • From the airport, you can catch a taxi, mini-bus, or trolley bus (new!) to get into Chisinau.  A taxi should cost around 70-100 lei, a mini-bus will be 3 lei, and a trolley-bus will be 2 lei.
  • I would recommend staying directly in the center of the city if you can- look on Airbnb and for apartments and hotels.  There are a few hostels that are cheap options as well.
  • Once you’re in the center of the city, you can get around by walking, taking a taxi (if you’re going to travel further out of the center or it’s night-time), or using the system of public transportation which includes rutieras (mini-buses) and trolley-buses.  You can find out which trolleys go where and where the stations are by downloading the E-Way app on your phone.
  • One of the great things about visiting Chisinau is that if you are American, the prices are very low in comparison to the US!  You can easily get a meal and drinks for under $10 USD.  There are a number of traditional Moldovan restaurants, but if you’re looking for something different, some favorite restaurants among volunteers include Opa (Greek), Tbilisi (Georgian), JoJo’s (Georgian), El Paso (Mexican-ish), Smokehouse (American BBQ), and Caravan (Uzbek).
  • There is a nice outdoor art and souvenir market on Stefan cel Mare street.  The Central Market is a bit crazy and can get very crowded, but is also interesting to see.

Travel in Moldova: Cricova Winery

On the last full day my parents were in Moldova, we visited Cricova Winery.  Moldova is known for its wine because it’s good wine, but it’s also known for being the country in which the top two largest underground wine cellars in the world are found.  Milesti Mici is the largest at 200 kilometers of tunnels and almost 200 million bottles of wine, while Cricova is the second largest at 120 kilometers of tunnels and 1.2 million bottles of wine.  Cricova was founded in 1952 and around that time also began to house the wine collection of various famous and rich individuals.

We joined a tour of the underground tunnels, which was on a trolley-like bus.  The tunnels are colder than we expected, though we had been warned!  Our guide told us about the various processes they use.  We also watched a movie in a small cinema, where we got our first taste of Cricova sparkling wine (champagne).  After our tour ended, we had a tasting with the large group we had toured with.  We got to try several different kinds of wine and sparkling wines.

Notes and tips about visiting Cricova Winery:

  • The tour and tasting takes about an hour and a half total.
  • It is cold in the tunnels!! I wish I had dressed a bit more warmly.
  • Our tour was in English, but we had a very hard time understanding the guide.
  • Although the tasting was good, with some food, it felt very, very rushed.  I really would have preferred more time in the tasting room, as it was a large amount of wine to consume in a very short amount of time.

Travel in Moldova: Comrat

One of the short trips we did within Moldova was a trip to Comrat.  Comrat is the capital of the semi-autonomous region Gagauzia.  This means that while still a part of Moldova, the Moldovan government has granted the region certain freedoms and more control over certain aspects of their governance.  The reason behind this is that the region is distinctly unique in terms of culture, traditions, food, and even language.

Gagauzia was settled by Ottoman Turks during one of the times Moldova was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.  These settlers brought with them their language, culture, and traditions, which still can be observed there today.  Although most Gagauzians speak primarily Russian in modern times, their traditional language of Gagauz is still sometimes used, mostly by the older generations.

Because I don’t speak any Russian and most people living in Comrat do not speak Romanian, my host dad accompanied my family to Comrat and a fellow volunteer was our tour guide around the town.  Compared to most other parts of Moldova, Comrat has not removed all Soviet-era monuments.  For example, there is a statue of Lenin in the town, as well as other monuments memorializing Gagauz, Moldovan, and Russian writers and other famous individuals.

We walked around the town, taking the sights in, and then ate at a local restaurant.  I had steak for the first time in over a year, and it was incredibly delicious (this is one of the few places in Moldova to get it!).  It was interesting to see what my host dad thought about the town, as it was also his first visit.  He felt that there weren’t enough mature trees and said that must be because they had cut all the trees down at some point, which he found disappointing.  For me, and for my parents, it was interesting to visit an area of Moldova I had heard a lot about but hadn’t seen yet.

Notes and tips about visiting Comrat:

  • As I mentioned above, Russian is the main language spoken and very few people speak English.  You can get around the city pretty easily regardless of whether you speak the language or not, but you should be aware of this.
  • There is a beautiful church with a park flanking both sides in the center of the town.  There is a large parking space behind this if you are coming by car.