Entries tagged with “travel notes in Romania”.


 

 

I am bringing in this episode of my travel notes a few pictures taken on the spectacular alpine highway Transalpina which we crossed in the last day of our motor trip. The road crosses the  Parang mountains and allowing for a scenic drive from the city of Sebes in the North to the resort of Ranca south of the mountains. The map is available at

http://www.transalpina.biz/harta.html

The road competes with the Transfagarasan alpine road which is located about 100 km East for the title of the most beautiful alpine road in Romania. Its origins are said be traced back to the 4th century BC, this being one of the roads used by the Roman legions to reach the defense posts in the Northern area of the Empire.  Used for the many centuries to come only by shepherds crossing the mountains with their sheep. It was only during the First World War that the German army built a stone road, then when both sides of the Carpathians became part of Romania it was modernized during the 1930s (the reign of king Carol the 2nd). During the last few years it was asphalted and is in very good shape, yet it is not yet officially open as the sides of the road are not all in place. It is safe to look on the Internet Web site for the state of the road and for the weather forecast before planing a trip

 

 

 

 

We crossed it from North (the lake at Obarsia Lotrului) to South (the resort of Ranca). After climbing on the alpine plateau the landscape becomes spectacular, endless rows of mountains, and the road that at some points seems to climb to the sky. We have visited alpine roads in Austria and Switzerland and we can witness that the Transalpina proudly competes with them. The Internet side quotes 2145 as the highest point on the road, although the GPS on our car claimed that we reached 2170m at some point.

 

 

 

Daca ar fi sa caut un titlu alternativ al acestui episod al notelor lui Gica Manescu el ar putea fi ‘Povestea a doua orase’ – titlu clasic care in acest caz se refera la cele doua orase intre care calatoreste de obicei Gica – Bat Yam-ul israelian in care locuieste si capitala Romaniei pe care o viziteaza des. De fapt in acest episod este mai mult vorba despre Bucuresti, unde Gica a petrecut recent cateva saptamani.
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M-am intors acum cateva zile, dela Bucuresti. Nu a fost concediu, nici vacanta, pe care le am in permanenta. Doar o schimbare de mediu si de cei cu care am venit in contact.

O umplere in buna masura, cu mai bine,  a sufletului, dorului si mai putina singuratate,  in care traiesc aici. Alte strazi, alte magazine, alte conditii de trai. Fara greutati de orientare si limba.

Cum medicul mi-a prescris doua actiuni importante pentru mentinere  in  stare fizica buna si necesare : bautul lichidelor in cantitati suficiente si mersul, cel putin  30 minute zilnic, l-am ascultat si depasesc cele 30 minute, cu inca altele similare.

Deci mergand si privind in  jur, indiferent unde, vad oameni, locuri, miscare, situatii diverse. Mintea le inregistreaza si le pot pune unele langa altele, scotandu-le  asemanarile sau deosebirile.  Avantaje sau nu, pentru mine, care ma bucura, ma necajesc, sau imi sunt indiferente. Am un  gand care se duce si la semenii mei, cei de fiecare zi, unde ma aflu, mai multa sau mai putina vreme.

sursa itp-mm.ro

Nu pot compara decat unde ma aflu, in bucati ale vietii : Bat Yam si Bucuresti. Cum e in  alte localitati stiu  sau presupun. Diferentele pot fi minore, ca oamenii sunt cam aceiasi. Ca Bucuresti este cam de 10 ori mai mare decat Bat Yam, ca suprafata, populatie si altele, se stie.

Incep cu o deosebire importanta  pentru mine, intre Israel si Romania si nu numai. Cum mare parte a vietii noastre, in tara stramosilor si intr-o democratie, recunoscuta, ne abatem de la regula de a suferi rigorile legilor religioase, pentru unii, printre care si eu. Nu se permit incinerari. Nu exiata crematorii  pentru oameni. Unuia care sufera de frig, i se refuza caldura postuma si toata “ceremonia“ nedorita.

Dar sa ma apropii de obisnuitele si nu  de  exceptii.

A viziona un  film  si a  asista la o piesa de teatru, pe care in urma cu ani  le “inghiteam “ cu bucurie si placere nu imi sunt tabu, dar nu pot ajunge la ele, sau semi-alfabetizarea care ma impiedica. Totusi cateva cuvinte importante, le-am prins de la inceput si mi-au usurat intelegera uneori . Dau cateva exemple : situatia, alternativa ,pompa s.a.

