Romania, Traveling

Autumn in Ciocanesti [EN]

[RO] Versiunea in romana poate fi citita aici.


Ciocanesti, Romania

I leave at 10:00 a.m. from Happy Inn, Vatra Dornei. The Eurotello minibus goes towards Ciocanesti at 10:50. After I buy a mini-pizza si a soft cheese croissant from a small bakery, I take the scenic route through the marketplace to get to the bus station.


Vatra Dornei and Bistrita that passes through the town.

While waiting for my minibus, I look at the interesting people around. An old, swarthy looking man, with a fawn hat, is shaking from head to toe with old age. A middle aged woman has come with her bicycle to wait for a package from her sister in Piatra-Neamt (my hometown). After a conversation with her I understand that she is from Borca, but is now settled in Vatra Dornei.

‘If you’ve read Baltagul, that is where Nechifor Lipan was murdered by the shepherds.’ she tells me, reminding me of the bitter-sweet school bibliography.

‘Yes, I remember going past there with my dad yesterday.’ I tell myself.

A lady with an impeccable romanian accent tells me, with her hands behind her back, that she doesn’t know whether the bus schedule is correct. ‘I was just walking around.’ she tells me, while pushing a pair of glasses on her nose. A young lady, possibly my age, points at the information office. ‘The jacket she’s wearing seems to thick for autumn.’ I think to myself. The bus station shade, however, has formed a freezer for the patient travellers.


Patient ladies at Vatra Dornei bus station.

I enter the information office, where three men are speaking loudly. They are dressed in greys and navy blues, with their cheeks streaked by both frost and sun. Their boss, a gentleman with a bold look about him and with his teeth thinned from tobacco, tells me that the schedule written on the panels is correct.

I wait on a wooden bench in front of a minibus that says Carlibaba. A granny with a floral head scarf climbs into the bus, although the driver is away. I take a closer look and notice a suspended hat, on top of one of the seats on the minibus. It belongs to an old gentleman who had the same idea as the granny. I get into the minibus as well and say hello.

A few minutes later a nun appears and sits next to me. ‘Where are you going sister?’ ‘To Ciocanesti.’ ‘Is there a monastery there?’ I ask. ‘There is one at Mestecanis. It’s easier to get there through the valley than over the hills.’

The minibus starts and after 30 minutes we arrive at a crossroads. One path leads to Mestecanis and another to Ciocanesti. I get off at the same time as the nun and another old lady with a head scarf. It seems that all the respectable ladies here wear floral head scarfs. Now I understand where my grandmother got this “fashion” from.

On my left I see a little meadow, with a cow grazing in it. Bistrita flows gently nearby, small, but brave. After a short visit to the river I start my walk through Ciocanesti. A lady in her early sixties stands behind her gate with curiosity. ‘Good morning! Is this the right road to the village?’, ‘Yes, straight ahead! I heard you coming from afar, your trousers make a squeaky noise.’ she tells me, while admiring my mountain attire. I take a photo of her and carry on.


A cow grazing next to Bistrita.


The lady at the gate.

Scattered houses on scythe mowed hills and valleys are guarded by short wooden fences. Here and there one can see a golden or dark horse, with slick hair shining in the sun’s caress. Although it’s 12:00, the sun seems to be setting in Ciocanesti valley. Large haystacks with thinned out tops await with dignity in pine wood pot pegs.


Scattered houses on hills and valleys.


Large haystacks with thinned out tops await with dignity in pine wood pot pegs.


A haystack gazing at the hills.

White houses, with national motifs painted in various shapes, start appearing, one more beautiful than the other. They resemble boys and girls in festive attire. Weary from walking, I sit on a bench in the yard of the village museum. This is where the famous painted eggs museum resides in Ciocanesti. A couple comes to visit the museum with their newborn child. The museum is closed.

‘We have to call here as well.’ the mother says plainly.


Traditional house from Ciocanesti.


One of the locals passing by a village house.


One of the styles of house decorations.

I idly stare towards the far away mountains. The statue of Stephen the Great looks back at me from the middle of the yard.

‘I wonder what the link is between the medieval ruler and this place.’ I ask myself.

A tall young lady, with long, black hair, enters the yard and opens the door to the museum. I reckon she is from one of the nearby towns, as she is so elegantly dressed. I follow her and the family that called the museum. Our guide takes us to a large room, full of painted eggs. All of the eggs are decorated either by the ‘galos’ (a mixture of tinctures) submerging method or by the coloured wax method. None of the egg designs resemble each other and this is because the housewives don’t have a manual for their models. Their imagination creates new designs every year.


