The lightning storm at the end of the most recent post took out the internet provider in Suceava (pronounced SOO-cheva). I couldn’t find the internet until locating a cafe in Sighișoara (Si-gee-shwah- rah) just now.
Our hostess in Suceava is Monika, who is very sweet and giving and owns High Class Hostel. Her place is highly recommended in the guide books, and I concur. The hostel is outside the city for now – she says she is moving over summer into space closer to town. She serves breakfast with eggs and unpasteurized milk from her neighbor which is a real treat. We also ate her homemade dinner for two nights. One was a delicious chicken schnitzel, and the other night she cooked up pickled beans and sausage. Both meals were completely authentic, traditionally Romanian, and amazing.
Monika drove Allison and I through the Carpathian Mountains in the Bukovina region to see the four primary painted monasteries. They are amazingly beautiful buildings painted on the outside in the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s remarkable how the paint has lasted on most of them, though their southern sides didn’t fair so well due to sun exposure. All the churches are Orthodox. Monika knows many nuns at the monasteries who are kind when we’re introduced. By chance, our tour happened on a holy day so we witnessed a portion of a Mass outdoors. Despite it being a weekday, we witnessed many country folk enjoying their neighbors’ company at the Mass because the day is considered a work holiday.
Monika tells us that in the 1980’s Ceaușescu attempted systematization of living quarters, which uprooted hordes of citizens. They were told that part of the move involved eliminating pets. Understandably, most people had a hard time putting their pets to sleep so instead let their pets, most of which were dogs, go. This is the origin of their current stray dog problem.
While at the High Class Hostel we met one of the writers for the Rough Guide book on Romania, Tim Burford. He is good chap and we thank him for the offer of a few Lei at the train station.
May 19 – We caught the train to Brașov, the Prague of Romania some say. Monika arranges a place for us with her friend Gabriel, who has a very nice and brand new hostel in the old town. In fact, the place is so new that we were all alone in one giant room, making it our first night of the vacation to not sleep in two single beds. We even had a the common bath all to ourselves. During trip planning Allison and I allowed ourselves an unplanned night between Suceava to Sighișoara, and Brașov couldn’t be a better choice.
In Romania there are two trains, the Rapid and Intercity, and contrary to their names, the latter is faster and much nicer. We rode the Rapid from Suceava to Brașov. The ride took eight hours and it felt rickety with old rusty cars and lights that completely failed to illuminate when passing through tunnels. The ride, however, went through amazing country scenes, passing village after village, each with an Orthodox church in its center. We saw countless farmers doing manual labor and nearly zero tractors or other motorized help. It was all horse-drawn carts and we felt like we were in a time warp.
This reminds me of the Roma (i.e. gypsies) who live on the road to Monika’s place. We saw them racing their carts with children who looked absolutely terrified. Roma are not well-liked here, and Roma children and adults alike are seen often begging. At first we felt badly for them, but, eventually became numbed and instead focused on keeping all our belongings safe when in their presence.
Back to Brașov. It is a lovely old town encased in an medieval Citadel. Black Church, so named because of a fire many years ago, is one of the more beautiful churches. Oddly, when traveling, one can become numb to the beauty of all the old churches, perhaps similarly to the way one is desensitized to the Roma. There are two old gates that still stand in the citadel, and one, Catherine’s Gate, looks like it came out of Disneyland. Speaking of, Castle Bran, located near Bran, Romania and falsely advertised as Dracula’s Castle, was just returned to the Germans and there is rumor of Disney purchasing it.
Brașov was a brief stay. At 3:00p yesterday we caught a train to Sighișoara. It is a small town with a spectacularly well preserved citadel. We are finally at a real hotel, Casa Wagner, which is very nice and conveniently located inside the citadel. Yesterday evening we walked just outside the citadel and found several young 10-12 yr old boys playing. We took their photo and they started to pose for us. We showed them their picture with our digital cameras and they were enthralled. A minute later a woman approached us. She couldn’t speak English but we figured out she is the mother of one of the boys and she would like a photo. We found a teenager who could write for her, likely because she can’t do so for herself, and got her address in our book. We will send her photos of her boy with his friends hamming it up for us.
Yesterday we also had one drink in the house in which Vlad Tepes, also known as “Vlad the Impaler,” was born. It’s touristy and expensive, but a lovely house.
Today, May 20, is sightseeing in Sighișoara. There’s not much to write about that isn’t already in the tour books. Some highlights were sampling apple, pear, and plum brandy, the latter of which is all over the novel Dracula, in a quaint small distillery. We quickly discovered brandy can packs a wicked punch. Speaking Dracula, it should be no surprise that he is everywhere. It’s certainly touristy, but the place is beautiful so what are you going do?
Tomorrow we head back to Bucharest by Intercity Train and the next day fly to Ljubljana where our Slovenian adventure will begin.