Old Orhei with Margo
On the Saturday when Margo was here, we decided to head out of town to Orhei Veche, an ancient monastery set in a cave (which is apparently a thing in this region--there are lots!) We hadn't been yet because A) going without a car is a touch tricky and B) by the time we got here and settled in, the weather got cold, and we decided to wait until spring when we'd enjoy it more. It was a cool trip!
But yes, getting there was definitely difficult. First of all, it's really hard to find out how to get there at all. There are tons of mini buses that go there (basically giant vans), but only on the weekends, and the few travel blogs I found disagreed on when and how often they went. We ended up picking the time that seemed most likely, and headed off to the bus station* behind the central market at around 9:15.
*By "bus station" I mean area where tons of mini buses sit, lined up, with signs in the front windows stating where they're going.
I have no photos of this part of the experience because I was feeling pretty stressed out and forgot to take a photo. Jesse went off to try and find the right bus (because it could be anywhere, and the kids only walk so fast), but when he was gone the one that looked like the right one passed by us. When Jesse came back, he found another bus that said they'd pass by where we needed to go, so we got on that one.
The lovely Moldovan countryside
After half an hour or so of travel, the bus driver pulled off on the side of the highway and told us that we could get off here and catch a taxi the rest of the way at a stop up on the corner. This made us feel a bit flabbergasted and we tried to keep cool (how are we supposed to find a taxi here in the middle of nowhere), but we got off the bus and stepped out into the long grass to find our bearings.
The bus had stopped right behind a car small compact car, and Jesse and the driver made conversation for a moment as we were passing by the car (heading for what we hoped was a taxi stop). When Jesse mentioned we were going to catch a taxi to Old Orhei, the driver said that he was a taxi driver! So then we all piled into his car, and drove the rest of the way.
Jesse spent the ride speaking with the driver in Russian about how he had been living in Ireland, working as a butcher until the recession, and then he came back here to drive the taxi.
After some hilly roads, the hilltop monastery came into view:
We were pretty relieved to have gotten there (I will admit, when we got out of the bus on the side of the highway I was feeling a bit dubious), and we chased the kids around for a little bit while we decided what to do first.
The monastery is set in a lovely, serene valley--if I were a hermit monk, I'd set up shop here too!
First order of business ended up being lunch, at the request of the kids (who ended up not eating much more than apples anyways).
After lunch, we explored a little in the small museum, which had an interesting collection of centuries-old artifacts from life in the region. I don't have any pictures, but it was cool!
After the museum, the kids needed a snack (because they always need a snack) and then we headed up the hillside to the church.
We didn't have a tour or anything, so I don't know the full history of the monastery, but the church on the hillside has monks who live and work there, and I've heard that there is at least one monk that still lives in the cliffside cave.
We spent awhile just admiring the view. It was so lovely.
The church on the hill was nice as well--small and simple but very lovely, with well-maintained grounds and a little store for buying icons and candles.
Also, I have to say that I never get tired of onion domes on churches. I just don't.
After the church, we headed over to the cave. The old bell-tower over it serves as the entrance.
Inside, a monk was selling candles to light and other small items.
There was one simple room where many monks used to live. What an ascetic life!
It was so chilly in this room that we could see our breath, in May! I cannot imagine how cold it must be in January!
There was a door leading out to a small landing overlooking the valley.
Outside, visitors leave coins in the small, natural indents in the rock. They are left both as prayers, and as donations to the monks.
Niko really liked putting coins in, and we encouraged him to think about people he loves.
Back on the windswept hilltop, we took a few minutes to take pictures beside a stone cross.
Yes, we are in full 5-years-old-and-making-a-grimace-face-in-all-photos mode
And then we took a bus home! And yes, I'm skipping a little more stuff (like how we thought the bus would leave an hour earlier than it did and we sat in the sweltering bus with two tired kids off an on for an hour, wondering when it would leave) (oh and how Miriam was missing her nap time and was NOT happy about it, and she kind of held it together for the bus ride home, but then she screamed on the walk back home, until she finally exhausted herself and fell asleep) but that's basically it.
It was not an easy adventure, but it was a good one!