Tuesday, January 20, 2015

going places

so yesterday we finalized our travel plans for a three week trip in the fall to Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova with Odessa and Transnistria... (Transnistria is a breakaway state located mostly on a strip of land between the River Dniester and the eastern Moldovan border with Ukraine.)

for those who were wondering here is the Encyclopedia Britannica on the "country"
Transdniestria, also spelled Transnistria, also called Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Republic and Pridnestrovie,  separatist enclave in Moldova, located on the east bank of the Dniester River. Loosely occupying some 1,350 square miles, the self-proclaimed (1990) Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Republic is not recognized by any state; it has a national bank, national currency (the ruble), and customs house, as well as its own flag and national anthem. Historically, Transdniestria was ruled at various times by the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Ukraine, and the Soviet Union. The main city is Tiraspol. Much of Moldovan industry is located in Transdniestria, and in 2005 the Transdniestrian authorities severed power to Moldova. A substantial Russian military presence in Transdniestria strained Moldovan relations with Russia in the early 21st century.

here is the run down of the planned trip- of course day one- we arrive Sofia--- via Warsaw direct from Chicago...

Day 2                               Sofia
Tour of Sofia
This morning, begin a walking exploration of Sofia. Founded more than 7,000 years ago, Sofia is home to more than 250 historic landmarks and architectural monuments that harmonize with the city’s modern skyline. The remains of Sofia’s protective fortress walls have been incorporated into an underground pedestrian passage where the remnants of the original second-century Serdica settlement still lie. Despite its Byzantine ruins and ancient
mosques, some say that Sofia’s most exciting architecture was built after Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.

Jewish Stones of Gratitude, St Sophia Church
Many people are not aware that Bulgaria was able to protect its estimated 48,000 Jews from Hitler's extermination camps, because the news did not filter out until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While he enacted laws against the Jews, King Boris III refused to send them to the death camps, successfully defying the Nazi orders. In the churchyard of St. Sophia's, the Stones of Gratitude pay homage to King Boris, the clergy and the citizens of Bulgaria for saving the lives of so many.

Alexander Nevsky Memorial Cathedral
Built from 1882 to 1912, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was founded to remember the
200,000 Russian soldiers who died helping to free Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. It is the seat of the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Patriarch. The Crypt Museum below the church displays Bulgarian Orthodox icons from the 8th century on.

Archeological Museum
Artifacts and furnishings from Thracian, Greek and Roman settlements are displayed here, divided into four sections - Prehistory, Antiquity, Middle Age and, Coins. The museum is in the oldest preserved building in Sofia, from the 15th century.

Day 3                               Sofia - Plovdiv
Rila Monastery
Founded in 927 by Ivan Rilski, the UNESCO-listed Rila Monastery was originally home to a colony of hermits and ascetics. Over time, however, the monastery grew in size and turned its attention to the wider world, and by the 14th century it had become a strong feudal power with several villages as part of its holdings. The monastery suffered much under Ottoman rule, but it managed to survive and keep alive Bulgarian culture and traditions.

The imposing fortress-like exterior belies the cozy and inviting rooms and halls inside. Typical of the National Revival, or "Bulgarian Renaissance,” style of the 19th century, the five-domed main church shelters over 1,200 frescoes and an ornate iconostasis. Worth
noting is the monastery kitchen which served meals to the monks and hordes of pilgrims alike with its immense stove and chimney. Another highlight is the Rila Cross. Made from wood and only sixteen inches high, the cross was the work of Brother Raphael, who carved 1,500 human figures, each with a face no bigger than a grain of rice, into its surface.  The five-domed main church shelters over 1,200 frescoes and an ornate iconostasis.

Day 4                               Plovdiv
City Tour
Plovdiv is the second largest Bulgarian city and the second oldest European one. Founded in the 12th century BC, Plovdiv began its existence on a site protected by three hills. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius built a 3,000-seat amphitheater here, still in use today. Situated in the center of the East Balkans, on the trade road from western Europe to Asia, Plovdiv has survived millennia. Despite barbarian attacks, destruction, looting and bloodshed, Plovdiv has always risen from the ashes.

