July 19. I awoke and headed to Mănăstirea Neamț. It was early, 8:30am, but there was already a mass underway in the fortified church. I donned long pants, long sleeves, and a scarf, and entered the fresco-covered interior. I slowly made my way to the front where the services were being delivered. I spent the next two hours trying to follow protocol, which mostly consisted of the orthodox cross after particular pronouncements. The monks alternately spoke and sang the liturgy. It sounded sing-song, and I wasn’t sure whether it was Hungarian, Romanian, or Latin. But the words sounded sacred, and it was the most religious I’d felt on my trip. At some point, in fear of collapsing, I deftly backed out, crossing myself at each doorway. I hadn’t eaten and had slept poorly, so it wasn’t too surprising. My mind was altered as I exited the ancient hall and walked around the grounds. With my usual curiosity, I walked down what looked like abandoned corridors and peeked into storage rooms. Like most monasteries, this one had been built outside inhabited regions. Mănăstirea Neamț had immense tracts of land for pasture and crops, orchards (apple and pear), vineyards, and forest lands. I’d come upon four wells, but there may have been more. They had probably been self-sustaining, and perhaps still were. There was probably a mill in the vicinity.
I entered the large round tower of a library just outside the walled enclosure and found a plant-based salve for psoriosis. They make all their own unguents, tinctures, and salves, and a closer inspection of the list of the ingredients revealed that they were exactly what I would have put in. A monk named Tony introduced himself and asked where I was from. I cringed a bit as I admitted the US, at which point he asked me what I thought of Trump and Obama. I extolled Obama’s virtues and pointed out Trump’s scary tendencies. He gave me a big grin and said, ‘Obama was for gays. Trump is for family. He’s normal.’ I wondered in what universe Trump could be normal. If that was normal, I was scared. I had no more to say. I smiled and we bid one another farewell.
I drove out toward the main road, and decided to stop at the botanical garden. It turned out to be more like a zoo. A brown bear was in a cage much too small, and I felt sorry for it, especially on such a hot day. I had mostly wanted to see the European bison. There was some kind of program to reintroduce them into this part of Romania. I remembered reading that the last bison in Europe lived in a national park in eastern Poland on the Bielarus border. The bison were lolling about under the shade, clustered together. There were a few interesting birds, but not much else. With that I left for Lake Bicaz. The drive to the largest reservoir in Europe was very pretty. I was driving through Vanatori Neamt Natural Park, which was lovely. In 1970, 3 bison from the Polish reserve were moved there, and now there are 28. There are many monasteries and a stronghold, as well as oak and pine groves. I regret not stopping.
I was feeling pressed and wanted to see Ceahlāu, a small town on the west side of the Lake Bicaz. I discovered that the small village backs up onto a dramatic mountain range which dominates Ceahlāu National Park. As usual, gypsies waved their wares (this time wild plums and raspberries), but I was going too fast to stop. I wish there was a market where I could go for wild-harvested fruits, nuts, and mushrooms. Like the weekly markets in southern France, where each town had a street market on a different day of the week, so you could happily shop for fresh food every day. Romania may be wealthy in natural resources, but people are more in survival mode than in France. So fresh food is not top priority. It seems that pork sausage is the most popular food here, followed by ciorba (a watery soup) with tripe. The only food I’ve eaten here is goulash, which is a Hungarian soup. I reached Ceahlāu and drove to the end of the road, which ended in the lake. There was a small cafe and I inquired about food. I was told there was a kind of ground meat that could be grilled. That was it. A 10 year old brainy kid was running the bar. He was the bartender, was fixing a broken sim card slot on someone’s phone, and helping me find out how far it was to Lacu Rošu (Killer Lake). He also told me about their rooms, and showed me the facilities upstairs. It was a hot day, about 90 F, and they didn’t have fans, let alone A/C.
I’d thought about stopping somewhere in Ceahlāu for the night to rest. But I continued to be ansy, and ended up bidding him farewell and driving up toward the mountains away from the lake. That’s how I stumbled on the national park. I parked and walked up a trail till I was walking in the shade along the bubbling stream. I veered off and found a pool of water in a meadow area. And looking more carefully, I discovered that it was bubbling. Intermittently, sometimes more than usual, but it was definitely effervescent. I took a short video, then walked on, straight up the mountain, and came out at a road. I didn’t want to walk where there were cars. The whole time I’ve been in Romania, I haven’t seen one trail. They aren’t well-marked, in any case, not like the grandes randonnées of France or the Wanderweg of Austria, Germany, or Switzerland. But I really wanted to be out in nature for a while. Discouraged, I headed back to my car, and drove the long way around the eastern shore of Lake Bicaz to the southern end, where I crossed the colossal dam and headed toward Lacu Rošu.
Driving around the lake was spectacular. A theme running through this is that I was too stressed to enjoy it, and would end up behind a slow poke or being tail-gated by a speedster. Time to meditate. I reached the giant rock entrance that reminded me of the narrow granite canyon entrance to Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks, and decided to get out and walk. Many people were doing this, and as there aren’t trails, the road must suffice. There were 20 or so trinket booths lining the road, something I wasn’t used to. And a lot of trash. A few long-distance bicyclists braved the roads, something I wouldn’t do. Watching how Romanians drive, I wouldn’t trust them with the metal armor of a car. Disappointed, I drove on to the anti-climatic lake, which looked like a small pond encircled with touristic placards and more garbage. I wouldn’t pass up the chance to walk a bit, and strolled along the lake edge for 15 minutes or so, appalled at all the trash. I guess national park means dump your rubbish here. A desperate home-owner was trying to convince me to stay near the lake for the night. I couldn’t wait to escape the filth, and declined.
I drove down the mountain, looking for a probable camp site, but didn’t see one. I drove into the town of Gheorgheni at the base of the mountain. It looked pretty shabby, the main square lined with dilapidated ruins from the times of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. I found a cafe, and the young woman working was very kind and let me use her WIFI to call an apartment that had been recommended to me. The guy who answered didn’t understand me, and I handed her the phone and asked her to ask him in Hungarian about a place to stay. Apparently he didn’t understand her either, and she ended up apologizing to him and hanging up. She works at the impressive technical college in statistics and math. I wondered what she was doing at the coffee shop. She said she was helping her friends out who owned it. On the way back to the car a gypsy woman asked me for money. It seemed a bit sketchy as it got dark, and I hurried to my car and drove back toward the lake. I needed to find a place to sleep.
I found a small village and drove up a short drive, trying to be very quiet. In the morning I found that I was next to a shed and behind a gated yard and house. Needless to say I slept in the car. I was desperate.