Maramureș, part 3

May 29, 2015

We had signed up to go on a hike today, led by our host Duncan. He was guiding Steve and Alison and we were allowed to tag along. (For 15 euros each.) Penny had made packed lunches for all of us, which we put into our packs, and by 8:30 am we were ready to leave. We all got into the Land Rover and Penny drove us up to the trailhead, which was at a small reserve. Today it was finally sunny, which was great because today was our last chance for a hike.

Working in the field

Working in the field

For the first part of our route we climbed gently uphill along a trail and then a wider track. The pace was quite slow, but we had the whole day so that was fine. About 11 am we stopped for part 1 of our lunch, which would fortify us for the steep climb up to Creasta Cocoșului (the Rooster’s Comb). The climb was quite steep, but it didn’t seem to take very long. Once we were up at the Comb we stopped again to have part 2 of our lunch. Near us there was a couple with two very young children. While we were eating we watched as the father put a climbing harness on the 3-year-old and took him to one of the rock pinnacles, where they both started climbing with the aid of a rope.

Creasta Cocoșului

Creasta Cocoșului

Lunch, part 2

Lunch, part 2

The weather was still clear and we had a good view all around. On one side was the village of Breb with its shiny new church spire and in the distance on the other side was the city of Baia Mare with the chimney of its Communist-era smelter.

Father and son climbers

Father and son climbers

Three Apostles ridge

Three Apostles ridge

The next part of our walk followed a broad ridge which ran eastwards away from the Comb. There were a lot of pipits flying up and singing in the high country here. The trail went towards a group of smaller pillars called the Three Apostles, which looked rather like the Easter Island moai. Once past the third of the Apostles we went down through an open beech forest with a lot of birds singing. A ski area under construction had changed the trail since the waymarks had been painted, but Duncan knew the area so we got down to the road with no trouble.

Limestone pillars

Limestone pillars

The whole hike was good and we were lucky that we had been able to join in with Steve and Alison’s hike, as we wouldn’t have been able to do it on our own. Not only that, but the weather had cooperated for once and the temperatures were good for hiking

Purple wood violet

Purple wood violet

Penny came to pick us up in the Land Rover and soon we were back at the Village Hotel, where we had some tea and sat on the bench outside our house. We had dinner at 6:30 pm, and since everybody else had gone out for dinner we had the whole place to ourselves.

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Maramureș, part 2

May 27, 2015

Breakfast was yogurt, cereal, and toast this morning, and afterwards we collected our jackets and headed out. The weather forecast wasn’t promising, with rain possible throughout the day, but so far it wasn’t raining.

Our plan was to see some of the wooden churches which constitute a UNESCO World Heritage site; the nearest was in Budești, just down the road from Breb. Budești was the usual maze of twisty streets, but we saw a sign pointing down one of the streets to a wooden church. It wasn’t the one on the UNESCO list but luckily for us there was Duncan with the British couple he was guiding, and he phoned the caretaker to let us in.

Old wooden church

Old wooden church

Inside the church near the altar were paintings on the walls, plus numerous needlework pictures. The pictures were more primitive than those we’d seen in the painted monasteries, but then they were painted on wood rather than plaster. The log walls gave the place a rather primitive feel and even the icons at the front were wood rather than metal. According to Duncan, men worshipped at the front of the church and women at the back, and the balcony was used for both sexes.

Overgrown cemetery

Overgrown cemetery

From here we continued down the hill to the Cosău River. Duncan stopped at a mill site (later we found out that it housed a horincă still) but we didn’t stop, carrying on to the UNESCO church. It was larger than the other church, and it was also locked. We spent some time looking around the outside and around the cemetery, but just as we were about to leave two Germans arrived and they telephoned for the key. So we waited with them so we could see the interior. Unlike the other church the paintings were much better preserved and also much more extensive.

Wooden church interior

Wooden church interior

After that we followed the river through several villages. There were supposed to be more wooden churches here, but we were unsuccessful in locating them. But by now the rain was teeming down, so we headed back to Breb to have lunch. We were the only ones there, so we had the whole house to ourselves.

