Romania Part 2… Brașov and Dracula’s Castle

IMG_2501My journey through Romania continued with another stop in a small scenic city.  I enjoyed the break from my usual plan of just seeing the big cities.  It was less touristy but also left me feeling uneasy at times because I often found myself in situations where I was the only foreigner around.  I welcomed the challenge and felt better for having pushed myself in that direction.

I normally do a little research on the history of each place I visit so I can include that info in my blog updates.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really do that in Romania.  Prior to arriving, my only thoughts of Romania were as follows:  One, they had a dictator named Nicolae Ceaușescu and communisum until the early 1990’s like just about everyone else in Central and Eastern Europe.  Two, they have a history of sending some pretty awesome gymnastic prodigies to the summer Olympics.  And three, the country is home to the Dracula legend.  That last one was what brought me to my next stop.

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So after a couple days in Sighisoura, I boarded a train to Brașov (BRAH-shov). I was kind of surprised the three hour train ride was only 17 Romanian lei (about $4).  When the train pulled up to the station, I saw why.  It ended up being a regional train from the communist era and very, very old and wrecked.  I thought it belonged in a museum.  It creaked like crazy and I wondered if the thing would actually make the journey.  Still, riding a train was awesome because I got to see more of Romania.  We stopped at almost every little village along the way, and it was interesting to see the people who boarded.  Smoking on the train was allowed too which was convenient since almost everyone I met in Romania smoked.  Here was one of the stops…

IMG_2384Brașov is a much bigger city than Sighisoura, and also once had a surrounding wall and was fortified.  There are some interesting sights within Brașov itself, but I’ll just jump into the highlight of the visit… Bran Castle.  It’s also commonly referred to as the Dracula Castle as it served as part of the history that inspired Bram Stoker when he wrote his famous novel Dracula.  On my second full day in the city, another American joined me for a day trip to see Bran.  We agreed to split the cost of hiring a driver to take us there which was only around $25 total for an entire day.  It’s kind of a long story, but this castle once belonged to Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who was a medieval Transylvanian prince who enjoyed executing people by impaling them on metal poles.  Vlad didn’t spend much time at Bran, but the castle has become part of the Dracula legend, perhaps because it’s more intact than any of his other castles.  Here are some photos from the day.

Steps up to the entrance…IMG_2466Courtyard once inside…IMG_2477

Some rooms…IMG_2467IMG_2476IMG_2468That door in the middle of the photo above is actually a secret passage that led to this narrow staircase…IMG_2474IMG_2488IMG_2489The Vlad Tepes family tree…

IMG_2486Some photos from outside…

IMG_2480IMG_2491IMG_2493IMG_2504Very awesome experience, and one of those highlights of my trip I’ll never forget.  The legend itself is really sketchy and Bram Stoker’s inspiration came from several sources.  One being Vlad Tepes and his father Vlad Dracul, but also from a queen who used to drink and lounge around in blood.  Add in the mysterious nature of Transylvania, an old castle and you get a vampire named Dracula who seduces women, drinks their blood and occassionally turns other people into vampires.

The other guy from America who accompanied me that day had an interesting story.  Philip was from Mobile, Alabama and had just finished his Peace Corp Volunteer duties in Ukraine and was taking a month to visit some spots around Europe before heading back to the States.  He taught English to high school aged kids and even had his own apartment.  Ukraine sounded like it would be an even bigger challenge to navigate than Romania, and didn’t really sound interesting to me.  I had been thinking about possibly visiting Ukraine after Romania, but I got enough info from Philip to hold me over for a while.

