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One thousand kilometers of solitude

The journey within

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. - Jesus Prayer

Day one
I woke up early, as I intended to see how the city woke up slowly, under the first rays of sun and then how it started to vibrate with life. I was longing to climb the mountains, I was feeling the pressure of the city choking me. The backpack was waiting for me, I used to have it prepared the whole week, so that looking at it, the time seemed to pass faster.
And so I took the road beaten so many times and I didn't stop until I reached Magura. As the winding road was opening up in front of the car and climbing steeply through the heart of the forest, I felt how the worries are left behind and how I was entering the realm of the endless childhood.
Summer in the mountains. Neither too warm, nor too cold, it smells like freshly cut hay, a pale of wind is blowing softly, the mountain has a bright green color - here the scourging heat that transforms the green in yellow is unknown. I stop next to the mountain rapid, I wash my hands and my face and I can hardly have enough of its crystal-clear water and its soft whisper that seems to tell me something.
I go to and fro, I enjoy this space that seems to be dilating in all directions, across green valleys, to the mountain peaks and beyond into the blue sky. The villagers are full of joy and energy, for them it seems that each new day is a new beginning, the freshness of this world mirrors in their reddish, bright and smiling faces. I don't remember ever seeing them worried, overwhelmed, no matter how harsh the mountain life is.
Yet, with every step I take, I feel the wrestle inside of me. I left the city to also leave behind my worries and absorb a bit of the peace from this little mountain village. And yet, I still feel a kind of uncertainty and restlessness ....

Soon it's getting dark and I start thinking where to spend the night. I have the tent with me, so I could camp anywhere around. Suddenly my mind flies to Pitesti, the town of my childhood, so I decide to go to my grandparents. The car swallows again mile after mile, a summer rain starts and ends abruptly leaving behind a perfume of fresh grass. I stop to take a photo of the sunset and I realize that once the evening is falling, I feel somewhat more relaxed. What am I looking for, what am I waiting for ?
After the Rucar-Bran valley the old Campulung follows, with its cozy medieval streets in the old center. But I don't stop, as I'm in a hurry. Finally I reach Pitesti, my grandparents are glad to see me, we eat and talk, drink homemade wine, I feel I'm still ten years old and I'm just back from the play with the neighbors' kids. Tired after a full day, I sleep without dreams.

Cotmeana Monastery
Cotmeana Monastery
Cotmeana Monastery
Cotmeana Monastery
Sunset in Rucar-Bran valley
Rucar-Bran valley
Day two
I leave early prepared to return to Magura, but a thought occurs to me, so I take a U-turn towards Ramnicu-Valcea. My soul is searching again for something and I don't know what. On the Black Hill I see a traffic sign indicating the Cotmeana Monastery. I head towards it. The monastery is a jewel erected in the 14th century, thus among the oldest in the country. It seems so fragile and yet it defied over six centuries of history. It's like a clear well for my thirsty soul. I hang around a little while, thinking to spend the night here, but finally I decide to continue the journey.
I leave Ramnicu-Valcea behind, the street traverses hillocks dotted with hamlets and villages, I see horse-driven carts full with hay, joyful villagers taking their horses by the harness and at my right side I see the wonderful Capatanii Range like a wall on the deep blue background of the sky. I enter Barbatesti village and I take the right turn right ahead to the mountains.
The start of a journey
The start of a journey
Forest in Buila Range
Path to Patrunsa Monastery
Buila Range
Buila Range

And as I go ahead without a certain target and my heart is beating fast, I realize I actually take a journey within myself, towards places where only I can go to. And I understand I've chosen the mountains since only they climb courageously towards the sky, where people are closer to God.
I'm on an unpaved road, I leave behind the last houses in the village, I see less and less people. The road takes me to the heart of the forest, along a mountain rapid that comes down from the peaks. I drive the car up to a steep climb, which starts near a colorful triptych typical for this region. There, a monk with a long beard tells me to climb. So I climb, carrying the backpack and the tent, on paths that lead to the Patrunsa monastery.
I pass by a group of donkeys that carry food to the monastery. From place to place, the thick forest makes place to a little clearing, where I rest a bit. The climb is less steep now and in about an hour and a half I see the clearing where the monastery lies. I pass by the monks' cells - little wooden houses spreaded across hillocks surrounding the two churches. The old church was built around 1740 and the new one is still under work.
I'm welcomed with warmth, I'm offered food and drink, then the father superior asks me if I want to spend the night here. I hesitate, thinking about the tent, but I finally accept and I am given a small room in a cell. I leave the backpack here and I start to explore the surroundings. These places, which I visited a few years back, seem unchanged. I lie on the tall, thick grass. A summer rain starts, with a hand I touch my face wet not with rain, but with tears. The gift of the tears. The journey towards my soul has reached its target. The worries are far behind me, in the plains. I feel free as a bird.
Buila range
Buila range, Patrunsa Monastery cells
Buila range
Buila range
Buila range
Buila range

