Clinton and I embarked on an amazing journey through Europe after we both disembarked ship life in 2010. One of the countries that we visited on the fly and completely loved was Romania. We had only a small knowledge of the history and culture of the country before we started our adventure, but by the time we left we learned how much we loved the country and our travels!
I was born the day before Halloween, so needless to say I had a lot of Halloween themed parties and grew up with a healthy love of horror movies. How does this tie into our visit to Europe? Well, if you’ve ever been fascinated with Vampires you have probably heard of Dracula and “Dracula’s Castle”. The castle used as the example in Bram Stokers Dracula is Bran Castle in Bran, Romania. The castle is close to Brasov and is a good launching point for a day trip through the countryside. My dad was able to visit Brasov when he was in grade school, so the thought of visiting an area many years later and seeing it for myself was another great reason to head into Romania.
We had started heading into Slovenia to get to the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia but the train schedule was grueling. Getting to Brasov from Budapest, where we were at the time, was a twelve hour train that brought us through an ever changing landscape of the past and modernization that we had never seen before. Believe it or not that was actually faster than the alternative so we decided to head into Romania. Getting into Romania wasn’t a problem, but we were held up at the border for awhile as they used older technology to verify our credentials. The staff on the train were amazing though, and we didn’t skimp on the beer! When we arrived in Brasov we already had a hotel booked but since we didn’t use our phones (they didn’t have the convenient plans like they do today!) we relied on an outdated map to get around the city and immediately got lost. Walking into a few hotels was hit or miss since not many people knew English, but everyone was super nice and we eventually found our hotel! When we woke the next day we walked around the city center and saw a sign that advertised day trips. One in particular we wanted was to Bran Castle. We had already looked up the trains to attempt getting to the castle by ourselves, but the idea of a local run tour was exciting. We signed up immediately and the next morning our tour guide met us at our hotel. Only two other guys visiting from the Netherlands joined our trip so it was even better because it was personalized.
The story behind Bran Castle and Dracula is actually more of a legend than fact. Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad III Dracula, was the ruler of Wallachia between 1448-1476. Wallachia is the historic and geographic location of Romania, meaning “The Romania Country”. Constantly under threat from Ottomans and Hungarians, Vlad III had the bodies of his enemies and the citizens impaled on large spikes to weaken the resolve of the enemy forces. The nickname “Vlad the Impaler” was born from these stories and later, when Bram Stoker described the castle where Dracula lived, Bran Castle was immediately brought to mind. The true history of Bran Castle is complex and fluid as the area was conquered and changed influence many times in early history. Vlad the Impaler didn’t even live in the castle but because of it’s uncanny resemblance to a fictional book during the height of vampire favorability the legend continued.
In 1920 the castle became a royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania when Hungary lost Transylvania in the Treaty of Trianon. As the favorite home and retreat of Queen Marie the castle was later used as a hospital during World War II. When the Romanian government allowed claims on properties illegally expropriated the decedent of Queen Marie was awarded ownership. By 2009 the refurbished castle was opened as a private museum of the country. A Bran village concept was established in the area surrounding the castle to add to the historic importance and preservation. This addition was a delightful learning experience. We drank plum brandy and ate sheep cheese during this trip!
Brasov is a beautiful city to walk around. Find a place to sit at some point and watch the world go by. The people are friendly and helpful and even though exchanging currency, finding directions, and understanding the language was a bit daunting it was never a problem. Romania is a Latin based language so when hearing it for the first time many of the words seem distinguishable and you get a general feel for what is being said. Take time to visit the Black Church in the city. The Black Church, or Biserica Neagră, is a wonderful example of historical preservation in a church.
This gorgeous Gothic style monument is the largest Lutheran church in the region. Surviving wars and fire, the church is a testament to strength and resilience. It is impressively large and definitely worth the visit as the entire history of the area is within it’s walls for you to read and learn. We never rented a car when we were overseas and only relied on public transportation. It was a little hit or miss as we traveled into these remote areas, and we never were really guaranteed internet at the hotels, but we had a ton of fun and learned a lot about such a historic city! We did book our hotels ahead of time just in case which was worth it based on how late we originally arrived.
Brasov was not the only city that we visited during our time through Romania. Keep tuned to this blog and follow the #TravelingTalleys as we reminice about our past European travels!