Home of Dracula

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Romania  ,
Wednesday, December 26, 2007


One extremely important phenomenon, seemingly unique to Romania, that I did forget to include in my last entry was the strange occurrence of gypsy children who wander around Bucharest with dirty, old plastic bags containing baby goats. 

Yes.  You read right.  baby goats!  Picture a dirty child pacing up Martin Place with an old skungy David Jones bag filled with cute little farm animals.

Our first encounter was when we were travelling to the Palace of Parliament with Ryan.  A boy walked past thrusting the bag in our faces and yelled something in Romanian.  We thought these goats were for sale to tourists as we had seen women selling undersized kittens in plastic bags during the pre-Christmas sales.  However, Iain discovered on our next overnight train that these baby goats actually functioned as rent-a-pat.  People will pat the goats and then stuff a Romanian note in the goat's collar.  Yes, these were the underage gypsies roaming our train through the night selling strokes.  We made sure all our posessions were locked up and then chained down to the train.

Brasov is located in the centre of Romania in the Transylvanian region surrounded very visibly by the Southern Carpathian mountains.  It is a pretty little town reminiscent of various previously visited Swiss villages with its small cobbled streets and imposing snow capped mountain ranges towering over the main square.  Under a bed of snow it looks just as nature intended.  The gigantic black church is even less ominous with icicles zig-zagging off the roof and white caps atop the chimney.

The place is famed exclusively for being home to Dracula's Bran Castle.  Other than this, there is not a great deal to attract the tourists.  We, like everyone else, had visited to learn all about Vlad the Impaler (the real-life Dracula); keen to be dazzled by the fake blood; stupefied by the kitsch show bags and suspended in awe at the 17 year old work experience student dressed up as the famed vampire.

So it should come as no suprise that after trekking through the freezing cold snow to get there  (OK, OK we got the bus - but it was still cold at the bus stop) we were extremely dissapointed to discover that the castle was just a big house with no mentions of Vlad nor Dracula.  Did I mention the house was open to the elements?  This meant that it both disappointed us and at the same time ensured we were frozen solid.  No respite even indoors to suspend the bone numbing cold.

One of the worst aspects of Brasov was our accommodation.  We stayed at a charmless hostel in the centre of town run by a loud, angry family who didn't trust their guests with anything other than plastic tea cups; promised all sorts of ficticious benefits on their flyers (which upon questioning usually resulted in a severe reprimand) and my personal favourite was the promised pick-up from the train station which never happened and was never mentioned.  If you asked for, say, a towel you would be either ignored or admonsished.  But you would never get the towel.  Its hilarious appellation, The Butterfly Villa, needs to be amended to something more fitting.  Perhaps Brasov Jail would suffice.

Other than the disappointing hostel and the disappointing tourist sites, Brasov was an amiable little pocket-sized community to wander through the snow and once more slip upon the ice. 

* * *

Well, you can't just go to capital cities now can you?

I can actually, but Claude's insistence on some small towns has, overall, yielded some very positive results, so I happily acquiesce.  

Maybe I am just getting Europed-out and jaded, Brasov is pretty ordinary. Its a quaint small town of a type done ad nauseum across Europe. We tossed up heading further north to see more of the Real Romania* (*phrase being used with due cynicism) but its fairly clear all we would in for was a whole lot more quaint village life. Quite frankly, I need the odd murderous dictator or oppressive regime to break up all that happy farm life.  

Brasov was meant to provide some of that, as the home of Vlad the Impaler - also the basis for the Dracula legend. Except someone has forgotten to tell the folks at Bran Castle that this is what folks are trekking through the snow to see. It is a fine testament to the 19th century non entity Queen Maria. Come see her collection of iron keys! Come see where she sat by the fire! Come see a large wooden table where she ate!

Dracula's Castle is fairly bland, leading me to wonder whether the original inhabitants were left so non plussed by the lack of imposingness in their town's castle that they asked to be bitten to death rather than stay. We arrived by bus at 11:45a.m. We checked the bus schedule for the return trip (4:38pm vs 3:38pm... hmmm). We were ultimately safely aboard the 12:38 for the return to Brasov - and we noted a slew of other perplexed and slightly ashamed tourists that had been on our same bus out to the site.  

Our 53 minutes at Bran included ample time for huddling in the police station (the sole place with heating) and waiting for the ticket office to be able to break a 10 RON note on a 6 RON ticket.  

Brasov is, however, blessed with a fine eating establishment. Perfect food, perfect service. In this weather, soup done well is the basis for love: they created a chicken stock so rich that it tasted like there was the fat of two chickens in every bowl - then layered with so much ham and potatoes that it was a meal in itself. They followed it with chicken slathered with incredibly rich cheeses, and 'tis the weather for gluttony.

As we sat in this happy little place, we noted an odd phenomenon: the only other people in there were two groups of 10-12 people. One was a Christian group who all stood and joined hands for a fairly ostentatious and slightly spooky bit of saying Grace. The other was a gaggle of travellers, half of whom were appropriately dreadlocked and be-guitared. "Ha," we laughed, "at least we don't have them in our room". The dreadlocked rank up there with those carrying musical instruments and fire twirling sticks as Least Desired Of Roommates. We returned to our hostel to find them checking in.

We would have stayed in Brasov a further day or so just to ensure a third visit to this fine little nosherie, but our choice of accommodation was just too much like prison to be enjoyable. They only heated the place from 5pm, from which time it still took three hours to get warmish. The included breakfast sits right on the line defining that which is food an that which is merely colour. Take your piece of white, spread it with orange, and enjoy a hot cup of brown.  

Woe betide those who ask for milk for their brown - "NO MILK! JUST TEA!" was the shrieked response to Claude from the slightly unbalanced other sister on shift. I giggled mischiefously into my cup of brown, careful not to be noticed. I had incurred her displeasure earlier for slamming a door that wouldn't close after four attempts. There is no greater pleasure in life than someone explaining that a broken instrument only needs to be closed 'just so'... then failing four consecutive times to close it.  

Yes, that was the front door. In the hostel that doesn't turn on the heating til 5pm. Just so we are all clear. At least it let the smell of Team Dreadlocks escape.

We have a little under two weeks in Europe, so we made some strategic decisions at this stop. We need to know where we'll be for New Years Eve (guess what happens to room rates and availability then...) - and we've picked Belgrade. It was a city we liked, and it turns out we missed a couple of interesting museums first time around. The fact the Orient Express Cafe does bacon and eggs and incredible coffee for $3 is purely non co-incidental. Beyond this, our priority is to head down to Kosovo. Having enjoyed Sarajevo so much we are keen to see and experience another European Islamic community before we head out.

So no more little towns now unless they've had a war there.
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