Saturday, June 15, 2013

Moldovan Winery

6/5/2013: Moldovan Winery 

On Wednesday, the 5th of June, I headed to Chisinau to meet up with people and head to a winery in a town not far from Chisinau called Orhei to celebrate a fellow volunteer's birthday. Although I pass by Orhei every time I go to Chisinau, I had only been to it once, and only as far as the bus station. Soon after I arrived in Chisinau, the group of about 5 of us headed to the central bus station to catch a rutiera to Orhei. Luckily they leave fairly frequently so we didn't have to wait long for one to leave. When we arrived in Orhei, we met up with some other volunteers and a couple of one of the volunteers former students who lived either in Orhei or in a village nearby. We then got into two taxis that took us to the winery, Chateau Vartely. 
The main building of the winery, which contains a restaurant and a wine-tasting room 
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by our Moldovan tour guide who showed us around the grounds before taking us into the factory and explaining the first part of the wine-making process to us, including how the making of red, white, and rosé wines differ.  
A building representing the Southern Wine region of Moldova

 A building representing the Central wine region of Moldova
A building representing the northern wine region of Moldova
Wine Fermentation Containers
Grape Press
Then, we went down and saw the aging containers and the guide explained that part of the process to us. 
The aging containers, with labels containing various information like acidity
The next stop was the cellar where the wine is aged in barrels. 
Our guide describing the barrel storage part of the process
A view of about half of the barrels in the cellar
Our last stop was the wine tasting room. The table was set with many glasses and with cheese, nuts, and crackers in the area where we would be sitting. During the tasting we tried 5 different wines, two white wines, a red wine, a rosé, and an ice wine. Apparently, the first step in making ice wine is to let the grapes freeze on the vines before the fermentation process, hence why it is called ice wine. 
The table, set up and ready for us to sit down and begin tasting wines
After we tried each of the different wines, we were able to ask for another glass of the kind we liked the most. I liked the ice wine the most because it was the sweetest and had a honey taste to it. When we had finished the wine tasting, we left the tasting room, and waited for our taxis that would take us back to Orhei. We had pizza and cake before heading back to Chisinau. 

When we arrived, we eventually decided to stay in an apartment and then headed to have Mexican food at an embassy worker's house in Chisinau. Every week he and his wife host a dinner for Peace Corps volunteers and other embassy workers. Each week they serve a different type of food. They have one huge dog and a large cat that are both very friendly. So, dinner there was a great way to end the day. When we finished eating, we headed back to the apartment and relaxed for a bit before heading to bed. Overall, it was a long but excellent day. 

Final Last Bell

05/31/2013: Last Bell Ceremony, последний званок церемония (posledni zvanok seremonia),
My last day of school fell on May 31st. During the last week of school, however, I didn't do much actual teaching. The library started collecting textbooks the Friday before the last week of school and the students weren't motivated to come to class without them. So, I instead took advantage of the time to organize the materials that I had made over the past two years. I also created an inventory of all the English materials that the school had, including the ones I did not make myself. I made sure to note where each of the items could be found so that my partner would be able to use them next year after I have returned to the US. I also took a couple of pictures of my classroom.
                      The back wall of the room covered in grammar charts and pictures for vocab words
A view of the front wall of the room with the brown "blackboard," which was incredibly annoying to write on
The materials cabinet and some more grammar posters
On May 31st, there was an assembly much like on the first day of school. The students and teachers formed a horseshoe and the 12th graders walked around it with a first grader on their shoulders who rang a bell signifying the end of the school year. As with the first day of school, there was also a dance performance. 
The students at the beginning of the dance. 
The 12th formers walked to the front of the horseshoe while younger students threw flower petals

Afterwards, a twelfth grader sang and then someone from the ministry of education in Drochia spoke about the end of the school year and wished the 12th and 9th graders luck on their exams. 

