My main draw for coming to Romania?
The lore of Count Dracula in Transylvania!
Who is the man that one of the world’s most classic horror villains is based upon? What makes Transylvania synonymous with the name ‘Dracula’? What’s his castle like? And why am I so intrigued?? It’s my opportunity to investigate and explore the mythos surrounding everything about the Count. But first, I must find a way to travel there–to the populous nearest Dracula’s castle; a city called Brașov.
I took an empty train from Bucharest, just a few hours slightly northwest into the Transylvania region and soon found myself in Brașov . Navigation towards the city center was simple and I was fascinated as soon as I saw the modern-medieval inspired square. These days, cities are far and few between that actually impress me, but this one captured me almost instantly. I was diggin’ the old-timey, yet simplistic feel.
I checked into Centrum Hostel, a comfy accommodation in the middle of the square, equipped with the fastest wifi I’ve encountered so far on this Quest to the Seven Continents. On a side-note, did you know that Romania has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world? Anyway, while there I looked into ways of getting to Dracula’s castle which I found out is actually called Bran Castle, which is in the immediate vicinity of Braşov. Upon further research, I discovered that Bran Castle is more closely associated with a historical figure referred to as Vlad the Impaler. It’s suggested that Bran Castle was the setting for Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula novel. Still, I needed to see the legendary castle for myself. Also, how does this Vlad guy relate to the dreaded Count himself?
I asked the receptionists at the front desk of the hostel about Bran Castle and if they offered anyway to get there. It just so happened that there were three people before me who booked a private transfer there for tomorrow morning. They had space for one more if I were interested. I was very interested.
During the day, I met two other backpackers: Clay, a peace corp volunteer from the US, here in Romania for a short holiday and Ermeline, a student from France who was studying abroad in Cluj, also here in Braşov on a holiday. We became buddies and acquainted ourselves during the day. It was during that time we realized that we were all going to Dracula’s Castle on the same private transfer. It was fate!
The morning was brisk. A light snow fell as I met the others in the reception lobby. The weather was not in our favor. I didn’t expect it to be so cold, but then again I didn’t expect to be here in Romania in the first place. I was unprepared because I left most of my warm clothes back in Nepal at Yam’s place. No worries. Our driver arrived and escorted us to his vehicle and off we went!
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew with experiences like these, they never are truly what I would expect. Everything is so touristy nowadays that it’s almost impossible to have that complete bona fide experience. I imagined a giant, lone castle shrouded in a dim forest. The outside of the castle would appear striking and postcard worthy, but the inside would bring about a sense of something ominous. Creaking doors, hidden chambers, and cobwebs in every corner and it would only be us inside to investigate and explore. This was what I wanted, but I knew that real-life would present me with something drastically different. We drove up to the outer gates of Bran Castle, with about an hour to spare before we had to rendezvous back with our friendly driver.
Snow continued to mellow down as we made our way up towards the gate entrance. I couldn’t see the castle yet, but I definitely saw lots of tourists lined up to purchase their entry tickets. For a few extra Romanian leu’s, you could opt for a guided tour. Psshh! We decided not to, as to explore on our own accord. I will admit that the amount of tourists I saw was discouraging. This was about to be touristy as all heck.
We walked up the stone path towards Bran’s Castle, until eventually you could see it in all its glory, as well as a third of it covered from being under construction. Not as menacing as I had imagined, but still a cool looking piece of architecture.
Before I dive into what I found inside the castle, I should mention that I have recently read Bram Stoker’s original novel Dracula, so I feel that I am completely familiar with aspects of the story and the description of the castle from the book. I’m aware that the author has never been to this castle, or Transylvania in general, but some would declare that he used Bran Castle as the home of Dracula, based upon the author’s extensive research of Romania. What I didn’t know at the time was whether Dracula was real or not. Now of course he wasn’t a vampire, but I wasn’t sure if the actual lore was based on anything factual? Because why else is Dracula so synonymous with Transylvania? I should soon find out.
The interior was a lot smaller than I expected. As a matter of fact, the inside of the castle didn’t feel like a castle at all. No stone walls or stone floors. Instead, white-washed walls and wooden floors, done up to feel more like a museum, with artifacts here, decrees of narratives and descriptions there, and many notions toward that Vlad the Impaler character I mentioned earlier. Who is this guy?
Based on what I got out of it, the character of Dracula is loosely based on the nonfictional figure Vlad III. He was the prince of Wallachia during the mid 1400’s who had a knack for impaling his prisoners on giant wooden stakes. A thirst for bloody satisfaction, he earned the nickname “The Impaler”. The name “Dracula” came from his father Vlad Dracul. The former would even sign letters as “Dragulya” or “Drakulya”. According to Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula by Kurt W. Treptow, Dracula is the Slavonic genitive form of Dracul, meaning “the son of Dracul (or the Dragon)”. In modern Romanian, dracul means “the devil”, which contributed to Vlad’s bad reputation. Rumors began to swirl through the empire that Vlad’s terror of torture likened him to sometimes drink his victims blood. Pretty horrific, but it explains where the whole Dracula inspiration came from.
We left the
museum castle a little less than enthused, back into the flurries of the late winter. Bran Castle is nothing how I imagined. Still cool though. If only I could explore it on my own, maybe with Clay and Ermeline, at dusk during a thunderstorm. If only…
The day wasn’t over yet, however. Our driver took us a few minutes drive to the Râșnov Citadel, which is also in the immediate vicinity of Brașov.
The Citadel, which I knew nothing about, had more of that genuine feel that I was looking for. An entire ragtag village, a very small one, surrounded by high walls on a hill and and a mythical well in the center. You could see Brașov from a distance when standing on the highest point of the hill. The Citadel was cool! Bran Castle, meh. Still I had hopes for my Transylvanian exploration because apparently the lore of Count Dracula and also Vlad The Impaler, is dispersed throughout Transylvania; in other castles, towns, and villages.
As for Brașov itself, Clay, Ermeline and I made an effort to make the best of our stay, explore a bit and cook our own dinner. They cooked while I supplied the wine and cheese.
Both Clay and Ermeline were independently backpacking through the country and had plans to travel westward towards popular towns and cities. Since I had no plans, I decided to join them through several stops in Transylvania, all the way up to Cluj. And just like that, they became my travel companions for Romania. What else does this country have to offer? I was eager to find out!