Transylvania has been on my list of ‘places to visit’ for a long time. I added it at a young age, after ‘Tatooine’ but before ‘the warm cleavagy embrace of Elle MacPherson’. (Just to be clear, regardless of the picture of Liz, this is Colin writing this).
I always assumed Transylvania was in Hollywood – a city that had mythical coordinates far larger and more expansive than its real geographic coordinates (kinda like The Body’s breasts, really). I assumed after leaving Toontown you took a left on Electric Avenue and you were in Transylvania. If you hit Bedrock, you’d gone too far.Needless to say I was beside myself when I found out that the spooky mountainous steeps of Tranyslvania were not in the Hollywood hills at all but in fact in a little known European country called Romania, who’s past had a flair for the dramatics but only got it’s own spotlight on the world stage after the fall of some curtain in ’89 (so more ‘on broadway’ than Hollywood). ‘Well I’m going, that’s all there is to it, I’m effing going,’ I said, lying on the lounge room floor in my p-jammies before turning the atlas page and staring at the large red mass that encompassed half the world and thought ‘maybe I’ll visit the USSR too’.
All these years later and I’m still a sucker for the vampire myth so the token ‘home’ of Vampyrism is on our agenda. Bran’s Castle, otherwise known as Dracula’s castle, is possibly Romania’s single biggest international tourist attraction set above the little town of Bran.We arrive into town late-ish and find our campsite, Vampire Camping easy enough. It doesn’t push the corniness too hard either, other than a few blood dripping ‘Vs’ on fence posts.
They also sell ‘Vampire Wine’ with a delicious array of Romanian wines including a Feteasca Neagra that we’ve never heard of before. The name translates to ‘the Black Maiden’ just to keep the gothic theme rolling. We crack open the blood of the vine and end up buying a bottle to go when we leave too, on the premise that we would give it to friends as a souvenir on our return to Amsterdam. Sorry guys. We drank it already.
After surviving the night, we rise to a beautiful dewy morning where the high peaks of the Carpathians loom over the small town. We stroll up the hill to the famous castle, passing houses with chooks and pigs in their backyard, hay pouring from barn lofts as horses and carts and families roll by.
We’re still in Romania so as it turns out Bran is not exactly a bustling tourist town, it’s really just around the base of the castle that it cashes in with a couple of pubs, restaurants and a market selling Dracula-themed wares as well as some fine crocheted and knitted items. Liz buys an ice cream which matches her glasses, kerchief and sunny disposition. Of all the wild dogs around, only one is wolf-like, he sits below me and stares into my soul momentarily but before I can grab the camera to capture his, he has run away. Instead, I buy a pretty sweet T-shirt of a silhouetted wolf howling in a gold moonlight with a mountain in the background – it’s pretty awesome, definitely be wearing it to my next D&D games night.
Speaking of D&D, architecturally the castle itself is pretty tame on the ‘fantasty/Disney’ scale, no tall spires for damsels to dangle from but as far as fortification goes, it’s a pretty sweet fort – far better than I ever made with a blanket and three chairs. High stone walls rise from the cliff as if they just grew that way. Built originally of wood in 1212 by Teutonic Knights the castle has grown slowly with extensions. Not entirely a DIY project, the King at the time had his people of the land build it for him for free. It’s been in the hands of the Royal family since, but for some possession during the world wars.Now a museum to the Romanian royal family who once lived there, grand furniture, artefacts and even armoury weapons and shields are on display. Liz isn’t too interested in the armoury (‘we’re in a freakin’ castle, man!’) but is more taken by the gypsy fashions of the royal family who made the castle their home in the 20’s. Small rooms go every which way while staircases (one set even hidden behind a fake wall – see pic) can make the building feel like an Escher piece.
It’s not until you reach a top couple of rooms do you get anything Dracula related. It explains the myth of Vlad the Impaler (whom it is unlikely to ever have visited the castle) and how his story may have been adapted into something far more magictastical by Bram Stoker, with influences also from the South American chupracabra and previous vamp stories. It’s informative and all, but you really need to use your imagination and initiative to build this into Drac’s pad. Through the castle we play with glass for scary reflections and low glowing light for mood.Back at our campsite in the evening we drink more blood, I cook flesh on flames while Liz slurps bloody tomatoes and skinned & roasted capsicums. We follow that by impaling marshmallows that melts into ecto-plasmy goo squished between dripping chocolate (smores – yum!). We create hideous versions of ourselves using Hollywood magic through light and shadow play. We have about five different vampire films on the hard drive… We wuss out and watch Underbelly… with the doona pulled up tight.
The next morning we drive onwards to Bucharest over the Carpathians through some stunning landscape and by more sheer cliff faces. I can scratch Transylvania from the list.
Places to visit
Lost Cities of Gold