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.

A Weekend Trip: Chisinau and Criuleni

Cathedral Park, Chisinau
Cathedral Park, Chisinau
Cathedral Park, Chisinau
Cathedral Park, Chisinau

Two weeks ago on Friday, I headed to Chisinau and then on to Criuleni, where we had a yoga retreat.  When I arrived in Chisinau, it was snowing lightly, so I decided to walk around the city a bit to kill some time before I headed further north to Criuleni.

The Arc de Triomf, Cathedral Park, Chisinau
The Arc de Triomf, Cathedral Park, Chisinau
Stefan cel Mare monument in Stefan cel Mare Park, Chisinau
Stefan cel Mare monument in Stefan cel Mare Park, Chisinau

As I walked, it started snowing pretty hard, which made everything very beautiful and quiet.  I spent some time walking some streets in Chisinau, and then decided to walk through the two main parks in the center of Chisinau: Cathedral Park and Stefan cel Mare Park.  Both were covered in a light dusting of snow with more coming down.  I took my time and just really enjoyed the cool air, big snowflakes, and the quiet lull that always occurs when it snows.

The Arc de Triomf and the beginning of Christmas decorations, Chisinau
The Arc de Triomf and the beginning of Christmas decorations, Chisinau

By the Arc de Triomf in the center of Chisinau, a huge real Christmas tree had been set up and decorated and for a minute I watched as an older gentleman took selfies with his young grandson.  It was a beautiful and almost magical morning.

The Nistru
The Nistru

Later on Friday, I headed to Criuleni, which is in the north of Moldova.  A couple of volunteers have hosted a number of yoga retreats over the past year with other volunteers, but this was the first one I had attended.  Although I have done some yoga over the past few years, I am definitely in the beginner category, and I was a little nervous about going to a retreat, but also excited to get motivated to do some yoga and spend time with other volunteers.  It ended up being a really small group, and I learned a lot and had a great time.

The Nistru
The Nistru

Two volunteers hosted us in their home, since they live in their own apartment.  We had a nice space to do yoga in and shared some delicious meals, which they graciously made for us.  The menu included: chili and cornbread, banana chocolate-filled pancakes, a pizza bar (make-your-own), a delicious vegetarian casserole and mashed potatoes, and an oatmeal bar.

The Nistru
The Nistru

On Saturday, in a break from yoga, two of us accompanied our hosts on a walk through the town and along the Nistru River.  The river was gorgeous!  The other side of the river is Transnistria, the part of Moldova that self-proclaims it is an independent nation (but is not recognized by either Moldova or the UN to be so).  It was a chilly but not cold day, and we walked back to the apartment just as the sun was setting.  We even encountered a tiny bit of hail as we were within sight of the apartment building.

The Nistru
The Nistru

The weekend as a whole was really great, and I’m glad I went.  I met some new people, ate some great food, learned some new poses (including downward facing dog with a partner!), and enjoyed getting to explore another part of Moldova.

IST Conference

A gorgeous fall day in the capital during IST- Cathedral Park
A gorgeous fall day in the capital during IST- Cathedral Park

Our M31 EE group had our IST (in-service training) this past week in the capital.  It was a busy 6 days of various sessions.  Last Saturday and Sunday we started off our IST with two days of language training along with the M31 HE (Health Education) volunteers.  We split up into groups of 5-6 volunteers and worked on learning Romanian each day for about 8 hours.  We also had some cultural sessions where we discussed winter holidays, celebrations, and traditions in Moldova.  It was an exhausting two days, filled with some really tough grammar.

Then, Monday through Thursday, we had our technical IST.  I think we had approximately 30 sessions on things ranging from using the textbooks, to phonemes and morphemes, to being more aware of the content of the textbooks in terms of gender stereotypes and gender equitable practices.  On Thursday, we ended with an Open Space session, where we split up into groups to talk about topics that we had come up with throughout the week.  During the Open Sessions, I talked with a group of other volunteers about handling stress and coping strategies and also about working with our partners.

Most of the sessions were led by volunteers, both those from my group and several that are in their second year in Moldova.  I facilitated 4 sessions: Language Awareness, Using Textbooks, Classroom Assessments, and MR&E: How We Share Our Progress (which was about how to present projects and needs assessment results to our community members in order to get their backing).

We were on our own to find housing, as well as for meals, though we did have “snack” breaks with food, coffee, and tea.  I shared an AirBnB apartment with another volunteer.  We had a kitchen, which was really nice!  We also ate at a number of great restaurants, including a Mexican restaurant, a Greek restaurant, and several other restaurants.  The food was amazing and a nice break from the food I eat on a regular basis.

I really enjoyed getting to spend so much time with my fellow volunteers.  As much as I love my site, it was also nice to have a bit of a break and get away for a bit.  And, at the end of 6 days, I was ready to return home and spend time with my host family.