Am fost la o versiune  a “Scrisorii pierdute“ la sala “Radu Beligan “,  fostul teatru Alhambra, al anilor ante-belici. Este strada  care se numea (poate si azi)   Stavropoleos. Cu biserica si “ Carul cu bere”. In orasul vechi al Bucurestiului, refacut, reconstruit, unde, in  special seara, e un du-te vino, tineret si maturi, restaurante cu mese pe trotuare, anunturi in limbi diferite,  fara a mai gasi un loc, si de toate felurile.

source travelblog.org

In piesa respectiva, cum stim cu totii, Catavencu spune ca“ Industria Romaniei, e buna, productiva,  dar.. ea nu exista. Scriu eu : Salile de spectacole, concerte, adunari festive sunt frumoase, incapatoare, comode, aerul conditionat bine venit, dar … el nu exista.

Asa a fost anul trecut la Sala Palatului, anul asta la teatre. Specatorii isi mai fac vant in fata, miscand  ca un evantai, caietul-program.  N-a fost o placere pentru mine, avand din cand in cand, in fata ochilor,  miscarea ritimca stanga-dreapta, “a aducatorului de aer rece “

Parca Ben Gurion s-a inspirat de aici, cand tot Catavencu declara patetic “ La noi, negustorii sunt evrei. Falitii , tot evrei. Toate tarile, Franta, Italia,au falitii lor. Noi nu avem falitii nostri “.

Primul nostru Premier,  declarase  ca: ”trebuie sa ajungem sa avem prostituatele si hotii nostri“. Si s-a indeplinit. Doar suntem un popor deosebit.

source panoramio.com

La cinematografgul “ARO “- sala splendida, scaune confortabile, ecran urias, la ora 8 seara, aproape  20 de spectatori. la comedia americana , din mediul TV “ Morning glory “tradusa cu “ Matinal  cu scandal“. Protagonisti Diane Keaton, Rachel Mc Adams si Harrison Ford. Jocul minunat al actorilor si atmosfera americana.

A  plouat puternic, intr-o zi frumoasa.

Strazi pline cu apa, treceri de pe un  trotuar pe altul, cu ocolire, baltoace  in infundaturile de pe trotuare. Ca pe Balfour, in centrul Bat Yam-ului si in alte parti. Soarele cand vine, la noi mai repede,le usuca. Aici, se spune de “munca arabeasca“ a terasamentelor si strazilor. Acolo e a autohtonilor, dar facuta prost, platita pentru buna. Spaga a fost prea mica.

source gabrielursan.ro

Am vizitat o cunostinta in Drumul Taberii dar  in straduta ei pana la blocurile de apartamete era o mica Venetie pe care am ocolit-o.

Tinerii socotesc  simplitatea de a traversa strada pe unde nu e permis, de pe o parte pe alta. Pe Blv.LascarCatargiu (fost Ana Ipatescu), asa scrie si pe tablitele de strada, circulatie foarte mare si deasa. Autobuze si  automobile. Doi tineri – in jur de 20, s-au strecurat cu ochii la stanga, o pauza la mijloc si apoi cu ochii spre dreapta, pana au ajuns la tinta.

In Bat Yam, pe strada Ioseftal, de acum 2 ani, s-au facut pregatiri pentru viitorul tren. S-au micsorat trotuarele, s-au facut locuri libere pentru pietoni, iarba si flori, de o parte si alta a unui  gard metalic, despartitor, cam   de un metru inaltime. Trecerile de pietoni, la distante nu mari, dar cu semafoare. Nu odata, am vazut tineri, elevi si altii, fugind pana la gard, sarindu-l si ajungand dincolo. Tablii cu “Nu calcati pe iarba“ nu sunt. Sau chiar daca erau, tot nu le citeste nimeni.

source imemc.org

Un mod  de a matura unele strazi in Bucuresti, parca eram acasa. Muncitorul municipal, prost platit si plictisit, mai face curatenie “de ochii soacrei“. Daca poate, impinge cu matura depe trotuar,intr-o curte cu poarta deschisa,  tot  ce  aduna,  fara a le  lua cu lopata si azvarlite in carucior. Asa e pe Dorobanti, asa am vazut de cateva ori, pe strada Hashmonaim, cu multa circulatie, dar si porti deschse  la casele de acolo. Nimeni nu  a vorbit cu  celalalat, in legatura cu situatia asta. Am folosit, “situatia “ – un cuvant din limba ebraica.

