Searching for Dracula

“The world seems full of good men–even if there are monsters in it.” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula

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My original plan was to only go to the Transylvanian towns of Sibiu and Braşov. Then I wanted to add a stop to Izvorul Bigăr (Bigar Waterfall) in the southwest.

In my original plan, I was going to simply rent a car.

And then I lost my license in Milan and that killed my original plan.

Luckily, life is all about making, breaking, and shaping plans so I was able to come up with something equally as exciting: hanging out with a few Romanian strangers.

 

Timişoara

 

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I took the train to Timişoara early in the morning from Budapest. I didn’t reach my destination until almost noon.

First, trains in Eastern Europe are very different than the ones I was used to riding throughout the rest of Europe. There’s absolutely no indication on what stop you’re approaching, so you need to pay attention to a map in order to figure out where you are.

I was paranoid my whole train ride I was going to miss my stop and end up all the way in Bucharest (the capital of Romania).

Luckily, I was able to determine when to get off (by checking my location constantly on Google Maps) and made it to Timişoara relatively intact.

 

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Of about 300,000 people, Timişoara is the main cultural and economic center of western Romania. Fun fact: in 1989 due to street protests, Timișoara was declared the first city free of Communism in Romania.

Because it wasn’t a part of my original plan, I only made enough scheduling space to stay in the city for one night. There’s not a whole lot to the city. It’s rather small and the tourism infrastructure is no where close to being easy to even locate.

Here is where I came to find Romania people are some of the most friendly and kind people I’ve met on my whole trip.

 

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When I exited the train station, I had directions on how to get to my hostel by tram. But I had no idea how to purchase a ticket for a tram, nor did I even have Romanian money that could be used to purchase that ticket! So I marched over to a bank to exchange some euros.

The bank lady was so patient with me. She even wrote me a note in Romanian asking for a train ticket because she knew most people don’t speak English.

 

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I did some wandering around but the real excitement started that evening. I met up with a friend of a friend. The food, drinks, dessert, and conversation were brilliant.

I stayed out until about 3:00 in the morning with that chap. We met up the next morning at 10:00 am to have breakfast before I set off for Sibiu in my last Bla Bla Car.

 

Sibiu

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My Bla Bla Car driver told me over messaging he wasn’t so good at speaking English but for the life of me I probably couldn’t get the guy to shut up!

He did make my ride pleasant. He was sweet and offered to stop anywhere I wanted if I saw something I liked and wanted to take a photo of/with.

I arrived at my destination safely and had about two hours before I could check into my hostel (no 24 hour reception in low season). So naturally, I went to have Austrian food in the middle of Romania.

After checking in, I met a gentleman who invited me out for drinks with him and a couple of his friends that evening. In a town of less than 150,000 people, you bet I was all abut having drinks with strangers.

Apparently, it’s VERY uncommon for people to travel alone in Romania, male or female. Everyone was much more shocked I was travelling alone than in other countries I have visited.

 

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The gentleman’s friend told me she doesn’t even feel comfortable sitting at a restaurant alone for longer than 10 minutes waiting for someone because people will find it funny and sometimes bad men try to take advantage.

Since we were both headed to Braşov, my new gentleman friend offered to give me a ride. I told him I’d sleep on it and would let him know in the morning, but in case you don’t know this by now: I love road trips with people I barely know, so of course I accepted.

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We spent the next day wandering around Sibiu, trying it’s foods, and going to the Brukenthal National Museum. The museum was a bit of a let down, but we left at noon as planned.

There was a sight that he said was important for him to see so we’d make a small detour from Braşov, but we should be in the city that evening.

Please note: this definitely wasn’t as sketchy as it sounds.

He wanted to see a monument commemorated to those who suffered and were even killed for their beliefs through the Experimentul Piteşti or “Piteşti Experiment”. It was a brainwashing experiment used by the Communist authorities from 1949 to 1952 hoping to “re-educate” political prisoners through torture.

