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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Suceava and the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

ROMANIA | Tuesday, 27 April 2021 | Views [40]

Our next destination after Iasi was to visit the painted monasteries of Bucovina. These UNESCO world heritage sites are not so easy to visit by public transport so we decided to splash out for a tour, and the best place to organise this was Suceava. So we got the train from Iasi a couple of hours back west to Suceava. Now, we had read that it wasn’t the best town but we needed to stay overnight so we could head off early the next morning. The train station was a long way out of town so  this necessitated getting a taxi into the centre. Easier said than done, the first taxi driver we approached outside the station refused to talk to us and the second reluctantly agreed to take us. Taxi drivers in our experience have been great in Romania, this unfriendly welcome didn’t bode well.

We were dropped off at the Continental Hotel and it turned out to be a perfectly decent hotel near the centre, but somewhat lacking in character. The skies were grey so we headed out quickly to explore the town before the rain came. The guide book wasn’t wrong, it is probably the ugliest town we have been to so far with a pretty depressing main square. The one nice old building we saw, the city hall, was cordoned off as it had recently been set on fire. Oh well, the main tourist attraction was the old citadel so we headed there. This turned out to be a pleasant walk through a forest on the edge of town. We climbed some steep steps to be confronted by a huge statue of Stefan the Great on his horse. They really think Steven is great in these parts and that is fine with me. We passed the village museum which was closed, but we could see the traditional houses over the fence and finally we arrived at the citadel. This being Monday, it was also closed. Another top tip, don’t go sightseeing in Suceava on a Monday! Never mind, the place was quiet and we could view the castle from outside which was quite impressive. We looped back to town via a different forest trail and got back to the hotel before the heavens opened. We hadn’t spotted any attractive eateries in town so we plumped for the hotel dining option. We had the restaurant to ourselves and ordered a Bucovina platter ( cheese, salami and bread) for starters which was tasty, especially the local cheese. For the main course I fancied the ribs but the waiter said it was not nice. Oh ok, we will listen to your advice and go for 2 Bucovina specialities. We noticed on the menu that they said certain options were frozen, a pretty honest establishment this. Unfortunately, the food was awful. The bing of the microwave sounded all too soon and we were dished up some cold slop that did not resemble the description on the menu at all, apart from the bit about it being frozen. We were not doing too well for food on this trip so far and I went to bed hungry and wondering how bad were the ribs?

 

Thankfully, we hadn’t booked breakfast and we were glad we were self-sufficient in that department after the previous evening’s kitchen nightmares. Our guide Florin collected us on at time at the hotel reception and we were off to explore the painted monasteries of Bucovina. Bucovina is an area in the province of Moldavia near the border with the Ukraine and is well-known for its many monasteries which are, well painted. We were looking forward to seeing the UNESCO sites but also to see the countryside and villages. We had booked Florin via Hello Bucovina ( 60 Euro pp for the private day tour) and he turned out to be a lovely person and great guide who explained all about the churches and also the region.

Our first stop was Sucevita, it was decidedly chilly as we got out the car to look around the monastery. Now the thing about these painted churches are that not only are they painted on the inside, but also on the outside. The whole of the outside is covered in paintings telling the story of the bible. The special feature of this one was the ‘ladder of virtue’ where the righteous climb up to paradise helped by angels  and the sinners fall through the rungs to hell. Know where I’ll be going. Each monastery has different paintings and a slightly different hue to the paintings as well, but the actual design of the building is pretty similar at each one. Florin told us all about what the paintings were depicting and although not really our style of artwork they are very impressive. Every inch of the inside of the church is covered in paintings, ornate carvings and gold bling. I liked the secret hideaway where they hid the gold when invaders were on the way.

We could see snow-capped mountains from Sucevita and were happy when Florin said we would be crossing a mountain pass on the way to next destination, Moldovita Monastery.  The drive over the mountains was lovely even with cloudy skies and we soon reached the snowline. We stopped at the top of the Clumarna Pass to admire the view and we were glad that we had a flask of coffee to help abate the chill. There is a zip line from the top of the pass but we had to decline due to the chilly weather otherwise I would definitely have had a go. We arrived in the picturesque village of Moldovita and had a look around the monastery. Florin told us all about the frescoes again with the ‘Siege of Constantinople’ being the unique factor here. The complex was quite small but it was very beautiful and remarkedly quiet.

We stopped for lunch as a roadside hotel and had a bowl of warming bean soup before heading on to the last 2 monasteries on the tour,  Voronet and Humor. Voronet is famous for it’s blue hue, so I had to like a place famous for blue, and it was built by good old Stefan the Great back in 1488. Apparently he built a monastery after every battle he won! So no wonder there are so many around, he only lost 2 battles out of 40 odd which is not bad especially as most were against the tough marauding Turks. This is the most visited of the monasteries in the area and you could tell due to the huge car parks and rows of souvenir stalls. However, on this now bitterly cold afternoon we were the only punters there. We had a quick look round as the cold really was getting beyond the joke. Emma was admiring the painted eggs in the gift shop, these eggs are a tradition in Bucovina and Florin bought her a set as a gift. What a nice guy. I know, I wasn’t putting my hand in my pocket for some eggs! Our final stop of the day was at Humor, a monastery 4 km up the valley from Gura Humor. It was set in a lovely setting but was quite similar to the others in style except for a tower within the complex but that was closed. It had been an interesting day trip, we found out lots about the places we visited and enjoyed some fabulous scenery. Florin dropped us at  Hotel Buchanland in Gura Humor so we could continue our journey the next day into Maramures.

 

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