We led our biggest group ever on a vampire vacation to a land that time forgot. Romania is not a leading tourist destination, but it was delightfully surprising to find out the exclusive culture and natural wonders in this undiscovered part of Europe.
We set out to follow the footsteps of Bram Stokers gothic novel “Dracula.” Our itinerary was a mixture of educational history and spooky exciting to celebrate a Halloween never to be forgotten.
It really is ironic that Romanian’s do not celebrate this holiday in a land so rich in folklore and legends. For us Americans, that was the draw as our group swelled to 67 singles with 140 suitcases in tow. We had two coaches and two exceptional guides named Hunor and Radu who were with us 24/7 all through.
On arrival into Bucharest, we went to the Count Dracula Club for a welcome dinner. It was a uniquely themed restaurant with medieval rooms and a pay a visit to by the Count himself.
Our menu presented a Van Helsing platter of assorted meats and cheeses along with “blood wine.” The entrees had been fried chicken breast shaped remarkably like a rat with anatomical made eyes, ears and tail.
Day 1- We toured the capital city which had drastically changed from my final pay a visit to years ago as they now strive to blend the old with the new.
Beneath the yoke of communism for 46 years, it was a broken city but now restoring itself with new cafes, boutiques, hotels and casinos. Some refer to it as the “Little Paris of the Balkans.”
Soon after touring the outside Village Museum. We viewed the Parliament Home which is the second biggest building in the globe and took 20,000 men to construct it. It was erected by the paranoid and near mad dictator Nicolae Ceausescu from his megalomania ideals.
He bulldozed entire neighborhoods and historic districts to make room for this monstrosity that now sits empty. It is a thorn in the side for Bucharest’s three million folks.
Most meals had been incorporated on this trip. This evening we had a festive dinner at the lakeside Pescarus Restaurant. The common menu included stuffed cabbage, polenta, meats and a desert to die for called pappanash two giant fresh baked donuts smothered in fresh sour cream and jam.
Our meal was served beneath the backdrop of a folk music band and costumed dancers. The entertainment was brilliant.
Day 2- We headed out via the Olt Valley to Transylvania. We toured Cozia Monastery with it really is lovely frescos and tomb of Vlad’s grandfather.
The setting was postcard perfect in a land of lakes, plum orchards and lush forests that now draped the hills with an explosion of golden autumn colors. We journeyed on into the Carpathian Mountains where 6,000 brown bears reside.
We toured the charming town of Sibiu established in 1192 by German colonists. Inside the fortified walls were cobbled lanes and gabled houses that looked like old Nuremberg.
It was amazing how it all resisted the ravages of time. Walking the Old Square and Liars Bridge, we learned the history of the Saxon’s and Hungarian influence here.
At evening we visited the tiny shepherd village of Sibiel, toured the glass Icon Museum and took a graveyard stroll below the stars.
There is a graveyard right here where the carvers of tombstones had been cost-free to write whatever they chose without having protest. For instance some epitaphs study “This man was a beggar and thief” or “This man died from drinking as well significantly.”
Our specific dinner was arranged at a farmer’s house where the family cooked for two days in their tiny kitchen to obtain us all. It was delicious classic fare of homemade and organic pork, apples, eggplant, beans, sweet nearby wine and a lot of plum brandy.
Transylvania is Romania’s heart between the mountains with a population of five million and boasts a rich heritage.
We discovered about the gypsies who migrated right here from northern India 1000 years ago. There’s great mystique about these Bohemian nomads simply because they have no written historic documents.
They contact themselves Romani meaning human beings and they keep away from being legal citizens of any land. They have exclusive tribal customs. Most are craftsmen that use only primitive hand tools and are renowned to be excellent musicians even though they never read music.
We may know of their reputation for stealing, but to the gypsy they look at every thing as neighborhood property. Whatever opinions are correct, all agree that they are masters of survival.
Along the way we also learned about Prince Vlad Tepes III, aka Dracula. Born in 1431, he later ruled the Valachia area right here. He was strikingly handsome.
Due to the way he punished his enemies, he received nicknames like Dracul which means devil and The Impaler. He had to defend the land from invading Turks and Tartans.
When the Turks refused to get rid of their turbans, he just nailed it into their heads. Cruelty was widespread in the Middle Ages, but Vlad’s ways were the ultimate. He would decapitate individuals and post heads along roads like sign posts and would boil men and women alive.
His preferred punishment was impalement. Here he would insert a wooden stake into the rectum up to the shoulder blade painstakingly to stay away from all major organs. Gradually these poor souls would writhe in discomfort till death some 48 hours later.
Hundreds have been impaled at a time and posted looking like a forest of humans on a stick. It was physiological warfare at its best as it drove worry into the hearts of all his enemies.
In saving the land from invaders, he became a hero for the Romanians. Contrary to the novel, he was bloodthirsty, but not a vampire. Rumors spread that he drank blood and ate human organs.
This led to led to the fictional idea of vampirism. Vlad died at age 40. No one is positive how or where his headless body is buried. Maybe he didn’t die?
