Tuesday was primarily a day of travel through the beautiful Romanian countryside; since the outstanding feature of the day was the scenery, I’ll take the opportunity to describe some of the variety of scenery that we’ve traveled through in Romania.
If you can imagine vast, rich, flat farmland, planted in a mosaic of crops – deep green corn, bright yellow sunflowers, golden wheat, and purple-green alfalfa in alternating strips – then you can imagine the main features of the countryside between Bucharest and Braila, which we saw during our first day of travel here.
As we moved farther north, the scenery was still dominated by farmland, but now the mosaic of crops was spread over hills instead of flat land. Dotted throughout the countryside are hundreds of villages – a collection of stuccoed houses, some large, some small, usually painted in various colors such as pink, aqua, yellow, and white. Most houses lack lawns, and instead having tiny fenced gardens filled with vegetables, grapevines, and fruit trees that almost obscure the house. The skyline of each village is dominated by the dome or spire of a beautiful Orthodox church, with the red or brown tile or metal roofs of the houses filling out the scene. As you drive through the village, you might see a huge stork nest perched on one of the electric poles along the road. Outside the village, you’ll see villagers working their fields – harvesting hay by hand, loading it onto horse-drawn wagons (or sometimes car-drawn wagons), and piling it into tall mounds that dot the landscape. This is what we saw as we traveled through the northeastern part of Romania toward Suceava.
This brings us up to date on our the areas we traveled through during our first six days in Romania. On July 10, our ninth day together and seventh day in Romania, we headed southwest from Suceava. The rolling hills soon began to grow steeper and taller, and crops soon started giving way to forests. Within a few hours, we were in a landscape dominated by mountains covered in some large species of fir or hemlock trees.
Our first stop for the day was at Agapia Monastery, an Orthodox nunnery nestled into these mountains. We spent most of our time here admiring the nuns’ horticultural handiwork. The monastery was built as a rectangle around a large courtyard with a church in the center, and the courtyard was filled with beautifully patterned flowerbeds full of geraniums, marigolds, and a variety of other flowers that were blooming profusely. The porches of the buildings around the courtyard were filled with more flowers in planters – geraniums, petunias, and fuchsias, with their bright colors standing out in brilliant contrast to the white buildings behind them. We also took some groups photos here (and in the process got thoroughly scolded by a nun for being too noisy), and bought some of nuns’ handiwork in the form of snacks and knitted caps and scarves.
After leaving the monastery, we continued to travel deeper into the Carpathian Mountains, and the mountains continued to grow taller and steeper. Our next stop took us slightly off our main route, up a hill and through some switchbacks to the top of a large dam, where we spent some time admiring the scenery around the lake behind the dam and in the valley below the dam. We stretched our legs by walking across the dam and took lots of photos despite signs (in Romanian) that forbade it (a security guard later assured us it was allowed).
Returning to our main route, we continued to wind our way deeper into the mountains. We soon found ourselves traveling along a small mountain river, which we followed upstream as the mountains on either side grew steeper and closer. Rounding a curve, we suddenly found that that the steep, wooded slopes of the mountains had given way to sheer rock walls and we were traveling through a narrow gorge. When we came to an area where the gorge widened out a bit, we pulled off and disembarked to do some exploring. The immensity of the place is impossible to describe in words or to capture in a photo. The walls of the gorge towered so high over our heads on either side that at some places we had to crane our necks to see the clouds that were threatening to dump rain on us. The whole area was filled with the roar of the river falling over a continuous series of cataracts.
We spent nearly an hour exploring here, taking lots of photos (including group photos) and buying some souvenirs from the tiny gift shops that were sandwiched between the road and the cliffs. Another noteworthy event here was the unintentional submersion of a certain Kauffman baritone in the river!
After we finally got back on the bus, we soon passed out of the gorge but continued to travel through the beautiful mountainous countryside. Since we had plenty of time built into our schedule, we were able to stop frequently to enjoy the scenery and take group photos (I think we probably set a record of some sort). The most notable stop was at Red Lake, which is actually green (it was once red due to tannins in the water from the trees that were submerged when the lake was created by a landslide that formed a dam).
After a long day of traveling and exploring and a long stretch without restrooms, we were all delighted to arrive at a wonderful Hungarian restaurant for our supper, which turned out to be a huge bowl of soup that completely satisfied our hunger. After supper, we traveled a little farther to our hotels for the night.