Thursday, August 4, 2011

Romania: On The Trail of Dracula - The Real Dracula's Castle, Back to Bucharest

The morning feast in Tilisca equaled the previous evening's dinner in terms of size and taste. Elina outdid herself with a huge morning spread - locally produced cheese, sausage, meats, eggs, bread...the works. Perhaps the highlight were the diversity of home made jams.

Anyway, we left Tilisca on this - our last full day in Romania - with the goal of finding and hiking to the actual "Castle Dracula." Yes, it does exist. I'm talking about the castle fortification built by Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad Tepes...aka Vlad the Impaler) in the 1400s. Straddling the boarder of Transylvania and Walachia, the castle is where Vlad retreated if or when he needed maximum protection. Remember, Vlad was primarily holding court and impaling people in and around Targoviste. But, no self respecting ruler and ruthless dictator can go without a castle high on a craggy peak. Right?

As we drove through the countryside, valleys and passes on our way to the castle and the hike we'd need to do to get there, two things went through my mind. First, it's looking awful rainy and cloudy out here...I sure hope when we get there the weather is good and the castle isn't socked in with fog. And, then I reviewed in my mind some of the stories I'd read about this castle.

First, while the castle pre-dated Vlad and was used after his death, he is credited with fortifying it and turning it into a more substantial fortress. To do this, the legend goes he force marched a large group of local nobility from the Targoviste area who he as angry at all the way into the countryside and to the location of the castle...then made those nobles build and fortify the structure as slaves. So long and hard was the work, and so unwilling was Vlad to have mercy on them, that he basically worked many of them to death...clothes falling off of them as they labored. And naturally, Vlad tortured and killed many people up there and in surrounding areas by many means - including his preferred method of impaling people on a long wooden spike. (Left: View of Dracula's castle from the valley floor.)

Also, one story goes that during one of the many battles against the Ottomans that Vlad Tepes became famous for - and is still revered for today in Romania - his wife learned that he had been killed. It is said that reports of Vlad's death were a planned ruse enacted by the Ottomans to potentially defeat him amid confusion by Vlad's troops. In despair over her husband's death, the wife threw herself off the castle battlements and to her death in the deep cavern below. Vlad - not being dead - defeated the Ottomans (again) and then found out about his wife's death.  Legend has it that the Ottoman fake-out then became one of the key events that made him up his game in terms of being the entirely ruthless and dangerous impaler that the world came to know. True story? Who knows. Maybe. Probably. But not certain. A good story none the less.

Third, I'd heard that the castle is one of the most haunted places on earth. Given all that happened there, even taking out dubious horror stories, I could see how this might be the case.

Today, the castle is called Poenari Castle and we eventually got to the base of the hill it resides on about mid-day. Lucky for us, the skies opened up and the temperatures rose so that by the time we saddled up for our hike it was sunny and pleasant. Score! Andrei parked the truck at a nearby restaurant and we walked over from there to the trail head. Andrei said that we ought to plan on about an hour to get to the top. Um...well, not quite. Yes, it was steep. But, walking up through the shade of the forrest, we were able to make good time and did the entire assent in 20 minutes. (Right: We reach the top of the hike to the castle.)

Once there, we walked around inside the ruins and marveled at the view. There is a serious drop off on each side of the castle and you could see how it would be pretty easy to defend against attackers. You could also see how Vlad's wife would have easily died by flinging herself off the battlements and into the gorge below.

While we encountered nothing that would indicate a haunting, it was a bit spooky to think about the stuff that happened here under Vlad Tepes' rule. Check out some of these pictures. You can see more on my Flickr Photostream HERE. (Left and below: Shots of and from Poenari Castle.)


The castle is not huge, so we did not need all afternoon to look around. We poked around the battlements, looked at the walls, went into what remained of one or two rooms and imaged what had happened there over the centuries. All in all, we were might impressed that we had found and hiked to the actual Castle Dracula - the real castle of the real Dracula.

 From our perch we could also see back down to where we parked and the restaurant. After we were satisfied we'd seen the castle completely, we started back down the hill with lunch on our minds. Arriving back down at the red-roofed building we sat down for a delicious lunch of local sausages, polenta and cold beer - after all, we had earned it! Feeling pretty full, Andrei noted that this restaurant had donuts on the what we had in Brasov. Well, we couldn't pass that up. We agreed that it was unlikely that they could possibly be as good as the Brasov donuts, but that we needed to try.

After lunch, we took one more look up at Dracula's castle and then departed toward Bucharest for our last night in Romania. The drive took about three house from the rural zone of the castle all the way into the center of Bucharest. Arriving in the late afternoon, we rested up and then went out for one last fling on the town. Walking in the nice evening weather, we crossed a number of wide boulevards and went through a few neighborhoods to ultimately reach that same restaurant/bar zone we had seen a week earlier on our first night in Romania. (Left: View from our walk on our last night in Bucharest.)

Crowded and bustling with people out for a good time, we walked one of the narrow streets and selected a good looking restaurant to sit down at. Virtually all these places had outdoor seating and virtually all patrons sat outside...all the better to see the "street parade" of people going by. The place we settled on served middle eastern food - good middle eastern food. So, with Andrei we sat and nibbled on appetizers - remember, we had that big lunch of sausages and donuts - and of course Romanian beer. In fact, on this last night in the country I think we found our favorite beer - Ciuc Unfiltered. Wow. Really good.

After a while, a kid walked up to our table with a box that contained three birds on a perch, along with a little container of what appeared to be folds of paper. Talking to Andrei, it turned out that the kid was - for a price - offering to have one of his birds chose the fortune of one of us. Too good to pass up. Diane volunteered. The bird eyed Diane, slowly turned around and carefully picked out a slip of paper from among the many available and placed the paper in Diane's hand. The bird had sized her up and selected her fortune. Andrei read it out in English...something about good health and winning the lottery and providing a set of numbers sure to win. We agreed that Andrei could have the numbers, but that if he won we were coming back to Romania on his dime.

All of this proved to be a great way to end our trip - fun times with Andrei soaking up yet another element of Romanian culture.

In the meantime, we finished our Romania experience the next morning. It was a simple get up, eat breakfast and go to the airport. Oh, with one exception. We left door to the room's balcony open during the night because it was hot in there and there appeared to be no air conditioning. We awoke not in a hotel room, but a swarm of mosquitoes. What! We hustled our packing and got out of there as quick as we could. But, we were bit up.

Thus ended our trip to Romania. What an experience. So much seen, so much learned - much more than just Dracula. 'll have some broad observations about Romania on my very last post about our trip once I've reported on the Italy portion. So, check back for that.

After a quick breakfast downstairs at the hotel, Andrei dropped us off at the airport where we said our goodbyes and began our journey to the second part of our trip - Italy.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on the "real Dracula's castle". The entire blog had great info for travel there.

Marc said...

You are most welcome! My wife and I found Romania most fascinating and I was eager to share info about our trip in hopes others going there could enjoy too.