It’s time to meet Dracula 🙂
Of course, a day of vampire searching (not hunting, I just wanna talk) requires a good breakfast first. Thankfully, our hotel delivered once again.
The Legend of Dracula
After breakfast, we made the short drive to Bran, the town where the count himself lived.
By the count, I mean Vlad the Impaler. He is the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula and served as the king of Romania when he wasn’t imprisoned.
Vlad certainly lead an interesting life, and he spent most of it at war with the Ottoman Turks and Hungarians. He gained his name for the particularly brutal treatment of prisoners that he and the knights’ order employed. He’d put a stake through their buttholes, then leave them in his appropriately named “Forest of Stakes” where’s he’d often enjoy picnics among the corpses.
How absolutely, brutally horrifying is that? Eventually, he was killed and the Hungarians and Turks had a good laugh about it, but that was the role he played in the birth of the Dracula character.
The other figure to inspire Dracula was the wicked queen of Hungary, who starved virgins and then bathed in their blood thinking it would give her eternal youth. She died at 45.
So thanks to some inspiration from a brutal king and a wicked queen, Count Dracula was born.
Exploring Dracula’s/Vlad the Impaler’s Castle in Bran
Vlad the Impaler actually didn’t spend a lot of time at Bran Castle, but he did spend 3 days as a prisoner in one of its towers.
The climb to the castle is a steep walk up a cobblestone path, but not far. Only about 7 minutes.
This is because, like most castles, it was built up on a huge hill so as to be “un-invade-able”. It’s smaller than what I imagined, but has plenty of extravagant rooms, several floors, and tall towers. The courtyard is also pretty, and exactly what you’d imagine from a medieval castle.
The first couple of rooms we saw belonged Queen Mary, also known as “the heart of Romania”. During her life, she was a war general, a nurse, a philanthropist, and more. Beloved by the people, one of her gowns is here, and many of the doors with symbolic hearts carved into them are still here.
Some of the original furniture is still here too, like the fireplace and some glazed ceramic tiles, but a lot of it was taken during the Communist era, and had to be replicated. Still, most of the castle’s interior is white-washed, and so while it is easier to see everything, it’s definitely different from what it originally looked like.
Conversely, getting to the upper floors requires a hike up the steep stairs through a narrow, dark stone tunnel with only a rope to hang onto. This climb was super fun and really helped transport me back to the time of Bran castle’s heyday, but it’s not for everyone!
Up here is the master bedroom of the king complete with his crown and scepter.
There are also several rooms that have been turned into all sorts of exhibits, from knights, to vampire movies, and urban legends. I really liked learning about the local legends, even if the exhibit is a haunted-house kinda cheesy. They have smoke machines and mini-movies that teach you about vampires, lele, werewolves, centaurs, witches, and more.
In the courtyard, the black and white striped balconies served as the castles last defenses, with cannons mounted by the tiny windows to ward off attackers. Though how any attackers could possibly make it up the sheer cliff to the castle before the path was dug is beyond me.
Finally, we toured a room full of torture devices. One of them is called Mary’s head, because a painting of the Virgin Mary is the last thing you see before you’re executed. Ouch.
Parks and Werewolves in Bran
Then the tour was over! We had an hour and a half to wander around the very small town of Bran, so my sister and I walked around the park at the a foot of the castle.
This park below Bran castle is where we met our new best friend:
It’s a giant wolf-looking dog.
It was clearly a stray and I am embarrassingly afraid of getting rabies so I chanted, “please no rabies” over and over as he approached, but he didn’t even touch me. It just seemed like the little guy wanted to check us out. We continued our exploring around the grounds, but our wolf/dog/friend seemed to want to just hang around. Not actively following us, but staying in our line of sight. It was actually kind of sweet.
Eventually, he started walking ahead of us while glancing back every few seconds. It was almost like he was making sure we were following him. Now convinced he is some supernatural force, We followed the dog a little further into some sort of memorial park. I don’t know what it was for bit the cannons to either side of the memorial indicate that it is a sort of memorial for war heroes.
What I really love about this memorial park are the wooden benches with people carved into them so you always have a little wooden friend to sit next to.
Next we decided to check out the nearby markets. Here in Transylvania is the biggest souvenir market in Romania. Surprisingly, it is not very big, with about 2-3 dozen stalls selling what our guide says are replicas of Romanian clothes, dolls, and just about any vampire-themed merch you can find.
We had even longer but since we don’t really shop and feel as though we’d seen all we could, we went back to wait for the us. If you’re wondering about what happened to our werewolf friend, never fear! He followed us all the way to the bus parking lot before taking off down the other side of the street. Goodbye friend!
Headed to the Craftsmen town of Brașov
Brașov is home to many craftsmen guilds, many from Saxon. The Saxons were given land in return for moving to Brașov and developing guilds in towns.
You can definitely tell, the buildings are absolutely elaborate in that Germanic way.
In the center of town is the town hall, where the local king of Transylvania used to make proclamations. When he was overthrown, he made a run for it to avoid being executed. Instead, he was caught in an alley where his crown fell off. When some travelers happened upon the discarded crown, they named the city “Kronstadt”, or “Crown City”. Hence, the crowned seal on the City Hall’s front facade.
The city hall is bright yellow with a mosaic roof. How Burgundian of them!
One special feature on many of the older buildings is that their completion date is painted in big numbers onto the facade. Handy! As you can see, the city hall was built in 1420 AD.
After the city hall, we made our way to the Black Church, named after the smoke stains that remained when the previous church burned down. That is certainly a troublingly common thing with old churches. At one time, Black church was the the biggest in Europe. It is huge and borrows from late gothic styles, no surprise there.