Drumurile mele, in afara de plimbari, in 5 zile din saptamana, au fost cu taxiurile. La comanda, sosesc in  cateva minute pana la adresa data. Conducatori auto foarte buni, civilizati cu clientii si te duc la locul cerut, fara ocolisuri si fara vorbarie. Doar necesarele : pozitia scaunului, taria aerului conditionat, deschisul sau inchisul geamului.

Din Bat Yam , Tel Aviv, Natania, s.a. conducatorul auto devine “prietenul“ tau . Mai ales daca te asezi pe scaunul de langa el. Daca n-are o convorbire la celular cu cineva de acasa sau sa povesteasca unui prieten, ce a patit, te abordeaza. Unde pleci, daca esti spre aeroport cu un bagaj, daca ai mai fost, pe cine ai acolo?

source wikimania2011.wikimedia.org

Intr-un rand, m-a intrebat unul, ce profesie am si plictisit i-am spus “medic pensionar “,  si am facut-o cu mana mea, gasindu-mi beleaua. Obraznicia lui, fara margini. A sunat-o pe  mama lui, i-a cerut amanunte despre boala ei, si apoi m-a mitraliat pe mine cu intrebari, pe care le intelegeam pe jumatate si raspunsuri tot asa. Mama ramasese pe linie, si-i raporta, cat se putea. La coborare, am rasuflat usurat.

Biciclistii, au pe unele trotuare, in capitala Romaniei,  un  coridor al lor. Ele sunt bune, marcate, dar nu pot fi folosite decat partial si uneori de loc. Multi isi parcheaza masinile pe trotuar, chiar in miezul zilei si in special duminica sau sarbatori. Aici avem un punct in plus, ca la noi se face doar vineri seara pana sambata seara, sau de sarbatori. Biciclistii nu au nevoie de coridoare speciale. Ei  circula pe trotuare, fara a fi stingheriti decat de pietoni. Unii evita, in  felul asta, sensul unic al strazii.

Am  tras o spaima intr-o zi, cand am simtit o atingere a cotului stang . A trecut ca fulgerul, un biciclist care m-a atins cu cotul lui drept. Nu s-a imtamplat nimic. Doar spaima mea. Noroc de “prietenul“ nedespartit la drum, bastonul.

Suntem codasi la spatii verzi si adunatul deseurilor menajere.

Inteleg, tara mica, pustiu mare, secete, calduri, nu ploua. Plantarea unor padurici sau nasterea unor parculete cu jocuri de copii si cativa arbori e dificila, prost intretinute si din puietii plantati candva, se vad mai tarziu patrate de pamant unde fusesera locuri pentru  viitorii arbori  falnici.  Acum au devenit   scrumiere pentru fumatorii care au terminat tigara sau se azvarle bonuruile de la  case, nefolositoare dupa diverse targueli facute in drum.  Umbra e rara dar des cautata.

La noi, de curand s-au amplasat pe strazi colectoare de hartii. Pentru sticla si obiecte din  plastic, sunt doar pentru flacoane. Putine si rare.

In Bucuresti le vezi pretutindeni si locutorii le folosesc. Un merit de mentionat.

Tot aici, si nu numai a fost din totdeauna in programul orasenesc, dechiderea unor spatii verzi, cu o  flora variata si le admiram si  azi.

Am vizitat si  m-am plimbat prin Cismigiu, Parcul Carol, (fost temporar al “Libertatii“), al Circului. Mai sunt si altele – Tei, Lia Manoliu, etc.

source celendo.eu

Curatenia e de admirat, pe langa ingrijirea cu meticulozitate a plantatiilor, lacurilor, fantanilor arteziene si ale locurilor de destindere pentru adulti si copii.

O idee minunata a acelora ce au conceput si dat viata Parcului Circului, a fost ridicarea unor coline mici, artificiale si cu gazon de un verde incantator. Aleele parcurse, sunt la niveluri diferite si au cateva trepte largi, din piatra, intre ele. A te aseza la umbra unui arbore cu frunzis bogat, a citi sau a admira imprejurul, e o destindere si bine facere.

