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August 24th 2011
Published: November 20th 2011
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We headed south. Then east. Then West. Camping is free in Romania. This means if you want to find an actual campsite you have to know where one is. A six year old Lonely Planet is probably not the best source of information, and this is what we had.

We drove through Sibiu – couldn’t find the campsite.
Couldn't find the campsite in Curtea de Arges either, and the campsite another 50ks down the road looked truly ordinary.

A brief stop at a random servo for diesel and beer. We bought some dark beer which is dangerous – a lot of it had turned out to be sickly sweet malt based stuff. In the lolly section at the same servo though - truly excellent liquid rum centred chocolates. These would have to wait until the evening due to the zero blood alcohol rule in Romania.

We ended up at the delightfully clichéd ‘Vampire Camping’ in Bran. With its logo of a giant V – complete with dripping blood – this place was on the outskirts of the little town of Bran, famous for Bran Castle; the so-called Dracula castle (even though Vlad Tepes had never even been near the place).

We set up, way down the back near the creek, warned not to leave food lying around for the wild dogs and bears. The wind picked up, testing the big Quechua tent, but we sat back and drank our dark beers and ate our pickled garlic, listening to the huge gray draught horse crop the grass in the campsite next to us while the maintenance man snoozed, lead rope in hand. A very relaxing way to mow the lawn, I must say. The Carpathians, shrouded in cloud, glowing in the sunset, loomed above us. All mountain ranges here seemed to loom.

We were largely alone in the field, and then a few others stared to roll in. Some Germans rocked up in a campervan – the only campervan I would have been seen dead in. Basically and old Mercedes 4wd truck with a box on the back, it looked like it had been around. As the bloke started unpacking his tables and chairs I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him prop his AK next to the Quechua fold up chair.

The Hungarians rocked up next. Three girls, two blokes. All the girls were hot. All the blokes were ugly. This was the way of things in Eastern Europe. They set up quickly and haphazardly then proceeded to get drunk. It was a Friday, so why not.

We didn’t try to keep up.

It was a bit of a walk up the street to see Bran Castle. There was a lot of Dracula stuff around – this was supposedly the inspiration for the Bram Stoker novel, although Bram Stoker himself never left Ireland, and Vlad Tepes (Dracula, which means ‘Son of the Dragon’ in Romanian) lived in an entirely different part of Romania.

The castle was a few hundred years old, and Vlad the Impaler was believed to have passed through on occasion. It was mainly its situation which led to its being called the Dracula castle. Sited high on the bluff overlooking the town, slightly obscured by atmospheric forests, it had a bit of the vampire look. Although not as craggy and dark as I might have hoped. It would be good to see it in winter. Still, it was worth the visit. The interior was very nicely preserved, complete with suits of armour, huge rooms, sumptuous bedrooms and secret passages.

We decided to hang around for a while in Bran. The camping was good, and it was a good base for exploring the country nearby. One of the towns not far away was Sinaia, named for the peninsula in the Middle East. Not a bad town at all, with a very impressive monastery and great Romanian architecture. We had a little trouble finding a place to eat lunch. Plenty of places to drink, but with Romania's zero alcohol limit this wasn’t helping me. Plenty of cafes, too, but there are only so many coffees you can have.

The regional centre of Brasov was nearby too. It was well worth a visit. Clearly a fair amount of money had been spent restoring the place, and the old centre had a lovely, if slightly too clean, feel.

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