Visit Orheiul Vechi on public transport
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Built into a gigantic limestone cliff with the Raut River bending round it sits Orheiul Vechi, one of Moldova’s most famous tourist attractions. Orheiul Vechi is an Eastern Orthodox monastery. Unique from Moldova’s numerous other monasteries because it sits in a cave below ground, like many of Moldova’s best attractions. The monastery was dug out by orthodox monks in the 13th century and was in use until the 18th century. In 1996 monks returned and have restored the monastery to what it looks like today.
How to get to Oreheiul Vechi for 52 Moldovan Lei
Yup you read that right, you can get to Orheiul Vechi by marshrutka for 52 MDL, which is barely over $3 USD! Marshrutka are minibuses share taxis.
1 USD = 17.06 MDL
1 EUR = 20. 37 MDL
1 GBP = 23.09 MDL
1 AUD = 13.35 MDL
Prior to heading to Piata Centrala to grab a marshrutka out toward Tiraspol the day before I had read that they do run on a schedule, but I found just like marshrutka did back during my 2012 Moldova visit leave when full.
Step 1: Go to Piata Centrala in Chisinau
This is the Central Bazaar, which is a tourist attraction all in itself. On the backside of the bazaar you’ll find the marshrutka headed all over the country and even internationally too. It seems like anarchy, and it sorta is. Just look for signs in the minibus windows that say Butaceni or Trebujeni, or start asking. Don’t ask for Orhei- you’ll find out why in the next step.
Step 2: Get a marshrtuka signed for Trebujeni or Butaceni NOT one for Orhei
There are marshrutka that go to the village of Orhei, which is not the closest you can get dropped to Oreheiul Vechi. If you do by mistake accidentally take the one to Orhei like I did because you are a shitty blogger that doesn’t read other blogs and you just went to the central bus station and asked in broken Russian with a thick American accent if the Orhei signed marshrutka went to Orheiul Vechi, and the driver said yes so you hopped on and it ended in Orhei and didn’t go any further there is good news: you can get a marshrutka from Orhei to Butaceni. I just talked to my driver (in my bad Russian with a terrible accent) in Orhei and he quickly figured out the mistake I’d made, laughed and walked me to the correct marshrutka. My understanding of the Moldovan (Romanian.. tomato, tomato) language is non-existent, but gauging by the banter and the fact that my payment was refused on the second marshrutka they took pity on me being a dumbass even though I was more than willing to pay…
Long story short: the marshrutka from Chisinau to Butaceni or Trebujeni is 26 MDL. A marshrutka to Orhei cost me 23 MDL, and I do not know what the marshurtka from Orhei to Butaeceni actually costs.
Step 3: Get comfy, welcome to Moldovan public transport
The marshrtuka leave when full like I said earlier, and both the ones I took in order to get to Butaceni were packed to the gills with people, kids, and bags of home goods and produce with Moldovan folk music blaring for the next hour. This is all part of the experience. I mean come on a private taxi is sooo boring. If you get on the Butaceni bound marshrutka, you’ll be the very last stop. If getting off the Trebujeni bound marshrutka get off at the junction, be looking out the right side windows for a sign with an arrow pointing right that says ‘Orheiul Vechi Complex’, get off at the next stop. Some marshrutka actually stop at both Trebujeni and Butaceni, just ask.
Step 4: Get to walking
If dropped at the junction before Trebujeni expect a 30 min walk, from Butaceni only 15 mins. At the end of the paved road at Butaceni there is a sign that points to which direction to walk (and a path), there’s also a small shop there too where you can buy snacks and drinks which is a good call to stop because if you’re there in the dead as summer like me you’re probably already sweating your ass off. Follow the path that leads uphill onto the cliff to Orheiul Vechi.
Step 5: You’re getting warmer… you’ll see the top of the new Ascension of St. Mary Orthodox Church
This is a “new” orthodox church built in 1905. I first went and walked around the new church and then walked slightly downhill from the side of it and started walking back in the direction I had oringally come from.
Step 6: Look for the opening to the cave.
As a very nice dutchmen at my hostel* said “It kinda looked like the entrance to an outdoor toilet“. Walk in, this is it! It’s kind of dark so take care walking down the staircase. The monastery is quite interesting considering the age of it and the fact that it’s in a cave. Also, I’m from Alaska where there are very few super old constructions like this so pretty much if it’s more than 100 years old I think it’s the most amazing thing ever.
*If you’re wondering which hostel I stayed at, it’s the IQ Hostel in Chisinau, which I enjoyed very much. Well, aside from the asshat that kept shutting the A/C off in the night in our room that everyone in that particular dorm paid extra for that subsequently all wanted to jointly murder in a Vlad Tepes manner because it was 37 motherfucking degrees celsius in Chisinau at the end of July 2017. Rant over. It’s not the hostel’s fault one asshole who loves to swelter and fester in 100ºF at other’s discomfort kept stealing the A/C remote, turning it off and hiding it.
Step 7: Head on back to Chisinau
You can easily head back to where the marshrutka dropped you off in Butaceni and wait to get picked up there, or if you wanna get some sun* and get a walk in, walk back toward the junction of the two roads and grab the marshrtuka headed back to Chisinau from Trebujeni. You can’t mess this one up as the sign says Chisinau!
*By sun, I mean sunburn. If you’re here in summer it’ll be hot AF and you’ll likely get sunburned. Bring sunscreen.
Other important things to note about visiting Oreheiul Vechi
- This is a religious site, so you should dress conservatively. Men’s legs should be covered (wear trousers). Women as well should cover legs with trousers or an ankle-length skirt. Women must also cover their hair with a scarf upon entering the church.
- There is actually a 15 MDL entrance fee for the cave monastery payable at the visitor center before Butaceni (There’s a museum at the visitor center as well). As I went straight to Butaeni I never knew this until I decided to stop in at the visitor center on my way out to catch the marshutka back to Chisinau at the road junction. I felt bad so I paid after the fact. This doesn’t seem to be a strictly enforced fee though.
- Weather can be extreme out there, expect it to uncomfortably hot in summer, so pack water with you or plan to buy at the shop in Butaceni. It can be downright frigid and deep snow in the winter so dress accordingly.
- Realistically this is more of a half say trip from Chisinau. It takes roughly an hour to get there and an hour to get back. You can easily see the complex in under 2 hours.
Handy Books and Apps for traveling Moldova
Maps.me is a handy crowdsourced map app that can be downloaded on smart phones.
Lonely Planet Eastern Europe includes a chapter on Moldova travel that may come in handy for you. Alternatively you can opt to download the Moldova chapter in ebook form.
Moldova is a pretty safe destination for most tourists, just take the standard precautions you would anywhere in the world.
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Want to avoid the logistics and headache and book a tour?
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Want more Moldova?
Did you know Moldova is one of my favorite countries? Well, it is! Here’s my other Moldova posts: