Weekend expeditions in Soroca and Rezina

After spending three weeks with Constantin in Rosu, it was time for me to leave. I had made plans to go back to Chişinau as the Don Quixote ballet was on at the National Opera and Ballet Theatre. Having done ballet when I was younger and having performed one of the solos in this ballet, I couldn’t pass this opportunity! It was a lot busier than I had anticipated with a lot of younger people as well. The dancers from the company were good, but the special guests, first dancers from other companies were simply amazing.

Chisinau National Opera and Ballet Theatre
Chisinau National Opera and Ballet Theatre

Anxious to leave Roşu

Even though I am usually quite confident when it comes time to travel and figuring out transportation, for some reasons after three weeks, I was anxious to catch the minibus to the capital city. I’m not sure what I was anxious about: the fact that I was leaving my comfortable village to the hustle and bustle of a city, the fact that I had to carry my big backpack with me on a small minibus or simply because it had been a few weeks where I stopped and I was a bit anxious to leave for yet some more unknown.

Yet another minibus!
Yet another minibus!

Regardless of the reasons, I was very happy when Constantin offered to come to Cahul with me to help me buy my ticket. As I wrote in my journal: ”I’m so out of it, it feels like I don’t even know how to travel anymore. Which I know is silly. I always travel and for some reason I stop in one place for 3 weeks and now I am scared? Ridiculous.”

In order to make my life slightly easier and alleviate some of my anxiety, I went through everything I own before leaving and donated some things I had no longer a use for, which made my bag smaller and myself feel more comfortable.

When we arrived in Cahul, the minibus was there already so we quickly said goodbye and I took the last available seat, in the last row, between a teenager and a dad with his young son on his laps. It was not very roomy but we made it work anyway. About 3 hours later I arrived back in Chişinau.

Fountain in Stefan Cel Mare park
Parcul Stefan Cel Mare in Chisinau

Now knowing my way around the city, I went to the tram stop and waited a few minutes for tram no 9. As the last time I was on the tram the controller had asked me to pay for a seat for my large bag, I paid 4 lei right away. This guy seemed confused at first, but quickly realized the potential. And shortly after he tried to ask locals with a very small suitcase for more money, which they straight out refused to pay.

The first few times I stayed in Chişinau I had booked at the Funky Mamaliga Hostel, but this time around it was unavailable, so I picked the other hostel from the same owner. The small Retro Hostel is very conveniently located right in the center, so even though I had thought I would move back to the hostel I was familiar with, I ended up calling the Retro hostel home for a few weeks.

By then I had gotten myself hired for a virtual assistant position and I now needed to work a few hours a day Monday to Thursday. So even though I stayed a few weeks in Chişinau, I didn’t really visit much more (not that there’s much to visit anyway) but mostly became a ”local”, going out of the city during the weekends.

Soroca
Soroca

Soroca

One of my weekend expeditions was in Soroca. Soroca is a city located about 160km North from Chisinau, right on the border with Ukraine. I had found some bus timetables online, but when I arrived at the Gara de Nord to buy my ticket, I was told that the earlier bus was no longer running, so I bought a ticket for the 11:15 bus instead.

The station being quite busy and buses being only somewhat indicated, I decided to double check with one of the guys directing people to the right buses. After looking at my ticket, he gestured to me that my bus was actually leaving on the other side of the building. I made my way around and sure enough, there was a bus marked Soroca. I showed my ticket to the driver and he kept saying Oteci or Soroca? I had bought a ticket for Soroca, but the bus was continuing on to Oteci. Once the driver and I made it clear I was trying to go to Soroca, once again gesturing and trying to communicate in different languages, he brought me back to the ticket office and asked the lady for a refund as the previous girl had sold me a ticket all the way to Oteci. To be honest, I had no clue I had paid too much, but I was glad to get my big 26 lei (about 1.70 CAD) back nonetheless. The driver could have easily said nothing, but once again I got a good example of how nice Moldovans are.

Cutest little stray cat in Soroca
Cutest little stray cat in Soroca

I got on the bus (a large one instead of a minibus!) and it turned out, this bus was leaving at 10:50, so on top of saving money, I arrived earlier than I expected in Soroca.

When I arrived in Soroca, I was wondering how easy the Vila de la Nord hotel would be to find and sure enough, it was the first building right after walking out of the bus station. It doesn’t really get any easier than that!

I checked in and when I asked the receptionist if she spoke English, she answered :”Nyet”. So we gestured back and forth and made it work. After months in hostel dorms, every time I am in a private room with my own bathroom, it feels like so much luxury! I never thought the level of comfort I now need in my life would become so low, the upside being that it’s very easy for me to feel like I’m splurging nowadays!