Weekend in Chisinau with My Host Family

A week ago on Friday afternoon, as soon as I had finished my classes and eaten lunch, my host mom and I headed out for a weekend in Chisinau. Our trip to Chisinau took twice the usual amount of time. Our town only has rutieras (buses) to Causeni and Chisinau in the morning, so we had to catch a ride to Causeni. In America, this would be called hitchhiking, but here it is so common-place I’m not sure it should really be called that.  Generally, it’s not too hard to get a ride, but there just weren’t many cars leaving our town at 1:15 in the afternoon.  Finally, a young man who is apparently our neighbor and also a police officer stopped and offered us a ride to Ermoclia, which would at least take us to the main road to Causeni.  We waited for a rutiera to pass, but unfortunately it was packed so full they wouldn’t allow anyone else to get on.  So we hitched another ride, and once again, my host mom actually knew the driver.  He is a godfather of one or more of her children.  He took us to Causeni, where we got a rutiera to Chisinau.  Whew!

We had planned to attend Chisinau’s hram, which is a celebration of the town that occurs in every town and city in Moldova each year. It’s basically the celebration of the town’s “birthday” though the date is based on the main church’s saint day (each church is named after an Orthodox saint and each saint has a day on which it is celebrated). However, because of our late arrival in Chisinau, we missed the celebrations.  Instead, we went to my host aunt’s apartment near the gates of Chisinau.  We had a masa and my host mom’s other sister also joined us, along with her daughter.  It was really nice to meet more if my extended host family and we laughed plenty.  Being around 3 sisters who clearly enjoy each other’s company reminded me of my dad’s 3 sisters every time they are all together.  We spent the night there.

In the morning, we headed to my host sister’s, on the opposite end of Chisinau. I counted presidential campaign signs, and counted 39 during the 20-minute bus ride. And that was only the signs I could see on my side of the road.  Just as in the US, Moldova is in full-campaign mode. Unlike in the US, here there are many more political parties and candidates. I counted signs for at least seven different candidates and there are many more.

I spent some time at my host sister’s before heading to a totally different part of Chisinau once again to meet up with other Peace Corps volunteers at the Peace Corps office.  All of the volunteers had been invited to the US Ambassador’s residence for a luncheon.  We got a number of taxis to the residence. Close to 100 volunteers came, and it was great to see everyone.  This is probably the only time all of the programs and groups will be together during my time here.  I think all but 3 English volunteers in my group were able to come.  There was American food- amazing hamburgers, real salad WITH dressing, pizza, and ice cream with toppings.

After, I managed to find my way back my host sister’s apartment and spent several hours playing with my host nieces, Sofica and Elizaveta.  I spent the night there, and Sunday morning, I spent some more time with my host nieces.  I also went to a large piaza (or market) in Chisinau with one of my host sisters and my host mom.  We also drove by the botanical park, though it wasn’t a very nice day out (raining hard and chilly), so we just saw it from the road.  After lunch, I headed back to my town with my host mom.

Weekend Visit to Chisinau

Cathedral Park, Chisinau

I spent this past weekend in Chisinau. There were a number of Peace Corps related events happening, as well as the National Day of Wine, which I didn’t necessarily intend on attending, but ended up going to.

A sampling of wine
A sampling of wine

My rutiera (mini bus) gets into Chisinau at 8 in the morning, so I first went to the Peace Corps headquarters.  There is a lounge just for volunteers, complete with very nice showers. I generally try to take a shower whenever I go into Chisinau, as it’s the only chance I get to do so. I really enjoyed taking a nice, hot shower, shampooing and conditioning my hair, using a toilet, and washing my hands for the first time in about a month. After my shower, I hung out a bit in the lounge, then attended an information meeting for Tech4Dev, a  Peace Corps Moldova work group that primarily develops and maintains an online site for volunteers here that contains a lot of lesson plans, club ideas, and so much more information. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be involved, but after the meeting, I’m glad I went!  After a bit more relaxing, more of my fellow M31 English Education volunteers arrived. I hadn’t seen them in about 2 months, so it was great to see them and catch up. We headed to Smokehouse, which is an American BBQ restaurant run by former volunteers. There was a meeting going on there for Peace Out, another Peace Corps work group, so we joined that and ordered food. The main Peace Corps event of the day was an auction fundraiser for aTIP, the anti-trafficking work group.  A lot of volunteers (over 50) came, and it was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t win anything.

We enjoyed our wine next to the arch, given by the French and modeled after the Arc de Triomphe
We enjoyed our wine next to the arch, given by the French and modeled after the Arc de Triomphe

After, I had some time before I needed to go to my host sister’s, where I was spending the night, so I joined some other volunteers and headed to the center of Chisinau to the National Day of Wine, which was a big event with many Moldovan wine vendors. It seemed less of a wine tasting event but more of a wine festival where you purchase wine and hang out drinking it either on the grass in the parks or at one of the many tables set up.  It was a really nice event, I got to try several different wines, and I was really glad I went.  It had been cancelled last year due to protests in the capital, so I am glad I got to experience it!