The ministry of education addressing the school and the graduating classes

Then, students from all grades were given diplomas for their achievement on the olympiad, a countrywide contest in a number of different subjects. Students were also given diplomas for their academic performance throughout the year.

Next, the 12th form class teacher spoke to the 12th formers and wished them success on their exams, as did their class teachers from primary school and from the gymnasium level. In between the two groups was some singing. It was followed by some more dancing.
The 12th form class teacher addressing her class
 Some singing
The 12th form's primary school class teacher addressing her former students

More dancing
The 9th form class teacher also gave a speech to the 9th formers and wished them luck on their exams. Afterwards, some teacher and parents were recognized for their contributions throughout the year. A 12th former then walked around the circle with a 1st former on his shoulder ringing the bell. The assembly concluded with everyone dancing the hora. Unlike the first day of school, it was a cloudy day, but luckily the rain held off until the assembly was over and I was already home.
No Moldovan event is complete without people dancing the hora
A short clip of the hora
While my two years teaching English were easy or always enjoyable, I am glad I had the experience and will miss some of my students and fellow teachers. I am also looking forward to being a student again at the graduate level this fall.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Second Orthodox Easter

May 5th, 2013: Second Easter in Moldova

Because the vast majority of people in Moldova are Eastern Orthodox, the religious holidays follow a different calendar. So, Easter this year in Moldova was in May and not at the end of March. For the 40 days before Easter many Moldovans follow lent, or "post" in Romanian. During Lent, those who follow it give up meat. Others eat vegan for most or the entire time. On Easter, people can begin eating meat and dairy products again.

The Easter service in Moldova is different than most in the US. First, in the days leading up to Easter people bake special bread called "pasca" in Russian and I think in Romanian too. It is a a circular loaf of bread with a cross in the center dividing the middle into four quadrants. Each of the quadrants is filled with a mixture of eggs and cheese. People also roast kids and dye eggs. The night before Easter, when all the food is prepared, they put the food into a basket along with a candle. The service itself begins at 10:30 pm the night before Easter and continues until 5:00 am the following morning. People arrive between 10:30 and 5 to listen to the service. Near the end, the priest comes around with his attendant to bless the food. Once the food is blessed, the service is basically over, and people return to their homes. When they arrive, they eat a little bit of the blessed food, and then go to sleep.

This year, I went to the service with my host family. This entailed waking up at 3am, getting dressed in church-appropriate clothing, and walking the 20 minutes to the church. When we got there, we found a place in the circle to set down our basket and listened to the service. It was quite impressive to see a large portion of the village standing in a circle in the darkness with candles lit. The message of the service seemed nice too, although it was in Romanian so I only caught bits and pieces. When the sun began to rise, the priest came around and blessed the food and the people by splashing drops of water with a special stick. After that, when the priests had made the full circle, we left the church and made our way home. I had a little bit of cheese and then went to bed and slept from about 6 am until noon. Despite the lack of sleep it caused, I am glad I went to the service. I thought about bringing my camera, but it just didn't seem appropriate, so sorry there aren't any pictures.

My trip to Brașov

3/3/2013: Arrival and Exploration

I took an overnight train from Chisinau to Bucharest on the 2nd, and then another 3 hour train from Bucharest to Brașov. Brașov is a good-sized city located in the the Transylvania region of Romania. When I arrived at the train station, I followed the instructions from the hostel, and took a bus to a stop near the hostel. I then walked the rest of the way. When I arrived at the hostel, I paid for the nights I was going to be there, put my backpack in the room I was staying in, and then headed back out. The person working at the hostel had told me that I could only see one of the places worth seeing that day because it would be closed the other two days I was planning to be in Brașov. So, I took a bus back to the train station and bought a ticket for the mini-bus I needed to take to get to the town where the palace was, called Sinaia. The mini-bus actually took me back towards Bucharest a bit. When I arrived, I headed up the hill towards the area where I thought the palace might be. It was not where I thought it would be, so I had to ask people where it was. Along the way, I passed a monastery.