It is considered the most intensive brainwashing torture programs in the Eastern bloc, affecting 1,000-5,000 people.

How did “re-education” work?

“Victims were transformed into executioners; prisoners were tortured by their own friends, by their fellows in suffering. The purpose: “re-education” through physical and psychical destruction, the transformation of young people into atheists, into informers on their friends.” The Genocide of Souls

And yes, it was as horrible as it sounds. But it’s something I would have never known about if it weren’t for this trip.

We went to see what he thought would be more like a museum, but it ended up being more or less a small monument commemorating those who would rather die than denounce their religion or harm their brethren.

We then made our way to Sighişoara which was a much less dark and experience.

Sighişoara is one of the most well-preserved medival cities of all of Europe. It’s a small town of 28,000 people and is nestled in the mountains of Transylvania.

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If you ever make your way over to Transylvania, this city is a must see, if even for a day.

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After our brief stop, we drove to a village about 30 minutes outside of Braşov. The gentleman needed to stop to see some friends and we would have dinner with them and finally be in Braşov shortly after.

For as much jumping around as I did in Romania, I managed to learn more about their culture than any other place.

I had a typical Hungarian meal with a fairly typical Romanian family. They were so welcoming and accommodating even though only one of them could speak English fluently. They showed me their offices and their plans to improve their after school program.

They run a program that helps support the most vulnerable families of their village. They teach and feed about 30 children every day.

Hearing their stories were truly inspiring.

At around 9:00 pm, we finally made it to Braşov.

 

Braşov

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I was greeted by the big Hollywood – like sign located on the side of the Transylvanian mountain overlooking the city.

Here is where I was able to spend at least one full day seeing what the city had to offer.

I must have been very tired because I ended up sleeping 10 hours that night. After waking up and finally mustering the energy to be my typical delightful self, my gentleman friend and I walked around the city center and toured the Biserica Neagră or Black Church.

Biserica Neagră was built in the 14th century. It started out as a Catholic church, but after the Protestant Reformation, Catholic services were replaces with Lutheran ones. In true medival fashion, there was a fire that partially destroyed the church in 1689 and that’s how it got its name.

The church boasts having the largest bell in Romania, weighing in at 6 tons. There’s also a 4,000 pipeorgan that was built in 1839 and was used during weekly concerts.

Photos aren’t allowed in the church, but I snuck some anyways just for you 😉

After seeing what the church had to offer, we found the smallest street in the city and squeezed by to make our way to the mountain top.

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First, I’ve never taken a ski lift in my life. And I’m not scared of most things, but somehow riding a ski loft to the top of that mountain freaked me out a bit.

 

The sights were worth the frights.

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After coming down, there was only one more thing left for me to do.

You can’t visit Transylvania without at least attempting to go see Dracula’s castle (what kind of traveler would I be?).

Unfortunately, the castle isn’t in Braşov. It’s in Braşov county, but the castle is actually located in the city of Bran, 30 minutes south of Braşov.

The gentleman needed to go on his way back to his home city, but offered to drop me off at the bus station so I could catch the next bus out to Bran and attempt to get to the castle before closing.

The bus was packed. I’ve never seen a bus that full. And as the driver was going, he would pick passengers up and drop them off all with barely a stop. How he knew those passengers wanted to get on was beyond me.

I made it to Bran before dusk. And it was freezing cold. The castle was already closed when I arrived but I did what I came to see. I laid my eyes upon the house most commonly associated with the vampire Count Dracula.

It is supposed Bram Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula character is based off of historical Vlad III Dracula of Transylvania. Dracula’s main rule was from 1456 – 1462 and was a fierce leader. He was said to have killed between 40,000-100,000 European civilians (political rivals, criminals, and anyone he considered “useless to humanity”), mainly by impaling. For those of you who don’t know what impaling is, I suggest for you to look it up.