I spent a total of six days in Brașov after extending my original three day hostel reservation.  This allowed time for hiking to the top of one of the nearby mountains which are part of the Carpathians.  I haven’t done nearly as much outdoor exploring in Europe as I did when I was touring the US.  Although it wasn’t quite like hiking to Mt. Rainer base camp in Washington, it was still a cool day with awesome views.IMG_2517IMG_2515

Transylvania scenery is pretty bad ass.  One can see how a fairy tale like vampires could emerge from such a place as Transylvania.  There’s just this eerie ambiance.  Mist, fog, dense forests, mountains.  It all adds up to play with your mind.  On my way back down the mountain, a guy stopped me and said it was very dangerous for me to be up there hiking by myself.  Apparently there are a lot of bears that wander around.  I’m guessing the fact it was November helped keep me safe since they probably had gone into hibernation at that point.  Maybe I just got lucky because I didn’t see any that day.IMG_2524Some other random sights around the city included the usual stuff you find in Europe… old town squares, clock towers and gothic churches.  To be honest, I’m a little bored with these kind of sights at this point.IMG_2391IMG_2392IMG_2393One other random bit of info about Brașov that makes for good trivia is that the city has one of the narrowest streets in Europe.  It’s not drivable, and only wide enough for someone to walk through or possibly ride a horse.  It’s called Strada sforii or Rope Street.  It’s at least 300 years old and was used by fireman to get around.IMG_2409So that wraps up Brașov, Romania.  I stayed longer than planned, mainly so I had time to check out the city, see Bran Castle, and get in some good outdoor exercise.  I didn’t eat any traditional food which looking back was kind of lame.  I mainly lived on shwarma for my time in Brașov.  At 9 lei or about $2.50 for a giant schwarma that kept me full all day, it was hard to pass up the savings.  Romania was proving to be the cheapest country I’ve been in so far, and a good place to get back on my travel budget.  One last stop remained… the capital, Bucharest.

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Sighişoara, Romania

While I was in Budapest, I was thinking of heading to Vienna next.  Lucy and Anthony (Aussies from my hostel in Budapest) kept talking about Romania and how much they enjoyed it.  I wanted to keep pushing the Central/Eastern Europe thing I had going on.  It felt less touristy and more challenging, but also very rewarding.  I also wanted to explore areas outside of major cities, and my friends kept talking about all these great small towns in Romania, so I decided to keep heading east, and bought a train ticket to Sighişoara, Romania.IMG_2312I arrived late, probably around 10 PM.  I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, and it was raining, but luckily the hostel was almost right next to the train station.  The only problem was that the building wasn’t marked.  It was one of those travel moments where I think to myself of the crazy instances I find myself… dark rainy night in Transylvania, and lost outside.  I finally figured it out, but it took me about twenty minutes to find the hostel.  Enter Romania.IMG_2279Sighişoara (sig-ee-SHWAR-a) is in the Transylvania region and credited as one of the most preserved small medieval cities in Europe.  The city center is an old citadel with a large clock tower dating back to the 14th century.  It also features old churches, and some historic homes.  It’s a really small town, with only around 25,000 residents.  During the summer, there’s a huge medieval festival in which the town doubles in size.  However, for my visit, it was pretty quiet.  I spent two full days in town which was probably one day too many.  There’s not much to do once you’ve walked around and checked out the main sights.  Still, it’s worth a day trip just to walk around and imagine life there several hundred years ago.

Cars look so out of place.  The streets are so narrow and I can’t imagine trying to drive around there.  The city is so small and walkable too.I thought it was cool people actually live here and it’s not just something preserved as a museum.
IMG_2320IMG_2274IMG_2324Sighisoura has the distinction of being the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, who is part of the basis for the Dracula legend.  Here’s was the house he was born…

One more closer shot of the clock tower.  It still kept time, and reminded me that Romania was one hour ahead of Hungary.  Not bad for an 800 year old clock.IMG_2295I had lunch at a cafe one day and got my first look at how cheap Romania can be.  I had a large bowl of soup, cabbage rolls and two beers for about $6.  The only downside being that smoking is permitted in restaurants, and everyone seems to smoke in Romania.  IMG_2329After a couple days in Sighişoura, I was ready to go.  It was a really cool place to see, but it’s a small town and can be done in a day.  I bet it’s amazing to visit during the medieval festival held in the summer.  I didn’t meet anyone to go exploring with as the hostel I stayed in was empty except for one night where a group of Romanian high school kids filled up the place.  The hostel staff actually had to clear out an office and setup a bed for me in there so I had a place to sleep which I was incredibly grateful for.  It was only my introduction to Romania.  Things would get more interesting in the coming two weeks.