Hindlian National House
Plovdiv is famous for its Old Town with its distinctive Revival architecture, popular among
19th century merchants. The Hindlian National House is a perfect example of this style, with a painted facade and overhanging upper balcony.

The Zion Sephardic Synagogue in Plovdiv is one of the only remaining working synagogues in Bulgaria. Constructed in the late 19th century, the Ottoman-style synagogue was completely renovated between 1998 and 2003. The temple is not open to visitors.

Roman Amphitheater
Built by Emperor Marcus Aurelius during the 2nd century, it originally seated 3,000 spectators and is now used for staging summer festivals.

Todoroff Wine Cellars
Visit the Todoroff Wine Cellar in the village of Brestovitsa, about 18km from Plovdiv. A prime grape-growing region, the area has produced wine since Roman times. Originally founded in
1945 and renovated in 2001, the Todoroff National Revival-style winery complex includes cellars for wine-tasting.

Day 5                               Plovdiv - Kazanluk - Veliko Tarnovo
Thracian Tomb
This 4th century beehive-shaped Thracian tomb was discovered here during excavation of a bomb shelter during WWII. Its delicate frescoes are protected by UNESCO, but a full-sized replica is available for touring. Some of the contents of the tomb can be found in the Kazanluk Archeological Museum.

Kazanluk Rose Museum
Founded in 1967, the Kazanluk Rose Museum displays equipment, photos and documents from more than 300 years of cultivation of the special Kazanlashka Rose, originally brought from India and Persia. An early rose-distillery demonstrates how the oil was first extracted from the petals, and cauldrons, containers and models show the development of the industry.

Etara Ethnographic Village
Get a feel for life in this area during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Woodcarvers, rug-weavers, bakers, potters, and dye-makers all practice their crafts here using traditional methods. Enjoy a presentation of traditional Bulgarian costumes. Most of the houses and cottages on the cobbled streets are authentic period structures.

Continuing towards Veliko Tarnovo, the route becomes steep approaching the 4,285-foot Shipka Pass. The Stara Planina Mountain Range was the battleground among Bulgarian volunteers, Russian troops and the Turks in the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War. At the top of the pass, the Shipka Monument commemorates the victory, and from its roof a sweeping panorama of the Stara Planina Mountains can be enjoyed.

Day 6                               Veliko Tarnovo - Arbanassi - Veliko Tarnovo
City Tour
Built along the cliffs of the Yarnova River, Veliko Tarnovo has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age. Thracians and Romans settled here before the 2nd century AD, and the city became the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire just after its founding in 1186. The remains of the Royal Fortress still stand at the top of Tsarevets Hill. The town was conquered and razed by the Turks in 1393, but remained a center of Bulgarian national struggle. The houses of Veliko Tarnovo seem to grow out of each other's roofs.  After morning touring, depart for Arbanassi, a medieval village seated on a plateau overlooking Veliko Tarnovo.
City Tour
Arbanassi is a medieval village seated on a plateau overlooking Veliko Tarnovo. The village has preserved five churches and two monasteries, built and decorated with murals and icons at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. The Christ's Nativity Church is one of the oldest among them and has the most interesting decorations. Along with the typical biblical scenes on the walls are portraits of the church's donors, Greek philosophers, and the family tree of Jesus Christ. 

Visit the merchant Konstantsaliev’s house, built in the 17th century of stone and timbers and surrounded, like most of Arbanassi’s early dwellings, with a high stone defensive wall. Inside, the house is decorated with typical 19th century furnishings befitting a well-to-do tradesman. Reception rooms, bedrooms, kitchen, bakery and larder take up the first floor, while the basement floor houses the servants’ quarters, stable and storerooms.

