I’ve been dreaming to get to one of Romania’s northernmost cities ever since I was a child (the thought of those harsh, snow-filled winters was always there… in a corner of my mind… and then there was that thought of getting caught in a snow storm for days… crazy, I know, but this is me). And Cernăuţi was a part of the plan, too, long before the sad events in Ukraine. So, I thought I’d still give it a go.
Day 1 quickly turned into Day 0 due to some issues with the car brakes and to the glazed frost that unexpectedly hit Braşov and the surroundings.
The early start was not that early either and… following a pretty tricky, icy, snowy, and rainy road to Târgu Secuiesc and a 2-hour stop in Oneşti, the journey a.k.a. the last getaway of the year was officially on.
|Sturdza Castle: Mesmerised|
First stop – Sturdza Castle in Miclăuşeni, a beautiful piece of late nineteenth-century Neo-Gothic architecture I’d seen in the wedding pictures of two of my closest friends. The castle domain was enchanting with the carpet of yellowish leaves soft under our feet. However, the castle was not open for visits. It was explained to us that it is usually closed during their so-called winter schedule, between November and February, a piece of information I hadn’t found on any of the websites consulted for the trip.
The road continued in the northern part of Iaşi County, along frozen lakes and the sunny hills of Cotnari Vine Estate. And then, here it was. The official welcome to Botoşani County. No trees (there used to be a primeval forest in the area in very old times). And now, it actually looked more like the Scottish Highlands than Romania.
As the sun set and darkness took hold, Rădeni Village was hardly perceivable. Perched on a mellow hill – like almost all settlements in the region –, it did not provide the visit to the local wine cellar or a traditional supper at the (famous?) local inn, but it did make sure to get us acquainted with the calm and welcoming tone of the locals.
Passing through Frumuşica [The Beautiful One]… I recalled the legends that talked about the amazing beauty of all the women in the village, so famous for it that even Stephen the Great had been bedazzled by the charms of the local innkeeper back in the day.
In the end, we got to our home for the following 3 days and 2 nights: Conacul Zăiceşti [150 lei/double room/night; breakfast included] – an old boyar home, beautifully decorated, with spacious rooms and a feel of old Moldavian times you’d only experience in history books. Aaaah… and the staff… Aaaah… and the food… That was probably the greatest pasta dish I had in my life. And it was so inexpensive. Ah well, one lavish and lazy evening…
The excellent breakfast was followed by a fast trip to Siret and then… the trip continued into Ukraine. No hassle. The grey feel, the damaged roads, and the crowds in a hurry at the outskirts of Cernăuţi [I chose to use its Romanian name in this article] were soon replaced by cobblestone, beautiful rows of pastel-coloured buildings, and narrow streets.
The decision was made fast: Hotin Fortress [Opening times: 9-17 (winter); 10-18 (summer)] would be the first stop. And – I’m still laughing – in spite of those inexistent signs, we did manage to reach it. A word of caution: Do not rely on using Lei or Euros or on speaking Romanian. Have Hryvnia on you. You will need to pay the parking lot at the fortress (30 UAH), the admission fee (10 UAH (students); 30 UAH (adults)), and you may want to have a look at those beautifully-crafted souvenirs or have a glass of mulled wine if visiting in winter.
Stara Fortetsya in Kamianets-Podilskyi was the next stop. Unfortunately, as it shares the same opening times with Hotin Fortress, its gates closed right before us. It got us the chance to see it light against the cloudy November sky, a view I’d never forget…
…the same way I couldn’t let go of my affinity for Ukrainian vodka, natural juice, and chocolates… a bunch of which I bought for myself and for my friends in a local store and was again delighted by the friendliness and openness of the people. A taste of a French éclair later and I was transposed back in time, first to a cake shop in Gori, Stalin’s birthplace, where I had also savoured one… and then to my childhood years. I’m at times at a loss of words when long-lost matching scents or tastes invade my life.
Returning to Cernăuţi at one point, we found the centre extremely crowded, lacking parking spaces, and decided to search for a restaurant to have dinner closer to the border. As they did not accept Lei and as we did not have UAH anymore, we ended up having very late dinner in Suceava [tocinei – a quite yummy Bukovynian dessert made of potatoes – included]. And I fell asleep in the car, in the end.
I knew that there were some very old trees left of the primeval forest I was telling you about at the beginning of the article. So, I went looking for them right after the very tasty omelette I had for breakfast. In Cristeşti. I met a very nice lady inviting me to her courtyard to see an ash that was 450 years old. I found some more old trees (ash + oak) in the courtyard of the village church, together with a very friendly black cat.
|Sonia Iacinschi's Workshop|
The search for medieval times continued with the old bridge at Coşula, of which, surprisingly, very few of the locals had heard. The first stone bridge had been built in 1503, in the times of Stephen the Great, in that exact spot.
Botoşani was the next stop. As it was Monday and as most of Botoşani County’s museums are closed on that day, so was the memorial house of my favourite historian, Nicolae Iorga.
Luckily, we did find Ceramist Sonia Iacinschi’s Workshop, next to ‘Vasilache’ puppet theatre, open, went in for a very special and private tour and bought some very beautiful pieces of Kuty Ceramics (having its origins in the fourteenth century).
The last leg of our journey took us to Ipoteşti, the native village of our greatest poet, Mihai Eminescu. We visited his house [Opening times: 9-17 (15.05.-15.09.) & 8-16 (16.09.-14.05.); Admission fee: 1 leu (students); 4 lei (adults)] and were then encouraged to follow the sign for 2.5 km by car and then walk for 15’ to the water lily-lake where the poet would spend the time and write part of his most beloved poetry.
The journey back to Braşov (we were in a hurry to get to our weekly pub quiz and meet our friends) was filled with snow and cold that peaked in Sfântu-Gheorghe. To somehow make up for the lack of white registered during the trip. J