There is a little statue of a boy on top because one time there was a boy so talented that the guild master got jealous and pushed him off the church. This one isn’t folklore, it’s real!
Our final stop walked us through Catherine’s Gate. It is actually the only medieval gate left! It was made by the tailors guild back in the 1500s, and looks like an actual castle complete with little rounded towers. Behind the gate is a garden with statues of Romania’s wildlife made by students at one of Brașov’s universities.
Then we were released to explore Brașov on our own. My sister and I were starving so we wandered the streets until we found a reasonably priced restaurant which was pretty far from the main square. I got Sarmale, which is some mice meat, spices, and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves with saurkraut sauce and a cabbage salad with polenta. It was the perfect lunch. Sosososooso tasty! I didn’t even know corn and cabbage could taste this good!
With a little time left in Brașov, we felt content to sit by the fountain in the square. It’s like and amphitheater so you can sit nice and close to the cool water without technically sitting on the ground.
Kids kept feeding the pigeons and they were flying everywhere. I hate pigeons!!
Chocolate and Shots over Brașov!
On the way our is Brașov, our guide stopped at a pull-off on the mountainside to surprise us with a picnic! The pull-off provided us with views over the mountains and the entire city. And you’ll never guess what we had at this picnic: Roma chocolates and… palinka shots!!! Palinka is a local favorite alcoholic drink, it’s like a plum brandy, but comes in other flavors too. I tried the regular plum palinka and the sour cherry variation, which is supposed to be more mild. My sister and I have decided that we like plum more!
Drinking together as a group makes for a great bonding opportunity. We all took photos of each other and caught each other up on what we had done with our free time in Brașov. The views of the Carpathian Mountain range from above the city is amazing and I’m so happy that no one’s built houses into the beautiful green mountains.
Well, except for the Brașov-wood sign!
After piling into the bus a little tipsier than we’d been before, it was back to the hotel for some relaxing time.
Exploring a Romanian Ski Resort
Tonight is set to be full of excitement, we’re going to have a traditional Romanian meal in the mountains followed by a fire and some Transylvanian music. Creepy organ/pianos? Probably not, but that would be funny.
We had a few hours until then, so it was time to hit the spa! We swam in the outdoor jacuzzi, enjoying the surrounding forest and the fact that we were the only ones there. My sister and I enjoyed some laps in the pool, also to ourselves, and then I took a turn in the sauna. I tried the sauna before in Nuremberg and failed abysmally, and so this time, I opted to follow along with what everyone else was doing. According to the Romanian guests did, the essential oil is supposed to burn your lungs a little when water gets poured over the hot rocks. It was super relaxing once I got used to it, though, and I exited feeling calm and fuzzy.
With a ton of time left before dinner, we decided to take a hike through the woods surrounding the ski resort. There were a couple of short paths, so we couldn’t go very far. Not that I really wanted to given that this is bear country and I don’t have any bear spray. I loved enjoying the huge trees and the echoing, unfamiliar birdsong.
After walking down the road for a bit, we found a zip line! That was seriously a ton of fun, my sister and I zipped up and down the line for over an hour until it was actually time to get ready for dinner.
Traditional Romanian dinner at Stâna Turistică
The restaurant where we’d get to try traditionally made Romanian dishes and listen to local music is Stâna Turistică, or Sheepfold Touristic. I know the word “touristic” might deter some from thinking this is the real deal, it more refers to how the owners of the restaurant want to teach tourists about Romanian food and how it’s made. The food is prepared with ingredients from local shepherds and cooked using traditional methods and appliances. So there is lots of lamb, lots of wine, and tons of music and fun.
Right as we stepped off the bus, we were surprised with a sweeping Carpathian mountain vista, plus… another shot of Palinka!
Two musicians were playing the cello and accordion, and while enjoying the views and the music, we were given pieces of bread with lard, onions, and paprika on them. I have never tried lard before but it is quite good, like butter! I’m confident my breath smelled terrible after trying it though, so hopefully the Palinka burned it away 😉
Stepping inside, there are woven baskets hanging from the ceiling and lots of animal pelts. As we settled in, we were given a huge helping of lamb stew in a ceramic bowl. It was absolutely delicious and big enough to be a whole meal, but with several more courses on the way, I felt terrible for not being able to finish!
Next, we enjoyed yet more delicious Romanian red wine (it’s gonna be a crazy night), and were given fresh baked loaves of bread, which the baker told me to pull apart with my hands. I worried that the others at my table would feel uncomfortable with me taking a chunk with my hands, but I wanted to be respectful to the restaurateur, so just made sure to let everyone know I’m an avid hand-washer!
For the main course, we were given the “Lamb cauldron”, which is a skillet of lamb chops. All I can say is delish! The bone is still in it but it slips right off, served with green onions in a pan.
Before dessert, we were invited to take a tour of the traditional kitchen they use to make everything. With wood burning ovens and great big wooden spoons, it was just amazing to see how such a huge amount of amazing food is made in this one little kitchen.
Arriving back at the table, I feasted my eyes on a real Romanian treat- Papanași! I’ve been wanting to try this since I first saw it while researching treats to try for this trip. It’s a fluffy doughnut made of cottage cheese and semolina, topped with with cream and blueberry jam. If you think that sounds like joy on a plate, you’re absolutely right. It’s sour and sweet and savory all in one perfect dessert.
Then finally, everyone in the restaurant got up and gathered around the campfire as the sun began to set. The musicians returned, this time with a singer! She sang both currently popular and traditional Romanian songs, and the couples all got up to dance. I wanted to dance to, it’s just too bad I’m a coward and didn’t know the dance!
The mountain weather was perfect and the night could not have been more fun.
One more thing:
I want to post this pic before signing off because it’s my favorite from Brașov:
Good night! See ya tomorrow