On Friday, Florin had some work and meetings to take care of so Leah and Nataly very kindly offered to take me to a cave monastery in a village called Orhei Vecchi about 35-40 minutes from Chisinau. Nataly borrowed her father's car and they picked me up. It was a crystal clear warm morning with full sunshine. We stopped at a supermarket to pick up picnic lunch supplies and headed out.
Almost immediately out of the cities we began to see the agricultural nature of the country. There are vineyards everywhere and hundreds of walnut trees lining the road. The roads became more and more rural before we reached Orhei Vecchi and we walked up a fairly steep hill to reach the cave monastery. The area is a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by limestone cliffs. A small river winds all around it. When we arrived at the monastery, they were having worship because it was an Orthodox holy day, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. We walked down into the cave church. It was simple and lovely, the walls were the whitish limestone of the very cliffs. There were about 20 villagers present for the service. The candelabra over the sanctuary wasn't electric, it was candles. It was really beautifully primitive. I could imagine the exact same service being celebrated centuries ago. After worship we went through a door that literally took us out onto a cliff with a two foot ledge. It was kind of shocking scary beautiful.
After leaving the church, we walked along the cliff road to see a new church that was being build. We passed a very colorful cemetery and a limestone cross overlooking the valley.
After leaving the monastery area, we drove a short way into the valley to see the river filled with ducks and geese. There were the ruins of a Turkish bath from days when the Ottoman Empire included this part of the world. Then we walked a fair way along the river to find a place to have a picnic lunch and to relax and talk. Nataly gathered walnuts. I found them more delicious than any walnut I ever had. I couldn't get enough of them.
We arrived back in the city around 4 to meet Florin but he went off to another meeting or two and Leah and I walked downtown while Nataly returned the car to her dad and met us downtown for dinner. We returned to the restaurant the Florin and I had eaten at the day before. I had a local beer, a bowl of zeama (a local specialty: a chicken noodle soup with a lemon-sour broth) followed by pork medallions and a pear poached in honey and red wine. Nataly also had zeama while Leah had potato leek soup. They had interesting looking salads. We walked across the street again to the patisserie called Delise for coffee/tea and dessert. Natalie and Leah had rich chocolate tortes and I had an apple tart with a nut bottom crust.
We walked back to the apartment and chatted with Florin for a while, planning a meeting we're having Saturday night. The women left and we crashed. Long, wonderful day. Pictures can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com/nundabud/20091010#