Friday, 4 April 2014

The Missing Link: Part 3.3: Suceava

world-map romania


Well, the camping didn’t happen last weekend, not that the weather failed us, but instead Son and Heir gets hit by a stomach bug. Oh well, c’est la vie!

However, not even a bug can stop this week’s trip. I’ll be taking a few weeks off posting ‘The Missing Link’ whilst I am off on this year’s big expedition, a trip around Armenia and Georgia. Of course I’ve been to Georgia before in 2010 and Tbilisi where that trip started is where this one shall too, but instead of heading west to Turkey, now I – and a friend – am heading south to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia is a country that has fascinated me for many years now, ever since I taught an Armenian girl at the George Byron School in Bulgaria, whereas Nagorno-Karabakh, well, read my postings on Kosova or Transdniestra, or watch my V-log on the topic and you’ll get why I am so fascinated by countries that aren’t quite countries. Anyway, as ever, there’ll be regular updates on Uncle Travelling Matt so stay tuned.

And in the meantime, let’s check out Suceava in Northern Romania…

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all parts of the travelogue



1.1: Konotop

1.2: Chernobyl and Pripyat

1.3: Kiev

1.4: Kiev to Odessa

1.5: Odessa

1.6: Bolgrad

Moldova and Transdniestra

2.1: Bolgrad to Chisinau

2.2: Chisinau (I)

2.3: Tiraspol and Bender

2.4: Chisinau (II) 


3.1: Iasi (I)

3.2: Iasi (II)

3.3: Suceava

3.4: The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

3.5: Targu Neamt, Agapia and Sihla

3.6: Suceava to Viseu de Sus

3.7: The Mocanita and Viseu de Sus

3.8: Viseu de Sus to Bucharest

3.9: Bucharest (I)

3.10: Bucharest (II)

My Flickr Album of this trip


Suceava (I)

The journey of one and three-quarter hours from Iaşi to Suceava was rather uneventful, through wide open plains with the occasional sheep grazing on them, a landscape more akin to the vast open spaces of Ukraine than the intimate, almost Mediterranean valley that I’d travelled along from Chişinǎu to Iaşi a couple of days previously.

I felt better too than I deserved to. A German victory couple with a significant quantity of the best Romanian beer should conspire to make a man quite ill and miserable indeed, but they did not and, perversely, I felt fine. Who knows why? Perhaps it was the strong coffee that I grabbed in the station before boarding the train or perhaps it was the station building itself, a glorious Italianate folly modelled after no less an original than the Doge’s Palace in Venice.

ML109 Doge’s Palace + Dacias = Iaşi Railway Station

Suceava also has an incredible rail terminal building but confusingly it is called ‘Iţcani’ rather than ‘Suceava’ and so I almost failed to alight at it.

One reason why Iţcani station could be so named is that it is actually a couple of miles out of Suceava itself in a suburb, (which one presumes is called Iţcani), so I took a taxi to my pre-booked accommodation, Villa Alice, one of a new generation of boutique hotels which have sprung up to meet the needs of the influx of travellers who have floated to the region ever since it was embraced by the EU family.

My room was not ready, the hour still being early, so I left my bags at reception and went out to explore the city. Higgins describes it in the following terms during his visit in 1969:

“Suceava, a town with a number of important buildings of its own which have become lost in industrial confusion. It is a busy and noisy place which carries all the through traffic to Russia and Poland and is in danger of losing all its character. Certainly it has nothing to do with the atmosphere of the fields and woods of Moldavia.”[1]

Now whilst one must take into account that forty-three years have elapsed between his visit and mine, I have to differ. Admittedly too, I had chosen precisely the wrong time to visit as the whole of the centre around Piaţa Unirii was torn up and being remodelled, (although afterwards it would probably be a big improvement), I still say that he was excessively harsh. Yes, there is industry around the edges, but Suceava is nonetheless a rather pleasant place in a low-key way and still very much in touch with the fields and woods of Moldavia since within only a few metres of the chaos of Piaţa Unirii I found myself right in them.

I’d decided to check out Suceava’s castle which lies across a small valley from the town itself. The walk to it was a pleasant one, through a wooded glade although with a steep climb of two hundred and forty-one steps which finished before a ridiculously large statue of that old friend, Ştefan cel Mare. He is there because Suceava had been the capital of Moldavia from 1388 to 1565 and the castle I was about to visit had been the seat of power from which the great man himself had ruled.

Well that and the fact that Ceaușescu liked to build stupidly big statues, particularly if they depicted ancient rulers of Romania who he saw himself as the modern incarnation of.

ML110 Oh no! Another statue!

