Day 9: Once Again…Welcome to My House

Today we were up pretty early and out the door to catch a tour.  We signed up with Viator to see Bran Castle, Râšnov Fortress and Peleš Castle.  After a bit of a kerfuffle, we met our tour guide and driver Manuella (Manu) and the four others on our tour.  We loaded up the mini bus and were on our way to the town of Bran, where Bran Castle lies.


Bran Castle was built by the Teutonic Knights in 1212 and belonged to various Saxon and Hungarian kings until the 20th century when Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia finally united to become the country of Romania.  The castle became a favourite residence of Queen Maria who spent a lot of her time there.

The castle is probably more famously known as Dracula’s Castle.  There is no evidence that Bram Stoker spent any time there whatsoever, but in the 1970s the Romanian Communist government discovered what a big money maker vampire-related things were, so they funded a bunch of research to see which castle beloved Wallachian monarch Vlad Dracula probably spent the most time in, and their findings (???) were that he probably spent the most time at Bran Castle.


The weather was appropriate for the castle – some blue sky, by mostly rainy and misty.  Our tour guide Manu talked to us about the history of the castle on our drive there and how the Romanian people LOVE Vlad Dracula as he had the courage to stand up to the aggressive and ever-expanding Ottoman Empire.  She also explained his name, as he is known as Vlad Dracul, Vlad Dracula, Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Tepeš.  It turns out that his dad was Vlad Dracul (the Dragon) and as our Vlad was the first born son, his was known at the time as Vlad Dracula (son of the Dragon).  He wasn’t called Vlad the Impaler until 200 years after his death, and Tepeš is Romanian for Impaler.

We parked the bus, walked a gauntlet of cheesy chachki, trinkets and trash and climbed the steep, slick stone path up to the castle.

The interior of Bran Castle is not spooky or gloomy at all.  The decor was pretty tasteful and walls were all painted white.  We filed through a sunny courtyard, secret passageway (claustrophobics BEWARE), library and bedrooms.


Manu advised us that the best time to visit the castle is in November as crowds are the most thinned out and that in July and August it’s an absolute nightmare – people shuffle through so slowly the halls and passages become unbearably hot and stuffy.


After about 30 minutes inside we headed back down the hill to a trail crossroads where Manu said is the best vantage point to take photos.  By that point the sky had really opened up and we were caught in the downpour.


We all loaded back in the bus and sped off to our second visit, Râšnov Fortress.  The fortress is about halfway between Brašov and Bran Castle, perched high on a hill and, like Brašov, boasts its own Hollywood-style sign.


Râšnov was again built by Teutonic Knights in the 1200s and Romanians boast that it is the only undefeated heavyweight champion of fortresses (they don’t count the time in the 1600s when an Austrian ruler heard that fact, decided to conquer it out of pride, almost gave up, but then found the fortress’ water source and blocked it, effectively making the fortress surrender.  They say that it wasn’t technically conquered in “battle”.  Semantics…)

Anyway, we parked the bus again and climbed aboard a tractor headed for the top of the mountain.  On the way up we passed by a Dino World.  There have not been any dinosaurs dug up in Romania, it was just another money-making idea.


Most of the fortress is in ruins or in various stages of deterioration, but we climbed all the way to the top over some jagged and precarious rocks for a pretty stunning view of the forested mountains around and green valley below.


After we had had our fill of the fortress, we hopped back on the tractor for the ride down the mountain.  Then we were back on the road, stopping at a gas station for a coffee and a snack.  Turns out gas station food in Romanian is really fresh and tasty and a popular place to get snacks, unlike the Russian roulette of “meat” and “sandwiches” and “sushi” that Canadian gas stations offer.

We then headed to our final stop, Peleš Castle, which was a 40 minute drive.  On the way, Manu told us about Romania’s relationship with their favourite animal, the European Brown Bear.  Romania is one of the only countries left in Europe where you can find a lot of wildlife, including bears, and they are very proud of that.  She told stories of how there used to be so many bears on Mount Tampa in Brašov that people were routinely getting attacked and that the bears would often wander into town looking for food.  They also joke about the “Brašov Friendship Test”, stemming from a bear attack a few years ago (two American students went hiking on Mount Tampa after 1800hrs, which is advised against, when they startled a bear and started running.  The bear chased them, and one of the students tripped and fell and the bear attacked him.  The other student came back for his friend, kicked the bear and got his friend to safety), as well as their bear sanctuary that rescues bears from circuses and zoos the world over.

We entered the town of Sinaia, a beautiful resort town, popular in the summer for the cool and refreshing air and popular in the winter for the mountains and skiing.  Like a Romanian Whistler.  There were stunning hotels and guests houses lining the streets, and at the end of a cobbled road arose the exquisite Peleš Castle.


Construction on this Neo-Renaissance masterpiece was started in 1873 after King Carol the First fell in love with the alluring surroundings and fertile hunting grounds.  It took just over 40 years to complete and sadly King Carol could only enjoy the castle for a short time as he died a few months after construction was completed.  Eventually in 1947 the monarch of the time King Michael was forced to abdicate the throne and the castle was seized by the Communist government and used for government meetings and functions. After the Romanian revolution in 1989, the castle was deemed a heritage site and re-opened to the public.


The castle boasts a lovely manicured gardens, complete with statues and fountains.


We gawked at the pretty exterior until it was time to start the guided tour.  We don’t often do guided tours when we travel, and today was another reminder why we made that decision – although the castle was beautiful and well worth seeing, we hate getting corralled through, everyone together, most people rude or pushing or not following the rules.  Nonetheless we put on our blue protective booties, paid our photography tax and started shuffling through with the rest of the group.


