Last Saturday (March 10, 2001) four of us went to the northern part of the country to see an old monastery and a fort. It was a cool day and rain was threatening but we all decided we had spent enough time in Chisinau lately and we were eager to get out of the city. We recruited one of our intepreters' cousins as a driver and his wife as a guide. They found us a second driver and we got a prompt start.
After an hour or so of driving north on a good road we saw a sign telling us to turn onto a dirt road for the Saharna Monastery. I wasn't sure why the driver stopped to ask whether this was the road to the monastery or why the answer took so long. It turned out that while that road was the shortest route, recent rain had made it impassable. So we found another route!
The Saharna Monastery was founded in 1495. The church itself wasn't so old or impressive. Like all Orthodox churches it had lots of icons. During communist times it had been used as a store-house for a boarding school. Recently it has been renovated and new frescoes painted. None of us were sure why there was a skull and cross bones under the sign at the entrance.
Nearby was a pool of holy water that was clearly designed to dunk yourself in. They said it cured all sorts of ills. Who knows?
Across a suspension bridge and a short distance up a trail were caves where some of the first monks here had lived.
We were pleased to find some of the first flowers of spring -- little white ones shaped a bit like bells. Does anyone know what they are called?
There was also a cross on top of a steep hill nearby. A little boy, maybe eight years old, showed us the way up there. He also showed us the footprint of the Mother Mary in the rock, nicely covered with glass to protect it. He explained that a century or two ago, a monk saw this footprint in a dream and that he went to look where the dream led him and there it was.
By then we were quite hungry. But before we found a restaurant we stopped at a hill overlooking the river and we had to climb the steps to admire the view.
The fortress/castle was built in the 1500's. A very enthusiastic and proud director of the museum showed us around and told us long stories (in very good English) of the history of the fortress. He said it had an important role in keeping the Turks out of central Europe.
I was glad that someone else was driving us home to Chisinau. It had been a long day and rain had started while we were listening to the museum director. We were tired but pleased to see a different part of Moldova.