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Suceava, Romania 
May 22 continued ...

We like train travel. Rather than highways of cars, we get to peer at everyday life as we amble passed farms and backyards and stop at little stations. Even as we pass non-stop stations, a station master, or mistress, comes out of a door and stands at attention with a little beat-up flag ... telling the engineer that all is well.

Today we stopped at the edge of one back yard where a little boy sat upon the stoop. Sherrie threw him a balloon (not well, but it cleared the tracks and was within reach of his fence) and a smile lit his face. Even mom and baby came out to see, while dad cut grass with a scythe.

Most people hoe their gardens, horses pull ploughs or wagons, chickens seek out the shade of haystacks and animals graze beside the tracks (sometimes between).

We had to change trains which meant a three hour layover at a county station, Gara Salva, which didn’t even boast toilet facilities – we were told, "Just go in the bushes beside the track".

 

Sherrie went for a walk with her camera and met some lovely people along the way: three ladies and a gentleman just coming from the field gardens with their hoes, a lady returning home and another very old (but not too old to show the youth in her soul) ready at the gate for a visit (even with someone who spoke a language she didn’t understand), teens heading home from school, a frail lady cranking up a bucket of water from an outdoor well (every house has one), people moving in horse drawn wagons, or hand pulled wagons, sheep grazing in a field and a herder following his goats and pigs.

 

Again we were back on the train rolling along the steel and watching the green cultivated quilt spread out beside us and up over the hill. The train came to a screeching stop as men and dogs tried to split a large flock of sheep which were crossing the tracks – memories of Granada, Spain last May when we hit a car, came immediately to mind. We peered out the windows and it looked like they had been successful.

As the sun sank lower in the western sky it stretched shadows and added a glow to the already beautiful scenery.

Arriving in Suceava (pronounced Sue-cha-va) without confirmed reservations, we went to the first hotel and found it closed for renovations (through the windows we could see rows of toilets filling the lobby). We then walked up to Giardino Pensiune. There were two gentlemen outside the entrance, one was in his late forties - early fifties and the other in his late twenties. Just by their stance, before we even spoke to them, Terry deducted we would not find a room here either. He was right and friendly banter was easy between the four of us as we considered our options. Before being introduced, Terry also deducted correctly who the younger fellow was. It was Ciprian Slemcho, a tour guide who had been written up in Lonely Planet as "a can-do kind of guy". He certainly lived up to his reputation and suggested, strongly, that he had a room for us at a pensiune outside of town. He would drive us there, right now, and since we did not what to be out of town without a car, he would see we got back in the morning. We explained that a in-town hotel might be better because we wanted internet connection; besides we had not yet had any dinner. He made a phone call and then told us that the owner of the pensiune would make us dinner and that she had a computer connection for us. Mircea, the older and owner of Giardino Pensiune, told us he would have a room available for us tomorrow night, should we want it. We liked that idea and said yes.

Ciprian piled us and our backpacks into his little car and as we drove out into the country told us how hard he had worked on his language skills (he speaks many languages), how hard he worked to get written up in Lonely Planet, how he was training other guides to help him with the work load, how others had taken advantage of him and how he was going to be away for a few days showing Italian clients the Maramures, but could get one of his friends, who spoke some English but was not a tour guide, to show us around (for the same fee he would charge). He pressed for a response so he could make arrangements but we held off.

We arrived at Anka’s place. It is the home of her parents who, in the late spring, summer and early fall, spend time closer to their garden acreage, while Anka uses the family home as a bed and breakfast. She was a little shy about her English skills and somewhat overwhelmed by Ciprian who seemed to tell her what to do, with little finesse.

