Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Romania: On The Trail of Dracula - Targoviste

Picking up from the first post about our trip to Romania and Italy, our next destination in Romania was Targoviste. You can see the growing set of pictures from our trip on my Flickr Photostream set located HERE. As of this post I've updated it to include Targoviste. Check there for a more diverse selection that  you see in the post below.

Driving in from Snagov was about a two hour drive, interrupted by that great lunch I described in the last post. When we got to Targoviste (pronounced tar-go-vish-tey), it was pretty clear that our guide Andrei had not been there in a while because, well, we got lost.

We knew he'd eventually find our hotel, but we spent quite a while doing so. We were very close a number of times. In fact, on the first try we were only a block away - and we thought we were only a block away - but the street that would get us to where we needed to go was closed off for "private use only." This sent Andrei into an annoyed soliloquy about the sloppiness and corruption of Romanian police and civic officials. His assertion was that the street was blocked off from public use simply because a local official probably lived down the street and did not want traffic on it or wanted to charge a fee to use it.

(Above: Main square in Targoviste.) This sent us looking for another way to get to where we needed to go. Ultimately we found our way, and when we did we were pleasantly surprised. Upon initial inspection as we drove in, Targoviste seemed a bit more "hard" that Bucharest and I was wondering what our accommodations would be like. Well, we needn't have worried because we ended up at a very modern, really nice hotel.

Anyway, why Targoviste? Well, our man Vlad governed the principality of Wallachia, dealt with Transylvania and generally presided at his residence here - The Princely Court of Targoviste. So, we wanted to see where Vlad the Impaler ruled from.

After unpacking at the hotel, we took a walk across town to see if we could find the Princely Court. Strolling through the town's central park to avoid the very hot weather, we saw kids at play, a mini-midway with games, packs of old men playing chess, a beautiful green-topped church, a few dogs running around (more on that later) and some nice old homes.

Eventually we found the Princely Court. Unfortunately, it was not open on Monday. So, no dice for us that afternoon. We did get some glimpses of the tower and scouted out a couple places for dinner, however. In particular, Andrei thought this one place nearby would be good...simply based on his review of the menu and a look around the place. While I had no opinion on the menu, I wondered if this open courtyard style restaurant with some pretty loud music coming from the speakers really was the answer.
(Right: Church in Targoviste.) 
We walked back to the hotel for a rest and reconvened in the evening for a walk and dinner. Not having discovered any other options for where to eat, we went with Andrei's gut instincts and walked back over to the place near the Princely Court. Good call. The music was not loud, the grassy courtyard was lit up and we selected a table with a very nice view of the now very easy-to-see tower inside the Court complex. But the big deal here was the food. Wow. We ordered the "Dracula Stew," a huge plate with two types of Peasant Potatoes, carrot salad, Gorgonzola pork, green salad, Romanian beer, Romanian wine and a chicken dish. Incredible savory goodness.
(Left: View from our table at the restaurant.)

Part of our high rating for this place was the expectation game as the food easily exceeded the expectations. Diane's "Dracula Stew" was not really a stew, but more like chunks of lamb in a thick, rich, dark red/brown sauce. My Gorgonzola pork delivered nicely and those potatoes were a huge hit. Awesome all around. The other thing that made this a smash hit dinner was that the entire meal for three people cost us the equivalent of $40. That's it. Welcome to Romania.

After the meal, I told Andrei that he was "two for two" on his restaurant recommendations and that we'd go wherever he thought was good. And with that, we reversed course and walked back in the warm evening to the hotel for the night.

The next morning we packed up and drove over to the Princely Court for our walk through. As we exited the hotel, there was a large crowd of local people gathered in the parking lot. Andrei explained that they were there to apply for and interview for a few jobs that were on offer from the hotel. That so many people would turn out for just a few jobs underscored the unemployment problem in the town he said. (Right: Princely Court in Targoviste.) 

On site at the Princely Court, there were basically four elements to see: 1) the tower that Vlad Dracula built for defense and observation of the countryside, 2) the court complex itself, 3) the church and then 4) a display of very early books published in the area. We toured each. The books were interesting. Having been around for 500-some years, these thick volumes looked pretty good. Certainly if you knew the language you could read them today. The ruins of the court itself were somewhat interesting, but the were greatly reduced over the centries, so while you could tell there was a faily large complex of buildings here it was a bit tricky to visualize how it was laid out - at least looking at it from ground level.

The highlights were the tower and the church. The church offered another look at the fresco style interior that was the norm in the time of Vlad and before. In fact, we were lucky enough to get a tour of the building by the on-site historian and the on-site restoration expert. While one explained about the building, the other told us how he was restoring the frescoes. (Left: Church at Court complex, Right: Frescoes inside the church.)
Not much later, we climbed up the tower. Once on top, you could easily see why Vlad had it built. Delivering a dominating view of the area, Dracula's forces could easily see what was coming from any direction. From this vantage point, you could now easily see the entire lay of the Princely Court. Much clearer as to who the place was laid out. (Left: Tower at Princely Court built by Vlad Dracula.)

As we gazed down from this perch, we imagined what the place might have been like when Vlad the Impaler strode the halls of these buildings as he ruled from this site. What maniacal plans were hatched, what court intrigues unfolded, who was in favor, who was out, how many people met their end here or nearby? So many things to consider. Fascinating. (Below: View from tower.)

Descending from the tower, we made our way back across the grounds and to our vehicle where we took off for our next destination - the town of Sinaia and Peles Castle.

NOTE: All pictures in this post taken by Marc Osborn. Any use is not permitted without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

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