Although I haven’t been to many castles, Peleš is definitely the stand out – sumptuous woodwork and elegant glass and mirrors highlight the rooms.


There is even a beautiful two storey library with a spiral staircase and a secret passage (it’s the cabinet on the right, where the books look flush with the glass).



After 40 minutes in the castle, our tour of not only Peleš was done, but so was our grand tour for the day.  Manu dropped us off right in front of Drachenhaus and recommended a restaurant in the old town called Bistro de l’Arte for dinner.  We said our goodbyes and headed for dinner, enjoying our meals while watching the clouds roll in.  We got back to our hotel just in time to enjoy another thunder and lightning storm for our final night in Brašov.


Day 8: Whatever Happened To My Transylvania Twist?

This morning we woke to a huge thunder clap and a downpour – it was like Brašov was telling us that today was the day to do laundry.  Ma and Pa found a laundromat down the street and were prepared to stay there all morning, but a sweet little lady at Beta Clean told us to drop our laundry off and pick it up in an hour.  So we did.

Today we wanted to go up the mountain.  Mount Tampa has a cable car that takes you 3,000 feet up the mountain to a cafe with a view of Brašov.  Pa and I were keen, but Ma needed some convincing.


We climbed aboard what probably is a Soviet era cable car made by Italians for a stuffy 2 1/2 minute climb to the top.  The view was great – you could see the old town, sprawled out as if in miniature as well as the valley beyond the city.


Much to our chagrin, the cafe at the top were closed, so we decided to just head back down and find a cafe in the old town.  We found a bakery in the square Piata Sfalutui and had some snacks and drinks.


We noticed that the main square has a few stray cats – mangy looking but cute.  They don’t bother you when you’re at your table and they just sunbathe and stalk pigeons.


Ma and Pa headed back to Beta Clean to pick up our clean clothes while I got some solo time to sunbathe with the cats in the square.


For dinner we went back to La Ceaun because the food was so good and the waiter was so charming.  Pa and I had beef pie while Ma had duck on an unending sea of cabbage.  We also tried some traditional Romanian dishes – a spread made of sweet peppers and white beans, a strong yet smooth brandy and a plum dumpling for dessert.  It turns out our waiter has actually spent a bit of time in Vancouver and spoke fondly of sushi, Tim Horton’s coffee and poutine.


After I got to snuggle a fluffy black puppy, we waddled back to Drachenhaus for an early night so that we can get a good night’s sleep for castle-ing tomorrow.


Day 7: There Is a Reason Why All Things Are as They Are

This morning we woke up early, left the money on the dresser and bid adieu to our apartment in Sibiu.  We had breakfast in the Piata Mare, caught one last glance at the beautiful little town, caught a cab and were on our way to the train station.  Sadly, the train station in Sibiu doesn’t look (or smell) any better during the day than it does at night.  We found our platform and hopped onto our Inter-Regional City train, heading further east and deeper into Transylvania, towards the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

The scenery from the train was again beautiful – lush green fields and forests, shepherds tending their flocks and pretty little villages dotting the landscape.  At around noon we pulled into Brašov station, got a cab (the drivers are a little less Grand Theft Auto in Romania as they are in Hungary, but still on the aggressive side) and checked our bags into our hotel, Hotel Drachenhaus (means Dragon House).  Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we decided to hit the town and grab some lunch.


Brašov’s old town is magical – stunning architecture built in front of a back drop of a rich green behemoth called Mount Tampa that also boasts the town’s name at the top in grand letters, “Hollywood” sign-style.  There were sidewalk terraces and restaurants stretching out in every direction as far as the eye could see, and endless streams of people sauntering up and down the streets.

The concièrge at Drachenhaus recommended a restaurant called Sergiana, a labyrinthian cellar that offers up authentic Romanian fare, which as it turns out, is pork heavy.  Because I am not a fan of pork in general, I have the very flavourful chicken noodle soup.


We settled up and decided to head to the town’s main square, Piata Sfatului (Council Square), which is apparently the site of a lot of torture and the last witch burning in Europe.


The Piata is lovely – large and clean with a fountain in the middle.  We walked around it, ogled charming clothing boutiques and book shops, and enjoyed some iced coffee with Bailey’s in the afternoon sun.

Ma and Pa wanted to check out the laundromat situation, so I sat in the square and people watched, sipped sparkling water and took a few photos.


When Ma and Pa returned, it was nearing dinner time and I wanted to try a restaurant I had read a bit about back home – La Ceaun.  It was easy to find as we had passed it earlier in the day and we quickly found a table at the outdoor patio section.  La Ceaun is Romanian for “Cauldron”, and all the main dishes are slow cooked from local ingredients.  Ma ordered the chicken pot pie and Pa and I ordered the meatballs in mushroom sauce with potatoes.  Our waiter, Raz, was delightful – funny and wry with a quick wit – and informed us that the meals would take about 20 minutes as they make them pretty well to order.  Pa and I indulged in several local beers and when our food arrived, it was everything we hoped for – warm, flavourful and hearty, enjoyed with street musicians playing our Transylvanian soundtrack as we ate.  We then ordered dessert, I had a latte and dad had an apple Palinka, and after paying the hilariously inexpensive bill, we headed back through the darkened yet still busy streets of Brašov to Hotel Drachenhaus.  We huffed it up the 4 flights of stairs to our loft suite – which looks exactly like the kind of place I would want to stay in in Transylvania – a spacious attic with exposed wooden beams with small windows facing Mount Tampa.


Tonight, I falls asleep with the Brašov sign shining through my window and the church bells ringing in my ears.