From Bucharest, I took one of the trains up north, into the heart of Dracula country with the hopes of seeing some old world Transylvania. The main stop for tourists is Brasov, but along the way was is the smaller city of Sinaia. Some people strongly recommended that I visit there for at least a few hours, since it had a nice castle. I arrived, again feeling a tinge of excitement, like I was somewhere quite different. This cemetery near the Sinaia station set a tone to match the brisk air.
I didn’t really know where this Peles Castle was located other than up, so upward I went. This path took me past an average looking monastery, but it had been a while since the last one so I paid the student rate and checked it out.
There were two churches, one much older than the other but both with the typical orthodox paintings covering every possible surface. The grave of a popular revolutionary figure was located there as well.
After learning nothing specifically, whilst feeling decidedly more cultured, I continued onward towards the palace that I also knew nothing about. I did start to see a few stalls catering to tourists, so I had to be on the right track. I caved and bought sesame and nut brittles – cheap, homemade, and delicious.
When I finally arrived at the castle, I had to pause a moment to study it. It wasn’t the largest thing I’d ever seen, but the architecture was for me a first. I got my ticket and queued up with the other English speakers. Once inside we had to slip some fashionable booties over our shoes, apparently to protect the carpets.
Our guide had a very pronounced accent that she heavily rolled with each and every R. She used it first to explain that this was the summerrrr rrrresidence of Rrrromania’s firrrrst monarrrch, King Karrrrrrrrrl I. He was elected the king and had a great influence in the independence of the state from those pesky Ottoman Turks from before. For all that he did for the state, people today revere him still.
The first room that we saw was the main audience hall where guests were received. Whereas most castles are just large stone houses, being only 100 years old made this the most modern I’ve ever seen. More than that though, the styling made it the castle I would most enjoy actually living in. This dark green audience hall, and its beautiful wood had me sold immediately. We had to pay extra to take photos, so I sacrificed some quality to take them for free out of my pocket.
We carried on through a number of beautiful rooms that were spared no expense, especially in their furnishing and the use of different woods. Some places had as many as ten varieties used at once. Adding to the allure of the place were the numerous secret passageways, including the classic Scooby Doo fake bookshelf.
Once we finished the tour of the main floor, those of us who paid for the extended showing were led up to the private quarters. There were some bedrooms and a study of course, but also a performance hall, movie theater and 36 person dining hall. After everyone had supped, the women would break for tea while the men retired to the smoking room. This den was definitely the chillest of the whole castle.
After one more pass through the glorious reception hall, I was back outside and on my way to the train station. The plan was to squeeze a visit to Brasov into the day, just a bit further north. Unfortunately my timing was poor, so I had to wait at the station for almost two hours before another train passed through. I contemplated just retuning to Bucharest, but in the end reasoned that to miss Dracula’s castle would render any trip to Romania incomplete. While I was sitting there, a couple of Malaysians that I had come across earlier came back to the station with similar plans. We chatted and took off together.
We arrived an hour later as shadows were drawing long. A short conversation at an information booth made us aware that the Bran castle would not be a possibility. I had heard people say the inside was really disappointing, but when I saw a picture of it and realized it looked nothing like the ones I explored in Castlevania, any shadow of regret melted away. I had seen the best around, so I was satisfied to walk around of Brasov with my two companions.
This is where the disappointment came in though, as we were generally unable to do anything. The famous Black Church closed just as we showed up, and then some random building that the Malaysians wanted to visit was inaccessible because of some sort of concert that was getting set up. We did take this well framed shot near the church though. Also on display is my Michigan Panther treasure.
We turned back empty handed, but not downtrodden. I wasn’t really bothered by the decision to visit, though our train being delayed an hour didn’t sweeten it any. Apparently someone had committed suicide on the rails, so ours was unable to reach the station until the police took the report and cleaned it up. It was cold, and we were not so well dressed for it. The aforementioned pastries.
Fiiiinally we reached Bucharest around midnight and went our separate ways. I had just one more night at this hostel before I would be heading off to another former communist state.
The story of Dracula is of course fictitious, but the character is based on the father of Vlad the Impaler. These two lived in the far less creepy Bucharest though, not Transylvania. Vlad himself was a strong leader who received his nickname for his affinity for driving poles through the anuses of the enemies, and out the back of their neck. This was a sort of crucification of the day, and a well impaled foe would suffer next to a road for around 48 hours before dying and then warding off approaching enemies like a scarecrow. And here we have Vlad III…