While Ciprian was driving us out, things had been happening at Anca’s that we were unaware of. Ciprian’s phone call had caused his Italian tourists to change rooms from a large double bed into the livingroom-come-b&b-bedroom with a bed made from a highly tufted pull-out sofa (which Anca was making up on our arrival). Anca also had to remake the smooth mattress bed they had left. All of this just so we could use the computer in the adjoining room. Our desire to have some dinner had only piled more work on Anka in the midst of these room changes. The Italian couple were very gracious and after carrying the last of their luggage across the hallway, bid us goodbye and left with Ciprian. We questioned how, in the morning, he was going to fit the Italian couple and their luggage into the little car for their trip to the Maramures and get us back to the city. Although we appreciated his efforts on our behalf, it seems easy to be a "can-do kind of guy" when one doesn’t consider the inconveniences being heaped on other people ... including one’s own clients.

We had some difficulties in connecting to the internet, but Anca insisted on calling a knowledgeable friend who fixed things enough for us to get away some info before it no longer worked. She prepared us a lovely dinner.

May 23

We met the Italian couple again at the breakfast table joined by Ciprian who easily changed from Italian to English to Romanian. They were off to the Maramures and Ciprian suggested we get a taxi back to town. We told him we wanted to take our luggage to Giardino Pensiune before going into town where Sherrie wanted to get her hair done. Ciprian made a phone call and when he got off he told us (he doesn’t ask, he tells) that Mircea, the owner, would be coming to pick us up and that Mircea’s wife had a hairdressing shop and she could take Sherrie at 1:00.

We packed up and enjoyed the hens and chicks pecking around the yard until Mircea arrived. We apologized for the inconvenience caused by Ciprian’s phone call, but Mircea was most gracious and made us feel comfortable. The ride back was most informative, as Mircea gave us a brief history of the area and answered an abundance of questions.   Mircea was at one time the President of the regional Tourist Board. His interest in the history and personal knowledge of the region has put him in a position to be tour guide for visiting royalty.  He asked us if we would like him to take us around. "I don’t do tours anymore," he explained, "but every so often I like to do it and it happens I have tomorrow free." We jumped at the chance to spend a day with this learned gentleman.

We dropped off our luggage in the clean, modest room and then he drove us to his wife, Liliana’s, salon, "Beauty Master".   He even came into the salon and acted as interpreter so that Sherrie’s wishes would be clear and then took Terry over to the local market, showed him around and left him to enjoy.

After Terry returned to the salon and Sherrie’s hair was done it was an unexpected surprise when we were told Mircea would be there in three minutes to pick us up and return us to Giardino Pensiune. We were very concerned with the amount of time he was dedicating to our well being. "It is our way of living," he explained. "You can die of too much stress, so we take things as they come. Go with the flow." Mircea believes in having a positive attitude. When you think positive things, and do positive things, positive happenings flow back into your life. Terry told him of our real estate motto, "Positive Results through Positive People".

We freshened up and then left the pensiune on foot to go to take a look around the neighbourhood. Down on the corner of a major intersection we noticed a sign - a very large sign that wrapped around a building. Some of the written text was in Romanian and some in English. Beside the picture of Confucius was a quote written in Romanian; beside a picture of Leonardo da Vinci was a quote which read, "The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.". The next photo was of someone we did not recognize and the script was in Romanian; next was Mahatma Gandhi quoted as saying, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.". 

Next was Eugene Ionesco’s photo with the saying, "Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together"; and the last photo (and quote) was of Donald Trump ... Donald Trump ? !! ... you have got to be kidding! Among such great minds someone had the audacity to quote Donald Trump? .... whose quote was, "As long as you are going to be thinking anyway, think big." We think the only person who would have the gall to place himself among such company would be "The Donald" himself. (Einstein had a small picture in the window).

Further on we came upon a different market than the one Terry had seen earlier. Although the busy morning crowd had dispersed, there was still plenty to attract our attention. Much of the greenery they sold was sold with the roots intact. We were not sure if this was so they could be kept crisp and fresh in water, that people ate the root, or that they were intended for replanting. We also ventured into the highly regulated and controlled area where dairy products are sold. Only cheeses were left and these were mostly sheep cheeses. Terry had explained that in the market he saw earlier the produce sold in each stall must be grown, or produced, by the renter of the stall space. Outside the roofed area of this market was yet another market, and we wondered if these then might be imported fruits and vegetables (some definitely were since they don’t grow bananas in Romania) along with household goods.