The Church at the Monastery
A view of some of the other buildings
Many of the paths I had to take were very icy, especially the ones closest to the palace. However, after a while of walking uphill and asking people where to go, I found the palace. The grounds and interior were nice, but the price to tour the inside was high given how little there was to see. I guess it would have been more worth it if there had actually been a guide telling me about it.  After spending a short while at the palace, I headed back down the hill, and headed back to where the the mini-bus stop. While I waited for the bus back to Brașov, I bought some lunch from store near by.
The Palace
Statue of Queen Elizabeth Silva, reigned from 1869-1916
Another interesting sculpture on the grounds
When I returned to Brașov, I decided to walk around the city a bit. Since it was around five, most buildings were closed for the day. I did, however, see an interesting cemetery, the outside of a church, and the exterior of the first school in Brașov. 
A statue at Union Square, dedicated to soldiers
The narrowest street in Brașov, strada sforii 
The cemetery 
After my trip to the cemetery, I decided it was time to find dinner, so I walked back to the main square. There I found a Transylvanian restaurant, and decided it would be a good place to have dinner. The chicken stew I ordered was excellent and cheap. I finished off the meal with some excellent baklava from a dessert place on the way back to my hostel. When I arrived back at my hostel I watched a movie in the basement, and then went to bed early. 

3/4/2013: Dracula's Castle and Rasnov
On my second day in Brașov, I decided to see two more of the surrounding towns. The first town was Bran. Dracula's castle is located in Bran. The second town I wanted to see was Rasnov. The main site to see there was a medieval fortress. So, in order to have time to see both places, I got up sort of early, and caught the bus that I needed. However, I had some trouble getting to the bus station I needed because I did not follow the instructions I was given closely enough. When I finally got off the bus I wandered around for a bit before finally taking a taxi to the bus station I needed. The bus I needed wasn't leaving for a while, so I had time to eat a light breakfast. I bought a circular pretzel thing that was common all over Brașov. It was pretty good. After that, I waited around until the bus I needed finally arrived. I boarded and waited for it to depart. Two couples from the UK sat behind me. 

We passed by many different towns on the way to Bran, some of  them ski villages. Transylvania, in addition to being home to Dracula and other monsters, is also home to many ski resorts. Bran, however, was much more of a tourists's town then anything else. As I walked towards Dracula's (Vlad Tepes's) castle, I could see many stalls selling things from sausage and cheese to clothing done in a traditional Romanian style. Since I arrived before the castle opened, I had to wait a little while. The ticket was again expensive, this time because Dracula's castle is a major tourist destination. The walk up to the castle was very steep, but the view of and from the castle was great. I spent about 45 minutes walking around the castle, and then made my way back down to the area where most of the tourist stalls were. I purchased a miniature version of the castle to add to my collection and then headed back to the bus stop. 

View of the tower from the inner courtyard

The inner courtyard
The other side of the upper level
 The view from the castle
 A view of the inner courtyard from the top level
An inner room
 A building on the grounds
Dracula's Castle from Below
My next stop was Rasnov. I had actually passed Rasnov on my way to Bran, but it made more sense to see it on the way back. The main attractions in Rasnov are the Hollywood sign and the fortress. 
The road toward the Hollywood style sign and the fortress
From the bus stop, the walk to the fortress was actually pretty long and took me through a residential and wooded area of the town. To get to the fortress, I also decided to walk up a small hill, although there was a tram running that took visitors up and down the hill. Near the fortress there was an archery range, but it unfortunately closed when I was there. The fortress, and the view, were both excellent and worth the walk. 
The Fortress

One of the towers

Mountains in the distance
Another view from another angle
Another view from the top of the fortress
One of the many narrow alleyways 
In addition to having wonderful views of Rasnov and the surrounding area, the fortress also had some stores and people dressed in the style of the times when the fortress was used. I had a picture taken with me and one of the guys dressed up. After looking around the fortress for a while, I decided to head back to the main part of town and get some lunch. 
Me with one of the guys that was dressed up
The road back to town from the fortress
Near the bus stop, I purchased a schnitzel sandwich. It was pretty tasty, and a good choice for a food to eat on the go. One thing that Moldova lacks, and Romania seemed to have plenty of is on the go food. Since I didn't want to spend much time eating lunch while on my trip, I was glad. I ate the sandwich while I was waiting for the bus to come. 

