True story- I sat by myself being publicly interrogated by undercover police who were yelling at me in Romanian, and then having to turn over my passport; all while I was traveling by train for six hours from Bucharest into northern Moldavia. I started to question this undertaking, and thought to myself, “Is this trip worth all of this?”
I was heading to the region of Moldavia for one reason, and that one reason was to see the magnificently painted monasteries. Visiting the monasteries had been on my radar for years, and I dragged my feet on going because the location was off the beaten track. You really have to want to go and see them, and I really wanted to see them.
Deciding on traveling to Moldavia was not a long thought out plan, but a quick decision with only several days to plan out. My original trip was to Turkey, and to spend a week exploring the country before traveling into Jordan. I was made aware about political unrest in Turkey, and had to think quickly on where I could head to for that one week.
I looked at my pinned map that hung over my desk, saw that Romania bordered Turkey, and travel inspiration ran through me. It would only take an hour by plane from Istanbul to Bucharest, which excited me because it would be an easy transition. I ended up spending a few days juggling my Turkey cancelations, and creating a great Iteniary of Romania, with a side trip to both Moldavia and Bulgaria. I was on my way!
The six hour train to Bucharest was quite the experience, if anything. Besides becoming a public spectacle with two Romanian police officers loudly questioning me, I also sat across two nice older ladies who were asking me in Romanian what ethnicity I was, and called me pretty. Then I overpaid for a can of Pringles at $5.00; met a lovely lady who lives in America, who was visiting her mother, and we became Facebook friends; I stood with a cigarette in hand by an open door of the caboose, having multiple cigarette breaks with other travelers; and watched horse pulled wagons along the Romanian countryside from my window seat. All in six hours.
When I finally arrived in Succeava, which would be my base point to visit the painted monasteries, I was beat tired. Luckily, I had booked a lovely hotel that was a couple of blocks from the train station, the Hotel Residenz. I checked in, had a shower, a delicious dinner, and fell asleep straight away.
For those who are looking to go the same route, I do recommend staying at the Hotel Residenz in Succeava. It is close to the train station, and your tour guide can pick you up from this convenient location.
I was clean, fed, and ready to go the next morning. I was going to explore what I traveled far from Las Vegas to see- The Painted Monasteries of Moldavia.
The Painted Churches of Moldavia have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, and are located in Succeava County, Moldavia, which is a region in Romania. The churches were built from the 15th through the 16th century, with their external walls adorned with colorful frescos, and considered masterpieces from the Byzantine era.
My private guide educated me on the churches that they were built by Stephen the Great, the King of Moldavia (1457-1504), as a promise to God after each successful win with the invading Ottoman Empire. She also thoroughly guided me through the religious calendar and art work inside the church, but unfortunately I forgot the lesson. It was quite intricate.
When I tried to repeat what I had learned to a Romanian who was well educated with the churches, her response was “Kind of correct.” The knowledge is somewhere in my subconscious, and one day I will try to retrieve it.
There are eight churches in total, and I did get to visit four of them during my time in Moldavia. All the frescoes are authentic, and well preserved considering the centuries of weather, and environmental factors. I did notice some fading of the frescos that were caused by sunlight, but it still did not detract from the beauty of these churches. The paintings are complete cycles of religious themes, including Jacob’s Ladder – Heaven’s Ladder, and all were richly painted in attractive primary colors.
Visiting the painted churches was a fascinating experience, as well as learning more about the Romanian Orthodox religion that they are tied to. It was better than I had originally expected.
Now if I ask myself that same question of, was it all worth it? Yes! A very hard YES!
If you are interested in visiting the painted churches, I recommend the company that took me on a private tour – Hello Bucovina
Voronet Monastery – Established in 1488
Moldovita Monastery -Established in 1532
Sucevita Monastery – Completed in 1601
Humor Monastery Church – Built 1530
Wherever you go, go with all your heart…
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📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre