|The beautifully painted monastery at Voronet|
It was hard to say goodbye to our hosts and new friends Maria and Ioan, but we needed to move on to visit more of rural life in the adjacent region of Bucovina to the east. One of the top sights here are the Painted Monasteries, the pride of Romania -- treasured churches that are covered with frescoes both inside and out.
|A devil throwing a sinner into the red river of fire!|
The intensely colored frescoes from the 15th century are remarkably well-preserved and describe many popular Bible stories as well as “frighteningly” detailed pictures of the last judgment. A typical last judgment scene shows sinners (political enemies such as the Turks are at the front of the line) ready to be thrown into the red river of fire.
|Resoration work at the Humor Monastery|
At one of the monasteries, we were able to observe art restorers at work. It appeared to be a painstaking effort to replace these unique colors that have faded with age, while restoring personnel stood on wobbly ladder set-ups, or crouched on hard tile floors on bended knee for the duration of the day. Whisker-thin paint brushes and other unusual tools were the main means of the restoration. We found it interesting that they do not fill the colors in completely. This is done purposefully so the restored sections are always obvious -- this method ensures that nobody ever tries to pass off restoration work as the real thing.
|Skilled potter in Marginea|
We made a stop in the small village of Marginea which is famous for its black pottery. Luckily, we were able to see a potter at work – he made it look so easy, transforming a lump of black clay into a perfectly proportioned vase in just seconds. Note that the potter's wheel is operated with a foot pedal; it is not motorized -- everything in the countryside seems to be done manually.
|Anne examines a piece of Marginea's black pottery|
This pottery is quite an unusual color: more silver than black, and the price was a steal. Prices are so cheap here in Romania, it is hard not to scoop up all these amazing bargains; problem is that you need so much extra baggage to get all these “bargains” home.
Speaking of bargains, Andrei showed us a house for sale for 60,000 euros (about $78,000). This was an unbelievably attractive, big house on about 6 acres of land. Frank keeps telling everyone that if Obama gets a second term, we are going to move to Romania and buy this house!
|Young girl shows us how to decorate an egg |
the Romanian way
Andrei, our guide, had promised us an egg decorating demonstration, but we had no idea that we would get to decorate eggs ourselves. This was so much fun – Anne was ready to embark on a new career as a Romanian egg decorator! We got our lesson from a priest and his wife (sounds weird, I know, but Greek Orthodox priests are allowed to marry) and a young girl from their church who demonstrated the process for us.
|Melting the wax off Frank's egg (with a hair dryer)|
Egg decorating is not at all easy. You begin with a white goose egg (better than the brown chicken eggs, but both are used) and cover any areas with wax that you want to remain white, using a special “pencil” with a narrow metallic spike (that you dip into the hot wax). After completing the 1st wax application, you dip the egg in yellow dye and then do a second wax application, which preserves any areas that you want to remain yellow. You repeat the process with red dye (covering any areas that you want to remain red with the wax), and finish with a dip in black dye. It’s a layered method that forces you to think in reverse. The best moment comes at the end when you remove the wax layers and all the colors appear!
|Anne shows off her decorated egg|
Our eggs were pretty pathetic, but the experience was terrific. And of course, the priest and his wife gave us palinka (traditional plum brandy of Romania) to drink, and sweet rolls to munch upon. The hospitality in the Romanian countryside is simply heartwarming.
|This is what Romanian eggs look like|
when they are decorated by the expert women in the village
|Frank stares enviously at the fruits of Bucovina|
We have saved the best story for last. Frank’s favorite experience in Bucovina was visiting “cabbage town” – a village famed for their plethora of cabbages. We have never seen so many cabbages in one place at one time. Andrei promised us “mountains of cabbages,” and that is exactly what we got. Cabbage is easy to grow and consequently, a big staple here in Romania. A constant stream of customers were buying these cabbages by the sack full.
|Frank checks out the kraut-in-a-barrel|
Since Frank makes his own sauerkraut back home, we found it interesting to see how they make sauerkraut here in Romania. Basically, they fill big old wooden barrels that are sitting open out in the fields with as many cabbages as they can jam in there, add lots of salt, place some large river rocks and old tires on the top (to press down on the cabbage), and let fermentation do its thing. These vats are about 8 feet in diameter and 6 feet tall, and the strong cabbage juices permeate the air as you approach them.
Our FDA would go nuts, but apparently, this is the way they have always done it. Have to admit that it smelled really good! (Although Frank would love to try this method, Anne says,"Don’t expect to see a big barrel of kraut in our backyard anytime soon!")
More cabbage pics from the cabbage capital of Romania: