02.06.2012 24 °C
I had a near religious experience today.
First thing after breakfast, I set out for Voronet, one of the famous painted monasteries of Bucovina, which my hosts assured me was within easy walking distance. I knew it was about 4km there, but the road seemed to go on forever, and as I rounded each corner still without seeing the monastery, I started to wonder if it even existed.
Finally, when I was about to stop and build my own church, I saw a bus at the end of the road, the telltale sign of a major tourist attraction. Voronet is awesome. The north side of the building, which gets the most weather, has almost completely faded but the west and south sides have maintained their vivid blue colours and the giant frescos remain intact since being painted to educate and entertain the armies waiting to do battle with the invading Turks, in the 15th century.
After I had walked around it a couple of times, realisng that photos wouldn't do it justice, I ventured inside. As with all Orthodox monastries here, the walls and ceiling are also painted with amazing pictures depicting biblical scenes, and the brutal endings of many a good saint. From what I could see, most were beheaded, while others were set on fire, dragged around behind a horse, or hung upside down til the end finally came. While I was there, a priest was holding a service, and the sound of the nuns singing made it all the more special.
The walk back into town was much more pleasant, since I knew where I was going, and I stopped to talk to two goats on the way. An elderly woman came along, who apparently owned them, and from the way she was smiling and bought her fingers to her lips to make a kissing gesture, I could tell she appreciated that I liked them. Hopefully it was that, and not “mmm, they'll make a good stew tonight”.
I walked back into the town and found a place for lunch, just as a strong wind started to blow. As seems to be the way here, it quickly blew over and by the time I'd finished eating, the weather was beautiful again. I decided not to walk the 5km to the other monestary, but to see if I could catch a minibus. According to Lonely Planet, if I hovered around the Best Western Hotel long enough, one would soon be headed that way. Sure enough, a blue van pulled up and a young guy jumped in. Now getting used to the system, I ran along the street and yanked the door open before it had time to pull away. To my relief, it actually was a minibus headed to the monestary, and not just someone's private van (not that that makes any difference round here).
Humor monastery isn't quite as spectacular as Voronet, but it's still wonderful. I sat in the sun for a long time, enjoying the setting. Unlike the blue of Voronet, the predominant colour in the frescos of Humor is red.
This monastery also has a watch tower which I climbed half way up, but once inside the stone stairs are in steep, pitch dark, confined spaces, so I chickened out and headed back down. It was still quite early in the afternoon, so I thought I'd walk back into town. Besides, if I have one more ride in those minibuses, my organs won't be fit for donation.
It was a lovely walk, very quiet, and at one stage, there was just me and a cow. I'm not even scared of cows here as they mostly wear bells and that makes them sound super friendly. I've heard they make their own way home here, just like I was doing.
Finally, when you think you've seen them all, another beautiful monastery suddenly appears before you in Southern Bucovina. I've been to the vatican, and trapsed around cathedrals and churches in England, Italy, and Spain, but nothing prepared me for Gura Humorului's newest monastery.
After walking around the amazing building totally awe-struck for a while, I decided to have a sneaky peek in the door. Then I tried to open the door and it made a squeaky noise and a man appeared from nowhere. He nodded for me to go in, so I did, and this was the moment that nearly brought me to my knees. The entire inside from the floor to the very top of the tallest dome is covered in the brightest, most beautiful biblical paintings. It was like nothing I've ever seen before, and I must have spent an hour in there, completely spellbound. As incredible as the historic painted monasteries are, its this one that I stumbled upon on the way home that I will always remember.
And so my time in Bucovina comes to an end. While researching this trip, I often saw people asking Maramures, or Bucovina? For me, it's Bucovina hands down. You can see the same rural setting and beautiful Romanian houses as in Maramures, but here the people seem more relaxed and it has a much nicer feel about it. Oh, and did I mention the monasteries?