On the quiet street which holds Giardino Pensiune we watched as a grandfather helped his grandson learn to ride a shiny new bicycle and remembered back to the days when our boys were learning to ride.

Freshened up and ready to go again we had dinner at the nearby recommended Latino Restaurant. The price was right, the food was good and we looked forward to returning tomorrow night.

May 24

Our day with Mircea was every bit as enjoyable as we had hoped. Early on in our travels, we told Mircea that we would like to have photos of a horsedrawn plow. The stop was immediate.

The people working in the field appeared to be as fascinated with us stopping to take pictures of something they do everyday, as we were in witnessing them at their tasks. Their warm friendly smiles were so typical of the Romanian people we have met.

Mircea also stopped in a village which is known for it’s sauerkraut to show us, in someone’s driveway, the large vats used to pickle the cabbage heads.

Just as in Maramures, common transportation for farmers in this area is the horse and wagon.

Before entering the Putna Monastery where King Stefan the Great is buried, Mircea pointed to a cross on the top of a nearby hill. "That is where the King stood," Mircea told us, "when he shot an arrow. Where it landed become the placement of the alter." He further explained that a monastery where a king is buried is home to monks. This site was the centre of celebrations on the 500th year anniversary of Stefan’s death, and our host oversaw the organization of those celebrations. Not an easy task, for among other events they served dinner to five hundred VIPs plus 10,000 other guests.

The exterior of the Putna Monastery church is not painted on the outside as some of the others we would see are and the inside is just now having frescos painted. What an incredible challenge and sense of accomplishment it must be to be an artist of such works. Some of the room’s frescos were complete and we were allowed to take photographs as the light from the windows shone along the thick walls and highlighted some of the biblical stories and one of the cloverleaf domes glowed with rich colours and gold leaf. As we turned to leave the room, we noticed the sun shining on the opposite wall highlighting the image of Jesus in Mary’s arms.

We passed the tomb of King Stefan, 1435-1504 (and one of his wives). Stefan the Great is one of the central figures in Romanian history.

The painted monasteries Mircea showed us had outside frescoes as well as others inside - thus the name painted monasteries.

The frescoes on these churches illustrate biblical scenes such as The Last Judgment, apostles, evangelists, philosophers, martyrs, angels and demons, prayers, hymns, the Tree of Jessie and The Ladder of Virtue; all in colourful tapestries of paint. As with paintings within Western European churches, these were intended to interpret the bible for the majority of citizens who could not read. Mircea not only gave us a mini-history of each monastery we visited but by helping us understand the paintings, he made the day full and interesting. The painted monasteries in Bocovina are protected by UNESCO but not the weather. Bucovian weather is rainy in spring and fall and in winter, snow and blizzards. Northern walls show the effects of natural "sand blasting" whereas the other sides are amazing in their clarity, appreciating they are survivors from the 16th century.

 
   

We are most grateful to Mircea for a very enjoyable stay. Although he is unable to take all guests who stay at his Giardino Pensiune on such tours, his positive attitude and eagerness to see that his guests enjoy their stay, are reason enough to book ahead.

We finished off the day by returning to Latino’s for dinner only to find it closed and staff washing down everything. Just after we left last night they experienced a kitchen fire. Damage must have been considerable, because as well as washing down walls and furniture, new ventilation piping was stacked outside the kitchen door and the place was abuzz with activity.

We went around the corner to another restaurant and because it was cooling down we chose a table inside. Good thing because before our meal was finished there was a hail storm. Not the kind of moisture farmers prefer for their crops.

  

May 25

At the beginning of the day we thought this may be our last journal entry. "It has been a good life. A full life. We love you family."

 

click here to continue May 25 and trip to Kamyanets-Podilsky, Ukraine ... 


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