When the countryside got spooky.
A trip to Romania is incomplete without going in search of the Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. While there are many castles that claim that they were the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, the most popular among them is the Bran Castle located in Brasov, about 280 km away from Cluj-Napoca, our base in Romania.
If you prefer history over literature, you could go in search of the castle where Vlad Dracul lived. He was the Prince of Wallachia who was called Dracula for his blood-thirst (he was notorious for impaling his enemies). But then, we find out from Lonely Planet that the ruins of Wallachia are very remote and that there’s not much left there for all your effort.
So we decide to the regular touristy thing and hit the road to Bran – the idea is to go castle-spotting around Transylvania.
The car rental company at the Cluj airport surprisingly does not seem to mind the Indian driving licence (though they drive on the other side of the road) as long as it’s at least three years old. While a car rental will cost you about 50 euros a day (it’s much cheaper if you book in advance over the internet), you can also hire a driver for another 30 euros a day and also pay for his food and overnight accommodation. Remember, fuel is extra and is as expensive as it is in India. So we wisely opt for a diesel car.
Within the next three hours we are in Sibiu. After exploring the small town all evening and some more the next morning, we set out to Bran. The road to Bran is picturesque, like the Switzerland we see in Bollywood films – a long stretch of road to the mountains dotted with sheep and castles passing us by every few minutes.
As we near Brasov, the countryside gets spooky. It’s straight out of a horror film and we see why Bram Stoker may have been inspired by the eerie landscape for his vampire tale. Imagine trying to click a picture but the camera not responding! That’s when I realise the constant movement of the clouds was making it impossible for the camera to take a picture in the auto-focus mode.
However, when you get to Bran Castle finally, you see there’s absolutely nothing creepy about it. It’s infested with tourists, largely kids on a field trip. There is a bustling marketplace selling Dracula souvenirs and quaint-looking cafés with umbrellas that say “Brasso: Probably the best city in the world”. The local industry knows to milk the legend to their advantage and we end up watching a 20-minute 4D movie called “The Haunted Castle”. Galeria Bran is a good place to get pizza or pasta, located only two-minute away from the castle.
After lunch, we walk up to pick up our passes (there’s a 20 lei entry fee, about 5 euros) to the castle. You can also opt for an audio guide for commentary. But for a showcase about the legend of the fictitious Dracula and the real Vlad Tepes, there’s absolutely nothing else connecting the castle to what it is promoted as: The castle that inspired Dracula. I quote from the printed poster in the showcase: “Quiet (sic!) possibly, Bran Castle was a source of inspiration for the castle of Dracula located in the Bargau gorge, imagined by Bram Stoker.”
But there are souvenirs – T-shirts with Vlad Tepes, some funny ones about Dracula, books and fridge magnets to take home.
The 13th -century castle mostly contains old furniture, sculptures, costumes and artifacts collected by Queen Marie in the 20th century.
More than what it stores, it’s known to provide both strategic and scenic views of the city around. It used to be a fortress after all.