After quite a bit of travel around Europe, we decided it was high time to explore some of Moldova. In our conversations with Moldovan students, we repeatedly heard that we should visit Orhei Vechi (Old Orhei). A little further internet researched told us that there is a monastery in this town only about an hour’s drive from Chișinău. This was enough information for us, so we packed a bag full of food and planned a day trip for our fourth wedding anniversary.
Things don’t always go according to plan…
Our plan was this: in the morning we would go to the bus station in the center of Chișinău and catch whatever bus went closest Orhei Vechi. We figured we could walk from one village to another if we got close enough. So we took the trolleybus to the center of the city and bee-lined through the huge outdoor shopping market (i.e. bazaar) to get to the bus station. Well…”bee-line” might be a bit optimistic. In reality it was the Friday before a holiday weekend, and things were as crazy as you might expect. There were even policemen directing traffic around the piața (market), which is something I have never seen in this city.
We then spent 20 or so minutes dodging grannies selling flowers and oil and whatever else as we walked around trying to find the right bus. After circling a block, we finally stopped at a ticket booth to ask. We were told, unfortunately, that we had missed the previous bus by 20 minutes and the next one wouldn’t leave for three more hours!
Exercising some Moldovan flexibility
Thankfully, the weather was beautiful and we had a full day ahead of us, so we had the luxury of being flexible. After thinking it through, we decided to take a taxi. “Take a taxi an hour away!?!” you say. “This is madness!!” Except in Moldova it is not madness because it would only $18 for the fare.
Moldova does not have Uber, but it does have Yandex, which functions the exact same way. Daniel summoned a taxi through the Yandex app, and we walked to a less crowded street corner to wait for it. It turned out as we were waiting that something came up and we needed to return briefly to our apartment. No problem!! Through the app, we added our apartment as an additional stop on our way to the final destination of Orhei Vechi.
The taxi arrived and we hopped in. After confirming the two destinations with the driver, he spent the next 10 minutes taking an absurd detour and generally being pretty confused before arriving at our apartment. Just wait though, because as we hurried out of the taxi to grab what we needed from our apartment, the driver informed us that he couldn’t take us to Orhei Vechi after all. It was to far away and he could make more money staying in the city (true, but why did you accept the ride?).We got out and he drove away.
Although not all Moldovans are flexible…
But it was okay because we were still feeling very flexible. From the comfort of our own home we tried again to summon a taxi. And AGAIN, the same driver accepted the ride. Yep, the guy who just made us get out of his taxi. So we canceled, waited a bit, and then finally called another taxi. This final driver was a success.
Thankfully, the ride to Orhei Vechi was uneventful, especially as the driver only spoke Russian. He wove minimally and generally seemed to follow the speed limit. For whatever reason, Daniel felt a real affinity for the driver. So honestly, the biggest complication we had was when Daniel lost internet connection and was afraid we couldn’t pay the driver through the app. He ended up paying in cash with a generous tip – only to have our card charged through the app as well. And even still, the total cost was $36 – not bad for an hour long cab ride.
But the result was well worth it
The Moldovians were right! Orhei Vechi was worth the trip. And we picked a great day to go. The weather was warm, the sun was shining, and it wasn’t too crowded. We started our hike on the outskirts of Buteceni – a quaint village that has applied to be on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We briefly looked at a map and then just started walking on a trail that followed the river.
As it turns out, the trail ended up being a bit of a dead end. Or the opposite of a dead end, rather. We realized that we would have to follow the entire 18 km length of the trail before it looped back – and we would miss the monastery. So we turned around and made a quick stop for lunch exactly where we had been dropped off by the taxi. Classic.
But the rest of the hiking that day was uneventful in all the right ways. We got on the proper trail and climbed straight up to the church that sits on the ridge line surrounded by river on both sides. Then we walked into the orthodox church and marveled at the decadence of the decorations. After that we stopped in the church store and contemplated buying some holy water or a saint card. Though tempted, we did not.
And sometimes things work out just right
Although we entered the church complex by the “front door”, we exited by the “back door” and continued on our hike. Walking up to the church, we passed many people. After leaving the church we hiked along the ridge line for at least an hour and passed no one. It was beautiful and isolated. We had a birds-eye view of the valley below us and marveled at the green fields and the caves cut into the stone sides of the ridge.
Finally, we neared the next village and decided we should cut down into it to figure out how we would get back to Chișinău. It was almost 4 in the afternoon, and we didn’t want to have another experience of near misses with transportation like we had that morning.
As we walked through the main road in the village, kids passed us on bikes and ladies in bathrobes looked confusedly out at as from their porches. We passed a small building with signs for both “City Hall” and “Library.” Just across the street from this building was a young man sitting on a bench underneath an overhang.
Daniel – being the clever man that he is – decided to ask the man if he was waiting for the bus to Chișinău. Sure enough, he was. Daniel followed up his genius question with another even more genius question, “When does the bus come?” And as it turned out, the bus was arriving in 15 minutes. It was right on time and it cost only 52 lei for both of us (~$3). Granted, it was much more nausea-inducing, but overall pretty good.
All in all, I must say that it was an excellent anniversary in Moldova.