Reading “the classics” was almost a rite of passage into adult literacy when I was young – almost like Dick King Smith or Roald Dahl for kids of today. Little Women, David Copperfield, Great Expectations were among my favourites. And when I heard that Dracula was written by Bram Stoker from Marino, it held a particular fascination along with his fictional residence in Transylvania. When I discovered that Transylvania actually existed, it was in a place “behind the Iron Curtain” and so as far away as any fictional land. I did not however forget it – just put it on a bucket list.
When I saw “ Five-day trip to Transylvania” advertised, I jumped at the chance. As is usual, the first and last days are spent travelling to and from the destination. With the wonderful airport assistance staff that help those of us who have limited mobility, it is no longer an arduous experience! We arrived in Sinaia, a ski resort in the Bucegi Muntains just before midnight.
DAY 2 Peles and Pelisor Castles
With temperatures below zero, we wrapped up in layers for our short trip into the mountains to visit Peles Castle, considered to be the most stunning Castles in Europe. Our tour guide, Adrian, was so proud of his country that almost everything we saw was “the most or the best or the first”. Built in the 1800s, Peles was one of the first castles in Europe to have central heating. In 1948 the castle was confiscated by the state but thanks to a “white lie” about fungus in the wood that would be harmful to humans, Peles was saved and remained unchanged.
Pelisor (little Peles, maybe we would call it Pelesín!), a smaller castle in the same grounds is also very impressive. The climb down the valley to see the castles was steep and icy and prompted use of a taxi for return to the bus!
With the afternoon free to explore, a few of us decided to make a quick visit Sinaia Monastery on the way home. Sinaia takes its name as one would guess from Mount Sinai and was inspired by the founder’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The visit was short as we all wanted to make the cable car ride into the mountains before dark. It was a spectacular ride and a delicious Roamanian stew accompanied by “vin fiert” warmed us as we took in the views of the town far below us.
DAY 3 Brasov
We headed into the Carpathian Mountains today for a visit to Adrian’s home town. Seemingly this town is one of the most visited in Romania and the architecture is certainly beautiful.
The Christmas Market was a particular draw, but it was also great to see the old town gates, the main square, the Black Church (so called after a fire) and Rope Street (the narrowest street in Europe).
I was particularly interested to find some lovely felt decorations and the crafter who loved sharing tips and tricks about needle felting. Really fruity vin fiert to wash down the local sausage was a speciality. Also recommended was “tuica fiert” or hot schnaps but this was vile!!!!
DAY 4 Bran Castle
Today we journeyed into the center of Romania to the village of Bran in Transylvania. The infamous Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler ( you don’t need much imagination to guess his preferred method of torture) was immortalized as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula and thanks to this loose link to the famous vampire, Bran Castle is popularly known in the region and beyond as “Dracula’s Castle.” Adrian was at pains to tell us that Bram Stoker never visited central Europe and that there are castles all over Europe that would have greater connections to vampires.
Bran Castle was built between 1377 and 1388 atop a strategic site overlooking a heavily trafficked mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia, the land over which Vlad III of the Order of the Dragon or Dracul ruled in the 15th century.
The castle was given to Queen Marie and her descendents in 1920 as a token of appreciation for her efforts to unify Romania. After her death, Bran Castle was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ileana, who ran it as a hospital during World War II. In 1948 the castle was seized by the Communist regime, but it was returned to Dominic von Habsburg, Princess Ileana’s son, in 2006.
The climb to the rocky outcrop between the counties of Wallachia and Transylvania was steep and slippy – temperatures had dropped in the mountain area and the ground was icy. Once you reached the castle, you then had to maneuvering the many stairs and secret passages inside. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Our castle guide was excellent and mixed stories of fact and fiction, terror and romance. Luckily, the last queen suffered with arthritis and so had a lift installed that she could have afternoon tea with her friends in the tea rooms at the bottom of the rock. So I certainly welcomed the easy descent.
By this time hands and feet were beginning to freeze, so a hostelry was found for soup and mulled wine under the castle and the mountain range which was setting for Nicole Kidman’s film Cold Mountain.
We had a lovely trip back to Sinaia along the snowy country roads and were back just in time for some shopping and the turning on of the Christmas lights.
A fitting end to a great trip!