Archives for the month of: January, 2011

New Years is also celebrated according to the old calendar, on January 13. And if I may say so, this is my favorite Moldovan holiday so far. You could compare it to Halloween in the states, except that kids don’t dress up in scary costumes. Starting right after school on the day before, kids from all over the village go to each house to ring bells and sing and recite poems. In return they are given money and candy/bread. It was so much fun listening to their poems and songs and seeing what they had brought along as decoration. Most of the poems ended by shouting, “Roată măi… hăi, hăi”, a phrase I had in my head thereafter for two days straight.

L and E’s grandson came to recite his poem as well. He was so cute, and the luckiest visitor of all, receiving 200 lei from his grandparents, and an extra 3 lei from us. It was pretty funny because he was so excited to get more from us, 3 bills as compared to 2 from L and E. Unfortunately this year the weather was not optimal. The streets were a complete mess, some kids showing up with mud to their knees. As a result, we did not receive as many visitors as they have in years past. Hopefully it will be better next year. Happy New Year!

Click on the links below to watch some of the kids reciting poems and singing songs.


We got back from Turkey just in time to celebrate Christmas Moldovan style. Christmas is celebrated here by most on January 7, following the old calendar. It is my understanding that Christmas lasts for several days here. The first day is usually spent with family while the second and third days are spent entertaining guests. We spent the first day with our host family in our village and the second day in Ruseștii Noi as guests to my host family during pre-service training. Of course you can expect a big masă and lots of wine to usher in the holiday cheer.

Over 30 underground cities have been discovered throughout Cappadocia. They were used as hiding places for the first Christians to escape religious persecution from the Roman empire. Most of these underground cities are connected with tunnels. The underground cities in Kaymalki and Derinkuyu are the most visited due to their size and depth.

Kaymalki is 8 levels deep (only 4 levels being open to the public) with about 100 tunnels connecting the different rooms and levels. There is lighting throughout most of the tunnels and rooms, although we did find a few downward tunnels without lighting that just kept going and going. There were stalls, a kitchen, a winery, storage areas, a church and baptistery, a huge ventilation shaft, and several large millstone doors.

Pictures don’t do justice to the vastness of this underground city. It  was absolutely incredible.

Cavușin is a little village at the base of a massive church carved out of the rock. It is a quaint little town connecting Rose and Red Valleys with the historic fairy chimney city of Pasabaj.

Uçhisar can be seen from most towns in the Cappadocia region as it is the highest point in the region. A castle was carved out of the massive rock structure that can still be entered today. From the top, you can get a great birds-eye view of the whole region.

Mt. Erciyes is a volcano that erupted over 2,000 years ago accounting for all the unique and unusual rock formations in the area.

Love and White Valleys are located west of Göreme. While there are not many churches to explore in these valleys, they are still picturesque. We started down canyon in Love Valley, hiked up through White Valley, and exited in Uçhisar.

Most of the area surrounding the town of Göreme has been designated a national park (better than an American national park due to a noticeable lack of rangers or “parkies”, but worse than an American national park due to the fact that there was a considerable amount of trash and vandalism in a lot of the churches).  One very interesting attraction in the area is the Göreme Open Air Museum, which is made up of monasteries and churches built in very close proximity dating to the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries.

Many of the frescoes have been well-maintained, and even a few have been restored. In several, though, we noticed that the faces had been scratched out. This is thought to have been a result of Byzantine iconoclasm, which prohibited the use of icons or graven images in churches.

We stayed in the town of Göreme which is considered the heart of Cappadocia. The whole town (in fact, basically the whole region) thrives on tourism. One of the unique aspects of this town is the hotels and hostels carved out of “fairy chimneys” (tall, thin spires of rock). Another great aspect is its central location, making it very conducive to hiking to other towns.

After a few days of hiking, it was nice to relax for a few hours at the Turkish Bath. We had a skin peel and massage, hung out in the sauna, enjoyed the pool, and relaxed on the marble hot stone.

Cappadocia is a region making up present-day Nevșehir Province in central Turkey. It was part of the Hittite Empire from the early 6th Century BC until around 1750 BC.  Later the Persians ruled for over 200 years, bringing a more permanent system of government and more religious freedom.  One fact that we heard several times is that Cappadocia is actually a Persian word that means “land of the well bred horses.”  Cappadicians established good relations with the Roman Empire and remained independent until 17 AD when it finally came under Roman rule.  Following Roman rule, the area became part of the Byzantine and then Ottoman Empires.

Because of the independent and welcoming culture of the area, it became a place for early Christians to escape persecution. Cappadocia sits on a plateau made of soft sedimentary rock that provides beautiful landscape and shelter.  Throughout the centuries Cappadocians have carved houses and churches into the rock.  Even today many residents of Cappadocia still live in homes carved into the rock.

Cappadocia is a fascinating place thanks to its rich history and beautiful valleys and rock formations.  The number of rock and cave dwellings is amazing.  We could have explored the area for a month and still not have seen the majority of interesting sites.  One of the most interesting aspects of Cappadocia is the estimated 2,000 churches that were carved into rock by the early Christians of the area.  The churches were richly decorated with frescos and carvings.  Unfortunately most of the frescos have been destroyed.

The majority of our time here was spent hiking and exploring the different valleys and churches. We spent a whole day in Rose and Red Valleys alone and still didn’t see probably half of the churches there.

The Construction of the Topkapi Palace started in 1459, just shortly after the Ottomans conquered the Byzantine Empire. This palace served as the residence and the administrative headquarters to Ottoman sultans for 400 years. In full swing, the palace grounds housed bakeries, mosques, a hospital, a mint, and over 4,000 people.

The palace is absolutely beautiful with well-maintained and unique landscaping and intricate tile and stone detail. There are several rooms displaying clothing, dishes, thrones, jewelry, keepsakes, and many religious relics like Muhammed’s sword and cloak. The Topkapi Palace in one word… awesome.