Travelling Light

Dracula’s Castle, Day Trip To Bran, Transylvania, September 2014

You can’t visit Transylvania without visiting Dracula’s castle.

Of course, it’s not really Dracula’s castle, because Dracula is not real. (Sorry, all those vampire-lovers out there.) It is the castle of a Romanian nobleman who was known as Vlad the Impaler. His father’s name was Dracul, and a trailing “a” means “son of”.

We caught a bus from Brasov to Bran, which is a small but quite scenic village at the foot of the hill where Bran Castle stands. You can see the photos of the town in the Bran album here:

The pathway to the castle was well signposted and lined with tourist traps.

Many of them seemed to be family businesses – for example this girl was weighing out and selling cheese (from this unrefrigerated cabinet – food hygeine horrors).

The queue to buy tickets for the castle was very long when we arrived, and became much longer when two busloads of German-speaking tourists arrived just after we did.

We were pleased to discover that the fee for taking photos was included in the entry fee – yay! You had to pay extra to take video (almost double the entry price), but we didn’t plan to do that.

We toured the castle in a tight press of people, so any photo we managed to take without a random tourist in it should be considered a minor miracle!

Bran castle, like all good castles, has a secret staircase. This one runs from the first floor to the third floor. (In Peles Castle, the secret staircase is behind a bookshelf in the library, and tourists are asked to see if they can find it. Remember that if you ever go to Sinaia! It is behind a bookshelf.)

Because the staircase was so narrow, we had to queue for some time to get into it!

The castle also had an elevator in the well shaft, to give easy access from the castle courtyard to the gardens, but the well is filled in now.

From the higher levels, there are lovely views of the surrounding countryside. All the defensive openings in the walls have been turned into windows.

The ceilings were surprisingly low, compared with other castles we have seen. Even compared with residential apartments, they were low.

There were doorways tucked into strange corners – under stairs and behind archways. The staff must have been midgets!

Displays in several rooms were devoted to explaining the history of Count Dracula and Vlad the Impaler.

Bram Stoker, who wrote the original novel about Dracula (yes, he is to blame for the entire vampire franchise, from Interview With A Vampire to Buffy to Twilight), had a friend from Hungary who is believed to have fed him a lot of Transyvanian folk tales and the legend of Vlad the Impaler.

According to the information in the castle, Vlad was no more bloodthirsty than any othet ruler at the time, and impaling people was a normal means of execution. In fact, in his castle is a sharp sword, which was used for beheading nobles who were sentenced to death – a much more pleasant way to die. It was blessed, so that anyone it killed immediately had all their sins forgiven and was sent straight to Heaven.

Vlad did impale some people, mainly emissaries from the Turks, who were demanding tribute. Well, they called it “taxes”, but it amounts to the same thing. Vlad swore that whole he was alive, Transylvania would never pay taxes to the Turks.

This is why he was assassinated by Turk-sympathising nobles who were sworn to serve him. Rumour has it that money changed hands. Maybe 30 pieces of silver …

We heard later that this part of the world – Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldova – somehow succeeded in maintaining its independence despite being surrounded by expansionist neighbours – the Turks, the Germans, and the Russians. Vlad’s instransigence was not an isolated incidence.

There is a theory that Romanian is an artificial language, created in the 17th or 18th century to unite these three areas into an entity powerful enough to keep the three powers apart. The sponsor of this movement? The fourth power at the time, who didn’t have a foothold in the area – France. Which is why Romanian is a Latin-based language, and the word for “thank you” is “merci”.

More photos of the castle are here:

At the castle gate is a museum village, and it so happened that entry was free the weekend we went. Traditional buildings have been moved here from villages in the surrounding area.

Inside the museum village were more tourist traps. We decided to get ourselves trapped, and bought a headband for Jenny. We had seen them on the streets, and liked the effect.

More pictures from the museum village are here:

In Bran we also found a lángos and kürtős kalács stand! And there was a chocolate kürtős kalács freshly made and still warm – the only way to have them.

The bus on the way back to Bran was totally full – we were two of the last four people to squeeze on – so we had to stand all the way back to Brasov, nearly an hour’s journey. We were tired when we got back, but it was definitely worth the trip.