The evening comes, I get up from the wet grass which smells even more intense after the rain and I go to the service in the old church. I am the only traveler, the others are all monks. After the service I exchange a few words with some of them. A young, tall and very talkative monk is the caretaker of the small library, which he proudly shows to me. He also shows me the solar panel, good enough to keep a bulb on the whole night long. I understand that life here means a lot of sacrifice through fasting, prayer and many deprivations. Up here they have no running water. In the summer they can wash into the well. In the winter each monk boils the water on the bonfire, in his own cell. They don't have neither gas nor electricity. For the lighting they use old oil lamps and they cook the food on the bonfire. Every day there's a lot of work, either at the vegetable garden or taking care of the cattle and sheep. In the evening they milk the cows, in the morning they collect the hens' eggs. During the day they cut off the grass and the surplus is kept for the winter. The small community is self-sustained.
When I get back to the cell, I notice I have a guest: an 86 old man, Dumitru, skinny, with a long white beard, he can barely talk. He hiked his way up here, just like me, from Barbatesti. He has been looking for a monastery, he says the monks from the city didn't want him there, as he is too old. So he climbed the mountain, where he has been given the cell for pilgrims and he hopes to be fully accepted here, so he can end his life closer to God. The monks are harsh men from the mountain, used to tough lives, they talk little and concise, but their hearts are warm as the freshly baked bread. They accepted Dumitru among them.
Carta Cistercian monastery
Carta Cistercian monastery
Carta Cistercian monastery
Carta Cistercian monastery
Day three
I leave the mountain, though I would have liked to spend an eternity there. I know I would return, for now I've ended an important journey which has enlightened my soul and I understand we live on the earth with the aim of traveling into Heaven. But before we reach that goal, we need the journey within ourselves, to our own depths.
I cross the woods, I get into the car and drive to Sibiu. I visit the historic center, the Grand Square is full of parents and they playful kids, the atmosphere is festive. I leave Sibiu behind and head towards Brasov in order to reach Magura this evening.
The villages pass left and right as the car speeds up and suddenly I see the traffic sign to Carta village. I know so many things about this place but I've never been here, so without any hesitation, I turn the steering wheel and enter the village. A light summer rain starts and it soon becomes heavy. I stop in front of the ancient Cistercian abbey, where the history of Gothic art in Transylvania started. Even in this state, forgotten by everybody, left for centuries in ruin, it doesn't cease to impress.
I enter the courtyard, I walk among the ruins - nobody. Finally I see a young Saxon lady working in the garden. She excuses herself, enters the little house, neat and clean in pure German spirit, and comes back after leaving the gardening tools aside. She tells me a few words about the construction started at the beginning of the 13th century by Cistercian monks brought from France by the French wife of the Hungarian king - so she says as I am absorbed slowly by the legend - then about how the monastery was destroyed by the Tartar invasion of 1241 and how the local Saxon community took over the remains.
The clouds above and the summer rain enhance the sensation of a fairy-tale.
Part of the church nave is intact and still used for services. Indeed, I can see the Psalm books open, small rugs on the wooden benches, flowers in flowerpots.

I leave this magic place and hurry to Magura, where I stop the car as the sun is setting - looking at the board I read exactly 1000 kilometers from the beginning of this trip.
I climb my dear hillock. Piatra Craiului range lifts its shoulders to the sky, the sun sets just behind it, at the opposite side Bucegi range goes to bed. I also go to bed and dream the new journey that is going to start at dawn.
Carta cistercian monastery
Carta Cistercian monastery
Prahova valley
The journey home

Sorin-Alexandru Cristescu, April 2009


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