Pentru calatoria in autobuz, s-au  desfintat cozile de la soferul – taxator. Modelul, israelian, cu dexteritatea respectivului e de admirat, prin felul cum o face si porneste vehicului.

La Bucuresti , coada s-a mutat la niste ghisee prin oras, unde se cumpara biletele de autobuz si metrou. Ce stiam de pe vremuri, un  casier, langa usa din fund a autobuzului sau tramvaiului si iesirea prin  fata (unii spuneau “pe branci”), e amintire. Soferul tine volanul, picioarele pe pedale si cu mana dreapta deschide si inchide usile. N-are cu  cine si ce a vorbi. Doar un raspuns la o intrebare.

source bucuresti.tourneo.ro

Nu asculta muzica pe un ton obositor pentru multi si nedorit, nu-l intereseza ultimele stiri. Nimeni n-o cere pe Maria Tanase sau manele.

In Israel, indiferent unde, orice calator, e supus dorintei si placerilor soferului. Multora le place muzica arabeasca, numita “mediteraneana “ sau sunt interesati sa auda ce s-a intamplat in ultima ora. Cum in ultima vreme nu prea folosesc  mijloacele de calatorie in comun, sunt scutit.

Pentru sufletul meu, pentru memoria ce o pastrez si veneratia celor dragi, disparuti, am fost la Cimitirul Giurgiului, la mormantul mamei. De la  un functionar al Federatiei am primit – Parcela 1 A, randul 32, locul 12. Eram cu fiul meu, cu masina. Distante lungi, soare nimicitor. Am gasit parcela si am inceput sa numar randurile. La 32, nici un nume  cautat. Portarul,  pentru 5 lei, ne-a descurcat. Cine facuse numaratoarea,acum atatia ani, a procedat ca in scrierea ebraica.De la dreapta la stanga. Mormantul  cautat, era in   randul al treilea de la inceput. Multumiti, ne-am recules, mi-am sters lacrimile, am lasat florile si  am pus  pietricele, conform  traditiei. Cu bagare de seama, am calcat peste si intre buruienele, care ni se incolaceau, peste  incaltaminte.

Aici termin  ce am adunat pe niste notite si in minte. Pentru unii, sunt probabil cunoscute, fie acolo, fie aici. Ii plictisesc. Sa ma scuze si sa ramana pentru necunoscatori sau de  cei care nu au dat atentie sau sunt obisnuiti.

Gica,

Mai 2011.

The morning of the second day of our trip started with clear skies and pleasant temperatures – ideal weather conditions for the tour of the monasteries in the Neamt area that we were planning for that day.

Monasteries, Hermitages and Churches in the Neamt County - source www.neamt.ro

Before I get into the details of our first stop let me point to a source of information about the religious monuments of the area that is very useful, but … you need to be able to read Romanian in order to understand the information stored there – although there are also a number of beautiful photos – http://www.neamt.ro/Info_utile/Manastiri/

Varatic - the entrance

For my non-Romanian friends I owe a few words of explanation. Monasteries played a crucial role in the history of the Romanian territories since the Middle Ages until the contemporaneity – maybe more than in the history and life of the majority of other Christian nations. They were spiritual centers and cultural centers and centers of national resistance against foreign occupiers and centers of political resistance against dictatorships.

the woodden gate

For our group of good friends of a life these places had even more significance. These were some of the objectives which we traveled with a camping tent on our backs as students, this was the place where some of our good friends got married. It was a trip of nostalgic meeting with the past of our youth, and for us a new encounter with the realities of new Romania.

the fountain and the church

The Varatic (Varatec) monastery is a relatively new one, the more modest hermitage that started at this place at the end of the 18th century was developed into one of the most important nuns monasteries in Moldova during the first decades of the 19th century, being declared an independent monastery under voievode (prince) Mihail Sturdza in 1839. Most of the building of the two-towered church and the surrounding complex was executed around 1808  – 1815. The events of the Greek revolt and Russian occupation around 1821 stopped the building for a while, but the works were completed in the coming two decades. While a big fire destroyed the buildings in 1900 and led to the reconstruction, the current architectural structure keeps the original 19th century design.