Ciocanesti eggs, painted with the coloured wax method.


Eggs painted by children for a village competition.


Winning egg designs for a competition and the newborn baby sleeping


Ciocanesti egg, painted by the ‘galos’ submerging method.

Our lady tells us the local legend, of how Stephen the Great used to bring his army to Ciocanesti before a battle. Here the soldiers would repair their swords and armour, in preparation for the ottoman invasion. These facts explain the ruler’s presence in the front yard and the name of the village (Ciocanesti is like ‘ciocan’, meaning hammer in romanian).  Ciocanesti is the smallest community in Suceava county, but it is very united, especially around feast days.

The trout festival, on the village feast day (The dormition of the Mother of God on 15th of August), Easter and Christmas take grandma’s dowry out of her chest. People dressed in national clothing go rafting, paint eggs, ride strong horses, ornated in the colours of the romanian flag (red, yellow and blue).

The young lady recommends that I visit the Holy Cross hermitage, 7 km away from the main road. I would have to walk that distance through a pine and beech wood forest. A group of children come in and say hello, next to a short school teacher. Our lady shows them how eggs are painted and then joins the children in a happy birthday song for Ionel, one of the boys from the group.


The young lady explains egg painting to the youngsters.

I leave with a heart full of joy. I walk for a while longer on the main road until I see a grand inn. ‘Ah, it would have been good to spend the night here.’ I think to myself. I eat a “ciorba radauteana” with sour cream and garlic (traditional chicken soup from Ardeal/Transilvania). That fills me up so well that I take the second course I ordered for the road: “Ne dati ori nu ne dati, fasole cu carnati!” (Verse from an old carol asking for sausages and beans).

I walk through the village a while longer and suddenly spot the sign towards the hermitage. It’s 14:00, I hope to get there and back while there is still daylight. I turn left, towards the hermitage and after a few minutes I come across three monks trying to lift a tree trunk. Further up I can see their monastery, under the patronage of St. Stephen the Great. ‘Don’t take a photo of us, we’re not that handsome.’ the abbot replies after I ask him for a photo.

‘Am I allowed to go to the hermitage?’ I ask.

‘Well why wouldn’t you be allowed?’ the abbot says, slightly confused.

One of the monks signals to him, trying to clarify my question. Some monasteries are stricter than others.

‘I was just wondering.’ I say with a smile.

‘Just be careful, there are 6 km to the church.’ the abbot continues.

I thank the monks and go further. After five minutes I meet two children of 5-6 years of age, a brother and his sister. I ask the boy if this is the right path to the hermitage. He replies that it is and that there are only 3 km left. I smile and carry on. The road to God is shorter for children than it is for grown ups.


The road to the Holy Cross hermitage, amongst the pine trees.

The grey pine tree forest grows in front of me. The strong scent of pine wood makes me dizzy. ‘Lord, it’s so beautiful here!’ By the side of the road I find a small well inside a tree trunk, with a tiny cup on top of a stick. The soft, green and moist moss mixes gently with the sorrel I used to eat from my grandmother’s “sipot” (water source) as a little girl. I take a sip of cold water and move on.


The well inside the tree trunk.

Suddenly I see a few logs by the roadside. The forest is cut down in a few parts. My heart breaks as I see the desolate flight of crows. I walk a few more steps until I reach a sign towards the hermitage at a crossroads. There are 3 km left, ah, good, but I have walked on plane ground so far. The climb begins now. It’s harder to ascend than to descend. The pine trees, however, start sharing the forest with beech and birch trees in a most surprising manner.


Pine and beech tree forest.


The king of beech trees.

The climb gives me vertigo, I feel my backpack pulling me down, but I tell myself this is Calvary and I need to carry my cross all the way up. I reach the top of the hills at 16:30, with the sun slowly setting over the valley. A part of me fears that night might catch me alone in the forest. I wonder whether to ask the abbot to host me at the hermitage for the night.

A 4×4 car reaches the church gate at the same time as me. ‘Are you from the monastery?’ I ask wearily, hoping I didn’t come here in vain.

‘No, we’re just visiting.’ the driver tells me and then gets back in the car, where his wife is waiting.

The car reverses and drives towards the only other visible house on the platou, besides the hermitage. I try to enter through the gate, when I see three dogs running towards me. They greet me with barking noises and I step away, remembering a bite I experienced in my childhood. I sit down next to the gate, with the dogs barking on the other side.


