Sunday, October 26, 2008

Klaus, Alexandru, Dora and Duncan Do Moldavia

St. Stefan, King Stefan, Stefan cel Mare (Steven the Great)

24 October, 2008
The fog was thick in the Northern Carpathians this chilly Friday afternoon, as we climbed above Vatra Dornei into cloud cover at above 1000 m altitude. The road left much to be desired, being a European Highway in designation (E576) only, and still very much under construction. In a curvy section of mud and gravel we come to a stop light. Stopped ahead of us are a tractor-trailer and a straight truck. There is room, so we pull Klaus up alongside, and wait for green. Clearly, this is a construction zone. Yet no traffic comes from the other direction as we wait. When the light turns green, we take the lead down the one-lane newly-laid roadbed stretching around the mountain in a leftward arc. We have gone hardly 100 meters when the oncoming traffic comes into view, a mighty line of lorries and lighter vehicles, making haste directly at us. Hmm. Get right and stop. About all we could do. There ensued a marvelous dance of derring-do, as some cars climbed the bank to the closed lane and sped away, others inched past the oncomers, who in wide trucks risked the deep mud at our far left to pass us without scraping, and Klaus took every opportunity to scoot through to safety and get past the ill-timed second light at the eastward end of the mud. Thus the least of our weekend road-war stories.

Remember the fog? Soon it played an ominous part. After that muddy stretch the road climbed, paved but now narrow and not yet improved to European Road standards. Higher and higher into the clouds it climbed, from which fell a steady drizzle. Now visibility was really poor, though it was mid-morning. The defroster was blasting the windshield to ward off interior condensation, but still each hairpin turn presented a new challenge, for its radius was indeterminable until one was deep into the bend.

We swing a right round an ascendng switchback. The road straightens, and we start to accelerate a bit. From out the fog looms a lane-wide unlit yellow barrier, not 30 meters ahead, across our entire lane. Klaus veers left, executing with sure-footed wet traction an instantaneous lane change into the only available lane, as a washout appears to his right, into which we would have plunged, off a cliff, had he not been so nimble. But before he can gloat, Klaus is braking hard, being slammed into reverse, and going back past the barrier and into his prior lane, as a full sized Semi (TIR, in Romanian jargon) is coming right down the hill from out of the fog. The truck driver is also braking hard, but cannot fully stop before he passes. Klaus moves back out with cautious speed, and clears the short one-lane stretch above the washout before another denizen of the deep fog should appear.

Lunch pizza came next in Vatra-Dornei, after which Klaus found his way to the magnificently frescoed 16th Century Moldavian monastery at Vatra Moldovi, where his passengers all said prayers of thanks for our morning's deliverance. There was no doubt that day in the Pilgrim mind that God was with us, for we had barely ridden fifteen kilometers toward our second monastery of the afternoon when an oncoming tour bus swang a wide and rapid right turn toward us, only to have his driver's side door(!) swing wide open, and just miss clobbering Klaus's brand new windshield. This time Klaus sashayed to the right, again deftly missing a damaging mishap.

Another beautiful monastery at Suceviţa, and more grateful prayers from the faithful pilgrims.

Biserica Suceviţa
We spent Friday night in Radauţi, where we dined on soup, sniţel,(schnitzel), potatoes, and salad. We were very hungry, aware that we had just lived a special day. The dinner at the National Hotel was excellent. Our lodging, at a cheap pensiune down near the railroad tracks, was fine for the price. We slept like rocks.

25 October, 2008
For Saturday we had planned only our first stop, the famous, large, and architecturally diverse monastery at Putna. To get there we had to drive back to the west for a bit, just south of the Ukraine border. Once there we found no exterior frescoes, but a fine church and many outbuildings that varied at each compass point in roof design, tower design, staircase layout, and exterior trim. It was, for this old student of architecture, a wonderful study both in 15th Century design, and in what clearly came after, in several stages. Built under the aegis of Stefan the Great, a sainted Moldavian king famous both for defendng Moldavia from a succession of invaders and for building a major religious installation after each of his victories, this monastery houses a beautifully kept museum with an awe-inspiring collection of artifacts from St. Stefan's age.

The Museum at Putna

Raluca Teodora (Dora) and Alexandru (Alex)
at The Monastery at Putna :

From Putna, our targeted destination for the night was the culturally and academically famous city of Iasi ("Yahsh"), close to the eastern border of Romania, where the Prut River and a huge lake of some 30 KM in length separate Romania's Modavian Region from the Republic of Moldova.

There were good roads from Putna down through Suceava and on to Iasi. Or, as the detailed map Alex had brought showed, there was a small road that traced the border, just above the Prut. It would take us to the very Northeastern reaches of Romania, past the long lake, then join with a more substantial road to Iasi. Picture us in the white zone at the upper-right of the map at For some 50 Km Klaus ate dirt. It was a fairly level plain, and the road was not bad as dirt roads through farm country go. Twice the bottom scraped a bit, as Klaus braved the crowned center rather than the more potholed sides. But we maintained a 50 Km/Hr average, and I was told by Alexandru that NO ONE in Romania had EVER driven so fast on such a road. "Don't let the suspension get to the bottom of the holes, and it is a smoother ride," I told him, based on years of driving such roads in New Hampshire.

So, we took the scenic route, and made it down close to Iasi as the sun set. The last twenty KM were on pavement, but as in Maramures two weeks back, it was evening in farm country, and the road was full of cows going home to be milked, and hay wagons heading home for the night. Our final close call of the trip was when both passengers said "Look Out!" as I barely missed hitting an unlit horsecart full of cornstalks randomly piled on it, which in the dark of dusk was completely invisible to me until almost too late. Again, Klaus' handling saved the day, as we cleared the cart by a safe margin.

We found another low rent hostel in downtown Iasi, and had a good dinner at Mama Mia's.
During the night, we learned why the rent was so low. Next door was a night club, and their music played constantly until 6 A.M.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The ride home was about 450 KM, as our route took us through the Keys of Bicaz, a National Park in a canyon zone in the Carpathian Mountains that rivals some of America's famous canyon parks in the narrowness of its passes, the steepness of its climbs, and in its beauty. I will close this posting with a few more pictures of the ride home from Iasi.

At home in Cluj at last, we shared a pot of peppery bean soup at the apartment, traded thanks for a remarkable adventure, and went our ways in road-tested friendship.

1. The Keys of Bicaz (Cheile Bicazului)
2. A Textured Outcropping of Shale and Slate
3. Metamorphic slate and sedementary shale, both steeply tilted, but note different shear planes.
4. The Keys of Bicaz (2)

1 comment:

Liz Spangler said...

Oh tis a shame you ate only at Mama Mia! There are such lovely restaurants in Iasi! Though they do have some reasonable pizza, one of the "closest" to American pizza you can find here.