inside the church - the nave

The big church in the center of the monastery is dedicated to the Assumption of Saint Mary. As in many Moldavian churches the entry is from a veranda which is closed in this place, followed by a narthex and the nave. The dedication inscription reads:

La anul 1808 s-au zidit această biserică ce să prăznuieşte hramul Adormirea Maicii Domnului prin osteneala Sfin. sale a pre. cuvi. Părintelui Iosif Duhovnicul şi a stariţei Olimpiadii, iar cei întâi ctitori au fost maicile din acest locaş. Al doilea mari ctitori au fost Doamna Elenco Paladi, care au dăruit 3 moşii şi maica Elisabeta Balş au dăruit moşia Vultureşti, maica Safta Brâncoveanu au hărăzit moşiile Osica şi Vlădulenii cu mai multe îndatoriri în testamentul său, iar celelalte moşii, vii şi acarete ce au dăruit şi alţi ctitori sunt scrisă în cartea vieţii spre vecinica lor pomenire. 1841, octomvrii 20.

In 1808 they built this church dedicated to the Assumption through the trouble of pious Father Confessor and Abbot Iosif the Confessor and superior nun Olimpiadii who were the first founders of this place. The second major builders were Mrs. Elenco Paladi that brought three estates and mother Elizabeth had given the estate Vultureşti Bals, mother Safta Brâncoveanu estates were destined Osica Vlădulenii with more duties and in her will and other estates, vineyards and outbuilding were donated and other founders are written in the book of life to their memory be eternal. 1841, October 20.

Mother of God Empress Icon

Two impressive icons of the Savior and of Mother of God dominated the small narthex.

pulpit

Most of the painting in the church was originally painted around 1841 by D. Ioan, and then renovated and extended around 1882 by T. Iliescu – two local painters which were both skilled and following the rules of the Christian Orthodox religious painting in the area.

columned veranda

We were well beyond the peak tourist season, and we could enjoy the silence of this place (and the other that we visited) recuperated shortly after the rush and the crowds were gone.

entry at the monastery museum

We also started to observe what will become more and more evident as we added objectives to our tour of the churches, hermitages and monasteries. Romania freed from the Communist rule is undergoing a religious renaissance, and this is felt especially in the Christian Orthodox churches. The old monuments that were – at least part of them – neglected and lacked funds for maintenance during the Communist rule, when religion was at best tolerated, were now in course or after renovation. Life was back in places where religious activity ceased or was hardly maintained during the half century of atheistic dictatorship. The monastery of Varatic today hosts 450 nuns and sisters and five active priests. They maintain not only the spiritual life but also a flourishing micro-economic life with gardening, fruit trees and animals growing, and traditional crafts like weaving and carpets manufacturing.

'troitza'

While the museum hosts a consistent collection of church objects mostly from the past centuries there are new works of art, especially wood carving that decorate the beautiful garden of the monastery.

Ion Jalea - statue of Safta Brancoveanu

The most impressive work of hard in the garden however dates back from 1935 and belongs to one of the important Romanian sculptors of the past century – Ion Jalea. This is the portrait of Safta Brancoveanu, one of the first mother superiors of the place, descendant of a well known family of princes with great contributions in the history of the Romanian principalities.

As we were approaching the end of the first day of our trip we headed to the hotel that we had booked for the next two nights. The location was near the city of Targu Neamt, about 30 kilometers away of Piatra Neamt. Targu Neamt may be the smaller brother of Piatra, but it is more famous to some extent, as it is the place of birth made of the Romanian classic writer Ioan Creanga, has the ruins of a well preserved fortified castle also made famous in a classic piece of historic poetry, and is located in the heart of the Neamt (read Nae-Amtz)  monasteries land – the target of the next day of our trip which I will detail in the upcoming episodes.

a sign in the dark

Finding the place was not easy, although we had some directions and a GPS in our car. This may be one of the problems that the owners of the place will want to improve, as there are no signs from the center of the city, neither a clear explanation on the otherwise nicely designed Web site – http://www.pensiunea-carol.ro/index.php. The rain had stopped and the skies cleared by the time we reached the area, but also the night was falling. Luckily, the sign of the hotel was clearly visible and we eventually made it.