Having recovered my breath I continued on, but was very soon distracted by the sound of chanting in the forest. Just ahead of me, through the trees, there was an exquisite little wooden church and, it being Sunday morning, there was a Mass in progress. Always one for a bit of spiritual food, I wandered on in and stood at the back. A young priest tended to a small congregation of peasants. The church itself was intimate and cosy with wooden walls, rugs on the floor and hand painted icons. It was as a church should be and, according to Blacker, the Romanians evidently think the same for, as he explained when talking about his local church in the Maramureş:

“The church in Breb was small. God liked small churches. He had after all allowed Constantinople to be destroyed because it had grown too big, or so it was said. Romanians therefore thought it best to build themselves modest churches.”[2]

I could only agree; I love intimate spaces of worship and gain far more from visiting places such as Demir Baba in Bulgaria and the Holy House in Walsingham[3] than any of the great cathedrals no matter how artistically brilliant they may be. But here it was not just the setting and the ambiences, for although I couldn’t understand a word of it, the liturgy itself was exquisite, and I spent over an hour crossing myself, kneeling and immersing myself in it all.

ML111 Inside the wooden church in Suceava’s skansen

After exiting the church, I noticed that it wasn’t the only aged peasant building around. Dotted around the meadow were a variety of traditional Moldavian cottages and a watermill. I realised that I had stumbled into a skansen[4] through the back gate which had been opened to allow people in to attend Mass in the church. Never one to turn down a free lunch, (the guidebook quoted the entrance fee as 4 lei), I wandered around the reconstructed homes of Moldavia’s peasants before exiting through the main gate past confused ticket seller who looked sure that she couldn’t recall actually selling me one of her tickets.

There were crowds milling around outside Suceava Castle, enjoying beers and barbequed meats, but inside it was fairly deserted. The circular fortress which Ştefan cel Mare once ruled from was, if I am perfectly honest, a bit of a disappointment. It was very ruined and hard to visualise how it would have appeared in its heyday although that childhood fascination over clamouring over walls and investigating dark dungeons could still be enjoyed to my heart’s content and restoration works going on might mean that for the next generation, history might come alive a little more easily.

ML112 Suceava Castle: under repair

I returned to the city but by now my late night and early morning coupled with the midday heat were beginning to take their toll. I still had a short time to go before I could enter my room at Villa Alice so I popped into the city’s Ethnographic Museum housed in an 18th century inn and, after perusing the usual collection of antique furniture, folk costumes and farming implements[5] I retired to my little rooftop room for a rejuvenating siesta.

I awoke just after five and headed out to an internet café to catch up with the wider world and update my travel blog. After much searching I found one in the basement of a house. The service was provided by a bored-looking teenager who was far more interested in gaming than actually doing his job and so I was left standing for some time whilst he zapped aliens, but it was cheap and the crap customer service was compensated for the fact that I eventually got chatting to the gaming teenager whose name was Sebastian and whose girlfriend Delia was about to leave for London. Excitedly, he contacted her on Facebook and she asked me a variety of questions on UK living, most of which I was able to answer satisfactorily, before the hour for football fast-approaching, I bid both of them adieu, promising to meet up with Sebastian for a drink on the morrow before I left town.

The match was a hyped-up encounter between Italy and Spain which finished a dull 1-1 draw.[6] Afterwards I searched for somewhere to have my tea, but only McDonalds was open, so McDonalds it was and I sampled the delights of the McBavarian Sausage with mustard, (or something like that), and took away a complimentary Euro 2012 glass. Full of junk food, I then retired to Villa Alice to round off the day by uploading all of my photos to Facebook, thus clearing a little space on my camera’s memory card for the vast amount of photographs that I anticipated taking over the coming days.

Next part: The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

My Flickr Album of this trip

[1] Travels in the Balkans, p.76

[2] The Enchanted Way, p.37-8

[3] See my travelogues ‘Balkania’ and ‘Nazareth in Norfolk’ respectively

[4] A skansen is a park of reconstructed historical buildings unique to a particular country or region. We have them in the UK, the Avoncroft Museum of Building being one. The name comes from the very first of these which is called Skansen and is in Stockholm. Founded in 1891, I visited it in 2008 and was very impressed.

[5] For an explanation, see the rant about ethnographic museums in my travelogue ‘Albanian Expeditions Part II’.

[6] They later met again in the Final and that match was a little more exciting, with Spain running out worthy 4-0 winners in what was arguably the best performance by a side in a major international football tournament.

1 comment:

  1. I also cut some small pieces of scraps as the same width, and patchworked them making 6.5 inches long strips.