Wooden church paintings

Wooden church paintings

Later in the afternoon the rain eased a bit, so we put on our rain gear and went out for a walk around the village. The roads were very muddy but with little car traffic we didn’t get too muddy. At the large modern church we were taking some photos when one of the locals stopped to greet us. He seemed quite surprised when we told him we were from Canada and we came by airplane.

Breb church gate

Breb church gate

Our walk took us around a loop in the village, and coming down the last hill we were hailed by the local basket weaver. He beckoned us into his yard and showed us his wares, demonstrating what each type of basket might be used for. He also showed us a book containing pictures of him and other local artisans. Finally we ended up buying a small basket which would fit into our packs—we don’t have much space for souvenirs.

The basket man

The basket man

For dinner we had pasta and vegetables again, and we also organized our lunch for tomorrow. We would be driving to Viseu de Sus to go on the logging train in the mountains, and that trip takes most of the day.

May 28, 2015

We got up early this morning, at 6 am in fact, so that would be in time for our steam train trip in Viseu de Sus. The drive was at least an hour and 20 minutes, plus time for road work and potholes and getting lost, so we allowed ourselves plenty of time.

At any rate we arrived about 8:20 am, plenty of time to get our reserved tickets, go to the bathroom, take photos, and board the train for the 9 am departure. Our train was pulled by a wood-burning steam locomotive which ran on narrow-gauge tracks alongside the Vaser River. There was a mixture of new cars and old cars for the passengers to ride in, and it appeared that the bus-tour people were getting the new cars and we were being sent off to the old cars. But all of the cars were enclosed, so it didn’t matter much.

Steam locomotive

Steam locomotive

Shortly after 9 am the engine lurched into action and off we went, up the valley. For a long time we went through the outskirts of the town but finally we were out in the fields. We stopped at the 15-kilometer mark for a water stop, where they took a large tube and used it to pump water from a clear pool into the engine’s tank. The valley was mostly quite narrow and after about two hours we arrived at the Paltin station, our destination.

Train under way

Train under way

Water stop

Water stop

We had both misjudged the weather, and it was still cloudy and colder than we had expected. So we were both freezing. We bought some hot chocolate from the café there, which helped a bit, and ate at one of the picnic tables. We had hard-boiled some eggs last night, and together with some bread and tomatoes they were our lunch. The café was doing a good business selling drinks and snacks and lunches, and it was playing what we guessed was Roma pop music at high volume. There were a lot of people dancing to it.

Dancing couple

Dancing couple

After an hour or so we all boarded the train for the return trip. It seemed bumpier going downhill, and since the scenery was the same as the uphill ride we sort of dozed on and off. We were both glad to get back to the car.

Train at Paltin station

Train at Paltin station

Transport for rail workers

Transport for rail workers

On the return trip we went looking for more of the UNESCO wooden churches. In Ieud, which was only three kilometers off the main road, we followed the signs but they led to a road bridge which had collapsed. We couldn’t find a different bridge across the river so we abandoned that idea. Farther along the road, at Bârsana, the official sign led to an informal sign which led up a lane to somebody’s house. We could see the church on top of the hill behind the house, but couldn’t see a way up the hill. So we gave up on wooden churches and headed back to the hotel for dinner.

Tour bus passenger

Tour bus passenger

When we got back Penny was waiting for us. She had suggested we could move to a different room because of the loud snoring from Steve, who with his wife Alison was in the double room directly below us. The Painted House was available, and that suited us just fine. There was a small kitchen, a sitting/eating area, and upstairs a bedroom with twin beds and a full bathroom. All decorated with tapestries, needlework runners, pottery, and of course hand-painted furniture. It was actually much nicer than our previous room in the big house. (The bathroom did have a rather low ceiling, but we’re not very tall so that didn’t bother us much.)

It was still cold in the Painted House, so we ran the space heater for a while to warm it up. Dinner tonight was rice with vegetables and chips and we had cookies for dessert.

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Maramureș, part 1

May 25, 2015

After a good breakfast we said goodbye to our hosts and then we were on the road again, bound for Breb in Maramureș. From Sucevița we headed past the monastery and over the Ciumârna Pass, where we had come the other day. The toothless man with the painted wooden eggs was still there, but we didn’t stop. We followed Highway DN17 for a while; it was one of the main highways in the area so its condition was good. As usual we passed through numerous small villages, which made slow going.

When we reached Highway DN18 we turned onto it, heading for Prislop Pass. This road was not nearly as good as DN17, and we passed several work crews vainly trying to fill the potholes. One of the first villages we came to was Ciocănești, where the houses were decorated with geometric Hutsul patterns on the sides. But that was the only place we saw houses like that.

Hutsul style decoration

Hutsul style decoration

The road to the pass became more twisty and turny as we climbed, and when we reached the pass we paused there for a rest. There was a ski area here, and a couple of mountain hotels, but mostly a shiny new monastery. The main buildings were finished but workers were still busy building the large ceremonial entrance gate. We looked at the monastery and the views for a short while, but decided to continue down the other side to look for a lunch spot because it was cool and windy at the pass. It didn’t take long to find a picnic site with a table and a good view.

Prislop Pass monastery

Prislop Pass monastery

On our way down we met a very large flock of sheep, with their shepherds and dogs guiding them up the road. It was easiest for us to stop and let them go around us, rather than risk hitting a sheep or lamb. Here the road was much smoother, but the village of Borșa with its associated ski facilities must have been twenty kilometers long. Eventually we passed into the lowlands and after driving through a thunderstorm and heavy rain neared the village of Breb.

Herd of sheep on the road

Herd of sheep on the road

The roads around Breb all seemed to be in various stages of construction, and between horses and carts, people, and construction machinery the going was even slower than usual. We had been following a Google Maps printout but it was a bit confusing, so we turned on the iPhone app to see how far we had to go. Not far, really, but the app’s instructions differed from the map! Following the voice on the phone we took a slightly longer route which included driving down a one-lane track from the village of Hoteni. As luck would have it we met a tractor pulling a loaded hay wagon! Luckily we passed each other without incident but it was a tight squeeze.

Once in Breb it was easy for us to follow the signs to the Village Hotel. There was nobody at the reception office when we arrived, but one of the staff arrived shortly and showed us to our room. We were upstairs in the main house and would share the kitchen with anyone else who happened to be staying there. As it turned out the double room downstairs would host Adi and Bianca, a Romanian couple. They spoke good English and it was interesting speaking with them and getting their take on life in Romania.

We were surprised to find out that breakfast was included in our room rate, and that we were signed up to go out for dinner at one of the houses in the village. Both of those were good things as we hadn’t stopped to buy any food. We walked down to the house at 7:15 pm with our fellow guests. Besides Adi and Bianca there was a couple from London. Dinner was noodle soup followed by sarmale (cabbage rolls) and sausages, which were all very good. Dessert was doughnuts and after some discussion among the Romanians it was decided that they were “gogoș”.
Back at our little house we had some tea and chatted with the others while listening to the rain pouring down outside.

May 26, 2015

We slept very well last night and didn’t go down for breakfast until about 9 am. In the refrigerator were bins labelled for each room, containing butter, cheese, and yogurt. And there was a sharing section containing eggs, juices, and some condiments. Luckily for us the cupboards also contained cereals, pasta, rice, and basic vegetables so we would be able to make our own dinner. Adi and Bianca were there too; their plan was to look around a bit and then head home. Their mode of transportation was a motor scooter so they were hoping for no rain.

After breakfast we gathered up some clothes to be washed. For 20 lei a load would be washed and dried for us, so we thought that was a good way to catch up with our laundry. Then we got into the car and headed out, this time following the better way out of the village. Our plan was to visit the “Merry Cemetery” in the village of Săpânta, one of the most famous sites in the area. So we drove to the border town of Sighetu Marmației (universally referred to as “Sighet”) and beyond, along the road parallel to the Tisa River with Ukrainian villages visible beyond.