Vegetarian pizza in Andys pizza during lent
Vegetarian pizza in Andy’s pizza during lent

Moldova being mostly an Orthodox Christian country, a lot of people were observing lent, which meant that a lot of the restaurants had a special lent menu. I decided to treat myself and finally try Andy’s pizza, one of the very popular restaurant chains in Moldova. I manage to easily get a vegetarian pizza, without cheese, and without having to explain using only gestures why I didn’t want any animal product!

Soroca Fortress
Soroca Fortress

After my good lunch, I made my way to Soroca Fortress. The fortress is quite interesting to visit. There’s not much interpretation to help you understand the use of the different rooms, but I still learned a few interesting facts. It is located on the bank of the Dniester river. The Dniester separates Moldova and Ukraine (or Transnistria depending on where you are standing along the river). It was first built in 1499 as a wooden fort, part of a chain of fortifications, and then used to protect the area during many of the wars experienced by people in this area. Later on, it was rebuilt as a perfectly round stone fort.

Border crossing, Moldova on this side, Ukraine on the other side of the river
Border crossing, Moldova on this side, Ukraine on the other side of the river

In Soroca, there’s a very small border crossing with Ukraine and after looking at it I’m pretty sure it’s not an international one. The river is very narrow and would probably be fairly easy to cross, even though the current seemed quite strong in the area. At the same time, I’m not sure why one would want to cross illegally as both countries are pretty easy to get into.

After visiting the fortress, I went for a walk around the city, buying some wine on my way. When I arrived at the hotel I realized I couldn’t open my wine bottle. I always carry a bottle opener in my backpack, but because I only had my daypack I didn’t have it with me for once. There is a small bar in the hotel so I headed that way. The receptionist was there and when she saw me she grabbed the bottle opener and was going to hand it to me but changed her mind and handed both the bottle and the bottle opener to the guest who was sitting there. While he was opening my bottle I walked around the small bar. When I turned around I saw what was written on the back of his jacket. A lovely police officer had just opened my bottle for me!

Soroca Fortress
Soroca Fortress

Moldovan hospitality in Soroca

On my second day in Soroca, I decided to walk out of town to the candle of gratitude monument on top of the hill overlooking Soroca. When I arrived I noticed there were two buses down the stairs so it was pretty crowded. I should have expected that as it was a week before Orthodox Easter. I noticed there was also a street leading to the monument so after double checking on my GPS app that the street was leading into town, I headed that way.

Candle of gratitude monument, Soroca
Candle of gratitude monument, Soroca

I walked in a residential area with very typical houses with vines, wells, and small gardens. All the houses are usually painted with the same colours, a bright blue which fades over time and turns pastel blue and the occasional pink and green. I also walked in the Romani neighborhood. The largest Roma community in Moldova is in Soroca. It was quite interesting to see the neighborhood with huge unfinished mansions and it made me think that sometimes worrying about appearances to much might lead to weird situations, such as having a small house where people actually live next to a massive unfinished building.

Romani unfinished house in Soroca
Romani unfinished house in Soroca

On my way back to the hotel I wanted to buy a few things to eat but everything looked closed except the alimentaras, the small convenience stores. I went to one not too far from the hotel and the girl who served me spoke English. She promptly invited me to the back of the shop to drink homemade wine with the shop owner. Zinaida ended up acting as the de facto translator. Between Raisa from Moldova, Zinaida from Russia and me from Canada, and going back and forth between all our languages we all had a good time. I left, quite tipsy, well over an hour later.

Unfinished house in Soroca
Unfinished house in Soroca

The next morning, it was already time to head back to the capital. I arrived early as I wanted to make sure I would catch the 9.20 am bus. When I got there I bought a ticket and asked the driver of one of the minibuses that said Chisinau if it was the right bus. I was pretty sure it wasn’t, but I still preferred to ask. He unsuccessfully tried to find someone who spoke English, making me once again the center of attention, and from what I managed to understand he wanted me to go back to the office to change my ticket for the earlier bus so I wouldn’t have to wait about 20 minutes at the station. When he was ready to leave he gave my ticket to the driver of the later bus and gestured to me to get on his minibus. Once again, thanks to the kindness of the local bus drivers, I got on an earlier bus after a great weekend in Soroca.

Rezina and Saharna Monastery

After staying in Chisinau, working and enjoying the American Film Festival for a week, it was time for my weekend expedition. I had trouble deciding on where to go as I wanted to see something new, but finding information about attractions in Moldova is not really easy. I knew that close to Rezina there was a monastery and that I could see Ribniţa, one of the largest cities of Transnistria from the riverside.

