Vampires for Halloween (almost)

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Romania  ,
Sunday, October 29, 2006

I was sleepy and uncommunicative in the hostel kitchen at breakfast time, which is uncharacteristic of me and very poor form. It was partly because everyone else seemed to know each other and be in conversation so there was no natural opportunity to muscle in. I can't remember her words but the girl next to me opened conversation with a brittle observation of my offishness. This I took as a serious chastising and immediately pulled myself together.

It quickly transpired that we had the exact same plan for the day so I asked her if she would like some company. I should remember that this is a question it's very hard to say no to, and try and figure a way of asking it that gives people an honourable escape if they either a)don't want company or b)don't want my company (unlikely but you can't rule it out). Anyway, I haven't so she duly said yes and missed a bus she would have caught waiting for me to buy a ticket. I hope one day she forgives me, especially as she will be the one person I know when I reach Newcastle, NSW.

There was a long (hour) wait for the next bus and another wait for a connection. Of course we swapped life stories and passed the time but the thought was never far from my head (and I fear also hers, though to her credit she never breathed a word) that if it wasn't for me she'd be there by now. This guilty feeling wasn't alieviated by arriving at Bran (the castle) at midday to discover it absolutely heaving with tourists (was it as bad 90mins earlier? We'll never know).

The castle at Bran is apparently the castle Bram Stoker had in mind when he wrote Dracula. As far as I am concerned this makes it Dracula's castle. The museum within focusses on the actual history of the place which is rather more prosaic- a fortified outpost then a base for collecting tax from traffic then a home of a princess whose name temporarily escapes me. The crush and the ordinariness of the exhibits made the place far from ideal as a museum, but that wasn't what I came for. I wanted to have Stoker's picture of the place. The building as backdrop and setting were all I was after and that I could get despite the crowds.

There are those, by the way, who object to calling Bran 'Dracula's Castle' on the grounds that the 'historical Dracula' one Vlad 'the impaler' Tepes (sounds like a darts player) never went there. I reject this objection, on the grounds that the single most imporant feature of Dracula (without which he would be of no interest to anyone) is that he is a vampire. Since Vlad Tepes was, according to the historians, not a vampire, he would seem to be immediately disqualified from being the 'historical' Dracula. This is, in my view, a case where life must defer to art. Bran is Dracula's castle because Bram Stoker thought it was and that is all that counts. Hardcore Vlad Tepes fans can drive (as some others in the hostel did that day) four hours north to the almost vanished ruin of a castle he actually lived in. Lonely Planet calls this 'the REAL Dracula's castle'. The guys called it an exhausting waste of time.

Bran itself was smaller than I had imagined, but its original role as a fortified outpost gave it many design qualities that would be perfect for Dracula. It was on top of a hill, of course, with panoramic views of the village below and the road leading up. All the external walls were four-foot thick with huge alcoves at each slit window- for standing in and shooting would-be attackers, but also useful for lurking in and suddenly appearing from. Despite the formidable defences of a big hill, thick walls and heavy doors, the possibility of a breach clearly was allowed for. The stairway into the castle was narrow, so the intruders would have to 'storm in' single-file and there was a slit window looking from the landing onto the stairs so one could shoot those coming up. There was also a secret staircase conecting the first and third storeys. The rooms were small but numerous and there were walkways looking over the internal courtyard so for dramatic entrances and exits, nocturnal flitting in rainsoaked nightgowns and other Dracula related activities the possibilities were endless. I have to mentally erase hundreds of herding tourists, but I have seen Dracula's castle.

On the way back to Brasov we went to see the citadel at Rasnov which was a far better museum and historical trip. The Citadel was even more dramatically and strategically located than Bran with a more interesting museum. Again on top of a hill, this fortification included a walled settlement. I have begun, when looking round old forts and castles, to try to figure out how I would defeat their defences if I was the enemy commander. With Rasnov the answer seemed clear- besiege the place. When the text on the wall revealed the place had been beseiged 27 times I felt very smug, until I realised that this probably meant that at least 26 seiges were unsuccessful and that my tactics were very unoriginal. Good job I'm not a military commander in medieval times really.

To get to the citadel we walked up a road which led gently uphill to the rear of the fortress. To get down we thought we'd be more adventurous and take the steep path down the front of the hill. Scrambling and sliding all went well until the rough path was replaced for a section by proper stone steps. Off guard I stepped carelessly on a loose slab and fell, twisting my ankle and bruising the small of my back on another rock. Fortunately the damage was slight and the swelling that came up in the evening was gone by the time I rode out of Bucharest, but at the moment I slipped and knew what I'd done about nineteen different scenarios played out in full in my imagination, none of them good. To be safe I stayed in that night and drank beer with a friendly mancunian in the hostel bar. I'm sure I read somewhere that alcohol is good for injuries.
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