The colorful streets of Brasov were in stark contrast to the reason for our visit to the Transylvanian Mountains of Romania, Dracula’s Castle. It could also be called Romania’s biggest tourist trap and collection of tchotchke shops.
Dracula’s Castle, Transylvanian Mountains
So called Dracula’s Castle outside of Brosov is one of those required stops for all first-time visitors to Romania. Skipping it would be like going to New York City and not seeing the Empire State Building. Of course Dracula is the vampire horror story by Bram Stoker, playing off of ghostly superstitions of the walking undead, which were common in these parts of Romania.
Bram Stoker never traveled to Romania to research his book. That would have been quite a trip in the 1890’s. He did, however, immerse himself in travelogues, history and folklore of the region. It is now believed this is not the castle Bram Stoker had in mind when writing the novel. Scholars seem to think he was describing a castle near Moldavia.
The Dracula Character
The inspiration for the Dracula character is often said to be the terribly brutal Romanian leader from the 1400’s, Vlad III, son of Dracula. The last name Dracula roughly translates to Dragon. Vlad was posthumously called Vlad the Impaler. To just call him sadistic and cruel glosses over his alleged unspeakable torture techniques. He was said to impale entire towns on forests of poles stuck in the ground. A German book written about Vlad says he would drink the blood of his enemies and eat their impaled corpses. Other acts of his torture are much too shocking and grotesque for me to spring on the casual reader of a simple travel blog.
There are two sides to all accounts in history. Modern day Romanians do not necessarily see Vlad III as a cruel warrior. They feel he freed them from the Turks and brought law and order to the land. It turns out the German books were written by enemies of Vlad III and may be gross exaggerations. However, the impaling does not seem to be in question.
Bram Stoker’s personal notes regarding his book were sold by his heirs in 1912, after which they were misplaced and not subject to scholarly review until 1972. It is now thought that Bram Stoker likely never knew of Vlad III, the Impaler, since his notes never mention his name. Dracula only appears in these detailed book notes as a footnote, stating that “DRACULA in (Romanian) language means DEVIL.” The footnote explained that Romanians gave the name “Dracula” to people who were especially courageous, cruel, or cunning. Stoker apparently chose the name because of its devilish association, not because of the history and legends attached to Vlad III, son of Dracula.
So off we go to visit Dracula’s castle, a castle never visited by Bram Stoker, Vlad III or Dracula. About 600,000 people a year pay about $15 for the tour of the famed Dracula’s Castle….
Dracula’s Castle Tour
Trying to find unique artsy photos inside the castle
Of course you can buy the Dracula book in the gift shop, in several languages. It has only been available in Romania since 1990, after the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena met the firing squad on Christmas Day, 1989.
Key events of Dracula’s Castle Built in 1212
1533 – City of Brasov repossess the castle, since Hungarian King Vladislas did not repay loans on the castle.
1920 – Became the royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania.
During WWII – The castle was inherited by Princes Ileanea, who used it as a hospital for wartime bombing casualties.
1948 – Communists kicked out the royal family.
2005 – The Romanian government passed a special law allowing restitution claims on properties illegally expropriated. The castle ownership was awarded to Dominic von Habsburg, the son and heir of Princess Ileana, who reopened it as a tourist attraction.
Traffic Ticket Paid
Brosov is the nearest large town to Dracula’s Castle. We used it as a base for an easy drive to the castle. After speaking with our desk clerk at the B&B, we learned that the bogus traffic ticket we were issued driving to Brasov would double in amount from 375 lei to 750 lei if not paid within 48 hours. He could not read the officer’s handwriting on the ticket or understand the nature of the violation. He did give us the address of where we could pay the fine. For a day’s outing, we ventured to the tax building, waited in lines, did much gesturing and paid our 375 lei fine to a confused clerk. Four employees looked at the citation, laughed, smirked, and also could not explain the violation. The confused clerk accepted my credit card payment, about $95. I assumed the ticket would be mailed to the rental car company, per my prior Glasgow, Scotland experience, and I would eventually be liable for the fine anyway. Upon returning the rental car in Bucharest, the clerk told me she personally had numerous tickets like this and they cannot locate her and she was certain they would have never located me in the States. Oh well, live and learn.
Walk Around Brasov
There are a lot of details in buildings that are missed by the casual observer. Often I only see the detail when working on my photos afterwards. This is the Brasov Coat of Arms. During a savage battle, the King, wearing a golden crown, noticed that most of the arrows were primarily hissing around him. The King removed his crown, and placed it in a tree. Not seeing the king anymore, the attacking forces thought they had killed the king. The king had sacrificed his crown, but likely saved his life.
What a beautiful building to call home. The balconies are a bit small, but the building is certainly beautifully maintained and restored. Most all of Brasov appeared to be restored, brightly painted and clean.
Wide Open Pedestrian Malls
It seems that I am in the minority with my disdain for the filthy pigeons. Feeding and chasing them was a primary pastime and family entertainment.
Proving I’ll try an artsy shot of just about anything…. this boy is feeding corn to the city chickens.
I ordered my first ever plate of chicken paprikash at a restaurant in business since 1360. Every since seeing the movie, “When Harry Met Sally” I’ve wanted to call the waiter over and tell him, “Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash, but I would be glad to partake of your pecan pie.” We are still not finding much in the way of spicy foods. Paprika in the paprikash is about as spicy as you can get.
On to Belgrade, Serbia
We spent our last night in Romania at the Marriott Hotel in Bucharest after returning our rental car. We had made a clockwise circle around Romania, zero crashes, one ticket. Not too bad. This hotel was built by the dictator Ceausescu’s regime. It is unlike any other hotel you will see. Marble everywhere, no building expenses spared, wide hallways, elegance on a grand scale and only $125 US per night, including evening happy hour and breakfast. Such a deal!