king Carol

We soon discovered that the name of the small hotel (‘pensiune’ designates in Romanian a small family hotel, sometimes not bigger than a B&B, this one is actually larger and growing) was honoring the first of the four crowned kings in the history of Romania. I do not know if the owners are really royalists, but they certainly seem to hold in high esteem king Carol the 1st, who is actually a well respected character in the modern history of the country, having reigned over the progress of Romania in the last third of the 19th century and first years of the 20th century in a period of building of the institutions of the modern state, getting full independence and what can be considered as the first integration of Romania in Europe.

the Carol at daylight

Next day in the morning we could see the hotel and the landscape around. ‘Pensiunea Carol’ is an example of the new style of tourism industry that I hope will be successful in this region and in other parts of Romania. Its owners used some of the European Community help for small businesses and built a small chalet at standards that compare without hesitation with the over the average similar places all over Europe. They had seven rooms by the time we stayed with them, but a few more were already built in a second building and with the extended capacity they were hoping to attract the attention not only of the occasional tourists but also of small groups and businesses looking for a quiet retreat place to meet, and combine work with some tourism and entertainment in a relaxed atmosphere.

Neamt landscape from the balcony

The environment is really charming with the swift slopes of the green hills in the Neamt area.

in the courtyard

The courtyard has enough parking place for the full extended occupancy, and some artifacts of the traditional agriculture and crafts give it a special color.

art on the walls

The interior of the buildings are clean, warm and accommodating. Paintings in a neo-classical style on the walls fit well in the atmosphere …

portrait of a Jew

… including this portrait of an old Jew from a past century.

dining room

The hotel has a good restaurant with a capacity that exceeds the number of guests in the hotel, sign that they plan to attract customers from the city. Actually there were a few also during our stay. Traditional Romanian food dominates the menu, as it does in the majority of the other places we had eaten during the trip. As tourists in Romania we did not ask for anything else but the food we are missing abroad, and Liliana had her first try of ‘mamaligutza cu branza‘ (cheese polenta).

where they full?

The owners took us on a tour of the facilities and the newly built extensions which include a wine cellar and a separate dining place with traditional grill and oven. Overall Pensiunea Carol is a wonderful base for the circuit of the monasteries around, it is well run by enthusiastic folks with entrepreneurial spirit and a touch for the local specificity. I recommend it and I hope that the place will succeed.

It started to rain in that afternoon of our first day of the trip. After the emotional encounter with my grand-parents house I told about in the previous episode we walked to the center of the city, to an area which I remembered so well. On a small hill stand the landmarks of Piatra Neamt, a clock tower and a church from the late 15th century marking the place were the city (mentioned already in the Russian Chronicles at the end of the 14th century) started.

Stefan the Great's Tower

The area was a part of a ‘Curte Domneasca’ which means a royal residential area built by king Stefan the Great – the most important voievod (king, prince) in the history of Moldavia – between 1468 and 1475. While only some underground cellars and defense walls remain from the original buildings, the church and the clock tower near-by built between 1497 and 1499 still dominate the landscape. The tower is 19 meter high.

St. John the Baptist Church

The Saint John the Baptist church has a devotional inscription that dates the building in the years 1497 and 1498.

Binecinstitorul şi de Hristos iubitorul Io Ştefan voievod, a început şi a zidit şi a săvârşit acest hram în numele Naşterii cinstitului şi slăvitului prooroc Ioan Botezătorul şi Înaintemergătorul, întru rugă sieşi şi doamnei sale Maria şi prea iubitului lor fiu Bogdan voievod, care a început a se zidi în anul 7005 (1497) iulie 15 şi s-a săvârşit în anul 7006 (1498) iar al domniei sale al 40 şi doilea curgător, luna noiembrie, 11 zile.

I. the honest and Christ lover Stefan the King, started and built and completed this donation in the name of the birth of the honest and beloved prophet Saint John the Baptist and the Predecessor, in prayer for himself and lady Maria and their beloved son prince Bogdan, that started the building in the year 7005 (1497) July 15 and completed it in the year 7006 (1498) and the 40th of his reign, eleven days in the month of November.

inside St. John the Baptist Church

The building style of the church is typical for the Moldavian churches, with wide roofs extending well beyond the walls. There is no exterior paintings here, but colored tiles in the wall give life to the rather sober enclosure. An unusual feature of this building is the arched entrance door in a Gothic shape – but we need to remember that Stefan was in the Romanian history what came closer to a prince of the Renaissance, entertaining political, commercial and artistic relations with the powers of Europe of his time.

