Sighetu Marmaţiei to Suceava; A very long drive; Voroneţ Monastery; Medieval festival at Suceava's fortress

There was a very nice Austrian couple staying at the hostel in Sighet, Connie and Max, and they’d offered to drive us to Suceava the next day. It was possible, now, to get there by train - the tracks having been repaired the day before - but the trip would have taken nearly fourteen hours and three trains, and we hadn’t yet arranged for anywhere to stay, so getting there early seemed like a good idea. I hadn’t slept at all the night before and was very tired, but we were still ready to go on the spot of 8 as requested. We managed, somehow, to fit both packs in one of the back seats, leaving the middle and one other seat for ourselves - not exactly comfortable, but still a vast improvement on the train. We let Sara and Spidey have their goodbye and then were off.

The first leg of the trip involved a steep winding road up and over the mountains. The road surface was in terrible condition, obliging Max to swerve, dodge and sometimes stop short to avoid falling into a pothole. Between that and the constant hairpin turns, I soon started to feel very motion-sick, which never happens to me. Breathing exercises and anti-nausea tablets kept it at bay until we got out of the mountains, but it was touch-and-go for a little while.

I slept and watched through the window alternately as we drove, seeing some of the towns and villages that Cezar had mentioned. I’d originally thought only to go along to the town of Câmpulung Moldovesc and stay at a guesthouse there, since it was a better base to see the monasteries in Bucovina, but the town came and went so quickly that the opportunity was gone before I could take it. I thought that it might be just as easy to get east to see the monasteries as it would to get north, maybe, and kept quiet, deciding to just go along to Suceava instead.

No sooner had we passed Câmpulung Moldovesc, though, than the road became one big traffic jam because of construction. Our progress had already been agonizingly slow because of the mountains and the road conditions, but it now slowed to a crawl and then a full stop. Max was less than happy about this development, and decided that, instead of going to Suceava, settling in, and then coming back west to see the monastery at Voroneţ, we’d see the monastery first and wait for the traffic to lighten up.

Voroneţ Monastery is, I’m told - along with Putna Monastery - the spiritual heart of Romania. All through Bucovina there are examples of these “painted monasteries”. They’re precisely that. The exterior walls are painted with biblical scenes and allegories, and the insides likewise but even more sumptuously. The monasteries are of a distinct architectural construction. Looked at from above they’d be a long oval, sometimes with stubby bulges on either side where the transepts would be on a cathedral. The roof is a long oval as well, and the eaves extend well beyond the walls - by two or three meters sometimes - and they’re topped with a wide spire in round, square or octagonal cross-section. They look to me as if they were wearing witches’ hats, or like they were mushrooms with pointed tops. Voroneţ is painted on the outside in sky-blue, with a repeating pattern of angels and men on one of the long sides, and a huge mural of Judgement Day on one of the rounded ends. The other two sides were too weathered to be restored. The interior is gorgeous - all gold leaf and rich wood with a small dome over the apse. The antechamber was painted with rows of small scenes depicting the martyrdom of various saints, (mostly via beheading). Photographs of the interior were forbidden, of course, I knew they would be but it’s still disappointing not to have something to remind me.

By the time we finally made it to Suceava and found Max and Connie’s guesthouse, it was mid-afternoon. Not counting the time we’d spent at the Monastery, it had taken just over six hours to drive 220km. I’ll leave our average speed as an exercise for the reader - it gives a idea of the state of the roads in that part of Romania. We knew there were hostels in Suceava, but when we were presented with the fact that the guesthouse had a free room, we decided we were tired and really just wanted to stop - and hang the expense. It was 130RON for both of us (about CAD$52) and we’ve spent more than that on crappy hostels in the past - and at least breakfast was included.

We lay down “just for a minute” and woke up blearily about three hours later, half-annoyed with ourselves for wasting the afternoon, and half self-congratulatory for getting some rest. We grabbed some muesli for dinner, quickly, and then the four of us headed out. The owner of the pension had told Sheryl that there was a festival happening at Suceava’s ruined fortress - what sort of festival we weren’t sure, but it sounded like fun anyway. It took us an hour of wandering before we found out the way to the castle, and another half-hour to walk there up a dark road. All the foot traffic was headed the opposite way, away from the festival, and it was half-past nine by that point, but we decided to press on. I’d lost interest a while back, to be honest, but went along to be sociable. I’m glad I did, the festival was fun. It turned out to be a non-serious medieval theme. We paid our admissions (which broke the bank at 4 lei each - about CAD$1.50) and then had a beer while we waited for the next event to start. It was a combination pyrotechnic show and SCA-style swordplay re-enactment, great fun. Afterwards we explored the castle a bit with the aid of Sheryl’s flashlight and then headed back to town. The road had led us in a big circle and we knew there must be a quick shortcut down the hill and through the forest, but we couldn’t find it in the dark. We did see one likely candidate, beside the historical village museum, but a couple of locals told us it didn’t lead back to town when we asked. In the end we gave up and took the long way back, which wasn’t all that long, really.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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