Drive to Putna Sihastria

Romania is a big place. Until now I have not ventured more than 3 hours drive from Bucharest. I had had a long term ambition to visit the monasteries in the north of the country. A friend arranged for me to stay in one of them. I didn't think much about the distances involved. I got off the Wizz air flight somewhat the worse for wear. The seats didn't recline. Result no more than half an hours sleep at most. The flight had been from Luton at 2am. To Buneasa – an airport usually reserve for local flights – a shoebox compared with Otopeni international airport down the road. We had to queue to get our cases off the carousel becuase of the lack of space. I needed to be collected to pick up the hire car at Otopeni. Then after half an hour of handover while the agent tried to force the key into the frozen locks – did I mention the snow on the ground? And then I was finally away. The time 9 am.  Now you would think that with 10-11 hours of driving that I could travel just about anywhere. Well blame it on the lack of sleep. It took me 5 hours to get to Bacau the biggest city in the north of the country. And that was when the roads started to get slower. The bypass isn't a concept much used in Romania – the roads go through the centre of the towns. And for every village the speed limit goes down from 110 to 70 then to 50 then up again. Most traffic ignore this but that is to chance it with the signs for speed cameras which are reputedly switched off. Road signs aren't great either. I managed to take a wrong turn but fortunately ran into a police block 2 km down to road. 6 of them. 1 of me. But they were very helpful and got me turned back to the main road.  It was mid afternoon by the time I passed Piatra Neamt I missed the turn – managed to avoid driving into the mountatins.I catnapped a couple of times because it was the only way to keep going.

And then the signs for the monasteries started. Lots of them. The monasteries of Moldova are world famous. And there are plenty of them. And more starting up all the time. The current count of monasteries in Romania is 4,200. The monasteries of Moldova in particularly the painted monasteries of the extreme north are a kind of gold standard. The original plan had been for me to visit half a dozen of them but the drive was taking me so long I decided I needed to press on for Putna and to leave visits for the journey back. I had unrolled the map and discovered that I had almost as far to drive after Bacau as I had getting there. The visibility was not good – it was getting dark and I was still short of Falticeni .

Then the snow started. My screen wash wasn't working so I resorted to using a bottle of fruit drink to slosh across the windscreen. And kept driving as best I could. By 7pm I finally made it to Putna and the monastery. A mere 10 kilometres from the Ukrainian border. Only this wasn't the monastery I was due to stay in. That was described to me as a little off to the left. Actually several kilometres.  The snow was so thick now I lost my way and found myself driving in the forest on a rough track with a stream to my left hand side with a drop of 2 metres. The hire car was sliding all over the place – it really wasn't at all safe. 2 km on I turned around and headed back to Putna to regain my bearings and as I came around a corner saw an illuminated cross high in the sky. On the hill where Stephen the Great had stood 5 centuries previously firing arrows to decide where to place the monasteries he was founding in thanks for victories over the Ottomans. I was profoundly grateful to have got back unscathed. Then on the right road I drove 5 kilometres up to Putna Sihastria – 2 hours later than I had said I would arrive and 11 hours after landing.

Father Vlad had been assigned to look after me by the Abbot. Rosary in one hand and mobile phone in the other he relayed to me the welcome of the Abbot. Before he became a monk 3 years ago  he worked as the head animator in a Bucharest advertising agency. And described to me the difference between using Photoshop then (with ego) and using Photoshop now under the strict supervision of the abbot – who supervises the life of every one of the 40 or more monks here. Work time is strictly allocated – when its over you have to leave what you are doing. You have to remain detached from your work – in a way he had been unable to do when working in advertising.

Extraordinary conversation to be having after such a long journey and longer day. I was shown to the guest house and turned in at 10.30. 





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