The Veterinary Doctor

The Veterinary Doctor

The Merry Cemetery is a different sort of cemetery. It was started in the 1930s by Stan Ioan Pătraș, who decided to do things differently. Instead of dour stone crosses with only birth and death dates, there are brightly painted wooden panels with paintings of scenes depicting something in the life of the deceased. This could be a lady weaving or a man driving a tractor, for example. And below that is a little poem written about the person. Although the Romanian text was mostly beyond our ability, you could tell a lot just by looking at the picture. The cemetery was absolutely full of graves, with very little space between them. Even Stan Ioan Pătraș is buried there, having written his own poem.

Brandy and Women

Brandy and Women

Stan Ioan Pătraș

Stan Ioan Pătraș

The main colour of the panels is Săpânta Blue, symbolizing hope and liberty. The other colours, green (life), yellow (fertility), and red (passion) are obtained from natural pigments used by the women of Săpânta to dye wool. The graves were on three sides of the very large church, which was being reconstructed. We went inside to look, but the painted interior was hard to see because it was mostly behind the scaffolding.

Church with scaffolding

Church with scaffolding

We went across the street to look at the souvenir stalls; most of them had similar wares but one had some woven wool rugs. The lady sitting there was spinning wool from a large bundle of carded wool; she showed us some of the blankets and rugs and told us they could be washed outside and left to dry. We ended up buying a doormat-sized rug. As we left we saw Adi and Bianca just arriving—there was a bit of a rain shower but fortunately it didn’t last.

Spinning wool

Spinning wool

Back in Sighet we found a free parking spot and then set out to find the Memorial Museum for the Victims of Communism and the Resistance, a highly-recommended museum. It was frustratingly hard to find using the map from the Rough Guide but on our third try we found it.

The museum is housed in one of the Communist-era prisons which were used to hold political prisoners. The displays take up three floors and are actually in the prison cells. We paid our admission fee and were shown to an English-speaking staffer who gave us an English-language guidebook which explained each of the displays. Considering that the museum was almost entirely in Romanian, this book was extremely helpful. It chronicled the history of the prison and its inhabitants through the Communist years, and it took us about an hour and half to go through all of the displays. It was very sad to read about what happened to so many people who were imprisoned and tortured for their views.

Victims of Communism museum

Victims of Communism museum

Luckily the sun was shining when we left the museum, as it cheered us up and made us realize how lucky we are to live when and where we do. We had heard that there are still Romanians who are nostalgic for the “old days” when everybody had a job and the country would support you for life. That seemed terribly naïve to us now—they had forgotten about all the evils which had to take place to make that possible.

We bought a bit of food at a supermarket and headed back to the hotel, where we cooked up some pasta and vegetables. We also made a fruit salad from the fruit which is also part of the kitchen’s provisions. A simple but filling dinner.

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Painted Monasteries, part 3

May 24, 2015

Breakfast was at 8:30 am again today—bread and honey and jam again, but today we got eggs instead of cheese. The eggs come from the hens who live in the barn next to our little house. After breakfast we walked along the road to the Sucevița Monastery, the last of the UNESCO painted monasteries on our list.

Sucevița monastery

Sucevița monastery

Murals at Sucevița

Murals at Sucevița

As it was Sunday there was a church service in progress, which we could hear via loudspeakers. So instead of going inside, we walked around the church looking at the painted exterior and also stood and listened to the nuns singing inside. The sun was shining, making it a lovely setting. After a while we left the monastery and walked around to the back, from where we could walk up the hill to get a view looking down over the monastery. The climb was steep but short through long grass (no vipers here) with a variety of wild flowers and there were indeed good views from the top.

Unusual purple and yellow flower

Unusual purple and yellow flower

Overview of Sucevița monastery

Overview of Sucevița monastery

Back at Casa Felicia we got the car and headed over to Rădăuți, to visit the Ethnographic Museum. It didn’t take long to drive there but finding the museum proved more difficult. We ended up parking the car and walking around the streets to find it. We knew the address of the museum so we eventually found it, despite its sign not being very prominent. The museum showcased pottery and clothing from the surrounding areas, as well as agricultural tools and implements. All of the signs were in Romanian but despite that we were able to figure out most of the signage except the technical terms. (What’s “turnip” in Romanian?) The regional clothing styles were very beautiful and Rosemary was quite interested in the embroidery techniques.

