If even a fraction of legends about this place were true, I should feel quite lucky to be alive and writing this blog. I am not sure if I was happy or disappointed that there were no Vampires, the restaurants served regular food and it was easy enough to walk out of any hotel. It might have been because most of our time in Transylvania was during daylight hours and we did get served this warm mulled wine that looked curiously like blood, but tasted delicious.
The central Romanian district of Transylvania is about 2 hours drive from Bucharest on a low traffic morning. Once the traffic picks up, the 2 lane roads can lead to some really good traffic snarls. The scenery gets distinctly pretty as you get deeper into Transylvania and the meadows backed by hills topped by castles make the drive worth it. There are numerous small towns on the way, not very touristy but each with its own character. There are also gypsy towns that are looked down on by the locals but are basically dwellings on people who choose to live on social security rather than be gainfully employed. The people aside, the houses were warm and inviting and with loads of colorful facades and beautiful barns. One part of me wanted to self-drive the trip but with the stories about the traffic and the worry on parking, we decided to take a very small group tour. In hindsight, it wasn’t terrible as the drive was quite long and I could enjoy the mulled wine better since I didn’t have to drive.
The driver of the 8 seater van was a highly opinionated old man who was visibly quite critical of the new developments in Bucharest. He called the new “matchbox” architecture “bull shit” and spoke of how the parking situation in the city was getting worse and that new people were moving to his lovely Bucharest and making it worse. We passed by the Romanian replica of Arc de Triomphe, a lot of very posh houses, a village museum and just a lot of beautiful (as well as bullshit) architecture. We managed to get out of the city by 8 am before the traffic peaked. The landscape got prettier by the mile and I remained stuck to the window. Just after 9 we passed through an amazing small town and started the climb up a small hill to get to the Peles Castle. We were the first ones to join the queue for the castle doors opening at 9:30am. This would mean that we would be able to see at least some parts of the glorious castle without any crowds.
The entrance of the castle leads straight to a small powder area and then to a grand staircase leading up to a landing. The paintings are beautiful and there is some glorious stained glass work on the windows as well as the roof. The interiors of this palace are royal, to say the least, and the original furniture and paintings make it a true must watch. It of course helps that this palace is only a little over 100 years old and thus most of the works are quite new and crisp. Only about 10 rooms are open to public at the time but they are quite amazing and demonstrate quite a luxurious lifestyle of a short in height Carol 1.
One of my favorite parts of the visit was the cafe of the castle. It is right at the entrance from the parking lot while the castle itself is a short walk inside. We took a break at the cafe after the inside tour and clicking some good exterior shots. It was a simple cafe with a small menu but it served this delicious mulled wine with a warm ham sandwich. The outside seating offered beautiful views of the castle and hills. The mix of cold breeze, the exquisite scenery and the warm wine was heavenly.
The next stop on the tour was the most fabled part of the tour – the Bran Castle or more popularly known as the Dracula castle. This is a much older castle, built originally in the 13th century and the age shows. It is a smaller castle with a simpler design and plain interiors. It sits majestically on a hill though and the outside view of the castle is amazing. The interiors are quite underwhelming and decorated using some cheap halloween decorations. The inside is only worth a brief stroll, maybe 20 minutes. The market outside can be quite fun. It is a small flea market that sold some of the best souvenirs we came across in the country as well some local foods, cheese and warm port wine, which was surprisingly delicious. Just across from the market is a tiny artificial pond and right next to it is possibly the best view of the castle, in its full spooky glory. The elevation over the hill and the partially rocky back wall add just the right effect to justify the Dracula linkage.
There are 2 pieces of trivia about the Dracula legend that are interesting. First, the author of the book and the town are both called Bran – that is a complete coincidence. Second, the name Dracula actually comes from one of the German kings, Vlad the Impaler or Vlad III Dracula, who was known for his brutality in the wars with his neighbours as well as punishments for criminals. The word Dracula itself comes from the German word Dragula which has some rough connections to a Vampire.
Just as we were about to board our car for the final stop at Brasov, we came across a small street vendor selling some sausages. Of course we bought some and they were unforgettably delicious. The drive to Brasaw was an hour long and passed by another few town and a view of the Rasnov Fortification on top of a hill towards the right. The town was larger than I anticipated but then the roads led to a small town style central square with a church to one side and a number of restaurants and shops to the other. The colorful buildings and red tiled roofs are always a delight to watch.
The ‘black’ church has its own set of stories, right from the name which came from being burnt in a fire – it isn’t a racist euphemism. A statue of a crawling child on the roof of the church is a reminded of the architect’s son who fatally fell from that very spot. We could not enter the church as it was closed for some reason, but we used the time to have a good lunch comprising some fish, chicken and local liquors and beer. We walked around a bit, clicked some pictures and then packed up to prepare for the long journey back. The trip had been quite comfortable till now, but the return got a little tiring especially because it was dark outside and we did find a lot of traffic entering Bucharest.
There could be a case made for spending a few nights in the rural Romania, but with our time constraints, this was a fantastic full day – from 7:30am – 8:00pm well used.