Last week, I took a research trip to Transylvania to explore the historical locations associated with Vlad Tepes. For those who do not know, Vlad Tepes was a Prince of Transylvania who ruled between the years 1448 – 1456 and 1462-1476 respectively.
In Transylvania, Vlad is most often frequently remembered as a folk hero who fought off a Turkish invasion during his reign. However, his harsh tactics in battle and his use of various forms of painful executions earned him several more infamous names throughout history. One of these names is Vlad the Imapler, due to his reported affinity for executing vanquished foes by impaling them on large wooden poles.
He is also associated with a much more famous name: Dracula. Meaning son of the Dragon, or in some stories, son of the Devil. This name goes hand-in-hand with tales of Vlad’s bloodthirsty and ruthless nature. These often sensationalized stories have grown in time with the proliferation of the famous novel, Dracula, first published by Bram Stoker in 1897.
There are multiple theories as to how Vlad became associated with what can reasonably be argued as the most famous vampire of all time and I will not pretend to be a leading expert on the theory. In this regard, I would refer you to the work of others, such as:
Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A Reader’s Guide by William Hughes, PhD. http://www.amazon.com/Bram-Stokers-Dracula-Readers-Guides/dp/0826495370/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413286910&sr=8-1&keywords=dracula%2C+william+hughes
Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally. http://www.amazon.com/Dracula-Prince-Many-Faces-Times-ebook/dp/B00FOR2O4O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413287133&sr=8-1&keywords=vlad+tepes
Or check out the website of Dacre Stoker and Hans de Roos, who are working on a Romanian Travel Guide for visiting locations associated the legends surrounding Vlad and its ties to Bram Stoker’s novel. http://www.dractravel.com/
Now, back to my personal journey. It began in Bucharest, where I spent my first night in Romania. Initially, I was in awe of the city, in both positive and negative ways. To begin with the good, the city features a lot of history with some truly breath-taking views. The buildings are very elaborate, and the streets were lined with grandiose statues, and gorgeous fountains. And of highest importance…Bucharest has a Hard Rock Café which, as an avid Hard Rock pin collector, was definitely a point in its favour.
In the negative was driving in Romania, which I was fortunate enough not to have to do myself, as my father who took the trip with me did the driving. The streets were very crowded, sometimes consisting of up to six lanes which were completely lined with cars. The lanes were poorly marked, especially for night driving and there were a lot of round-abouts, some six lanes across with up the eight exits. The average speed of driving in Romania was probably 30mph, except on very specific highways. I say probably because road signs were not in abundance.
The second day is when the real journey began. We had three planned stops on our agenda for the first day. They were the Snagov Monastery; Princely Court with Chindia Tower in Targoviste; and our hotel outside of Bran Castle.
The first stop was Snagov Monastery which took us about 45 minutes to reach. Despite having a map and a GPS, we did get lost a few times before finally finding a sign that not only listed name of the Monastery, but actually said Vlad Tepes. We ended up following the signs to what we planned on being our first stop. It was located in a small town down several poorly paved roads in a deprived area that was several miles the main roads.
When we reached the monastery, there were a group of men standing outside of the building. One of these men directed us to park the car, which at first seemed fine. However, after we got out of the car, the man approached my father and stated that if we paid him, nothing would happen to the vehicle and that his companions would walk us into the monastery itself. My father, who is generally uncomfortable with very little, gave me a look that spoke volumes as this man continued that state that nothing would happen if we paid him. We said a terse, no thank you, and got back into the car without seeing the actual location.
The second stop was Princely Court. It consists of two parts. The first is a garden with several statutes of the Princes who have ruled over Transylvania. It was actually quite lovely and was filled with flowers between the statutes. It also featured a rather touristy restaurant which advertised its association with Vlad Tepes. In the centre of the garden was a large statue of Vlad which towered over the ones surrounding it. We had a very enjoyable walk through this garden.
The second part is the Chindia Tower, which is also associated with the Transylvanian Princes.
However, it turns out that this tower is closed on Mondays, so we were unable to go inside. Though we did take several photographs of the outside. There was also a small restaurants called the Mcrama Murfatlar, which was both very reasonably priced and had excellent food and wine which is located between the Tower and the garden.
After this, we continued our journey towards Bran Castle. The drive up the mountains was a slow one, with the road full of sharp curves that had to be taken with the upmost care. The GPS and map estimates stated that it would take approximately 2 hours to make the drive, the reality (at least for our trip) was closer to 3 ½ .
However, we did eventually reach the hotel by the castle and enjoyed a fun night of tasting some local wines. We also took a few night photographs of Bran Castle, which to me appeared both powerful and ominous upon the mountainside, allowing my imagination to understand how one might come to associate the castle with the myths and legends of the vampire.
The next morning we explored the castle itself. It held a great deal of history about the ruling families of Transylvania and the history of the castle itself along with some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. It also featured a section on the vampire myths associated with Vlad, a room I spent much time exploring.
Overall, the castle was truly spectacular and well worth the tedious trip up the mountains.
After the castle, we shopped the small, open-air market that was located near the entrance and picked up a few things for some friends. Also could not resist trying a few of the specialties.
Afterwards, we headed back to Bucharest where we spent out last night trying a few additional local foods and drinks of the area, including an unknown Romanian liquor whose name I was unable to recall the next morning.
Overall, despite a few complications, the trip was a good experience. It was really inspiring for me to be able to actually visit the locations which I have been studying and reading about for so many years. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take this trip and explore the history of the myths which inspired my imagination as a child and continue to do so to this day.