“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Searching for Dracula in Transylvania

Last weekend was the Dracula tour. We based ourselves in the mountain resort town of Predeal and toured the regions castles. Can I just say that the Carpathian mountains are amazing!! There are the most majestic snow capped mountains with steep cliffs and run down ski lifts dotting the views. One town has a cross on one of the highest peaks, but I didn't manage to find out the story behind it. I have to romantically imagine something heroic.

Before we got there however, we visited Sigisoara, catching a downpour out in the open (never ever does it fall while we are in a museum). It had a lovely old city which we wandered, and we climbed the 172 steps (much to my companions disgust!) to the church, listened to the peaceful humns and organ, and wandered the serene cemetary behind. The church clock tower was neat, with it's odd little characters jumping outside at the chime of the bell. All Romanian towns have beautiful red tiled roofs, and the landscape from above is absolutely enchanting.

The first castle on the list was Bran castle, also known as Dracula's castle. The biggest irony is that Dracula never even lived there, and possibly, never even visited there either (though the hopeful do say that he possibly passed through on one retreat from the advancing Ottomans). Bran castle was more of a big house, that the owner decided to post on top of a high hill instead of on flat land. It doesn't have the drawbridge, and while I love the multi-level rooms and winding corridors and staircases, it was small and quite simple. Apparently this is where Bram Stoker based his novel from, but I didn't see any evidence that he'd been there either. I was instantly attracted by the idea that it would make a charming hotel (isn't that a horribly capitalist concept!!). What can I say? It had an ideal little courtyard with overlooking balconys in wood. It was oozing charm (and that is such a cliche). It was overly whitewashed, and we were guided through the castle like sheep behind enormous, obnoxious Romanian tour groups. There were ropes directing you where to go, and the desire to wander aimlessly was severely ruled out. It was a disappointment to some. Rachel and I decided to climb the hill behind the castle (foolishly thinking that the path would lead to some fantastic lookout over the castle). It led us to a lovely hill top pasture, but no view through the trees.

The second castle was in a place called Rasniov. Now this was a castle!! High atop a mountain overlooking the entire village and surrounding plains, it was in delightful ruins, but had enough civilization to allow for an ice cream and beer botique (that combination is common in Romania). There were rooms left open for the elements, as well as a museum with frightening-looking torture and detention equipment. I even found a stable with donkey poop everywhere just to ensure I never left the Romanian reality. They had a skeleton in the floor that make the Romanian children shriek, as well as the fairground-type put your face in a painting for the obligatory 2 euro. We spent an entire afternoon there, and explored the little pathways up and down the hill because our tour bus didn't realize there was a closer parking lot!

That evening, we watching disco lights, shooting stars and two randomly grazing white horses from our hotel balcony and discussed the problems of ourselves and the world. It was very romantic, and I'm not sure if I'm glad or not that it wasn't winter.

The next day we promoted ourselves to the 19th Century and visiting the spectacular Peles castle. The tour there was even more restrictive (not even any photographs allowed on this one!) but seeing the inside was utterly worth it. It was such an amazing inside, although I can't decide if the owners had fantastic taste or ostentatious spending habits. Rooms of wood, weapons and wilderness pictures (the queen wanted paintings of her poetry, so naked nymphs cover one room's walls!). We were a bit disappointed that we saw only one wing, but considering you have to wear these silly slippers to cover your shoes (that never fit and never match), perhaps it is decent of them to make you put them on only once considering the many entrances. It was in such a superb locations, in the rolling forested hills at the carpathian foothills (with a stupendous view of course). There was a quaint little hunting lodge (of course, still bigger than most mansions) of the son of the Romanian king of the time. Queen Marie had her way with this place, and I must say she likes pastel and awful lot, though the gold room of leaves is just surreal.

We ended the weekend with Brasov (actually, it was technically our second visit there), where we experienced the most instantaneous change of weather (sunshine, two drops, then a litteral second before an enormous rainfall). They had a charming square with the necessary church (which of course was shut!) and a lovely pedestrian street (being repaved of course--they seem to be doing that in every Romanian city). We wandered, people-watched, listened to the music festiva for a bit, caught up on email (bringing us back to the 21st century reality), and ate some delicious food.

A great weekend.


Rama said...

ahhh Vlad Tepes. I am green right now, Nat... GREEN. grr.

I don't believe Stoker ever left the British Isles. He wrote the whole setting based on info he got from books and acquaintances' recollections.

Rama said...

And torture impliments!! My favorite subject!! I think Bran Castle is supposed to be haunted (or one of the Dracula castles are)... you are now required to take me there someday.

Natalya said...

You need to come now, because I'm unlikely to pass this way twice!