Day four- Like on safari, we adjust hotels each and every night. The rooms are spartan but clean. It is a bit of a shock for my first timers abroad.
As we travel deep into the southern Carpathians, we pass the prison town of Gerla, the factories of Alba Lullia and salt mines of Turda which appear Third Globe.
We stayed in Cluj Napoca and right after a brief tour we explored the university town. It really is not all that impressive but a very good party town with a lot of nightclubs to discover.
Day five- We headed more than the Borgo Pass to the border of Moldavia and lastly to Bistrita, a industry town positioned in the heart of Dracula-land. Witch trials have been huge right here.
After a walking tour of the 13th century sites, we boarded our coaches to ascend up the mountains.
The villages right here looked like they are in a time warp. This is seriously remote countryside where vehicles are replaced by horses and wooden carriages. In some components the road turns into dirt.
The architecture is painted neon with fire orange matchbox houses, turquoise churches and hot pink barns. The sun shown down and lit up pumpkin patches and plum tree orchards. This is the lovely portion of Eastern Europe tourists rarely get to see.
We climbed hair pin curves and arrived to Count Dracula Castle Hotel positioned on best of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.
Perched at 1116 meters, there have been amazing sweeping views of the countryside below. It has gothic towers, arched windows, an interior courtyard and no elevators.
It looks like some thing appropriate out of the movies. 5 petite young girls hauled our suitcases up countless stairs.
Our dinner ready right here was “hearty peasant cuisine” consisting of slabs of lard, pickles and mystery meats in gelatin. It was so comical we photographed our platters that looked like “Worry Issue” food. Later we had been led on a “hysterical tour” into the hidden cellar.
We descended a dark passageway and entered the crypt of Dracula. Here paintings depicted the life of the legendary dark one particular. A lone coffin was in the middle of the space. Abruptly it opened and the hand of Vlad reached out to grab us prior to bolting way.
Later Terry then joined other folks for a chilly moonlit stroll and they were joined by a pack of 15 stray dogs all with wagging tails.
October 31 – Halloween! We drove by way of apple-land into the heart of gypsy country. Roadside stalls selling garlic and onions lined the road. Our drive times have been double than anticipated on these rural a single lane roads.
We finally arrived to Sighisoara, UNESCO cultural center with a haunting fort surrounding the town, the birth place of Dracula and the creepiest Clock Tower ever observed. We checked into our hotel and prepared for our costume celebration.
Tonight was our Halloween party which was 5 hours of howling exciting. Three ancient cellar rooms were decorated and lit with candles. Slowly one by a single, my group arrived totally costumed with creativity beyond imagination.
There were a number of vampires, Dracula’s, gypsies, witches, wenches and a knight. But also such variety from Daniel as cross dresser and an unrecognizable Whitney as a bald monk.
My favored was Elizabeth dressed as a lab rat, but our grand winner was Sandra as a vampire Bride of Frankenstein. She wore a full tea stained bridal dress, white speak to lens and a wooden stake pierced her heart. It was a delight to watch the staff peering via the kitchen doors at us in wonderment.
Following our appetizer, we have been led outdoors for a mock witch trial. (700 witches have been burned at the stake here.) In the end, we the jury decided to save her and she joined us for dinner. Even Vlad himself created an look. To our surprise, a group from Romanian National Tv came to record us for the news.
This was certainly an entertaining human interest story for the locals. Some of us were interviewed with the principal query of “Why Americans celebrate Halloween this way?” We really couldn’t give a excellent explanation.
Romanians are superstitious. Beliefs nonetheless exist today that spirits return to torment people. Given that the mid 1800’s, vampire stories grew widespread.
The DJ was so good that we danced until midnight. Even our guides and bus drivers joined us on the dance floor with appears of feeling guilty for possessing so considerably exciting. Our driver Johnny didn’t have costume so he simply shed his shirt.
Day 7- In the morning we toured the disappointing arms and torture museum. The dungeon, even so, was virtually genuine. On to Brasov where we toured the gothic Black Church built in 1383 and St. Nicolas Monastery from 1477.
Then on to Bran Castle referred to as “Dracula’s Castle” but he spent tiny time here. After buying the gypsy market, we climbed the old rock measures to attain the popular castle perched on a cliff.
We all wondered, how could this have been constructed. Each exterior and interior were spectacularly preserved. Our final stop was the fairytale town of Sinaia just before we headed back to Bucharest.
There I was informed by locals that our AFS party was on national news. Our driver Johnny had his moment of fame when he was noticed dancing by his close friends and is now nicknamed “shirtless Johnny.”
We covered 800 miles and saw an eyeful of this land off the tourist trodden path. There had been rugged landscapes with haunting organic beauty, a lot more castles and fortresses than Scotland, churches painted from the inside out and there had been rural villages with shepherds and weavers exactly where century’s old traditions are nonetheless alive.
I wonder how all this will be impacted when Romania quickly joins the European Union. I hope she can hold steadfast to her spiritual treasures and reputation for warm hospitality.
As Americans abroad here, we felt a welcoming spirit inviting us to return once again.