Woman’s blouse from Gălănești

Woman’s blouse from Gălănești

After that we sat in the park across the street and ate our lunch, along with a colony of rooks. The time was only 1:30 pm, so we decided that we would visit one more site, the monastery at Putna. It’s not one of the UNESCO painted monasteries but it seemed like it might be worth a visit. The road to Putna followed the railway, but its tracks were overgrown with grass and even some small trees. We guessed it had stopped running a few years ago. To the north we could see a string of villages along a road on the other side of the Ukrainian border.

Putna monastery

Putna monastery

The Putna monastery was indeed not painted on the outside, but it was very beautiful in its own right. The paintings were all in the porch and in the interior and they were in very good condition. Inside was the grave of Stefan cel Mare, one of the great leaders in Romanian history, along with the graves of several Moldavian church leaders of his time. The whole complex was very large compared to the other monasteries we’d visited, and unlike the others it had monks rather than nuns living there. It also had a very serious defensive wall, which would have been important in Stefan’s day.

Interior painting, Putna

Interior painting, Putna

Exterior painting, Putna

Exterior painting, Putna

Back in Sucevița we bought some ice creams before returning to our little house, where we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and reading. Dinner tonight was soup with cèpes (boletus mushrooms) followed by ragout of beef with green beans and then crème caramel pastry. As usual everything was very tasty. This was our last night in Bucovina; tomorrow we would be off to the Maramureș region.

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Painted Monasteries, part 2

May 23, 2015

We’re here for two days, so we don’t have to rush to see the sights. So we had breakfast at 8:30 am and then organized ourselves for the day’s outing. Our hostess had told us about a ceramic workshop just down the road in Marginea, so that was our first stop. We watched the potters—all men, no women—making various pots out of the local black clay. Their output was quite attractive, and pricing was very low so we ended up buying a vase and a small decorative plate with flowers painted on it.

Marginea potter

Marginea potter

Now we were off to see painted monasteries. First up was the one at Arbore, since it was closest. It didn’t seem to be on the main monastery trail, as there was no admission fee. It was built in 1503 but the murals on the outside were done at a later date, and only one of them was still visible. So this was an inauspicious start.

Arbore church mural

Arbore church mural

From here we headed to Gura Humorului to visit the Humor monastery. Now we were on the tourist trail—there was pay parking (3 lei) and you had to pay to use the WC (3 lei). And then there was a nun at the door collecting entrance fees (5 lei each) and photography fees (10 lei, outdoor photography only). Its murals were also painted in the 16th century, but they only had a small part worn off. And it was totally painted on the inside too, and those paintings hadn’t been affected by the weather at all. This was much more impressive.

Humor monastery murals

Humor monastery murals

Humor monastery

Humor monastery

By now it was lunch time, so we bought some food at the little store and sat in the sunshine to eat. Since we were on the tourist trail this monastery had numerous vendor stalls, and after eating our lunch we walked back to one where we had seen a lady doing cross-stitch. She had several embroidered blouses, hand-made and machine-made, hanging on a rack. Rosemary noticed an older hand-made blouse made from a heavy cotton fabric which fit her very well, and by the time we left we had bought that plus a large scarf plus a woolen wall hanging. More than we had expected to buy, but nice souvenirs none the less. And we didn’t see anything like them at the other vendor stalls either, making them unique.

(Later we would find that similar merchandise anywhere else in Romania on the tourist trail would cost more than what we paid here at Humor!)

All dressed up

All dressed up

The next monastery, at Voroneț, was not far away. Here there was a dress code forbidding bare legs for both sexes, and we saw at least two men wearing a sort of wrap-around long apron while visiting the church. It was quite similar in style to Humor, although the pictures on the outside included enemies with guns being defeated by miracles, something we hadn’t seen before. And apparently the deep blue colour in the murals is a special blue which is unique to Voroneț, although we didn’t notice that when we were there.

