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driving tour of Moldavia

We drove five hours from Chisinau, crossing an international boundary and navigating a few stretches of shoddy pavement on both sides of the border to arrive in Gura Humorului, in the heart of Romania’s Bucovina region. It seemed like a lot of distance to cover with an infant, but in the grand scheme of things we hardly left at all. In fact, the bulk of our route lay through Romania’s Moldavia region, the arc of our travel tracing the vicissitudes of history in this bucolic corner of Eastern Europe.

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Established in the middle of the 14th century, the Principality of Moldavia reached the peak of its glory under Ştefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), who ruled from 1457 to 1504. His military success proved to be a major bulwark against Ottoman expansion, earning him canonization by the Romanian Orthodox Church. In the process, he expanded his rule over territory that includes most of modern-day Moldova, a large portion of western Romania, and parts of Ukraine.

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Ştefan cel Mare’s statue is Chisinau’s most emblematic monument and his likeness adorns all of Moldova’s banknotes. He is no less loved across the border. Moldavia’s most famous warlord was also incredibly devout, and he commissioned the construction of 44 elaborately painted churches and monasteries, several of which enjoy UNESCO recognition as world heritage sites. They are northwestern Romania’s main tourist draw and the reason we headed to Gura Humorului, which is an ideal hub for exploring the region.

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Interestingly, Bucovina itself also straddles modern-day international borders. Southern Bucovina lies in Romania’s northwest, while the northern part of the region belongs to Ukraine — a holdover from Soviet rule that owes to Stalin’s capricious annexations in the wake of the Second World War.

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We had done little research before arriving, choosing Bucovina as our destination because the list of places within easy driving distance of Chisinau is limited and because several of our friends had recommended it as an idyllic place that was worth a visit. In retrospect, it proved an ideal destination to explore with a young baby in tow.

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Even without the painted monasteries, Bucovina delights the eye with its countryside charm. And with Munchkin asleep in his car seat, we were all too happy to drive around and enjoy the scenery, marveling at the distinct architectural style of Bucovina’s buildings, snapping pictures of passing horse-drawn carts, and basking in the tranquility of the pastoral lifestyle. The only problem was that Munchkin would stir and register his unhappiness as soon as D slowed the car to take a picture, so we had to photograph everything on the fly.

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In addition to Bucovina’s religious and historical importance, we also sampled its cultural and artistic side. In Moldoviţa, we stopped at a painted egg museum and saw how an Easter tradition became an elaborate art form. And in Marginea, we watched artisans shape lumps of clay into the region’s distinctive black pottery.

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We enjoyed our trip so much that we had not even reached the border on our return journey before starting to plan our next visit to Romania. 

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