Gypsies, Forests, and Vampire Legends

Trip Start Aug 02, 2013
Trip End Jul 25, 2013

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Where I stayed
Buni's House

Flag of Romania  , Transylvania,
Friday, August 30, 2013

I know you've all been waiting with eyes glued to your computers for this installation, which begins an exciting, though short, escapade in the most exotic of all the lands I have visited thus far on this continent: the eastern European country of Romania. Of course, the fact that Dan and Ioana, my dear brother and sister-in-law, announced that they were having a special reception in Ioana's native Transylvania was the main impetus for my trip out to Europe, and I am happy that now, I have finally arrived in the town of Mediaş, where Ioana grew up, for the beginning of the adventure. How excited I was to be greeted and picked up at the airport in Sibiu by Dan, Ioana, her sister Ani, and their uncle Gigi, who graciously offered to drive the hour-or-so journey to Sibiu at 11 o'clock or so in the evening, through winding roads and shepherd territory, to ensure I wasn't waiting for long. It was a good feeling to finally be here! This trip to Romania marks the second time I've seen Dan under a foreign sky, as I also was stoked to visit him in Australia once. And now here we were, riding again through foreign terrain in the very late evening, stoked about what the next few days will bring.

First, however, I do want to apologize that I've had to take such a long hiatus from blogging. As is evident from the dates, I'm already back safely and soundly in Hawai`i, and must blog the rest of my amazing trip in retro-mode. Blogging everything's some seriously hard work for me! After living an experience, I must go back, dress in my heavy rob and shriner's cap as I light up a heavy pipe and sip brandy in my dark cherry wood-framed study to get into the "creative writing" mode, and also must upload photos, which take a long time, and give specific titles to each one. You all know that sitting at a computer is right next to getting strangled on my "favorite things to do" list, and I've had some seriously bad back problems lately. So I hope you'll forgive me for a delayed update (if you don't that's lame!), but I'm so thankful for your comments and I'm so happy you've enjoyed traveling along with me on this amazing trip! God bless you all as always, and please enjoy this first Romanian installment below!

After arriving in Mediaş and saying hello to Ioana's lovely mother Buni, we were treated with food, including a type of spread made out of I think cucumbers and eggplant that Ioana grew up on. Gigi was quick to serve us Buni's homemade (strong) wine mixed with Coke, as well as her moonlight cognac, which was sweet and flavorful, and burned my throat. He was all too anxious to have a few glasses as we talked story with him and his delightful wife Dana (pronounced more similarly to "Donna") about exotic things as our shadows danced on the wall and sipped robust foreign aperitifs from their shadowy glasses. Thoughts of werwolves and vampires filled the air under the Trasylvanian full moon, which gleamed in the night sky and rim-lit the grapes on the lattices surrounding Buni's small patio, despite the reassurances that most of those types of tales are just legends created by Hollywood, which often don't occur to the minds of the natives. Slavic-esque translation chatted about during our conversations to those who may not have spoken our language perfectly among they who I previously mentioned. Buni, like our own sweet mother, was constantly up and performing some task for our comfort, rather than sitting down and joining in the leisure. When the clock struck early in the morning the day after my late arrival, it was time to go to bed, and prepare for a trip to the castles in the light of the day.

At around nine o'clock or so, Dan and I awoke to breakfast on the patio, which was mainly leftovers from the previous night, along with olives, cheese and salami. Ioana's son Vlad had awoken and greeted the iPad, then reluctantly me. Throughout the day, he warmed up a bit better though, and we giggled around occasionally while he was still in his PJs. He showed me a game he plays on the iPad, which involves building train tracks for a candy train to chug along, and he's very good at it. (For those of you who don't know, Vlad loves everything "trains," and I won't be surprised if he makes trains his career eventually.) At breakfast, I was very impressed to hear him switch almost effortlessly between Romanian and English, and throughout my trip, the poor guy was constantly barraged with Dan and me asking him to translate when some adult spoke about some high-level topic. He did an awesome job as our little translator, a task in which Ioana and Ani never missed a heartbeat to employ themselves when they were around. 

Eventually, Dan, Ioana, Ani, Vlad and I got rolling, and drove for hours through the winding country roads connecting Mediaş to other small cities in Transylvania. Many of the most interesting sights to see involved elaborately-dressed gypsies, regularly alongside the road selling their wares, walking, or driving rickety horse-drawn carriages right past the signs that had a red line crossing out silhouettes of people engaging in that very activity. The architecture was often very different than that which I'm used to, with rounded roofing tiles atop sloping rooftops on colored houses build so closely side-by-side that they seemed to be one long building. A few times we'd go through areas inhabited predominantly by gypsies, and the style of architecture displayed a slightly different flare than the houses in the surrounding areas. I learned that there are different types of gypsies, and they all speak their own "gyspy" languages. Many of them are thieves, though not all, and evidently, due to superstition, they don't build toilets on the inside of their homes. They are also often skilled craftsmen, who create elaborate works of art and practical items. They originated in Asia, and no inhabit many different European countries, often living as semi-nomads and traveling from place to place, if I understand correctly. Sadly, I witnessed many gypsy children begging for money or food with worried looks and their faces and blank stares as they stood outside of shops, homes, and restaurants. It was depressing to see.