The main security dog at the hermitage.

I wait without knowing what I’m waiting for. I get up and notice a short man in the church yard, his beard is reddish and he is dressed like a sportsman. His track suit is stained with white paint.

‘Good afternoon!’ I shout over the dog barks. ‘I came to see the hermitage church.’

He approaches with hesitation and tells me to come in. After I enter the yard, the dogs stop their protests for a moment. The gentleman stretches out a strong hand, also stained with paint. He has inquisitive, blue eyes. He is the abbot of the Holy Cross hermitage, a practical man, hard working and full of grace.

‘Gheorghe Zaharia, you can find me on Facebook.’ he tells me after a while. ‘My mum has the key.’ He then takes out his phone and asks his mother to come and unlock the church door. The lady comes quickly, without uttering a word. I enter the church and am greeted with warmth by the saints, with their loving eyes peering through this small Heaven on earth. It’s dark in here, but this is only the shadow of a happiness that looks towards the sun.


The Holy Cross hermitage church.


The dome of saints.


The shadow of a happiness that looks towards the sun.

After I pray at the holy icons, I go to write a commemoration list. I hand it to the abbot’s mother, who has just spared a few tears for her loved ones, hidden behind the candle table. I dare not ask whether they have a room for me tonight. I feel I have interrupted the solitude of this place.

I walk towards the gate, guided by the abbot’s mother. She is a meek woman, short of speech and stature, dressed modestly, but of a deep inner silence. ‘Do you think I can get to the village before dark?’ I ask wavering.

‘Yes, you’ll get to the village centre in half an hour.’ she encourages me.


The valley with beech and pine trees in front of the hermitage.

I glance once more towards the valley of pine and beech trees. The ash greens and golden reds meet in a solemn kiss over the hills. I brace myself and start walking slowly towards the village. The sun seems to have stopped, his sunlight still touching the top of the trees. In about an hour and a half darkness will reign over the valley. I have climbed for three hours, but I’m hoping to be quicker on the way down. I don’t think I’ll make it in 30 minutes, but quick enough for me to avoid being stranded here in the shadow of the night.

God, the forest is so beautiful! And the silence is so sweet! Nothing has bothered me, but then I reach the deforestation area. Two young lads, strapped with thick leather belts are filling their carts with logs. On my left I can now see a hill with tree stumps, a hill in mourning. I know that many people in Dorna valley live from woodcutting, but we should be more discerning of what we can borrow from nature. I go past them and bid them good afternoon. Their large horses are decorated with red laces.

After about 10 minutes I hear the carts coming from behind. The first one goes past me, but the second one stops just in front of me.

‘Good evening! It’s a long way into the village. Do you want a lift?’ the young lad asks me, who, in fact, is about 40 years old. The fresh mountain air makes people look younger.

Glad that I get to ride in a horse driven cart, I forget about logs and deforestation. This is how I meet Ghita, from Izvoarele Sucevei. He tells me that he came to Ciocanesti, where his wife lives, after they got married.

‘I hope people don’t start talking about you giving me a lift.’ I say, half joking and half serious.

‘Let them talk.’ Ghita replies with the calm specific to people from the countryside.

I reach the village and there is still daylight! Sadly there are no buses running towards Vatra Dornei at this hour. I thank the man and horse and then walk slowly towards the other end of Ciocanesti. I go towards Iacobeni, whose balad I have found in a poem written by Gheorghe Vicol, called The Legend of the Iacobeni People. The sun has set, but its last rays are still illuminating the street, where I stand waiting for yet another miracle.

This is the second time in my life when I need to hitchhike. The first time was towards Petru Voda monastery, a few years ago. Half an hour goes past and not one driver takes pity on me. The street lamps light up.

A man in his 40s stops an old car in front of me. Amazed and grateful, I get in. This is how I meet Costel, a traveller like me, who’s listening to french hip hop. ‘Our singers don’t know how to sing.’ he tells me sarcastically.

After a conversation about travelling, Europe, music and mountains we reach Vatra Dornei safely. I am exhausted, with blisters on my blisters and can’t wait for sweet slumber. God, what a day! I wonder what tomorrow will bring!


The road to God is shorter for children than it is for grown ups.


One thought on “Autumn in Ciocanesti [EN]

  1. Pingback: Toamna in Ciocanesti [RO] | Anamaria Ciucanu

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