Day 7                               Veliko Tarnovo - Ruse - Bucharest, Romania
Ivanovo Cave Monastery
Visit the Ivanovo Cave Monastery near Ruse. Monks settled here from the 14th-16th centuries, digging cells, churches and chapels into the rock face 100 feet above the Ruse River. The 14th century murals attest to the exceptional skill of the artists of the Tarnovo school of painting. Today the caves are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After independent lunch in the Danubian city of Ruse, meet the Romanian guide, cross the border and continue on to Bucharest, Romania, arriving by early evening.

Day 8                               Bucharest
City Tour
Known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, glorious Belle Epoque buildings and reputation for the high life, Romania's capital was once known as the "Little Paris." Founded by Wallachian princes, it evolved from a fourteenth-century settlement that was part of a chain of fortresses built across the Danube plain to protect Wallachia from the Turks. Bucharest came into its own with Romanian independence in the late 19th century, when French and French-trained architects were called in to transform what had been a large village into an imperial capital. There is even an Arc de Triomphe on the elegant Soseaua Kiseleff, a boulevard longer than Paris' famed Champs-Elysees.

Today Bucharest is experiencing renewed energy after its communist years. The city's older architecture remains one of its main attractions, reflecting the succeeding styles of its various rulers. The heart of the city is Piata Revolutiei, the site of the old Royal Palace. It lies
halfway along Bucharest's historic Calea Victoriei, the city's main artery. The majority of sights are conveniently within walking distance of the Piata Revolutiei and, to the east of the Calea Victoriei, the Piata Universitatii.

House of the People (Palace of Parliament)
The 1,100-room Palace of the Parliament was one of the grandiose schemes of Nicolae Ceau┼čescu, Romania’s deposed and executed president. Originally named the House of the People, it was intended to be the headquarters of the Romanian Communist Party. The monumental structure is one of the largest buildings in the world; only the Pentagon has more floor space. Ceau┼čescu razed most of the historic buildings on Spirii Hill in the center of town in order to build it. The interior is clad with approximately one million cubic meters of Transylvanian marble: reportedly, Romanian tombstones had to be made of other stone during the years of construction, from 1984 to 1989. Please note: the tour inside the Parliament building is strictly controlled for security purposes and only ‘group’ tours are conducted. Tour times are reconfirmed only 24 hours in advance so your guide will provide updates as needed. As security is strict on entry, please note that valid ID (passport) is required to enter and airport-style screening should be expected.

Coral Synagogue
One of the few active synagogues in Romania, the Coral Synagogue-or Templul Choral in Romanian-was built in the mid-nineteenth century to mimic the Leopoldstadt-Tempelgasse Great Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Vienna. A memorial in front commemorates the Romanian Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Jewish Museum
Located in the former United Holy Temple, the Jewish Museum offers exhibits on the history of Romanian Jews. Enjoy viewing collections of Romanian Jewish literature, art, history, memorabilia, and the ongoing contributions of this ethnic group to Romanian culture.

Village Museum
Displaying houses and objects from rural life in Romania, the Village Museum in Bucharest is the oldest and one of the largest open-air museums in Europe. Visitors are offered the chance to view 50 complete homes set up along the shores of Lake Herastrau along with folk crafts and creations from almost every part of Romania.

Day 9                               Bucharest - Sinaia - Azuga - Brasov
City Tour
The town of Sinaia in the Prahova Valley is Romania’s most popular ski resort and a gateway to the beautiful Bugeci Mountains. Winter sports, including a 5,000-foot bobsledding run, and excellent summer hiking and climbing make Sinaia a year-round destination. In 1870, King Carol I built his summer residence, Peles Castle, here, guaranteeing the town fame and fortune.

Peles Castle
Peles Castle is one of Romania’s most important museums and the final resting place of several Romanian monarchs, including King Carol I, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria. Inaugurated in 1883, Peles combines elements of the German and Gothic Renaissance that bring to mind the extravagant Bavarian castles of King Ludwig. Seven terraces surround the castle’s 160 rooms, which are opulently decorated with leather, ebony, walnut and mother- of-pearl and display invaluable collections of art and furnishings.

Peles Castle Gardens
With a backdrop of soaring Carpathian peaks, neo-Renaissance Peles Castle presides over
1,300 acres of what used to be King Carol’s hunting preserve. The extravagant palace is surrounded with seven terraced gardens of Italian marble, decorated with statues, fountains, urns and flowerbeds.

Sinaia Monastery
Founded by Prince Mihai Cantacuzino in 1690 upon his return from a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai, Sinaia Monastery consists of two courtyards surrounded by low buildings. In the center of each is a small church built in the Byzantine style. One of them, "Biserica Veche" (Old Church) dates from 1695, while the other "Biscera Mare" (The Great Church) was built only in
1846. The monks' library possesses such treasures as the Cantacuzino family jewels, and the earliest Romanian translation of the Bible - dating from 1668.

Azuga Rhein Cellar
In the little mountain town of Azuga, visit the Rhein Cellar, where winemakers produce sparkling wines using the traditional Romanian method. The Rhein Cellar is the official supplier of the Romanian Court. Learn about Romanian sparkling wines and sample the wares in the tasting room.

Day 10                             Brasov - Bran - Brasov
City Tour
Brasov is an old Transylvanian town set at the foot of a mountain and filled with medieval architecture, cobblestone streets and small houses. The city dates back to the 13th century when it was a busy trading town. Many of Brasov's medieval and Renaissance buildings still exist, thanks to the diplomatic skill and military foresight of town leaders. During repeated Turkish attacks in the region from the 15th to the 18th century, Brasov, with its strong town fortifications, escaped major war damage.

Highlights of the well-preserved Old Town include the 14th century Black Church, which received its name after the Great Fire of 1689 tinted its walls, the Council Square at the center of the old city with the old City Hall as its centerpiece, and the First Romanian School Museum, which houses some of the oldest examples of Romanian printing and typography.

The Black Church of Brasov
Among the many buildings and monuments of Romania, the Black Church of Brasov, dominating as it does the medieval center of the city, occupies a special place. It is one of the most important churches built by the Transylvanian Saxons during their 850 years of history.

The Black Church gets its name from the damage sustained in the great fire of 1689, when the flames and smoke blackened its walls. The reconstruction of the church took over a hundred years to complete. On display are art, carpets and tombs of former community members dating back to the 16th century.

Schei District
For hundreds of years, Romanians were only allowed into the walled Saxon town of Brasov at certain times, and only through the Schei Gate. The Schei District grew up in a narrow valley along the outside of the wall, and today is still comprised of whitewashed little Romanian homes, cobbled streets and tiled roofs. Visit Romania's first school, built in 1850, and where the country's first opera was written. The spires of 15th century St. Nicholas Orthodox
Church emerge from above the tree tops.

The beautiful Moorish Brasov Synagogue was constructed in 1901 for a community of close to
1,200 Jews. Today the Jewish community may number around 500.

City Tour
Bran, located in a mountain pass between the Bucegi and the Piatra Craiului mountains, was an important defensive town along the trade road in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today it is best known for imposing Bran Castle in the center of town.

Bran Castle
Saxons from Brasov built turreted Bran Castle in a mountain pass between the Bucegi and the Piatra Craiului Mountains in the 14th century. Its original purpose was to protect Brasov from the Ottoman Turks, but it also became a strategic trade center. Its connection with Prince Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, is tentative, but its placement on a cliff looming 60 meters above the town, its gothic stone walls, towers and secret passageways came to embody the popular image of a Transylvanian vampire castle. And so it has become “Dracula’s Castle” and a popular destination.

