Romania is a wild and mysterious place. Having gone 10 years ago, it was like stepping into the Middle Ages. This trip, however, was somewhat a different experience. Romania is an impoverished country for the most part, but during the 10 years that have separated our visits, the country has made great strides in modernizing.
You might wonder what would drive us to visit a country that is not exactly a hot vacation spot. Well, hubby is a Vlad Tepes fan; not a fan of the myth, a fan of the man. Our first trip was in search of Vlad. So we went to his birth place, his castle (and I’m not talking Bran Castle), his Princely Court, the castle where he was imprisoned and finally his final resting place (which does not actually house his remains).
This trip, hubby went ahead of me for a language course and research for his thesis on, who else, Vlad. His Masters is in history and he wants to specialize in medieval history. I joined him for the last two weeks. This go round, we found another one of his Princely Courts in Bucharest and we found a city called Medeas where he was imprisoned within the fortress walls of the city. But I wanted more, so I thought, we have explored the man, Vlad Tepes, called Son of the Dragon or Dracula, so let’s search out the myth. To do that, we would have to head north far into the mountains of the Carpathians. Our first stop was a city called Bistritz.
Jonathan Harker found his way to Bistritz in Northern Transylvania where he stayed at a hotel called the Golden Crown. He had meals of Chicken Paprikash and Robber Steak. While no hotel of such a name existed when the novel was written, a hotel was later built and named Coroana de Aur or The Golden Crown. Reputedly, you can request the same meal Jonathan Harker had, but it is not on the menu. There is a Jonathan Harker salon which I read on one website is suitably decorated in gothic type accents, but sadly, when we stayed at the hotel, the room was reserved for a large travel group and we were not allowed access.
So, Bistritz was basically a bit of a disappointment. We had thought that the city would really play up the ties to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but we really couldn’t find anything. Instead, after breakfast, we headed for the Borgo Pass and onto Dracula’s castle.
We had looked online so we could book a room, but every website we checked said there were no rooms available. This is the first vacation where our vacationing strategy worked against us. We hit the ground, rent a car and drive where the wind takes us. Never knowing where we are going to end up, we never make reservations. We have never had a problem. Then again, we usually travel in October, not over the summer. Still, we decided to make the drive if nothing more than to say we reached the Borgo Pass and saw the hotel. We figured we could at least have lunch there.
Just below the hotel, there is a craft market where the traveler can buy kitschy souvenirs or real Romanian traditional wares, but the hotel would not be complete, however, without the little graveyard off to the side and the bust of Bram Stoker in front of the entrance. There is also a cable chair you can take to the top of one of the close peaks, but the notice indicates only parties of 8 I believe are allowed. It was not operating when we walked by, so we never asked if we could take the ride.
Inside, the reception area is properly atmospheric, looking like a movie set. The desk is all wood with taxidermy animals around as well as some Gothic looking artwork and suitable furniture. We were very pleased with the ambiance and even more pleased to find they had a room for us for the night. The rooms themselves were not overly Gothic, but the head board was a dragon crest.
The dining room was another experience. The room was complete with chandeliers, candles, mirrors, very rich and inviting looking and properly Gothic looking. The menu was like a tome of wizards’ spells or dark magic incantations.
Before dinner, though, but only after it was properly dark, we took a tour of the crypt below where Dracula’s coffin can be found. The story teller relates the story of Dracula, but in Romanian, so I couldn’t understand her, although hubby could. It’s a story with a twist, but it is not my story to tell.
Our rooms on the fourth floor looked out over the Carpathian Mountains and once the lights were out I felt like I was on the edge of the world. I haven’t seen such a crystal clear sky in a very, very long time. It was so clear I could actually see the Milky Way. It was awe inspiring and not a little bit humbling. Staring out into the black of the night with all of the cosmos defined so clearly above me, I felt small indeed.
The best thing about our room, though was the large pile of rocks under our window that were splattered in red paint which I can only assume was supposed to be blood.
All in all, we were both very pleased with our stay in Hotel Castle Dracula.
Before leaving, I made sure to acquire a copy of The Transylvanian Journal (a local newspaper), a map of Transylvania and a passport granting me permission to travel the lands of Dracula freely by royal decree.
I found it interesting to discover that Bram Stoker never visited Romania before writing his novel, but he captured the spirit of the country so accurately. The country as a whole is extremely religious and superstitious. There are roadside shrines littering all of Transylvania. Neither the purpose of the shrines nor the religious icon to whom the shrine was erected are unknown. We never took the opportunity to stop and take a look. We were in a monastery in Bucharest which I expected to have some tourists walking about taking pictures. Instead, we walked into a mob scene. There was a crowd of people that were presenting their petition of prayers to the priests of the monastery. They would then light candles and place them on the shrines outside. I saw representations of saints to which people were paying, sometimes touching the object as they prayed. I have never in all my life seen such religious fervor.
Regarding superstitions, I did some Googling on common superstitions and oddly enough, many of them I found are superstitions I have heard since I was a child, like don’t walk under a ladder, don’t let a black cat cross your path, if you spill salt, throw a pinch over your left shoulder, don’t break a mirror, itchy palm means you’ll get money, knock on wood, don’t open an umbrella in the house, etc. Some I never heard before are that you must leave a house through the same door you entered, even numbers in a bouquet are bad luck and reserved for funerals, don’t take the garbage out after dark or you’ll throw your money away, a bride should not change her shoes during the wedding or reception or she will change husbands as well, women must not sit at the corner of a table or they will never get married and many, many more.
But the hour grows late and the time for tales is done. Thank you for taking this journey with me.