After a brief lunch in Brasov, which was a beautiful little town snuggled into the hills, we made our way to see the beautiful Peleş castle, nestled in the mountains -- and arrived too late to go inside. No bother though. We were able to gain entrance into a smaller castle owned by the former king, next to the large palace of which I've enclosed photos. It was interesting to see the 1920s design and style of this "small" home, which had I think they said 72 rooms.

As it was getting late, and this was the only day I'd have to explore Romania due to the fact that the wedding reception preparation day was the next day, with the reception itself on my last day, we started the very long drive to a distant region in the mountains called Wallachia, to see a fortress by the name of Bran Castle -- aka, Dracula's Castle. This is evidently the place associated with Vlad II Dracul and his son, Vlad Țepeş, who partly inspired Bram Stoker's character "Dracula." Of course, to the Romanians, Vlad the Impaler, as his name translates to in English, was something of a hero, although he dealt severely with his enemies, and as his name implies and as the all-knowing Wikipedia concurs, had a gory fetish associated with watching their bodies slowly slide down the enormous stakes in the ground upon which he skewered them. Chills run through the body when considering this, and even though I am very repulsed by most horror stories along with the gruesome and occult, I was excited to visit this place, as kind of one of those things you "have to do." 

The sun shyly obscured itself behind the grey blanket of haze that had filled the mountain sky since the beginning of the day. As we approached the town in which the castle is said to be situated, through gypsy territory in which I saw more than one eye turn surreptitiously toward our car (which elicited a suggestion to hastily lock all doors), we played a guessing game as to where each of us thought the mysteriously "signless" castle was located. Eventually we crept along the windy road into the village of Bran, and finally saw the hazy outline of a distant castle upon a pine-crested hillside. Although the narrative in my mind played out as a thriller story, much as it is being poured into these cyber-pages for you all to read, we were generally surprised at the cozy, quaint and pleasant little village surrounding one of the most reputedly sinister places Dan and I had ever visited. The tourism-promoting vampire and ghost propaganda was seemingly non-existent except for some plastic Vlad-Țepeş-as-a-vampire busts in a small gift shop, and the spooky ambience I was expecting was more frightening in my mind than in that charming place at first approach. When Ioana and Ani stopped and asked from a couple of old ladies how to access the front of the castle, however, things started getting a little bizarre. The two jovial women almost incessantly ranted and raved with in-your-face gestures about how they thought our time would be better spent going out dancing than seeking to enter the infamous fortress. Although they looked relatively normal, their energetic and insistent personalities and rapid speaking over each other in strongly Slavic-sounding Romanian made me envision them as a pair of superstitious old hags who guarded some ancient and dark secret in some weird Yiddish tale.

Ignoring the conceivably wise advice of these two harmless crones, and following to a 'T' the predictable actions of the classic horror story's imprudent protagonists on the verge of becoming held terrifyingly captive in some madman's lair or meeting a more gruesome fate, we ventured onward, eventually finding a decent spot outside the gates to take a couple of pictures. Even though the castle was closed for tourists for the night, Dan managed to almost become a statistic whose disappearance spawns a flash mob of irate peasants brandishing pitchforks and torches in the same previously-mentioned gothic tale, when he breached the ancient walls of the closed fortress and climbed among bramble and old stones into some witches circle. In reality, it was probably the castle's old sentinel station, which overlooked the outer walls of the fortress to keep it safe, but of course in my mind it was really the ancient and spooky stone circle that spellt the demise of any who enter into it, and the mood was perfect, again with the na´ve protagonists playing around nonchalantly in clearly off-limits territory, for a dark figure to instantaneously appear and snatch my brother. The following several moments would escalate from "Hahaha, very funny Dan" in the first moments of his disappearance, to shouting out his name with hearts beginning to accelerate in beating, to me entering in and saving the day as I stake Dracula in a dramatic climax. Thankfully, what really ended up happening is that as our brother ascended beyond the fortress walls, he simply mentioned that it was awesome up there, as I snatched pictures in the dim light, and we escaped, unfortold by the old oracles we previously encountered, with our lives.

But the old ghost of the Vlad the Impaler had one more event planned for us as we wandered to the front of his home to take pictures inside the gate as a kind old guard gestured us to come in (wait, or was he simply ordering a nice "family-sized" meal for his master?). As I took a few photos from inside the iron bars of Dracula's sanctuary, I kid you not, and Dan and Ioana, Ani and Vlad can corroborate, a black cloud descended over the castle, followed quickly by the tearing through the sky of a tremendous clapping thunder roll and lighting striking nearby. It was absolutely theatrically planned it seemed, and one of the oddest coincidences of nature I've ever experienced. For the next twenty minutes or so, thunder and lightning boomed and flashed about, until we decided to begin the several hour-long journey back to Mediaş, and not too long after we set out from Bran, we encountered some of the heaviest rain I've ever seen for almost the entire trip back. It's probably just that this area of Transylvania is accustomed to such intense weather patterns (perhaps that's one of the charms contributing to the sinister setting sought out by Dracula's author), but it sure did seem like "someone" . . . didn't want us there.

Once we returned home, we met up with Tom, one of Dan and Ioana's friends from Denver, who came out to Mediaş for the reception as well. He had driven from Bucharest to Mediaş that evening, and had also encountered severe weather on his trip. We all sat around telling tales 



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Colleen on

Beautiful country and company! What a fun adventure, especially through Sean's creative lenses! (Loved your account, too, Dan - but this one has pictures!)

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