Visit to an unifinished soviet-times military site in the Codru forest

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We finally found the unfinished military site we had read about on Moldova Holiday.
We had walked around in the Orhei forest looking for it a few times with no success. At the end we found the right way thanks to Google Earth (see last photo below).
This is a weird site in the middle of the forest. The unfinished building was apparently meant to become the command centre for the Soviet Union’s anti-missile defence system, but construction works began in the late 1980s and were then abandoned with the fall of the Soviet Union.
The buildings are now totally overgrown with vegetation. According to Moldova Holiday, one of the buildings was intended to be living quarters, the other for offices. The site is well known to the local population who comes here for picnics and children parties (seriously!). There should be also some underground bunkers in the area, but we did not find them.

 

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Playing the Moldovans at Tennis

Playing the Moldovans at TennisI was on holiday recently and I finally took the time to read Tony Hawks’ book “Playing the Moldovans at Tennis”. I actually knew Tony Hawks more as the founder of a Chisinau-based centre for kids with chronic conditions coming from socially vulnerable families, where a few of my friends from the British/international community in Chisinau either work or volunteer. I now discovered what he is actually most known for, his writing talent and very funny vein (I actually went on to read also his earlier book about travelling around Ireland with a fridge, just to keep laughing a bit longer).

Reading the book – set in Moldova in 1998 – makes you smile but awakes some conflicting emotions too, if you have lived in Moldova. So much has changed since then – the city centre streets do now enjoy public lights, there are plenty of restaurants and pubs and probably less potholes, and the soviet past is now a distant memory, basically unknown for an entire generation of young adults. On the other hand, so much still rings true and many of the author’s frustrations cannot but resonate with any foreigner who is trying to bring forward a project – even one that is not as crazy as trying to play tennis with 11 football players from the Moldovan national team, and beat all of them to win a 100 dollars bet struck with a drunk friend back in England.

If you got curious, read the book and enjoy some laughs – or you can check out the 2012 movie based on the book, or the 18-minutes TEDxChisinau talk from 2013 where Tony Hawks illustrates his vision for a fair repartition of the world’s economic resources.

Making our own wine

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Since I last posted on this blog many things have happened between me and my adoptive country Moldova. I celebrated my one year anniversary here. I was away for over two months, so long to actually miss ‘home’. And most of all, my husband and I bought a house in the Moldovan countryside. But I will say more about that in another post.

What I want to focus on here is the fact that we actually now own real grapeyards, which produced lots of grapes. One of the varieties we have is a grape locally called Baku, or Bako. We borrowed a plastic barrel from a neighbour the other day – together with a lot of home wine-related wisdom and tips – and got to work. We collected just a small amount of grapes during a couple of hours. Enough to fill the 150l barrel.

A day later I drove around the city of Chisinau to get what we needed – a red large plastic ‘cadă’ and a small press to crash the grapes. In the evening we got down to business in our garage to have the grapes start their fermentation.

We are not yet sure about the next steps, which seem to involve regular blending, waiting, tasting, filtering and then a still unknown sequence of transfers from container to container and finally to bottles.

We are learning by doing the art of making Moldovan wine.

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Hiking in the Orhei forest

The Orhei forest

A few weeks ago some friends and I went for a trek between Donici, Curchi, Vatici and back to Donici: a circular hike of about 20km that took us from 10.30 am to 5 pm including a few stops and snack breaks.

Donici is a small Moldovan village in the Orhei rayon, some 40 minutes from Chisinau, with a beautiful church, a museum hosted in the house of Moldovan fable writer Alexandru Donici, and just a couple of small shops.

We started our walk from the church in Donici and started walking towards the Curchi monastery across the forest. We could not have done it without a GPS (on the phone) – marked paths in the forest often finished suddenly or took a totally different direction, so we ended up walking mostly off the path, just following the direction indicated on the map and using the phone’s compass (straight north from Donici to Curchi, and later south-south-east from Vatici to Donici).

The ground was rather wet (this was back in April), and sometimes we had to climb over broken trees, but in general it was not a difficult hike at all – and one full of beautiful views and interesting surprises.

The first part until the Curchi monastery took us two hours of steady walk. Arriving in Curchi is fantastic, with a sudden view on the churches and the lakes. We visited the monastery, used the restrooms, had our sandwiches in a nice gazebo overlooking the lake, and then continued to Vatici with an half-hour walk on a straight, easy path on the border of the forest.

In Vatici we walked around for a while before finding the main square with the museum, the shop-café, and a nice little table under a big tree, ideal for another short stop.