Day 11                             Brasov - Sibiu
From Brasov continue to Sibiu. En route you may choose to visit Brancoveanu monastery in
Sambata de Sus as a great representation of the local architecture style.

Day 12                             Sibiu - Biertan - Sighisoara
City Tour
Sibiu is an early Saxon walled town in Transylvania. Established in the 12th century and razed by the Tatars in 1241, Sibiu has two levels. The "upper town", surrounded by remnants of the 15th century defensive walls, contains most of Sibiu's historic sights. The "lower town" is a charming array of Sibiu’s oldest houses and cobbled squares. Connecting the upper and lower towns are dozens of tunnels, stairways and hidden passages. The large medieval square Piata Mare is at the heart of the city and began life in 1411 as a corn market. Today
it is home to many shops and cafes as well as museums.  En route visit Biertan.
Fortified Church of Biertan
Biertan, first mentioned in 1283, was founded on land granted to Saxons in the 13th century by Hungarian overlords. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town and its fortified church constitute one of the largest and most well-preserved of the medieval Saxon urban ensembles. The development of the town from the 13th to the 19th century can be traced in its architecture. Built on the high ground, the church is the focal point of the village and the fortress walls, guarded by four towers, surround it. The vestry doors were displayed at the World Exposition in Paris in 1900 because of their ingenious medieval locking system.
Brandy tasting
Enjoy a private brandy tasting this evening at the home of a local family who have been involved with brandy making for more than three centuries.

Day 13                             Sighisoara - Gura Humorului
City Tour
A medieval town in the heart of Transylvania, Sighisoara was built by German Saxons, and is considered the most beautiful and complete medieval architectural ensemble in Romania. In the 13th century Hungarian overlords granted the Saxons land here in return for help defending the area from the Tatars. The Saxons typically built compact villages centered by fortified churches.

A city tour of Sighisoara’s medieval Old Town begins at the entrance to the citadel, under the massive 210-foot clock tower. Continue along the square to the house of Vlad Dracul, Vlad the Impaler’s father and then take the Scholar’s Stairway up to the 14th century Gothic Church on the Hill.

Clock Tower
Dating from the 14th century, the clock tower formerly controlled the main gate of the 2,500- foot defensive wall. Its seven-foot-thick walls were used to store ammunition, food and the city's treasures. The clock was placed in the tower in 1648, and its Swiss mechanism added
in 1906. Seven different slow-moving figurines carved from linden wood replace each other every midnight all week, and at the top of the spire is a meteorological clock that forecasts the weather. Since 1889 the Clock Tower has been home to the History Museum and a small Museum of Torture.

Sighisoara Citadel
Sighisoara’s Old Town is a medieval hill citadel that has preserved much of its 15th century wall, enclosing almost 200 stone houses and public buildings. The citadel was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

After the tour of Sighisoara, transfer to Gura Humorului. It will be a long travel day, but worth it to get to the spectacular region of Bucovina, a remote province in northeastern Romania. This was once the heartland of the Ashkenazi Jews, and today is famous for the beauty of its deep Carpathian forest and Orthodox monasteries. The route goes through immense Bicaz Canyon. The road through Bicaz Canyon hugs the banks of the Bicaz River, which twists and turns among 700-foot limestone cliffs. At the bottom of Bicaz Canyon is Lake Rosu, Red Lake, formed when a rockslide dammed the Bicaz River in 1837.  On the way you may choose to visit two painted monasteries, Agapia and Neamtu.

Day 14                             Gura Humorului - Voronet - Moldovita - Iasi
Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
Explore the heritage of Bucovina, a remote province of northeastern Romania. This was once the heartland of the Ashkenazi Jews and today is famous for the beauty of its deep
Carpathian forest and its lovely Orthodox monasteries. The painted monasteries of Bucovina
- Moldovita, Sucevita, Voronet and Humor - are small structures originally constructed within thick fortress walls. Their 15th to 16th century stone exteriors are frescoed with biblical scenes that served as “painted Bibles” for illiterate peasants seeking sanctuary from the frequent battles that swept the area.