Ribnita in Transnistria
Ribnita in Transnistria

I had done some research online about the buses and found one that was straight to Saharna, where the monastery is located, leaving at 8:15am. Of course, when I arrived to buy my ticket, this option was not available. It might have been full or nonexisting. As good as my gesturing skills are getting, they are not good enough to understand subtleties. My only options to get straight to Saharna was to take the 10:45, but I didn’t want to wait over two hours at the station so I bought my ticket to Rezina, the city located about 7km from Saharna , planning to either walk or try to catch a ride to Saharna or back to Rezina.

Orthodox Easter being a very important holiday here, when everybody returns to their families, the buses were rather full. And it took a bit longer than I thought it would as the bus was stopping in what felt like every single village along the way.

Anastasia Hotel in Rezina
Anastasia Hotel in Rezina

When I had looked online I could not find a hotel or place to stay in Rezina, but thanks to Lynn, a Peace Corps volunteer I shared my dorm with, I had learned that there was actually one hotel in Rezina called Anastasia Hotel. I asked the hostel staff to call for me, as once again gesturing would prove rather unhelpful on the phone. I was not expecting much from a hotel in a small town, but when I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find it was an actual hotel!

Little bag of goodies
Little bag of goodies

On my way to the hotel, I met with a religious procession and one of the girls crossed the street to hand me a bag of goodies. A bread, towel, cup, chocolate, cookies and a candle. It was very much unexpected, but a very nice gesture.

Saharna Monastery
Saharna Monastery

After a quick lunch, I decided to start walking towards Saharna and the monastery. A man who was driving with his daughter or granddaughter offered me a ride. We tried to communicate but without a common language, it was quite difficult. He did, however, mention the waterfall before dropping me at the junction of the street leading to the monastery. Everything was very lush and green. The Saharna monastery is an important pilgrimage site in Moldova, but being far from interested in the religious aspect, my visit was fairly quick. It was a much smaller monastery than the men-only monastery I visited previously next to Tiraspol.

Saharna Monastery
Saharna Monastery

After walking around the monastery, I followed a path leading to the waterfall. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was different. The path was quite narrow at points and because it rained the days before, the mud was very slippery. I managed to stay up for most of the descent, but the last few meters, I slip and fell. In the mud. When I got back up I had mud all over my jeans. I don’t know if it was karma, but I remembered how I had laughed at someone who fell in the mud when I was coming down Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and I felt a little guilty. Better late than never I guess!

Narrow path leading to the waterfall, Saharna
Narrow path leading to the waterfall, Saharna

I was by the river but couldn’t wash up because of the murky water. And I could not see the waterfall. According to my GPS, the path continued on the other side of the river. So I crossed the murky brown river, hoping not to slip again on the rocks and made my way on the other side. There I followed the overgrown path to the waterfall. It looked quite nice but I couldn’t really see it well because of the vegetation.

Murky river to cross
Murky river to cross

I saw on my GPS that there were two paths leading back to the monastery. I kept walking and when I looked to make sure I was still going in the right direction, I noticed I was on the higher path. I had totally missed the other path. The vegetation was very much overgrown and every few steps a lizard would run away scaring me in the process. I was nervous, walking on narrow edges, on my own, on an overgrown path. Suddenly a fairly long slow worm slid away in front of me. I nearly had a heart attack. Lizards I can cope with, but with snakes it’s a different story!

The famous waterfall next to Saharna Monastery
The infamous waterfall next to Saharna Monastery

I was rushing to get out of the forest when I realized I had missed the junction with the other path. I made my way back down in a challenging muddy hill and shortly after I was out of the forest and back in the village. The path along the river is probably nicer but I didn’t feel like going back to check! Some of my friends sometimes mention how brave I am to be traveling on my own and all. But it’s nothing compared to coming face to face with a scary limbless reptile when I’m on my own!

Saharna Monastery
Saharna Monastery

While I was walking on the road back towards Rezina a guy in his 20s stopped to offer me a ride. I gladly accepted as it was very hot and there was not much shade on the road. After my monastery and waterfall experience, I went back to the main street in Rezina to buy a few items before coming down the longest set of stairs I’ve seen in a while. I walked towards the bridge leading to Ribnita in Transnistria. I had thought of maybe going there but I didn’t really feel like walking in the heat any longer.

As cars going to Transnistria need to buy insurance, there are a few little offices conveniently located just before the border control selling just that. I took some pictures of Ribniţa, the city on the other side of the Dniester river and I made my way to the hotel for a movie night. Internet was working only in the lobby so I was able to disconnect a little, enjoying the nice view from my private balcony while relaxing, which was the perfect end to my weekend adventures.

Lovely balcony and view of Ribnita
Lovely balcony and view of Ribnita

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