The restaurant looks completely different this morning without the wedding party, decorations and DJ equipment.
For breakfast we are on the same table as a group of eleven Finnish tourists, and like last night, there is way too much food.
Some sort of rice pudding, doughnut-type pastries, feta-style cheese, yogurt and tomatoes more than fills us up.
After breakfast we take a short walk around Butuceni Village, with its collection of cute old buildings, ornate gates and jumbled street furniture.
I call in the village shop to get some water, and notice the elderly shopkeeper uses an abacus to add up the purchases. I don’t think I have seen one of those in use since we visited the old USSR back in the 1980s.
I am also very surprised to see a British car in the village!
On our way to Capriana, we spot a number of police cars that increase in frequency and number the nearer we get to the monastery. The last bit of road leading to the complex is closed off with a police cordon, and parking is impossible anywhere near the area. There are people everywhere; most dressed in their Sunday best. The national TV station is present and there are food stalls and first aid tents set up. Somebody important must be visiting – other than us, I mean.
Even from a great distance we can clearly hear the church bells and some beautiful chanting.
Valeriu is as perplexed as we are, but his confusion soon turns to awe as he realises that the liturgy is being led by none other than the Patriarch of Moscow – who for those of us not in the know (including me and David), he is the 'head honcho' of the Moldavian Orthodox Church, held in the same esteem as the Pope is for the Catholics.
The air is full of celebratory reverence, devoted admiration, and pious wonderment; and we soon discover the reason: Moldova is getting its very first Saint in the shape of Metropolitan Banulescu Bodoni who died 200 years ago. We, along with thousands of others, are in fact attending their – and our - very first canonisation. How cool is that?
The Church of St Mary
The crowds are too great to do sightseeing justice, but we follow the throngs of worshippers into the church of St Mary. Dating from 1545, it is the oldest of the three churches that make up the monastery complex, and the oldest preserved church in Moldova.
After falling into decline during the 17th century, the church was reinvigorated in 1813, and for a while thrived. In 1940, the whole monastic estate was confiscated by Soviet troops, the monks fled and the churches were desecrated and pillaged. During the 1960s and 70s, the monastery was used as a sanatorium for sick children and later as a dance hall. In 1989 reconstruction of the monastery began and Capriana once again became a place of religious services.
It amuses me that a woman’s hair must be covered before entering the church, yet a tight, short dress is fine.
Despite not being religious, I find the visit to the church quite emotional and very spiritual. Valeriu gives us a candle each as we enter the church, for us to say a prayer and then ‘plant’ the candle.
The Church of St George
Dating from 1907, the church of St George is smaller and nowhere near as crowded.
We leave the crowds behind and call Leonid to come back and pick us up for the journey to Hincu.
Hincu Monastery / Convent
Located in the picturesque Codrii Forest, reaching Hincu Monastery involves a very pleasant stroll up through the woods, although I didn’t expect to see a monk on a tractor along the way.
Founded in 1678 by the daughter of the High Steward Mihai Hincu, Hincu is one of the richest monasteries in Moldova. The convent was then known as Parascheva. After the wooden church and cells were destroyed several times during Tatar invasions in the 18th century, the nuns left. The care of the convent fell on monks from a nearby monastery, who repaired the cells and eventually moved in.
With the arrival of the Soviets in 1944, the monastery closed and the monks were 'asked' to leave. In 1978 the monastery was taken into use as a sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers, while the church was turned into a club. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990, Hincu once more became an active monastery, albeit short lived: in 1992, the community was abolished and the monks moved out. Later the same year, a few nuns returned and started the reconstruction of the monastery / convent – which just proves that if you want a job done, get the girls in!
Next-door a new church is in the process of being constructed, but apparently they have run out of funds, so the interior is still fairly basic, without any of the usual adornments normally associated with orthodox churches.
The grounds are beautiful, with beds bursting to the seams with brightly coloured flowers. I guess this is the female touch that comes from it being a convent now rather than a monastery.
The nunnery has one of the best tended and colourful cemeteries I have ever seen!
From Hincu we continue the short distance to the official visitors area of Codrii Forest.
Codrii Nature Reserve
At the reserve head quarters we have a picnic in a specially constructed ‘pavilion’, set in a serene and tranquil location in amongst the trees.
Founded in 1972, it is the oldest scientific nature reserve in Moldova, and boasts some 1,000 species of protected plants, 43 species of mammals, 145 species of birds, 7 species of reptiles and more than 8,000 species of insects.
Guided by the curator’s daughter Doina - who is keen to practise her somewhat limited English - we are shown around the small museum detailing some of the species found in the area.
While David goes with Doina for a hike down to the lake, I join Valeriu in the ‘pavilion’, listening to Deep Purple and discussing palaeoanthropology. As you do.
We leave the countryside behind and return to Chișinău, taking a nap in the car on the way.
Back in Chișinău we drop the bags off at the hotel and continue to the National History Museum.
Chișinău National History Museum
The museum's large, bright, clean and modern rooms feature exhibits dating from pre-history, through various occupations to independence of this small country.
The visit feels a little rushed, but to be honest I am not at all unhappy about that as I am tired, it is uncomfortably hot and my back is hurting.
As it is only a couple of blocks away, we walk back to the hotel (rather than let Leonid drive us) to pick up the luggage we dumped earlier and check in. We’re back in Room 313, and yet again we negotiate the tiny lift, just about 1m², where there is barely enough room for two (large) people with two backpacks, two wheelybags and two camera bags.
After some chill time and a welcome shower, we wander downstairs to have dinner. The restaurant is closed for of a wedding reception (another one? That’s exactly what happened to us last night!), and the outside terrace is out of bounds because of a private party; which leaves us the bar. That suits us fine, as we really just want a small meal and a glass or three of wine.
Chicken stew with branza (feta type cheese), smetana (soured cream) and mămăligă (polenta)
Moldovan style roast beef in a clay pot
Side dish of grilled vegetables and country style potatoes
The food is delicious (especially the cheese) - and we are both very impressed with the wine - very, very smooth!