Voronet Monastery
Voronet Monastery has become one of the most well known of the painted monasteries because of its wonderful fresco, the Last Judgment, painted on the protected west wall of the little church. At the top, angels are rolling up the zodiac to show that the world is ending, and toward the bottom the condemned - bearing an amazing resemblance to the Romanian enemies of the time, the Turks and Tatars - are being claimed by the devil. The fresco’s characteristic dark sky blue color, made with crushed lapis lazuli and still vivid today, has been named Voronet Blue in the art world.

Moldovita Monastery
Moldovita Monastery is found in the middle of a little village, and appears beloved and well tended. Originally built in 1410, the first church was destroyed by mudslides. Rebuilt in the early 16th century, the church is surrounded by thick fortress walls. Its exterior frescoes, painted mainly within square frames, show scenes from 16th century daily village life.  Continue to Iasi to visit the the Jewish sights there.
Iasi Jewish Heritage
Iasi before WWII was an important Jewish city with 127 working synagogues. Its Great Synagogue, still surviving today, was founded in 1670. The father of Yiddish theater, Abraham Goldfadden, established the first-ever professional Yiddish theater in Iasi in 1876. In late June of 1941, however, officials of the new fascist government of Marshall Ion Antonescu authorized a brutal pogrom in Iasi, in which up to 12,000 Jews were killed over a period of several days. Today the Great Synagogue holds daily services, and houses a small History Museum that tells Iasi’s story.

Day 15                             Iasi - Sculeni, Moldova - Chisinau
This morning transfer to Sculeni, Moldova where you will be met by the Moldovan driver and guide. Continue to Chisiniau.  Upon arrival in Chisiniau, check into the hotel and immediately afterwards start the city tour including the Jewish heritage sights.
City Tour
First mentioned in the 15th century when it was founded around a monastery, Chisinau has seen a variety of invasions by the Turks and Tatars. In 1918 Chisinau was transferred to independent Romania, but in 1940 the Red Army reclaimed the city for the Soviet Union. Most of the picturesque parts of the city date from this inter-war period when many of the houses were built from the local limestone. The majority of modern Chisinau is comprised of 1950s style Soviet architecture, much of which was initiated or overseen by Leonid Brezhnev who, as first Secretary under Stalin, ran the new republic from 1950-1952.

A bust of Pushkin in Stefan cel Mare Park commemorates the poet's exile in the city. From
1820 to 1823, Pushkin lived in Chisinau, attending balls and parties, fighting duels and writing his long poem Prisoner of the Caucasus and perhaps parts of Eugene Onegin.

Jewish Heritage
Chisinau’s Jewish population flourished in the 18th century, and by the beginning of the 20th century there were 16 Jewish schools and 70 synagogues in the city. Today there is one remaining working synagogue, in north-central Chisinau, which was originally built for the glassblowers’ guild. The remains of a pre-war yeshiva and a memorial to the 53,000 Chisinau Jews killed in the Holocaust mark the old Jewish Quarter.

Jewish Cemetery & Memorial
The Jewish cemetery across from Park Alunelul was established when the park took over the territory of the former Jewish cemetery. Park Alunelul, meaning Little Hazelnut, is the site of
a Holocaust Memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and of those who suffered in the
1903 Chisinau pogrom, in which 49 were murdered and 2,000 families left homeless.

Jewish Cultural Center
The Yitzak Manger Jewish Cultural Center and Municipal Library in Chisinau was established in
1991. 45,000 books and newspapers in Russian, Romanian Yiddish and Hebrew are available to the community. A museum takes up part of the building, exhibiting documents and artifacts reflecting Moldovan Jewish history from the 18th century to the present.