St. John the Baptist icon

Walking inside the church the visitor immediately immerses in the warm atmosphere of the Romanian orthodox churches.  The churches built between the 14th and the 18th century were not high and imposing as in Western Europe. The relation between the church goer and God is much more familiar, distances between men and priests and icons and symbols are at hand touch.

icons inside the church

There is little natural light in many of these churches including the one in Piatra Neamt, and the light of the candles is all that illuminated the paintings and the altar for centuries. Most of the icons, religious objects and ornamentation in the church today dates from the late 18 and 19th century.

the History and Archeology Cucuteni Museum

It started to rain really heavily when we went out of the church, and we found refuge at the entrance of the beautiful building behind the tower. I was remembering it as a CEC (Saving Accounts Bank) building during my childhood, on the place of the local bank beautifully built in the first half of the 20th century in a style that accommodates well with the historical buildings. It dates from the years 1928-1930, the builder name was Carol Zani and the external ornamentation was made by a sculptor named Vincenzo Puschiasis. The biggest surprise we had was that it had become lately a museum, and not any museum, but a history and archeology museum dedicated to one of the first ancient cultures of Europe – the culture of Cucuteni.

inside the history and archeology museum

The civilization of Cucuteni gets its name from the place near Iasi where in 1884 were made the first significant archeological discoveries of the civilization that is considered the first great culture of Europe, precluding or contemporary with the cultures of Sumer and the early Egyptian civilizations. While the first archeological finds that were discovered date from 5000 BC, the peak of the civilization was reached around 3500BC and by that time it spread on a territory that covers a great part of Moldavia and Ukraine of today. Piatra Neamt is actually at the Southern extremity of the civilization, but many significant remains were discovered in the areas around.

vase from Izvoare

A few months before we had visited Malta and admired the remains of the megalithic civilizations which were conserved on that island (I wrote about them in my Maltese week cycle). What we were now seeing was a splendid museum dedicated to a culture which although did not leave imposing structures as in Malta (or maybe they did not survive) or in the British islands, rivals and exceedes these other civilizations with the extraordinary refinement of its art and crafts. Moreover – these are remains of a civilization which belongs to the continent itself – the first important one in the early history of Europe.

one legged cup from Dealul Ghindaru

We were the only visitors in the museum. As we entered we immediately got a proof of the hospitality which Moldavians extend to their visitors. A curator immediately showed up and she guided us through the two levels of the exhibition, with detailed, competent and informative explanations about the museum, the civilization of Cucuteni and its predecessors represented in the museum, about each object or group of objects that was worth talking about. And much was worth talking about. All was spoken in the sweet language with that accent my grandparents were talking with and which came back to me from memory in a fraction of a moment.

'benocular' vase from Trusesti

The museum was open in 2005 and is also known as the museum of ‘eneolitic art’. It is a branch of the history and archeology museum of Piatra Neamt and I should mention that a museum exists here since the 1930s, created by a local priest named Constantin Matasa who was a personality of the city in that period.

(video source VisitNeamt)

Here is a video on youTube that was filmed in the rooms of the museum.

crown vase from Dealul Ghindaru

In 2009 an exhibition was open at the New York University exposing for the first time the American public to the history and artifacts of the East European early civilizations. Objects from the museum crossed the Atlantic for that exhibition. Here is the New York Times note published at that time – http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01arch.html

the 'Hora' from Frumusica

The exhibits are remarkable. While a few of the most representatives objects of the pre-Cucuteni and Cucuteni civilizations are today exposed in other places and especially in the Museum of National History in Bucharest there is a wide range of objects here that present a very consistent and rich image of the development of the culture, its principal forms and evolution in styles.

anthropomorphic figurine

The explanations helped us to understand also the process of discovery and reconstruction of the pieces. Only if more than 85% of the object is found and authenticated the object is included in the collection. The range of styles varies from big ornate vases to objects of cult of special forms, anthropomorphic and animal representations. The sensation of refinement and artistic vibration is present everywhere.

animal-shaped lamp

This place is really unique in Romania and probably in Europe as well. It was for us a surprise and a revelation, one of the first discoveries in this journey. It is worth being known and visited by anybody who happens to be in the Neamt area, and even worth a special trip. In a Michelin guide I would give it without hesitation a 3 stars grade.

