This series is dedicated to Rodica and Virgil, my good friends of a lifetime, who made this trip possible.

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It took me a while to start this series of travel notes. I had to finish first the previous one, of course. Then some health adventures interfered. However, I think that these were just very good excuses. The real reason is that these are not usual travel notes. These places were not completely new for us. Our relation with them is special. We left Romania in 1984, at the peak of one of the most horrible periods in the history of the country. Although we came back to visit and we are visiting our country of birth twice a year for the last decade, most if not all of our visits were conscripted to Bucharest, seeing my mother, meeting friends, seeing one or two theater plays (when we are lucky to find tickets) and buying at least half a suitcase of books. This was the first time we had a few days of vacation, and thanks to our good friends we ventured out Romania’s capital city for a six days trip. Most of the places we visited were places we had been at least once in the past but that was more than a quarter a century ago. We found some of the elements of the geography unchanged, and some of the colors of the splendid churches still shining. Yet Romania was on many respects a new country for us, a space to discover. Hence this title which hides a paradox – can you be a tourist in your own country? I do not know yet the answer, and I may not know it even when I will finish this series of notes. I will write these in English, as I want my family and friends who do not speak Romanian to be able read them. One day when I will have time I may write a Romanian version as well.

wine on the side of the road

Rodica and Virgil took us from my mother’s home, and after we discovered how to lock the slightly broken trunk of the car we started our 360 kilometers trip to Targu Neamtz. I know the distance, as this was the trip that I had taken every summer until the age of 14 to the near-by Piatra Neamtz, the city in Moldavia were my father was born and where my grand-parents still lived. Their house, the house of my summer vacation will be the subject of the next episode.

Until getting there however we had to fuel – not only the auto but also ourselves. It was the end of September, and the sides of the road near the Vrancea area were full with small barracks that were selling young wine. Of course, the wine was from the previous year vintage, but still young and towards what the non-Romanian would be called demisec. Each barrack sells basically two sorts of wine – a red and a white. I’ll write more about Romanian wine later. We stopped at one of the last barracks. From the barrels the wine was poured into five litters plastic bottles. We bought one such bottle of red wine and one of white wine. We succeeded to finish the red one in the six days trip.

the small church

The itinerary took us through several cities which are not the most exciting places on earth, and actually until we crossed the now historical border between Valachia and Moldavia, flat and uninteresting. Yet there was one aspect the stroke us – almost each village not to speak about the bigger cities had at least one, in many cases more new churches. Romania undergoes after the fall of the Communism a religious renaissance. During the Communist rule atheist Marxism was the state religion, and very few new churches were built, actually many more were destroyed by a system that in many instances ignored or even oppressed the deep religious feelings of the majority of the population.

the big church

After 1990 the freedom of religion found its expression especially in the revival of the Orthodoxy (Eastern Christianity) which is embraced by the majority of the Romanian population. Rodica and Virgil explained how the system worked in many places. First a smaller church was built. The congregation gathered money and donations and a few years later bigger churches were built near-by, dwarfing the smaller ones. The architectural value of the buildings is very un-even, you can find everything from ugly to beautiful, from kitsch to art, from grotesque to sublime. What is obvious is that churches are everywhere. We shall see of course also the older ones and the fabulous monasteries in Moldavia and Bucovina, historical and art monuments which are unique in the whole world. For this you will need to follow however the coming episodes.