Voroneț murals

Voroneț murals

From here it was a longer drive to the last monastery of the day, at Moldovița. It was very much like the other two, except less commercialized by tourist traffic. And unfortunately many of the lower paintings had been vandalized by 19th-century tourists.

Passenger train

Passenger train

So we headed back, completing the loop by driving the winding road over the Ciumârna Pass. This road was only completed in 1968 and at the summit there was a hand-shaped monument commemorating the road workers who built it. There were also people selling coffee and drinks and barbecued meat, and we declined to buy decorated eggs, even wooden ones, from the toothless gentleman who was selling them.

Carpathians view

Carpathians view

Ciumârna Pass monument

Ciumârna Pass monument

By the time we got back to Casa Felicia we didn’t have long to wait until our 6 pm dinner time. Tonight we had noodle soup, followed by home-made beans with sausage along with a cabbage salad. Dessert was a nut cake. Like last night the food was very good and filling. For the first time since Bucharest we had some rain this evening, but it only lasted for half an hour and didn’t amount to much.

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Painted Monasteries, part 1

May 22, 2015

We were moving on today, so after our breakfast (left-over kürtőskalács) we packed up and went downstairs. We expected somebody to be there to take our payment, but there was nobody around. Luckily one of the other guests could speak a bit of English and he was able to track down the girl who we had met when checking in. It took a while, but eventually we convinced her that we did owe some money.

Finally on the road, we headed back down to the main highway at Ceahlău. We had rejected Google Maps’ idea of following winding mountain roads to Sucevița and decided to take the flatlands route via Suceava instead, so we followed the road towards Târgu Neamț. In the Vânătorii Neamț national park we saw a sign pointing to a monastery complex, so we decided on the spur of the moment to go there.

Painted church front

Painted church front

Painted church porch

Painted church porch

What a surprise was in store for us! The monastery, although one of the oldest in Romania, wasn’t that interesting. It was the nearby church which was the surprise. Far from being twelfth-century, it was a project which started in 2007 with funding from the government of Romania and the EU. The new church had been painted with biblical scenes and portraits of numerous saints, except for two sides which were still unfinished. One side was under scaffolding and we watched two men in the process of painting it. It was a stunning site. As for the monastery, we decided not to pay 5 lei each to go in, and just looked through the archway entrance.

Painter at work

Painter at work

Monks in monastery grounds

Monks in monastery grounds

Back on the main road we continued on towards Suceava, stopping along the way for lunch (more left-over kürtőskalács). Being a roadside pullout it wasn’t the greatest of lunch spots, but it was beside a lake so we watched and listened to the birds while eating. In Suceava we looked in our guidebook and decided to stop for a walk around. But after negotiating traffic, roundabouts, and pedestrians we arrived in the town centre and couldn’t figure out where to park. There were signs telling us how many spaces were available in the parking garages, which weren’t helpful because we couldn’t find those garages. So we gave up on the idea and bumbled our way out of the town and back onto the main road.

Horse parked by the road

Horse parked by the road

Pretty soon we came to Pătrăuți and a sign pointing to the UNESCO World Heritage monastery. We were here to see those monasteries so we decided to make the detour. This was the first church founded by Stephen the Great, in 1487. It only had one worn-down painting, a fragment of the Last Judgement scene, but considering its age it was in remarkably good condition.

Pătrăuți church

Pătrăuți church

From here it didn’t take very long to drive to our destination, Casa Felicia in Sucevița, just down the road from the monastery. Our room was in a small house which was beautifully decorated with local textiles. It also had a large wood-burning stove, but the weather was warm enough so that we never needed to use it. Our hosts spoke French (and Romanian) but not English, so we brushed off our extremely rusty high-school French and that actually worked out reasonably well. For the rest of the afternoon we sat on our porch and enjoyed a large pot of tea and some date cakes.

