With the exception of a day trip to Orhei Vechi and a couple of visits to the Tiraspol soccer stadium, we have not really explored the Moldovan countryside. Our car is still stuck somewhere in transit from the States, which has limited our mobility. Our friends left us their car while they went home for two weeks, but other than taking care of a few errands we barely used it. We did, however, drive to the Bostaniada — Moldova’s second annual pumpkin festival — last weekend.
After several weeks of mostly nasty weather, the sun finally smiled on Chisinau. The frisbee group, which had been dormant for two weeks, organized one last outdoor game, so we went first to play in the park and from there made our way to Lozova, the site of the pumpkin fair. Apparently, half of the country also decided to celebrate the diversity of this year’s pumpkin crop because the one-lane highway was jam-packed with vehicles. It took us over an hour to drive the 40km to the outskirts of Lozova, where we, like many other festival-goers, ditched the car on the side of the road to proceed on foot to the fairgrounds.
The Bostaniada (bostan means “pumpkin” in Romanian) started at 11am and was supposed to last until sundown. At 3:30pm the fairgrounds were still packed so tightly that D kept getting jostled every time he stopped to take a photo. At least the lines around the food tents had thinned a bit, though it was still hard to discern what was being sold at each table through the throngs of people crowded around each vendor. Some friends from the Embassy had arrived at the start of the festival and told us that they had spent an hour and a half waiting in line to purchase kebabs.
We made a leisurely circle around the grounds, giving a wide berth to the crowded beer tents that had been erected close to the stage, from which issued non-stop folk music. One woman had set up shop near a cart overflowing with pumpkins of various shapes and sizes. We bought one of her last remaining stuffed pumpkins, which was absolutely delicious, as were the stuffed peppers we sampled at another tent. A group of Peace Corps volunteers had been selling pumpkin pies, but they ran out by the time we walked by their tent. They had one pie remaining, which they were saving as a raffle prize for whoever guessed the correct number of pumpkin seeds they had collected in a jar. S settled for some pumpkin muffins instead, and instantly regretted her choice, as they were disappointingly bitter.
Things were winding down by the time we left the fairgrounds and set off on the half-hour-long walk back to the car. The festival reportedly drew three times as many people this weekend as it had in its inaugural year, and one of D’s colleagues recounted in horror how she lost her 2-year-old son in the crush of festival-goers, searching an agonizing fifteen minutes before she found him again. Though most of the visitors had already returned home, the traffic was even worse coming back to Chisinau than it had been on the way to Lozova. At least the route was pleasant, the warm rays of the setting sun tinting the fallow fields along the highway. There was no hint of the weekend sun when D got up for work the next day. Instead, a weak, gray morning light and a chilly wind greeted him when he stepped outside, presaging the winter cold that is to come.