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happy birthday, Moldova

Sadly, the skies are gray today for Moldova’s National Day — the twenty-second anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence. This hasn’t stopped us enjoying the day off, of course. Besides, we got a healthy dose of national celebration this weekend.

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Billed as an ethno-cultural music festival, Gustar was a two-day extravaganza organized in a giant field at Orhei Vechi, about an hour outside Chisinau. Old Orhei is one of the crown jewels of Moldova’s fledgling tourist industry. The village is located about half an hour from the modern town of Orhei and features a big archaeological complex that contains traces of various civilizations. There is an underground monastery and a maze of caverns that were carved into the rocks to provide refuge for the faithful during difficult times.

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We paid a quick visit to the modern church that is perched atop a ridge overlooking the lazy Raut River, and went down to the monastery, which opens onto precipitous ledges that overhang the cliffside. We were fortunate to visit during mass and stopped to listen to the beautifully plaintive singing of one of the nuns, which provided a haunting counterpoint to the monk’s recitations. As there are not many places of tourist interest here, we didn’t linger too long, figuring that we’d be back soon enough. Instead, we snapped a few pictures and made our way down to the festival grounds.

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D tried to convince S to take an oil-barrel ride but she would not be persuaded

A few of the artists were actually quite good, though there is only so much folk music one can hear before the relentless drone of fiddles becomes too much to bear. We wandered around, checking out the artisans’ displays before settling down well away from the stage and taking turns getting food. Among the various food tents there were several women that offered a Moldovan take on hamburgers. Upon closer inspection it turned out that the group had been working with Peace Corps volunteers and was going to use the funds raised from their sales to benefit people with tuberculosis. We looked no further.

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We only intended to stay for a few hours but somehow it was dusk by the time we got up to leave the festival. The parking lot was only half-full but there were still some people making their way to the festival grounds when we left. A small tent city had sprung up on the far side of the field, as revelers prepared to spend the night and party the entire weekend.

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