Trip Start Jul 26, 2004
Trip End Sep 01, 2004

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Scratch the wine, but I did see painted monasteries for my birthday. And you know what? There is at least one internet cafe in Gura Humorului, where we spent the past two nights. Thank you for all the birthday wishes! *kisses*

Why no wine, and why didn't I write? Unfortunately, my digestive tract had a nasty disagreement with something I ate the night before last, so I hardly ate at all yesterday and not that much more today. But worry not, I'm on the mend.

It's so much easier when they come to you: when we stepped off the train in Gura Humorului, after an almost 6-hour ride, a kindly-looking grandmother approached me and offered us a room in her house. With some basic communication, because she spoke only Romanian, we came to an understanding that when we got to her house, she'd phone her daughter who spoke English, so we had a strange 3-way conversation to settle everything. We got two breakfasts, a supper and our clothes washed as well, which was nice, and a chance to watch some Olympics.

The morning of the 17th dawned bright and hot and while we were eating our eggs and sausages, a local taxi driver arrived with a map and some brochures to offer us a day of sight-seeing in Southern Bucovina, which is really the most efficient way to do something like that, short of having one's own car.

Cristian the taxi driver, fond of shouting out expressions like "Let's do it!" and "See ya!" drove us to 5 of the monasteries the region is famous for, as well as a small village where they make black ceramics and a salt mine. We stopped along the way to admire the view and to take pictures of storks, who build their nests up on telephone poles.

What a beautiful country! "A bit of heaven on earth!" Cristian said proudly, indicating the rolling pastures, the little villages nestled in the valleys and the dark mountains in the distance. Truly, it was, and it almost seemed we were back in the 30s or the 40s, as there were sometimes more horses pulling carts of hay, wood, families, etc. than motor vehicles on the road.

As for the monasteries, what does a painted one look like? I had absolutely no idea what to expect, so it was quite a surprise. Smaller than I thought they would be, but also more colourful. If moss supposedly grows on the north side of trees, frescoes fade on the northern sides of monasteries. At all the ones we saw, the southern sides had best preserved their images. The paintings themselves are illustrations of biblical stories and various saints and/or martyrs. There were lots of depictions of severed heads still sporting halos.

Several of the monasteries are run by nuns, who wear all black here, with little pillbox hats. Because these are still working religious buildings, indecent people like G are asked to cover their legs, so he had to wear a skirt or an apron, provided at the door.

We were something of an anomaly -- not many Canadians get that far into the countryside! There were French and German tour groups, as well as the ubiquitous Asian groups, but that was about it.

We're back in Cluj to allow me some R&R, at the same hotel we were at two nights ago. Only this time, we have our own bathroom! G is very pleased. And it's not even 4$ more than a room without a private bathroom. Tomorrow we move on to Sighisoara, so I'll see you there!
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