Day 16                             Chisinau
Cricova Winery
Explore one of the largest underground wine cellars in the world at the Moldovan wine producer, Cricova. The miles of tunnels were excavated in the 15th century and the limestone carted off to help build Chisinau. Since 1954 the Cricova winery has used them to store their products in the constant temperature and humidity of the underground labyrinth. The cellars include a priceless collection of pre-WWII wines as well as the renowned wines of Cricova.

Old Orhei
40 miles northeast of Chisinau is Old Orhei, a traditional Moldovan village with unpaved streets and flocks of ducks and geese squawking underfoot. The little houses are painted blue and green and some of them are home to cozy B&Bs that cater to weekenders from the capital.  Up the road from the village is the Cave Monastery in Orhei Vechi. Orthodox Christian monks who believed the cave would be a fortress against invaders excavated this 13th century church from a limestone cliff. Archaeologists have recently discovered ruins of Turkish baths and a 15th century protective wall that surrounds the religious complex. The Cave Monastery was inhabited until the 18th century. Closed during Soviet times, it was re-opened in 1996, and services are now held regularly.

Old Orhei Open Air Museum
Explore the Old Orhei Monastery Complex, carved out of a limestone cliff overlooking the Raut River. Inhabited since pre-historic times, the complex includes Christian and pre- Christian monastic cells and places of worship and the remains of a fortress built in the 14th century.

Meal with local family
Enjoy a meal of traditional favorites in a Moldovan-style home in a village near Old Orhei. Local students in national dress come to perform a small folklore show after the meal.

Villages near Old Orhei
About 40 miles northeast of Chisinau near the Old Orhei Complex are the traditional Moldovan villages of Butuceni and Trebuzeni, with unpaved streets and flocks of ducks and geese squawking underfoot. The little houses are painted blue and green and some of them are home to cozy B&Bs that cater to weekenders from the capital.

Day 17                             Chisinau
Day trip to Transdniester
Take a day trip to the Transdniester region, a narrow strip of Moldovan land bordering Ukraine where separatists have declared a disputed independence. Organized as a de facto presidential republic with a parliament and all the attributes of a sovereign state, Transdniester is in the unique position of being recognized as a separate state only by the partially-recognized states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Populated by a majority of Russian- and Ukrainian-speakers who feared that the newly- independent Moldova would merge with Romania, Transdniester gives the traveler a glimpse back into Soviet times. Explore the time capsules of Tiraspol and Bendery, the region's capital.

In Bendery, visit the remains of the massive Ottoman fortress built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1530s. Bendery Fortress was attacked many times before it was finally overcome by the Russians in the late 18th century.

Day 18                             Chisinau - Odessa, Ukraine
This morning you will be picked up by the Ukrainian driver and transferred to Odessa.

Day 19                             Odessa
City Tour
After southern Ukraine and its coveted Black Sea coast was ceded to Russia by the Ottoman Turks in 1792, Catherine the Great founded a naval base and strategic fort here, naming it Odessa after an ancient Greek city believed to be in the area. Odessa quickly grew into a thriving merchant port as well, shipping the abundant Ukrainian grain around the world. Always considered a cultural center, Odessa has produced some of the world's finest classical performers, and may be best known for its Potemkin Steps, immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s film “Battleship Potemkin.”  A tour of the city includes the exteriors of the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater, symbol of the city and the Vorontsov Palace, as well as a climb up the famous Potemkin Steps.

Archaeology Museum
Ukraine's oldest museum, the Archeological Museum displays artifacts excavated from burial mounds along the Black sea coast. Scythian gold and 10th century slavic coins are found in the Gold Room along with a gold vase from the 14th century BC.

Partisan Caves tour
The Odessa catacombs were formed as quarrymen with horses cut and dragged blocks of limestone from beneath the city to build most of Odessa's palaces and government buildings. The tunnels, possibly five hundred miles of them, can be found everywhere under the city
and its suburbs. Odessa's rich found that the temperature and humidity of the tunnels were perfect for storing wine, and its smugglers found they were perfect for storing and moving contraband. The most well-known of the tunnels' uses, however, was during WWII, when Axis forces overran the city and the Ukrainian partisans took their resistance movement literally underground.  Beneath the village of Nerubayskaya, a unique Museum of Partisan Glory was established within the catacombs.

