I had been working in Uzbekistan four years when I got an email that Chad, one of my colleagues from Moldova, was planning a wedding there. I hadn't been to Moldova since I left for Uzbekistan so I decided that it would be a treat to see Chad and visit with some old friends.
There are no direct flights from Uzbekistan to Chisinau, Moldova, but I could fly Turkish Air to Istanbul, spend several hours there then continue on to Chisinau. I left Tashkent early in the morning, flew for five hours and arrived in Istanbul still in the morning. I took the subway and tram downtown and wandered around, admiring the views across the Bosphorus. I had a delicious fish lunch at an outdoor cafe -- Tashkent is a long way from the sea.
Before I knew it I had to retrace my steps to the airport. There I met Mark and Cindy on their way to the wedding from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Chad met me at the airport with Valentina, his fiance. I checked into the hotel then joined Chad and others for a good dinner. The next day I tried to remember my way around Chisinau (see Modova index for pictures of my previous adventures there) and visited with some old friends. Two of Chisinau's most famous sites are the Orthodox Church in the center of the city and the statue of Stefan Cel Mare (the great).
We all went to the town of Hincesti about an hour away to Valentina's parents' home for the first of two weddings. This one was in the small orthodox church while on Saturday's ceremoney was in the Catholic church. We gathered initially at her parents' house for a quick snack and some pictures.
We drove down the hill to the church whichwas in an undistiguished building on the main street of town. A much more impressive new church was under construction behind the old one and a small box solicited donations for the work.
We explored the thoroughly decorated inside of the church for a few minutes. The priest greeted Chad and Valentina and invited the rest of our small group to stand for the ceremony -- orthodox churches don't have seats. The service was in Romanian so we didn't catch many details. There were numerous chants, drinking of a bit of wine, kissing of the Bible and a cross, many candles, crowns and rings for the newlyweds and some incense.
We all returned to her parents' house. After the priest blessed the house we enjoyed a feast.
Saturday was Chisnau Day, celebrating the 570th anniversary of the founding of the city. So the main street was closed, there were booths showing off products of the area, some from Chisinau firms and others from schools. Many dancers in traditional clothing demonstrated their skill. I happily wandered up and down Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard for a couple hours.
On Friday I had called Roman, one of my former colleagues to suggest we get together some time over the weekend. He said that one of our other colleagues, Eugene, was having a birthday picnic at a park and he arranged for my invitation to join them. So I cut short my Chisinau Day exploring to join Roman and his wife for a taxi ride to the park. It's amazing that a park with a big lake and lots of trees can be so close to the center of the city. At least twenty of us enjoyed large quantities of wine, vodka, cognac, shashlik and lots of salads.
Other guests brought some of the salads and drinks, but Eugene (center) was responsible for cooking the shashlik.
Of course there was a birthday cake.
Roman had worked in our office, providing fiscal analysis to the Parliament. Now he has organized a small consulting firm that gets contracts both from international donors and local firms.
And after this party what was next? Another party of course! We had a huge pre-wedding dinner.
By now we may have forgotten that we had come to Modlova not only for a series of parties, there would be a wedding! On Sunday a relatively small group of us converged on the Catholic Church near the center of Chisinau for a short service.
Having dispensed with this formality, it was time for the big party! We went to an exhibition hall where we were soon joined by hundreds of Chad and Valentina's friends. As always there were vast quantities of food and drink. There was both traditional and modern entertainment. Plus several Moldovan traditions that apparently occur at every wedding party.
One of Chad's friends had the job to protect the bride from being kidnapped by other suitors. He had a fierce weapon to help in this task.
Predictably, however, he failed in this task. (Though he claimed that the kidnapping actually occurred after Valentina and several of her girl friends claimed that they needed to step out for a minute.) Following the kidnapping was the discussion of an appropriate ransome. Rather than money, Chad had to make numerous promises to take care of Valentina
For much of the party I was too busy eating and drinking to stop to take pictures. Near the end of the evening, however, another ceremony took place. Like others, it was a bit hard to follow the details. But it involved Chad and Valentina being wrapped together in blankets while wedding gifts appeared.
Very late at night the wedding cake appeared. Although few of us were really hungry by that time, we all ate some delicious cake.
In America, of course, following the wedding party the bride and groom disappear for the honeymoon. Not so in Moldova. There was one more traditional party. Late Monday morning many of us returned to Valentina's village of Hinchesti for Zama. Zama is Moldovan chicken soup and it really is delicious. Of course there was also wine, Cognac and plenty of other food, but the Zama really was the highlight.
We were not surprised that there were more Moldovan traditions to come. Just as Americans make a wish and pull on the wishbone from the turkey, Moldovan couples pull on a bread wreath. I have forgotten what honors and privileges are bestowed upon the winner, but it was clear that Valentina got the larger half.
The parties continued for at least one more day, including a visit to a winery, but I had to return to Tashkent for work. My itinerary included another layover in Istanbul for much of the day. I took advantage of the time to play tourist and return to some of Istanbul's most impressive monuments. Hagia Sophia was built in the sixth century as a Byzantine Cathedral, though at times it was used as a mosque.
The Blue Mosque was a relatively recent addition -- 1609. It isn't blue, but by then the Turks had learned to make even larger domes.
This obelisk was brought from Egypt in the fourth century and is about 80 feet tall. It had stood in Egypt for almost 2000 years before that but I never learned the story of how it got to Istanbul.
I particularly enjoy wandering around Istanbul and its markets. Istanbul is certainly the place to buy olives -- which kind do you want? The Turks recently issued new Lyra, with one new Lyra worth one million old ones, and some vendors quoted their price in both new and old, so as to avoid confusion.
I took a short boat tour on the Bosphorus. Besides all the mosques and palaces, I noted a boat named "Tashkent II"
All too soon it was time to return to the airport. I found a small informal restaurant for a light Turkish dinner, bought fresh dates and some Baklava then took the tram and subway back to the airport.