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Published: July 14th 2017
Bran Castle from below
Mention Transylvania and the first thing people think of is Dracula! In fact Bran Stoker never visited Romania and spun the best-selling story about the bloodthirsty vampire from elements he had heard about the life of Vlad Tepes, known as the Impaler, a warrior prince who held back the tide of invaders from the Ottoman Empire and had a particularly nasty way of dealing with his enemies! The Dracula bit comes from his father, another Vlad, whose moniker was Dracul which translates as "devil" and "little dragon" because he belonged to an order of knights which had a dragon on its shield.
That is a preamble to our visit to Bran Castle, made appropriately in the lashing rain which leant a grey tinge to all our photos of that place. Built by those stalwart Saxons from Brasov in 1382 to defend the Bran pass against Turks, it may have housed our friend Vlad the Impaler for a few nights only. But hey, that hasn't stopped the village from cashing in on the myth of Dracula and who can blame them! Set on a high rock with a backdrop of mountains and pine forests, inhabited by wolves, it is a stunning
Courtyard well. Love those roof tiles.
many-towered castle with a surprisingly comfortable interior. From 1920 it was the summer residence of Queen Marie which accounts for its white interior walls, painted beams, lovely tiled stoves and handsome furniture. Set on three floors, you can look down on the geranium filled courtyard with its well which conceals a labyrinth of underground passages, sadly not open to visitors. There is a detailed exhibition on Bran Stoker in one of the rooms and we listened in to a private tour conducted in English to get the full story of the Irish author who has spawned all the Vampire spin offs. Suppose I should now read the original! As well as the many stoves, I loved the huge bearskin rug in one of the rooms, reminding us that Romania has 60% of Europe's brown bear population. Under Ceausescu none but he was allowed to hunt theses creatures hence their continued healthy numbers.
I was pleased that Lynn was our driver on this trip. As an American she was used to driving on the righthand side of the road although being used to driving an automatic, she had to be reminded to go up to fifth gear and to put
on the hand brake In our manual hire car. Interesting to be introduced to a Romanian manufactured car, a Dacia, part owned by Renault, which held the road well even on the rather bumpy road surfaces to our next port of call, the pretty town of Sibiu. As we drove along the country road, we were struck by the number of huge storks' nests on the telegraph poles. They arrive in the spring and then migrate to North Africa for the winter.
Sibiu is another walled town although only one section still remains. Originally it had 39 towers and like Brasov each guild had the responsibility of maintaining a tower. Our trusty satnav led us through narrow cobbled streets to our boutique hotel, Maison Élysée, a handsome town house decorated in the fin du siècle style. Our room was on the third floor up a spiralling wrought iron staircase and we were delighted to find it was a suite of rooms and at a cost of only £60 a night.
Although it was drizzling steadily, we went in search of the Portuguese restaurant on Lynn's Trip Advisor list and found ourselves in the Piata Mare, the main town
Tiled stove with bed place
square, where a spectacle was taking place, a huge insect rearing up on its back legs and exhaling fire! This was followed by a brass band but hunger called so we did not linger but wandered out of the square down to a lower part of town where we enjoyed another tasty fish meal accompanied by a delicious Romanian Sauvignon Blanc. The rain had become heavier so we scuttled back to the hotel, hoping to explore the town in better weather the following day.
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