When I arrived back in Brașov, I took the bus back into the center of town and decided that I had just enough time to see Tampa Mountain. On the way there, I stopped by the hunter's tower to see how late they were open. I was glad I did because the guy working there told me that the cable car to the top of Tampa mountain was not running. Instead, I decided to tour the tower. The hunter's tower was just one of many towers along the old city wall. If I remember correctly, they were built to defend the city against the Ottoman Turks. The tower was decorated with stuffed animals and other things related to hunting. I had a good view of the city from the top of the tower, but since it was relatively dark inside, it was hard to take really clear pictures. 
The view from the window of the tower
 Some stuffed animals and nature material
 A table decorate with animal furs
A boar's head and a bear pelt (?)
After the tower, I continued to walk along the wall so that I could see more towers, at least from the outside and get a picture of the old city wall. 
The hunter's Tower from the outside
 The old city wall
 Another tower that was controlled by a different guild
 One of the bastions guarding the wall
Then, I headed back towards the center of town to see the department store with a supermarket at the bottom before finding a place to have dinner and heading back to the hostel. On my way, I passed through the town square and stopped to take a picture. 
The main town square, home to many buildings and pigeons
Like the previous night, when I got back to the hostel I headed down to the basement. This time there was a guy from Australia relaxing. I talked to him for a little while before heading to bed. 

