Sucevita is the largest of Bucovina's monasteries.
As we approached her entrance, it was shrouded in a magical fog of mystery.
Which we quickly realized was their preparation for an ever increasing flow of tourists.
A sister was in charge, and after issuing some instructions to the workers, promptly fled from our cameras.
The fortress legacy of these mountain monasteries is nowhere clearer than inside and outside the massive walls at Sucevita.
On the side of Sucevita's church is one of our favorite frescoes in the whole world.
The ladder of virtues shows the perilous path that faithful followers must tread to reach heaven.
Each rung has its corresponding morality. Angels on one side whisper scripture in the ears of heaven-seeking souls.
While angels on the other side wage battle against demons who trick weak victims from the true path.
Finally, those who stayed the course receive their heavenly door prize.
Despite their relative affluence and stronger defenses, Sucevita has suffered the same degradation of their frescoes from sun and vandalism that others have.
This figure, though, reminded us of the personality erasure of Queen Hatshepsut's temple in Luxor, Egypt.
Whether because of its later building dates (1582-1601), or because it is the one monastery no tourist bus would miss, they seem to have some of the most affluent accoutrements of any of the painted monasteries.
Their dining hall seems prepared to serve elegant state meals at a moments notice.
Their museum offers a glimpse of their rich, gold embroidered heritage. Like the church itself, photographs inside were not allowed in 1999 and 2002.
Tourism is so strong, the hotels vie for patrons. This one advertises so many services in 'icon speech,' we don't know what half of them are.
Those tourists crowd through as the sisters attempt to maintain a lifestyle of retreat.
So an uneasy truce reigns -- with the inside frescoes off limits to cameras, scores of tourists such as ourselves are on the look out for interesting sister photos.
But they are reclusive -- perhaps more so here than elsewhere.
Which again shows why it is always best to travel with locals.
In 1999, we had the pleasure of visiting with Sandy, Kathleen's old Romanian tutor, who knew one of the sisters. She let us sneak up the restoration scaffolding, where we had time alone with the church's central, frescoed figure.
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