Our guidebook strongly suggested visiting Orheiul Vechi, positioning it as “unquestionably Moldova’s most fantastic sight”. Craving some nature, we decided to head to the monastery complex, which consists of caves carved into a massive limestone cliff.
There is apparently only one minibus that leaves Chisinau for the caves at a decent time, and we managed to miss it by seconds. Indeed, no matter how used we now are to foreign bus stations, we were not ready for Chisinau’s bus terminal. The place is an insane mess, right dab in the middle of an open air market. Everything is mixed up together, and buses are everywhere. There are no bus touts, no main station, no logical organization. We just had to walk and walk, checking every bus signs, hoping to eventually find the right bus. Fortunately for us, a couple from the Ukraine had arranged transport to and from the caves and so we found ourselves even better off than had we used the regular public transport. We could now get more time at the caves and much less walking to do.
We couldn’t see much of the drive to the caves as the windows were mostly covered, but once there it was clear that we were in one of our most picturesque places yet. We bought a map of the complex from the office, paid our admission and off we went.
The map wasn’t very good, and so we couldn’t figure out where the caves were and how to get into them. We explored the area around the church but where we thought the entrance was only looked doors. We kept an eye out for the Ukrainian couple, but they did not seem to have more luck.
We noticed a trail by the river bellow, but couldn’t figure out how to get there without having to hike all the way to the other side of the cliff and into the village. I decided to try my luck with the long walk, while Travis decided to stay back and try to get some food. We were hungry and had no food – we had not planned this well!
I walked and walked and was just in awe of the scenery. The green valley, the cliff side, the village – it was all so stunning. No matter how hungry I was, I was so glad to be there, in nature, by myself. It was a perfectly peaceful walk in a holy place, on a beautiful spring day.
Eventually I reached the village. It was typical to what we had seen driving around the country, but at last I could grab some pictures. The village was really quiet, and I saw hardly anyone. I did not find any food or stores either, but such is life.
I looped back towards the bottom of the cliff and started to explore an area that had been carved out. The walls and ceiling looked as though it had been chiseled away over the year to make large, open caves. The limestone was soft and filled with shells – anyone with dedication and time could have easily done it. Unfortunately these caves clearly had nothing to do with the monastery, and so I decided to move on.
As I started to get back down from the cliff I found Travis, who had also come this way. Neither of us had found the actual caves – this was most bizarre considering that we had walked the whole are between the two of us. At the same time as we were catching up on what we had seen, the Ukrainian couple arrived – they had also had no luck finding the caves. we decided to walk back along the river, sharing the home-made wine they had with them (they clearly had planned their trip better).
We eventually made it to an abandoned cave that had previously been the site of a church. There were old carvings on the wall, of what I assume to be passages from the bible.
As we neared back to the main church I had given up hopes of finding the actual cave. But just as I did, we noticed a balcony over the cliff, with tourists on it: clearly the cave was there! Now we just had to find the entrance.
And we did find it – it was exactly where we thought it was earlier on. The locked door was not opened, and we could finally go in. I was made to wear a skirt over my pants (pantaloons not allowed, apparently) and we made our way into the dark underground. The church was small, but quaint – yet not as “fantastic” as advertised in our guidebook.
The Ukrainian couple headed into the village to find food, and upon their return we had a picnic in the field of home-made red wine, sardines, chunky smoked pork and bread. As we waited for the bus to pick us up over food and wine, we felt lucky to have met this couple and made it all of the way out here.
It was a day filled with epic beauty, and one we would not soon forget!