Casa Felicia lodging

Casa Felicia lodging

Tea in the afternoon

Tea in the afternoon

The dining area is in a lovely room with windows on two sides, looking out into the grassy centre area. We started out with a cherry brandy liqueur and then had a delicious homemade potato and mushroom soup. The mushrooms were inky-caps, picked in the forest behind the house. (She showed us the picture in her book.) Our main meal was polenta with classic cabbage rolls and cream, and to drink we had red wine which was quite potent! It was a very good meal.

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Lacul Roșu

May 21, 2015

Our legs didn’t feel too bad after yesterday’s 900 meters of elevation gain, but today was to be a tourist day and not a hiking day. So after breakfast we got into the car and headed off to Lacul Roșu. We drove back down the hill through Ceahlău to the main DN15 road and followed the signs to Bicaz. This route had us going all the way around Lacul Izvorul Muntelui, a big lake with a dam at the far end.

Lacul Izvorul Muntelui

Lacul Izvorul Muntelui

The road twisted and turned, went up and down, through many villages. The scenery was beautiful with distant views of green mountains, although the lake itself wasn’t that pretty because the water level was quite low. Finally we reached the end of the lake and turned uphill towards Bicaz.

Bicaz Dam

Bicaz Dam

Bicaz was a fairly large village with a chaotic intersection (two crosswalks, broken traffic light, parking lot exit right next to it); we barely avoided disaster and headed towards the Bicaz Gorge. This narrow gorge was formed by the Bicaz River, and the limestone walls are 300 meters high in places. The gorge is hardly wider than the two-lane road and in some spots the walls overhang the road, so that trucks have to drive over the centre line. In the wider sections the road side was filled with vendor stalls selling souvenirs.

Lacul Roșu

Lacul Roșu

We didn’t stop, but continued up the hill to Lacul Roșu (aka Gyilkos-tó). This little lake was formed by a landslide in about 1837 which blocked the Bicaz River, and it still has dead tree trunks sticking up from it. We paid the parking attendant for three hours of parking; it was just past noon so we decided to walk around the lake first. It was a lovely walk mostly following the shoreline, which took us about an hour. There were not many birds to be found, but we did see some Mallards and a Common Sandpiper.

Boating area

Boating area

By driving over the county boundary we were now back in Szeklerland, the part of Romania where a lot of Hungarian speakers live. The traditional pastry of Szeklerland is called kürtőskalács (chimney cake) and it was widely available at the food area by the parking lot. So we had to try that. It’s made by rolling dough around a wooden dowel and cooking it on a rotisserie over charcoal, and then rolling it in sugar. Sitting on a stone wall overlooking the lake we enjoyed our tasty lunch—the large version is 400 grams but that didn’t stop us from eating the whole thing!

Kürtőskalács factory

Kürtőskalács factory

By now it was after 2 pm so we decided to head back. At this time of the afternoon the traffic was much lighter—fewer tour buses—so we could pull over to the side of the road to take photos and get a better view by walking down the gorge a bit. We also spent some time looking for Wallcreeper, a small grey bird which lives on cliffs (and has been seen here). A grey bird on a cliff sounds impossible to find, but when the bird flies it reveals bright crimson wing feathers. However we didn’t find any. As for the vendors’ stalls, we didn’t see anything worthwhile.

Bicaz Gorge

Bicaz Gorge

Our next stop was at Bicaz Ardelean to look at the old wooden church which was built in 1692. As we approached the church we could see several people gathered outside. It appeared that a funeral service had taken place today, so we didn’t want to butt in. But we looked in the cemetery and noticed that there were a number of people named Țepeș buried there. The name means “Impaler” and comes from Vlad Țepeș, who is mixed up in the Dracula legend.

17th-century church

17th-century church

We made a quick stop in Bicaz to buy some food, and then when we got back we sat at the picnic table outside Vila Maria to eat dinner. Dinner tonight was hunter salami with bread, followed by part of the other kürtőskalács which we had bought at Lacul Roșu. Great views and warm sunshine made a lovely setting for our meal—so far we’ve been lucky with the weather. Once done we went for a short walk and then returned to our room to catch up with journal-writing.

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