A Terrifying Translyvanian Tour

OK, so it wasn’t actually terrifying but it was ‘terrific’. On my second day in Brasov I opted for a private tour of the surrounding areas, visiting the famous Bram’s Castle (home of Dracula), the Citadel used to protect Rasov during medieval times and the Royal Palace of Sinaia.

As I’m travelling solo, I took the tour solo. My room-mates at the hostel were only here for one night, so that was that. After some brief reservations, I embraced the benefits of a private tour and reaped them well. The tour guide actually brought along his three year old daughter, so we were singing nursery rhymes on the way to see Dracula.

Dracula’s Castle

As we pulled up in Bran, it was a small place, close to the airport, which was full of markets selling products related to vampires and Vlad the Impaler, of whom Bram Stoker based Dracula. I suppose there isn’t much to do here apart from visit the Castle and sit in the park. Interestingly, Vlad the Impaler only spent five nights in the castle whilst imprisoned, so it’s connection to the legend is fairly loose, but it’s still a ‘must-see’ for tourists.

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The castle itself is quite small, very Gothic and full of tiny staircases and at least one secret passage now opened to the public. I know from talking to other visitors that many are disappointed by the castle, but I think it’s a beautiful place to visit, if not overly commercialised. Was it spooky? Not really, but they had some good information on folklore and the birth of the vampire legend.

Citadel

Onto the Citadel, we drove past expansive mountains where they grew up into the clouds and I was once again reminded of Canada. Here, I started to debate the cost of the tour as it was relatively expensive considering my other costs. In the end, it cost £47 for eight hours, which works out as £5.80 an hour, so very good value overall. The driver was affiliated with the hostel and came highly recommended, which I’d agree with. He was funny, talkative at the right times and gave great advice about admission fees at the attractions. For example, you only need the first floor ticket to see the best of the palace; upstairs is very similar.

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When we got to the Citadel, we all walked up through the forest together, where he stopped at the newly opened Dino Park with his daughter; our arranged meeting place was by the Dino Park sign. I was against going to the park myself, despite his offer, as it was obviously aimed at toddlers and has no actual dinosaur bones.

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The Citadel entrance was 10 leu, so roughly £2. It’s easy to climb up and at this time of the year, was frequented by school children and stressed out teachers. The panoramic view was worth the noise of the young and was a good photo opportunity. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

Sinaia Royal Palace

Roughly a fifty minute drive into the Sinaia Mountains and I was at the base of the forest which housed the Royal Palace. When I reached the top, it was 32C and after twenty minutes, I decided that I did want a tour of the interior after all. This proved to be hilarious; the tour guide was an unusual woman who shouted everything and made fun of the foreigners on the tour, at one point asking a Greek man if he was ‘still in Europe’. A guest behind me whispered, ‘I hope she doesn’t have a feedback card’. She even asked me if I was Romanian because I liked the look of a Turkish smoke room…

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As you went through the various opulent rooms, you had to wear shoe covers to protect the original carpet and flooring, and there were many objects relating to Romania’s history; gifted swords, old literature and knight’s armour. By the time the tour finished, the guide was being gestured to by her colleagues to wrap things up and her response was to tell us to leave now 🙂

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I power walked back down to the car and was driven back to Brasov for the early evening, where I grabbed dinner and took a walk along the base of the Tampas Mountains before sitting in the City Hall Square where a band were performing classic pop hits in Romanian. Strange.

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Back in my room I had a new roommate; a girl from South Korea, whom I introduced to the legend of Dracula! Tomorrow, I will spend the day travelling from Romania to Bulgaria, where my first stop is Veliko Tarnovo. Early on in this journey, I have a stop-over in Bucharest where I expect to just grab lunch rather than explore further. It didn’t appeal to me to spend a night here as there isn’t a great deal to do and I’d rather rest my legs for a day on the train and make it to Bulgaria in good time.

Summary

Romania, and Brasov in particular, have been fascinating and eye-opening. Not once did I feel unsafe, although I often felt unsure. It’s the first country where English hasn’t been widely spoken and I had to revert into more childish forms of communication, like gesturing and counting with my fingers.

Whilst the trains here have been a departure from the comfort I’m used to, the views were still amazing as I saw the countryside whizz by, and it’s all a part of experiencing somewhere new and learning about how they work and function. A tangent from this, a Bulgarian girl I met on the train who’d been to England said she found it a bit dull with it’s perfect houses, perfect streets and perfect dogs that bark in the perfect way; colourful Brasov definitely gives this opinion some weight but really, it just goes to show, there’s no place like home. Thank you Dorothy.

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