My next few days are being spent in beautiful but cold Transylvania, starting with Brasov, Romania–a small city with the charm of a fairy-tale village. I love it here.
Today, I went on a tour with my two Danish friends to see three castles–actually, two castles and a fortress. The three stops could not have been more different, and I’m super glad I got to see each of them and all of the scenery–including rain, snow, fog and rainbows–in between.
Our first stop was Peles Castle in Sinaia. Romania must really like this castle, because it was expensive (by Eastern Europe’s standards) to get in. Admission was 20 lei (about $6.35) for the most basic tour, 70 lei for the primo tour, and 32 lei additional if you wanted to take photos or video. Being poor backpackers, we opted for the basic tour with no photography. I wish we could have taken the good tour with photography, because the inside of the castle was amazing, and I’d have liked to see more of it. The decor was in period style, unlike so many of the historical buildings I’ve visited, so we had an idea of how the kings and queens actually lived. We also had a tour guide who explained each of the rooms and the items in them–a nice treat, because I usually wander around lost in these places. The staff was not at all friendly, which made us laugh because it made the snobby castle atmosphere more authentic, and we had to wait about a half-hour in the cold (and another 15 minutes inside) for our tour to start, but the whole experience was worth it.
The second castle on our tour was Bran Castle, the home of Vlad the Impaler (aka Vlad Tepes or Vlad Dracul), who the Dracula character is associated with. (Do some Googling on this guy and on Elizabeth Bathory for some really cool historical info about these supposedly blood-sucking individuals.) We didn’t see any bats on our visit, but we darn well should have for another 20-lei admission fee. Photos were free here, but there was no guided tour. Compared to Peles Castle, Bran Castle might as well have been a gypsy shelter–not at all fancy–but it had beautiful views of the towering mountains and the agrarian villages surrounding it. I can see why a vampire would want to call it home, whether or not one actually did.
Our last stop–the three of us thoroughly frozen by this point–was Rasnov Fortress. I’ve been to my share of fortresses over the past six months, so this was really no big deal. It was a little cheesy and, therefore, fun, and it was worth the 5 lei ($1.60) admission, for sure. I’m glad we didn’t go out of our way or make a special trip to see it, though.
One interesting point was how each place we visited was each more touristy than the last. At Peles Castle, there were a few souvenir stands set up along the road to the castle. At Bran Castle, we had to walk through a little village of souvenir stands to get to the entrance. Each stand sold the same things, which included Dracula T-shirts and faux-fir hats (and it was cold enough that we considered buying hats). At Rasnov Fortress, the souvenir shops were inside the fortress, set up in the structures reconstructed to look authentic. It doesn’t get any more authentic than made-in-China consumerism, I guess. There was a serious lack in Dracula memorabilia in the area overall, really. We saw hordes of kids touting wooden flutes, realistic-looking handguns and dangerous slingshots, but I only saw one with plastic vampire teeth.
Tomorrow’s Transylvania adventure includes sightseeing in another fairy-tale-like town, Sighisoara, plus all the October rain and snow Romania can throw at this traveler.