It is suggested Stoker was influenced by the history of Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who tortured and killed between 36 and 700 women in order to bathe in their blood in hopes to preserve her youth.

So how the heck did Bran Castle fit in to this whole hoopladoo?

Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula, is a Transylvanian Count with a castle located high above a village upon a rock, with a river below. Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that fits this discription and thus, has caught on as being known as “Dracula’s Castle”.

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One other thing. Local myth suggests the existence of evil spirits called “steregoi“. Up until half a century ago, the people of the villages near Bran believed there existed a certain kind of people that lived a perfectly normal life during the day, and then during their sleep, their souls would leave their bodies in order to torment the people in their sleep. Stoker based his version of vampires on this particular local myth.

So basically, the only way to go see Bran is at dusk, on a dark, cold, and damp day.

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The was no sign for the bus stop back to Braşov. It happened to be a little enclove next to a coffee shop. It was the riskiest bus stop I’ve ever waited at. Eventually the bus came and I made it back safe and sound.

The walk back to my hostel was treacherous though. It took nearly 30 min to walk back from the bus stop. I was totally famished by the time I got back. So famished in fact, that when the hostel receptionist walked me to his favorite restaurant, it wasn’t until I arrived that I even noticed I had forgot my back in the lobby. He told me not to worry and that he would walk back and then bring it to me.

I graciously accepted.

Now, before you start to believe I he could have stole something, everything of real importance was on my person so I wasn’t too worried.

And believe it or not, he delivered my bag with all my things in tact.

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I know I trust people too easily. I know I have risky behavior. I’m aware of it. I’m sure there are bad people. I’ve studied them. I’ve met a few. My past is infested with the bastards.

But just because there are a few bad people out there doesn’t mean they are all sinister. You have to pick and choose, and take chances.

Romania wouldn’t have been as great of an experience for me if I went in with my ethnocentric ideas and didn’t put myself out there and trust a few strangers. I put my life in their hands. Maybe that says something about me.

And maybe what I’m left with is I’ll always be the girl, battling her monsters, searching for Dracula.

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Now, how could I call myself a humanitarian if I didn’t try to tear down at least some walls of social injustice? And what kind of amateur anthropologist would I be if I didn’t write about the most commonly associated thing with Romania: gypsies. But, since they are at whole clan of people, with at whole set of history, if you’d like to see my findings and find out more about the relationship between the Romanians and Romas, click here.

 

-XO-

Katie


3 thoughts on “Searching for Dracula

  1. ”But I had no idea how to purchase a ticket for a tram, nor did I even have Bulgarian money that could be used to purchase that ticket!” Do you mean ”Romanian” money? Also, the spirits are called ”strigoi”. I don’t mean to criticize at all, I just thought pointing these things out might be useful.

    What cultural differences did you notice while visiting Romania? How does the country seem to you? I’m quite interested in the way people from different parts of the world see the country I was born in.

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    1. I did mean Romanian! I’ll actually fix that. Thanks for pointing it out.

      As for cultural differences. I find it interesting to visit countries that were a part of Communist regimes. Romania was such a quiet country, and I only saw its smaller cities (mostly in Transylvania) but you could see the remnants of being a part of the Communist regimes. There was a lot of poverty but not the same kind of poverty that’s in the United States, this was more of an old, tired poverty. Yet, even with a past where it was common for brother to spy on brother, the people I met weren’t cold or unfriendly. They wanted me to see the best of Romania and wanted me to feel welcomed. It was a kind of welcome that makes someone feel at ease and at home.

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      1. Now I’m really curious how our old, tired poverty is different from the one in the USA.
        What I find really cool about Romania is that it’s very hard to feel uncomfortable. The rules and social norms are not that strict here, which has lots of downsides. However, it’s easier to feel ”at ease and at home”. People in Western Europe, for example, seem more stuck up to me.
        I’m really glad I asked and thanks for the reply!

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