Published: June 3rd 2012May 20th 2012
This morning, we hostel hired a driver for us and we went off to explore different parts of Transylvania. Particularly, he took us to three different castles: First the Peles castle in Sinaia, then Bran castle (the Dracula castle) and then to a ruined fort on a hill in Rasnov.
Our driver for the day was Niko, and he definitely gave us some comedy relief during our journey. He first took us to get breakfast at a Romanian fast-food restaurant, but it wasn't serving food yet (not sure why they were open), so he took us to good old McDonalds. When I was ordering crepes, I read the sign next to the picture of the crepes and repeated it to the woman at the cash. She gave me a confused look. Turns out instead of saying the name of the food, I said breakfast is served until 10 o'clock. Haha blonde moment! I really should realized that it had something to do with time, because the only word I could somewhat figure out was the word ora. I guess this is what happens when you don't know anything about the language!
After McDonalds, we drove less than an hour
through the mountains to the town of Sinai, to see the Peles Castle. To get to the castle from the town, you have to drive up this steep hill with sharp switchbacks. What makes the road even more difficult is the fact that there are houses lining the road all the way up, lots of dogs are around (they like to chase the cars; there are so many stray dogs in Romania, and they're usually big and don't seem to be too malnourished) and it seemed common for people let their cows out to wander up the road alone, providing a nice obstacle for the cars to swerve around.
I have to say that the Peles Castle is one of the most impressive and beautiful castles I've ever seen. It has a very Bavarian look to it. It was built between 1875 and 1883 for Romanian king Carol I. It's huge and the rooms are so beautifully decorated (by his wife Elisabeta) with very ornate wood finishings. It was situated among all these very wooden mountains, so they set the stage very well for the beauty of this castle. This place is a must see! We had to take
a tour through the castle and we chose only to see the first two floors due to time constraints. The rooms were just beautiful. Some notable aspects of the castle are the abundant secret passageways, the fire places actually were built to house radiators (which were hidden by the fireplace screens), and the castle was wired with electricity and a central vacuum system (all very new inventions).
When we finished touring the castle, we were worried that we had made our guide wait too long for us, so we headed back to the car only to find him stretched out in the car, fast asleep. When we woke him up, he was so deep in sleep that he jumped! This would be the pattern for the rest of the day....
The next stop was the Bran castle, in the town of Bran, which is famously known as Dracula's castle. Only "Dracula" never lived there. Although Dracula is a fictitious character imagined by Writer Bram Stoker, it is thought that he may have modeled the character after the Prince of the Wallachian region (1400s), Vlad III (aka Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler). He was a successful and ruthless
fighter and ruler. Many thought of him as the devil as he had cruel methods of punishment and was known to do cruel things to his subjects. He was called the impaler because of the way he executed "criminals"; by impalement (it's gross and I don't think this belongs in my blog, so wikipedia it if you don't know what that is). In any case, he is symbolically seen as sucking the life (or blood) out of people, much like a vampire was thought to do.
The town of Bran is definitely over commercialized, but I didn't find the castle, sitting atop a hill overlooking the town, to be as boring as it is sometimes made out to be. However, after seeing the Peles castle, it is a bit disappointing. You have to understand, however, that they're from very different time periods. Peles was built very recently (late 1800s) and Bran from the 1400s. I think the disappointing part of Bran (at least for me) is not the castle itself, but the expectation of the eerie, dark castle inhabited by count Dracula that people have when they think of Dracula and come to Bran. It's not that and it's
only very loosely associated with Dracula (but he never even went there, Stoker just used the castle as the image to set the scene). In fact, the castle was built by the Saxons in the later 1300s to protect the region's trade route between the mountains. In the late 1800s it used as a royal residence for Queen Marie of Romania, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. I still found it to be a pretty castle worth the [quick] visit.
Our final stop was to the ruins in Rasnov, which sit on a hill overlooking the town of Rasnov. It was built around 1225 by Teutonic Knights and abandoned for the last 3-400 years. The outer wall still remained, and few buildings inside have survived the test of time. I'm not sure how much is known about the place; there didn't seem to be much information in English. However, it was neat to see, but really the best part was the magnificant view of the surrounding mountains from the top.
I think that one the best parts of the day was our driver, Niko. He was just hilarious. He made fun of everything that he could possibly
make fun of. Driving in the front seat with him was a bit scary though because his driving (like many of the other dirivers here) was crazy. He would take each turn on the mountain road (the blind corners) really wide so he was in the on-coming lane. I'm not sure why they drive like that. And he stopped so suddenly all the time, as if he wasn't looking ahead. That aside, he was funny because he would honk at random women walking by and throw up his arms and say "ah my friends"! At first we really thought they were his friends, but we soon realized that he did that often and only for women young and old. He was against honking at women with babies. Normally I would be offended as a woman because I hate when guys do these things, but it was just too funny. He wasn't a young guy. Fuad and I made it a contest at the end of the day to see how many people he honked at on the way home. I said 5 and he said 10, but then Niko started calling everyone his friend (even some men and people in
groups) so the honking got more frequent and the number was much over ten. He was a funny man!
That night, we were pretty tired from the long day but we made it out to sit on the patio at a restaurant in the old town. Even though we seemed to be he only ones at the restaurant (not the best food), it was nice to see the sun set.
There are more photos below