Day 20                             Odessa
Jewish Heritage Tour
Spend a day exploring Odessa’s rich Jewish Heritage, beginning with one of only three synagogues to survive the USSR, Brodsky.

The Brodsky Synagogue was built in 1863, becoming the first Reform temple in Eastern Europe, and remains a testament to Jewish intellectual activity of early 20th century Odessa. Built by the Brodsky Jews (emigrants from Austro-Hungary and Germany) in the Florentine Gothic style, the Brodsky Synagogue gained renown as a center for the Jewish intelligentsia. Many notable Jewish personalities are associated with the synagogue, which hosted composers and musicians from all of Europe. Today Brodsky is among the three of Odessa’s
78 synagogues to survive the Soviet period, although its prayer hall is filled with a four-story cement storage safe for city archives, added in 1925. The Reform synagogue was turned over to the strictly Orthodox Chabad-Lubovitch community in 2004.

Stop at the Holocaust Memorial on Prokhorovska Square, commemorating the estimated
70,000 Odessa Jews who perished during Nazi occupation. A memorial stone inscribed with the names of 43 “Righteous of the World,” who helped to save some of the Jews of Odessa stands near the moving 2004 sculpture called “Holocaust” and the stone marking the beginning of the “Road of Death,” the route to the Transdnistria extermination camps.

Visit Moldovanka, the center of Jewish life in Odessa before the Revolution. An area of workers’ houses arranged in a grid-type plan and originally settled by Moldovans, the Moldovanka area is the setting of many of Isaac Babel’s stories.

Now at the heart of the modern Jewish community, the Migdal Community Center strives to preserve Jewish heritage in Odessa. It offers Hebrew classes along with classes in traditional Ukrainian Jewish folk arts, and also runs exchange programs with other Jewish community centers in the US, Israel, Germany and Austria. Migdal sponsors the Museum of the History of Odessa Jews, located at the center. The thriving community that Migdal (meaning tower) serves is a testament to the tenacity of Odessa's Jews.

All that remains of the Second Jewish Cemetery are overgrown plants and broken bits of carved stones that once marked the graves, but it was here that the victims of the 1905 pogroms were laid to rest. The cemetery was opened in 1885 and ordered destroyed in
1978. Only a few bodies were ever moved. Luckily, the memorial to the 1905 pogroms survived and was transported to the third cemetery, the only Jewish burial place still in use in Odessa.

Take a walk on Deribasovskaya Street, a pedestrian street that runs through the heart of Odessa. Named after Jose de Ribas, a Spanish Jew in the Russian service who won an important naval victory over the Turks, the street borders one of Odessa’s first parks and is a wonderful place to stroll and people-watch. Notice the bronze gentleman sitting on a bench, Leonid Utyusov.

Born to a Jewish family in Odessa in 1895, jazz singer and actor Leonid Utyusov became so celebrated in Russia that in 1965 he was awarded the title, “Peoples’ Artist of the USSR.” Originally named Weisbein, he picked Utyusov a word that means “cliffs” - as his stage name. His memorial on Deribasovskaya Street in Odessa is a life-size sculpture of the artist sitting on a bench, with room for anyone to sit down next to him. Utyusov also has a ship named in his honor, and a memorial postage stamp issued in Russia in 1999.

So we have now planned the furthest trip out first- LOL- we are also planning to go to NYC and Europe in May and hopefully meet Iddo in Ireland this summer... we also have a July road trip planned and TB and I have a DART trip in late August... then after we arrive back to Florida we have trips planned to NYC and our Cuba trip in December- so things are actually starting to shape up... so that we can be role models for my motto "GO NOW!"

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