The East is a part of The Continent I haven’t ventured much to. While I’ve had a few days in Prague and Budapest, that’s about as far as my Eastern block adventures go. So when £40 return flights to Bucharest, Romania popped up my rubber arm was easily twisted.
We took off from the tin shed of Luton airport Friday evening and ventured three hours away and two hours ahead of British time, landing us at Otopeni Airport, Romania around 11pm. With an airport code of OTP (‘On The Piss’ , mum) and four girls on a Romanian getaway, our first night couldn’t have been more different. We exchanged our Brexit’d value decreasing Pounds for some Leu (5 Leu to 1 Pound), placed our seemingly pointless order on the taxi lottery machine and waited for our caped knight to drive us in to Bucharest city.
An interesting and rather terrifying taxi ride later we were in our central Bucharest Air bnb. I wasn’t feeling overly confident after the Fast and the Furious style ride as my head hit the pillow knowing that the next morning, I would be behind the wheel on the Romanian ro
The next morning we followed one of what were to be many stray dogs to collect our hire car, signed for the keys and jumped in. I jumped in the wrong side of the car instantly didn’t I. Reassuring huh. Thank goodness I had three amazing co-pilots, as attempting to wrap my head around driving on the OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD from Bucharest to Bran was no walk in the park. With signs in Romanian, one way streets, four lane wide round-abouts with up to eight exits and the general, angry attitude of Romanian drivers I felt pretty intimidated.
Like I said before, I was completely ignorant on the Romania front, so Dracula, his castle and Transylvania were all completely new to me. Many laughs, a road bully and a few swerves back toward the centre line later, we were on the open roads of Transylvania headed for
Draucula’s Bran Castle. This part of Central Romania is mind blowingly beautiful. The autumnal colours of the trees and their leaves, the picturesque rolling hills, the streams and the bright blue skies were stunning. There were many medieval preserved towns during the three and a half hour drive through the Carpathian mountains and the area is also home to the largest concentration of beers and wolves in the whole of Europe – so its easy to see where the preconceived Transylvanian, vampire, werewolf stereotypes come from huh.
So, for those of you who don’t know (me) Dracula himself wasn’t real, nor was he myth to have been real in Romanian Culture. He was a completely fictional character in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel based on a real person; Vlad Tepes, the 15th Century Wallachian prince. This Vlad guy wasn’t so nice and used to kill his enemies by skewering the on long spikes to quench his thirst for blood.
Bran Castle was initially built in 1212 by the Teutonic Knights and is now a national monument and landmark in Romania. Situated near the town of Bran, Transylvania, this castle was home to the Royals from 1920 and was the favourite home to Queen Marie and it was later inherited and renovated by daughter Princess Ileana. The princess then used it as a hospital during World War Two but in 1948 it was seized by the Communist regime along with the expulsion of the Royal family. Nowadays, it is technically owned by the son of Princess Illeana but its a museum open to the public and has more connotations and associations of Dracula that it does the old Kingdom of Romania.
While Count Dracula wasn’t real, he certainly has laid a fictional foundation for Transylvania in Romania. While the hilltop fortress of Bran Castle was stunning to look at, Transylvanian vampire tourism is more apparent here than I had even imagined it would be. I’m glad I’ve seen the fortress that Stoker used as his inspiration of where The Count lived but the real beauty was the adventure through the Transylvanian countryside. Definitely something to tick off the bucket list but don’t go with hopes of anything but commercialisation and tourism.
We made it back in one piece with a few pieces of vampire memorabilia. With Romanian countryside time complete, it was time for the bright lights of Bucharest city!