Mountain Exploration

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In the Bucegi Mountains

I think one of the most amazing things about the Carpathian Mountain region is that it combines both the rolling hills of Appalachia and the rugged majesty of the Rockies. During these past two months, Anne and I were able to begin our exploration of the Piatra Craiului Mountains near the town of Zărnești and the Bucegi Mountains around the town of Bușteni. These first few day hikes will hopefully only be the prequel to some longer backpacking trips in the next few weeks.

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Piatra Craiului Mountains…kinda reminds me of Appalachia

We went to Piatra Craiului, or “Rock of the King” towards the end of March with our friend Kike from Spain. As folks can tell from the pictures, there was still a good bit of snow, and about half the day it rained a cold, icy rain. Wolves, bears and and lynxes all live in the mountains, however we only saw a fox during the day. Hopefully when we go back for several days, we will have more luck. Piatra Craiului is also home to a rare alpine flower, which sadly we were also not able to see, and will probably miss because it blooms in late July or August.

Piatra Craiului Mountains Gallery

DSC08466The Bucegi mountains are some of the highest peaks around Brașov. We often looked longingly at them from the train and finally by the beginning of May, the snow had melted enough to make the trails passable without snowshoes. We were extra fortunate to go with our friend Mihai from Brașov who knows the area well.  His nephew Onu from Iași was also with us. There are several “natural attractions” in the Bucegi. One is a rock known as the “Spinx” and the other is the “Babele” or “Old Ladies.” Among the not-so-natural attractions is the “Hero’s Cross,” which is a WWI memorial  and the cable car which transports people from the town of Bușteni to the sphinx and babele. We took the cable car to the sphinx due to time and made for Vârful Omu, the highest peak in the Bucegi at 2,505 meters (that’s 8,218 feet). Sadly, we ran out of time and Onu only had shorts and low-top hiking shoes. Even though it was May, it would not have been wise to go for Omul peak without good boots. Anne and I hop to make a 2-3 day hike in June from Sinaia to Bușteni.

Bucegi Mountain Gallery

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A Sunday Walk in the Woods

The steeple of  the small wooden church rose among the pines in the Brașov high country. The sun shone through the fall leaves casting a golden glow on the forest path; all was dusted with a crisp morning snow. This is the Romania I’ve dreamed about!

We took a bus to Poiana Brașov and attended the Divine Liturgy at Sf. Ioan Botezătorul (St. John the Baptist). Poiana (which means meadow/clearing) Brașov is most well know for its ski resort and touristy attractions–such as a restaurant built like some kind of Dacian style ale-house and a hotel called “Acasa  la Dracula.” For me, the Church stands out as a witness to eternity in the midst of a temporal, shallow, and capitalist-driven consumer-culture which pervades the modern world. A hieromonk and a deacon served the Liturgy. With the chanters, they lead the Byzantine melodies and low drones, echoing the peaks and meadows surrounding the full little parish. There is something rooted and earthy, while at the same time heavenly and ethereal, in Transylvania.

The buildings of Brașov go back to the 13th century, while the iconography and music hearkens to a time when Constantinople ruled the world and the Carpathian Mountains sheltered small villages with a vibrant cultural life. The ancient, rooted, and earthy human life here is juxtaposed against the ethereal nature of the forests and mountains. It is still possible to find pockets of untouched nature here, where European bears, lynxes and wolves still exist. The only other place I’ve experienced nature like this was in Alaska, another place where time becomes timeless.

After church, we walked the roughly 4-5 mile long hike back to orașului (the town of) Brașov. We met hikers with their children and a British tourist as we made our way back home. The cyclical motion of the Church Liturgy cultivated a stillness in me as we walked. We came to one of the many troiţa, Orthodox Christian Crosses, along the path. Another reminder of the Christain history here and its Eucharistic Life. The troiţa were for me like a lâmpada lighting the Way home, literally and figuratively. After a leisurely three hour hike, we arrived home in Brașov full and ready for a new week.

Troparion of St. John the Baptist, Tone 2

The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise/ but the Lord’s testimony is enough for thee, O Forerunner,/ for thou wast shown to be more wonderful than the Prophets/ since thou wast granted to baptize in the running waters / Him Whom thou didst proclaim./ Then having endured great suffering for the Truth,/ Thou didst rejoice to bring, even to those in hell/ the good tidings that God Who had appeared in the flesh/ takes away the sin of the world/ and grants us the great mercy.