As we were drawing near to our first and maybe most important stop for me in this trip the weather started to become gray and rainy. We felt the change in landscape as soon as we entered the judetz (county) of Neamtz. Hills took the place of the dusty landscape that we crossed for about 300 kilometers. Unfortunately the sun chose to hide and clouds were quite low. When we entered the city of Piatra Neamtz, the place were the Romascanu family lived for more than one hundred years, since the mid of the 19th century, the three hills surrounding the city were hidden by clouds.

on the slope of the hill

Frankly speaking I was not sure at all that we will find the place I was looking for. We were looking for the house of my grandparents, the house where my father and my aunt lived as children, the place where I spent every summer vacation until the age of 14, after which my grandparents left the city and moved to Bucharest, to live close to my father. As we where getting closer I was thinking that the chances to find the house still standing were low, as all the area was full of new condos buildings and villas. And then the GPS told us ‘you have reached your destination’ and the house was there! Everything around was new on that side of the street, all but my grandparents house!

grandparents David and Deborah at their wedding - 1920

I had not seen the place for more than 30 years. I had returned to Piatra Neamtz only once since my grandpa and grandma left the city, and this must have been around 1980. Many people describe their experience when getting back to places that were very familiar when they where children in a change of dimensions, a disappointing dwarfing in many cases. That was not at all my impression. The house is imposing, it was renovated and it is well maintained by the people who own it today. It was a well built structure, raised in the 1920s when my grandfather was a wealthy merchant. He owned all the land up to the slopes at the mid of the Cozia hill, where he was growing grapes, apples and prunes. The Communists confiscated all the property excepting the house at the street, and even that house he was obliged to share with another three families. My grandfather worked as an accountant at a local paper factory in order to sustain the house.

35, Petru Rares street

The address was 35, the Petru Rares street. Actually during the Communist rule the name of street was changed to Lenin street (Lenin was the leader of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia), but I knew the old name of the street and guessed correctly that at the dawn after the Communist night the street gained back the name of the voievod (king) Petru Rares of Moldavia. The windows on the right were of the room which was left to my grandparents, my bed was under these windows during the summer vacations.

the courtyard of my summer holidays

Three more families shared the house. Mr. and Mrs. Moscovici had no connection with Liliana, although sharing the same family name, quite common among the Romanian Jews. Mr. Mihailovici was a pharmacist and was very seldom at home, I think that he worked in another city. Mr. Sherban was an economist and the manager of the local CEC (savings deposit bank). I was sneaking in his room while he was at work to read from the books in his room, as he had what looked to me then an impressive library.

the new (great) synagogue

If the house kept the impressive dimensions that I remembered the streets seemed to have compressed. What I remembered as a long walk to the center of the city was a five minutes walk and the synagogue where my grandfather prayed for more than 40 years was even a shorter walk from the house. The building is impressive, and so is the history of the Jewish community in Piatra Neamtz which extends for more than half of a thousand of years. It’s a relatively new building built in 1839 and reconstructed after a fire in 1904. It is said however that successive synagogues on this place existed since the time of king Stefan the Great – as the St. John church built by him in the second half of the 15th century (one of the landmarks of the city that I will describe in the next episode) is situated less than the 150 stânjeni (about 300 m) distance that were to separate a synagogue from a church according to Moldavian law – so the explanation was that a synagogue was already there by the time the church was built.

the old wooden synagogue

What is certain and attested by documents is that many Jews came to Piatra Neamtz in the 17th century from Poland and Ukraine after the uprising and pogroms of Chmielniki. In the 18th century Jews were not allowed to build synagogues from stone, and this is how the Baal Shem Tov wooden synagogue was built in 1766. This synagogue unique in its style and method of contruction was recently renovated and said to hold wonderful wooden carvings executed in 1835 by Saraga Yitzhak Ben Moshe. Unfortunately despite the fact that the day was not a Shabat or holiday and the time was a reasonable 2 or 3PM the two synagogues were closed and locked, and no sign indicated how and when they can be visited. All that I could do was to take pictures from the street. Luckily Ruth Ellen Gruber – author of a wonderful book of Jewish Heritage Travel also has a Web site where she put some photos of the interior of the wooden synagogue – http://jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com/2009/12/romania-piatra-neamt-wooden-synagogue.html

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.