3/5/2013: Around Brasov

After having spent the previous two days exploring towns around Brasov, I decided to spend my last day seeing the city itself. My first stop was the castle. To get there, I headed towards the hill, and then walked up a fairly steep path to the castle. However, the doors were locked when I got there, so I decided to walk around the perimeter to see if there was another door that might be open. There wasn't, but luckily there was a person working there who was willing to let me in and show me around. 
The Castle
 View from the Hill, one side of the city
 View towards Tampa Mountain
The Exterior of the Castle
While we showed me around the interior, I took some pictures and he took some pictures of me in various places. Apparently the castle is a restaurant and events hall, but was closed until April. So, while the interior still had elements that were clearly very old, I could also see things that were newer and probably used when events were held inside. 
 Me, a suit of armor, and my reflection looking at the camera
 The hall with its tables and decorations
 Me and a well
 Me, in a courtyard where tables are in the summer
 Me, a cannon, and the groundskeeper's dog
Me, another type of artillery, and the groundskeeper's dog in the background
I spent about an hour at the castle and then continued on to my next stop, the black church. To get there, I walked down the hill and to the main square. From their I continue along one of the roads that was parallel to the square and arrived quickly at the Black Church. I could not take any pictures inside without paying, so I just took some of the outside. 
 Tampa Mountain and the Brașov sign
 A statue outside the black church
Picture of the windows
Then, I continued on to one of the bastions and Tampa mountain. On Tampa mountain is a sign designed like the Hollywood sign in LA. Anyways, I first went to see the bastion since it was on my way. I didn't take any pictures because I couldn't take any without paying. I walked around the outside for a little while and then went inside to see the museum. There was an entrance fee, but while it was too high for the size of the museum, it wasn't extravagant. I enjoyed walking around the museum for a little while and then continued on my way towards the entrance to the cable cars that would take me to the top of Tampa mountain. This again required me to walk up a hill. When I got to the area where they sold tickets, nobody was there. So, I went back down to where I had seen a door to a service area and looked in. People were there. I guess the ticket lady must have been on a break or something. After I bought my ticket, I had to wait for other people to come before I could take the cable car to the top. They weren't very busy that day and when only a couple more people had arrived, we got on the cable car and headed to the top of the mountain. 
 View number one from Tampa Mountain
 View of other mountains, some with snow on top
 Brașov from above
The view from the top was very nice, as was the view of the back of the Brașov sign. I looked around the top of the mountain for a little bit before beginning my descent down the mountain. The path down was full of switchbacks and was called the serpentine path for good reason. Occasionally there was some ice I had to avoid, but in general I had a nice time listening to music as I walked down the hill. The walk to the bottom took me about an hour. 
Part of the path down the hill
My next destination was St. Nicholas Church and the first primary school. They had both been closed the previous time I had tried to see them, so I wondered if they would be open this time. The timetable for the primary school said it should be open, but from the outside it seemed closed so I wasn't able to go in. The church was the same way. So, I decided I would go have lunch at an Indian restaurant I had seen a sign for earlier. On my way, I took pictures of two of the main gates that separated the two parts of the city. One gate was called the Schei gate and the other was called St. Catherine's gate. 
 Schei Gate
St. Catherine's Gate
After eating some sub-par Indian food, I headed to one of the two famous towers in the city, the black tower. I had to walk up a little bit of a hill to get to it, but the view was very nice. 
 The main town square
 The Black Church from the Black Tower, which was not actually black
View of the White Tower, which was white
I then continued on uphill along the path towards the White Tower. I was very glad I had gone to see the black tower first because the path from ground level to the white tower was full of many stairs while the path I took only had a slight incline. I again took some photos of the view, and then continued towards back towards ground level. I walked along the city wall for a while before I finally went back to the department store to get my hair cut. 
The Black Church and Tampa Mountain
The path that ran alongside the old city wall
Afterwards, I went back to the main square and had some Chinese food. Like the Indian food, it wasn't all that great unfortunately. However, I finished my meal and then went back and relaxed in the hostel. I again went to the basement and talked to the Australian guy for a little while. I then went to bed, later than I had the two previous nights.  

3/6/2013: Brașov to Buchareșt to the Train to Chisinau

One major advantage of taking the train, especially when there are a lot of them, is that it allows for a much more leisurely morning. I took advantage of that fact by sleeping in, taking a shower, and then having a relaxing breakfast of tea and cocoa puffs. I then finished packing my belongings, checked out, and headed to the train station to buy my ticket. I had about an hour before my train left, so I decided to visit a nearby shopping mall. There was a food court on the top floor and I ordered some falafel. Like the Chinese and Indian food, it was not very good. After that, I realized that Romania is not the place to buy Asian or Middle-Eastern food. When I finished eating, I headed back to the train station and boarded my train. Since the scenery was very nice, I took some pictures from the train.
 A snow covered mountain I saw from the train
A hill with a village at its base. 

A few hours later, I was back in Bucharest. As soon as I arrived, I purchased my ticket to Chisinau, and then went to the lounge to relax. Surprisingly, there were some other Peace Corps volunteers there that I was able to talk to so the time passed pretty quickly. We boarded the train about 20 minutes before it was supposed to leave. After talking for a while, we all went to bed at about 10:00pm. Since I woke up at 7:30, I would have gotten a full night's sleep if I hadn't been awoken at customs. The train reached Chisinau on time at about 8:30, which gave me plenty of time to buy groceries, relax at Peace Corps for a bit,  eat some Taco Bell quality Mexican food for lunch, return to Peace Corps to relax for a bit, and then head to the bus station. Unfortunately, because it was the day before international women's day, the rutiera that I usually take was full. Luckily, there was another one that left only a little bit later. I took that one and 3 hours later I arrived in Drochia with just enough time to catch the rutiera I needed to get back to my village. I was home by about 6pm and spent that evening and the remaining days of vacation relaxing. Although I was travelling solo again, I had a really nice time in Romania.