Friday, July 29, 2011

Romania: On The Trail of Dracula - Viscri and Sighisoara

Pulling out of Simon Village, we hit the road with the well preserved medieval town of Sigishoara as our ultimate destination. To be sure, there would be plenty of driving on this day, but to me watching the countryside, the villages and the people go by out the window was endlessly fascinating.

I think the things we saw on the drive were typical of what we observed every day in Transylvania. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, check out some pictures I took as we drove along below. Also note that I've updated my set of Romania pictures on my Flickry Photostream HERE to include pictures relevant to this post.

The other thing that was going on as we drove was the temperature was going up - way up. Sure, it'd been hot in Brasov but now I think it was getting into the mid 90s if not hotter. Eventually, the fairly populated countryside because quite rural again and eventually we exited the main freeway for a side road that would take us to the picturesque and off-the-beaten path village called Viscri.

Viscri is one of those places that is consistently cited by travel books as a wonderful chance to see how typical Romanian village life is today and was in the past. However, it's also a place that not many tourists go because a) it is so off the beaten path, and b) the "beaten path" is a REALLY rough road. But, as Andrei our guide says, good things are worth the effort. (Below: Viscri home, Viscri stork nest.)

So we made the effort. Pulling into the village after a jostling ride, the first thing you see is a row of houses on each side of the dirt main street. These German-style houses are bathed in bright colors and seem to connect together to form an almost sold wall going all the way through the village as it rises up the hill.

We got out into the heat and walked up the hill, noticing both some guys sitting outside in the shade at the local (and only?) bar in town. We also spied a stork in her nest atop one of the house's chimneys. Cute. Turning to the right and into some shade, we made our way up to the town's primary visitors site - the fortified church.

Back in history, these villages would always have a church, but they typically also fortified it so it was a fortress as well. Often these were placed on the highest hill in the village boundary. This would give people a place retreat to if an ill-intending army or bad guys showed up. From there, the town could either wait out the trouble or fend of the interlopers from their positions.

We walked around the complex, got up into the rafters and defense positions, toured the church and generally looked around. I also bought a pair of home made wool socks from the woman in charge of the gate. Kinda funny doing that when it's 100 degrees outside, but I figured that come next winter I'd appreciate them. Anyway, this was an intriguing look at how typical villages were structured and how they organized themselves. We were glad to have stopped. But, we were getting hungry so off we went - hitting a roadside diner (another score for Andrei!) before heading directly to our next and final stop of the day. (Left: Viscri fortified church.)

Located in the heart of Transylvania, Sighisoara (pronounced sig-y-shore-ah) is one of the best preserved hilltop medieval towns in all of Europe and the only one like it in Eastern Europe still inhabited. It is also the birthplace of, you guessed it, Vlad Dracula.

Winding our way up the hill toward the old town center in our vehicle, we eventually broached the old city walls and emerged into a wonderfully colorful town square. Diane and I got out and found some shade as Andrei squared off with the hotel staff over whether or not he could park our truck across the very narrow street from the hotel. Andrei won out. (Left: Medieval tower in Sighisoara.) 

Our plan from here was to see the sights first and then dodge the heat with some shade, a beer or two and then some rest in the late afternoon. The first thing was saw was the massive clock/defensive tower in the middle of the old town. It's impressive from the outside, but then also we climbed up inside and emerged at the top where there was a nice breezy balcony to survey the entire region.

Back on the ground, we next stopped at the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. Vlad's father, Vlad Dracul, lived in this town in an house right on the square. "Dracul" is a name he was given after he joined "the order of the Dragon" earlier in his life. Upon the birth of his son, Vlad, he gave him the name "Dracula" as in, from Dracul or Dracul's child. And that's how the name "Dracula" came into being. Today, the house is actually a restaurant on the ground floor, and yes, they do play up the fictional Dracula angle a bit. But, you can also see the order of the Dragon symbol over the doorway too and there is a plaque noting the building as the home of Vlad Dracul and the birthplace of Dracula. Across town in a small square, there is also a bust of Vlad Dracula.

Next, we  hit the torture museum, and why not? About this time we were overheating and getting tired so we headed for a shady side street and sat down to have beer. Wiling away a good hour there, we then adjourned to our hotel - situated right on the main town square - where we checked in and rested up. (Right: Building where Vlad Dracula was born.)

As it turned out, there was a film festival happening in Sighisoara that evening. Initially we thought that this would be a pain because it was taking place right in the town square...right in front of our hotel. But, as it turned out it was fine. We actually ended up sitting in the audience, enjoying the finally cool weather and watching some of the festivities and the film - in this case a recently-produced historical drama about the Ceausescu days. (Below: Colorful scenes around Sighisoara.)

Before that, however, we took a walk up to the top of the fortified hill for a view and a look at the church up there. While still hot, this was a nice way to see more of the back streets of the town. We ate dinner back near our hotel in a delightful courtyard restaurant, and then strolled the streets some more before sitting down to watch some of the movie.

Thus ended a very busy, but very rewarding day. With no problem sleeping whatsoever, we awoke ready for a new day. I actually got up a bit early and walked the streets of town to see it in the morning sun. Pretty.

After a nice breakfast at the hotel, we saddled up and headed out for the day with the town of Sibui as the main point for us to visit.

NOTE: All pictures in this post were taken by Marc Osborn and are not authorized for use without prior written permission.

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