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Moldova: Orheiul Vechi

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Orheiul Vechi | Moldova | Europe

[Visited: October 2010]

When I arrived in Orheiul Vechi on a sunny afternoon, I resisted the temptation to go directly to the main sight of the area - the rock monastery. Instead, after a brief visit to the tiny museum in which I found various finds of the area and which gave me a valuable introduction to what I could expect here, I walked to the village of Butuceni. While on the bridge over the Raut river, the limestone cliffs in which I knew I would later find the rock churches for which this area is famous, were on my left. But I walked straight on, past a barking dog, into the long street around which Butuceni is organized. I saw traditional houses in bright colours, often behind traditional gates with typical sculptures on top. I saw a lot of corncobs on balconies, and stacks of old maize plants in the gardens. I passed many wells, some of which were placed in separate small decorated buildings. There were a few people around, almost no sounds. Walking this rural street on a quiet autumn afternoon gave me a sense of peace. Butuceni: a very pleasant place to just wander around.

Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Butuceni, Raut river, and Orheiul Vechi complex in the hill

From the main street, I took a road leading up the hill, and reached the ridge of the hill that defines the area. While on the Butuceni side, the hill is lovely, gradual and gentle, the other side is sudden, extreme and almost brutal. I reached the top of the hill already quite far from the modern Birth of the Holy Virgin church that dominates the ridge, with the Raut river just below me, and continued further east. Below me, I saw gently rolling hills where farmers and tractors were preparing the lands for winter, I saw smoke coming from houses where I imagined people were preparing dinner, I saw someone driving a horse and carriage over an otherwise empty road, I saw trees in yellow and red reflected in the Raut river, and much more. Just soaking in the views and the tranquillity made me happy. I walked back to the big stone cross behind the church, walked down to the banks of the Raut river that were already in the shade, and walked until I was walking in the sun again, towards the village of Trebujeni. I climbed to caverns which I never discovered what they were - they looked quite new, and were covered in graffiti. When I returned to my hotel, I discovered that no dinner could be made as they were preparing a wedding party the next day. I ended up spending a quiet evening, as the only person in the entire hotel.

Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Road near the edge of the cliff face of Orheiul Vechi

The next day, I walked out at dawn, the earth covered with a delicate white frost. It was my birthday, and the first present I got that day, was a pure and warm sunrise. The cliffs of Orheiul Vechi were receiving some rays of sun, and as I walked the fields parallel to the Raut river, I had a great view of the entire mountain range in which the rock monasteries are hewn out. I visited the ruins of the 14th century citadel, originally built by a Mongol invader, and saw the remains of the wall of a caravanserai, mosque and church. Continuing to the east, I ended up at a bridge over the Raut river, where I stumbled upon the ruins of the old Tartar baths, behind which I saw the village of Trebujeni which was awaking at this time of the day. After yet another visit to the prime sights of Orheiul Vechi - the rock monasteries - I went back to the hotel for a quick lunch. To my surprise, the girl of the hotel knocked on my door and served me a delicious Moldovan meal, her birthday present to me. Later, she invited me to some very fresh red wine which I really liked, and invited me to attend to the big wedding party that night. I had to think about it, and ended my visit to this remote corner of Moldova with a climb up the western banks of the Raut river. Here, the hills surrounding the river rise up steeply and hiking up was a scramble; at the same time, it was fast and quickly allowed me a great view of the bend in the Raut river around which I had been spending two great days. Below me, the church on the ridge that is the centrepiece of the Orheiul Vechi area, the river, and the ruins I had visited earlier that day. Next to me, paragliders were sailing down the perfectly blue skies to the valley below. For me, time was up. Even though it was tempting, I had decided against going to the wedding party that evening - my head full of images of drunken Moldovans. Instead, I climbed down the hill, got my baggage, and walked back towards the main road.

Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Raut river and tree in the Orheiul Vechi area
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Trees and Raut river with the Birth of the Holy Virgin church in the background
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Raut river and hills in the late afternoon near Trebujeni
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Early morning on the Raut river
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Raut river meandering through the landscape near Butuceni
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Galleries in the rocky hills above the Raut river near Trebujeni
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Ruins of the 14th century stone citadel or Orheiul Vechi
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Contours of the medieval church of Orheiul Vechi
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Ruins of the Tatar bath near the Raut river
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Brightly coloured house in Butuceni with corn
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Traditional gate with decorations in Butuceni
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Road leading over the ridge on which most of the sights of Orheiul Vechi are located
Picture of Orheiul Vechi (Moldova): Belfry and roof of the Birth of the Holy Virgin church

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