Then we climbed up on the other side of the main road and started crossing the forest again. After a couple of hours we came out of the forest – but a bit too far west of Donici, so we walked along the border of the forest for a last half hour until we could distinguish the top of the Donici Church tower behind the hills.

Some more info about this trek on Moldova Holiday: http://www.moldovaholiday.travel/en/useful-downloads/suggested-hiking-itineraries/download/hiking-3-donici-curchi-pdf. Do contact me if you wish to have more info and please share your experience if you have done this or other hikes in the Moldovan countryside.

The lake close to Donici
[Photos courtesy of Ann-Yvonne]

Driving and other car-related business

Driving in Chisinau is extremely relaxing when compared to my hometown Rome, and even my previous base Brussels. Traffic is what I would consider sparse, except maybe for rush hours (when anyway you never have to wait for more than a few minutes in line at the worse crossroads). Drivers are mostly kind to each other. They let you change lane or drive out of parking lots with no stress, they stop on pedestrian crossings, they decelerate as soon as the green traffic light starts blinking (which is, before it gets yellow). Unheard of in Italy!
[Keep in mind though – everything is relative. I know people coming from more civilised driving cultures than mine, who would definitely not agree with my optimistic description of the Moldovan driving style. Some says that Russian-times easy-to-get driving licenses give a sense of entitlement to anybody who possesses a car, that makes them feel they can park anywhere. True enough, but they still drive gently, in my opinion].
Something that needs getting used to is the microbuses that stop unexpectedly anywhere there is someone on the sidewalk making a sign. For this reason, most people avoid the right lane. Maybe that’s why most streets in Chisinau are large and one-way – to allow you to drive past the microbuses comfortably.

It gets a bit harder to drive in the countryside, mostly because of the road quality – outside of the main roads, expect huge holes, lack of asphalt and lots of mud if it has been raining.

Not as many people own a car in Moldova as in other European countries, so there is an air of luxury around the most mundane car-related tasks. For example, washing your car – for around 140 MDL (roughly 7-8 euro) you can get your car perfectly clean and shining inside and out thanks to teams of 3-4 people who work for an hour on it while you are invited to sit in the sun, have a coffee and enjoy the free wifi (see the photo I just took while writing this post in the sun).

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Unfortunately I had to deal with quite a lot of car services when I crashed my back window on a pole driving out of a parking lot. Comes out that in Moldova you need to call the police and wait for them to come and record exactly what happened if you want to be reimbursed by your insurance company – even if nobody was injured or, like in my case, nobody else was even involved, or present. So don’t just go home and think you’ll sort it out tomorrow.

Family biking in Vadul lui Voda

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Last week we loaded our bikes on the car and headed to the resort area of Vadul lui Voda, “the place to be” in soviet summertime according to the online guide of Explore Moldova.

The signs for the resort area, ‘zona de odihna’, point to the left of the main road just before reaching the town of Vadul lui Voda, half an hour drive to the east of Chisinau. There we started biking along the Dniestr river, eyeing Transnistria on the other side.

We passed some playgrounds, a few cafés and restaurants, who were playing music and grilling meat in the warm spring air. The wide beach was still empty – we looked at the water wondering if people swim here in summer, but a quick Instagram search for #VadulLuiVoda proves that indeed they do!

Then we passed by a series of wooden houses and colourful residential complexes named after big companies or public institutions. Apparently they offer vacation opportunities to staff and their families in good sovietic tradition.

We continued biking just a little while, out of the forest and up to the town of Balabanesti – and then followed the river back. The sights were magnificent along the Dniestr and over the hills and we stopped to chat with some locals enjoying the view from the benches along the river, in our usual mix of Romanian and Russian.

Once back in the resort area, we certainly enjoyed our frigarui (grilled skewers) at one of the restaurants in front of the beach, while the children played.

It was a great excursion for a spring day – I wonder how crowded this gets in summer!

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How to change the world… starting from providing free IT training to children

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How to change the world... starting from providing free IT training to children

During the past months I followed an amazing 6-week online course on Coursera called “How to Change the World“. It was an interesting review of the main concepts related to aid and development, focusing in particular on some areas such as poverty reduction, gender equality, climate change, health issues. One of the – maybe obvious – lessons of this course is that there is so much that can be done to change the world, so many well know solutions to existing problems, and so many people already changing it – who just need to be joined.
Well, I have seen many charities and NGOs here in Moldova, but the one closer to my heart is TEKEDU (I am actually now a proud member of its Advisory Board).
TEKEDU is now out of start-up phase and fully operational, and for Easter it is launching a fund-raising campaign to give a jump-start to its IT training activities in residential schools for children without parental care. Maybe you want to consider giving 20 or 50€ to these guys, and make a little contribution to changing the world.