In my previous post about my trip to Braşov, I mentioned that there would be more to come about the real Dracula’s castle, as well as some other aspects of Braşov. This was because I made the decision to return and see everything I hadn’t gotten to see almost as soon as we got back. I reasoned that I had traveled halfway across the world; I owed it to myself to see the things I wanted to see. Romania has a fascinating history (many of the buildings in Iaşi, for example, are older than the United States’ entire existence as a country), and I needed to take advantage.
After my sweet Oana’s passing, though, I didn’t want to go anywhere. I told myself it would be a way to distract myself from the sadness I felt, but I still had a heavy heart as we set off.
Only four of us had gone to Braşov the first time. The others had gone to Constanța, a beach town on the Black Sea, so they were excited to have me coming so I could show them around. I was hoping for a couple of people to come with me on the tour of Cetatea Poenari (Vlad the Impaler’s real castle), because it gets cheaper per person with every passenger, but was surprised when all seven of the others generously agreed to take an entire day out of the short weekend we had to take the tour with me.
We rented out a maxitaxi and arrived in Braşov around eight-thirty. Our tour started at nine. Essentially, we spent more than twelve hours driving that day-but it was completely worth it, and I’m about to tell you why.
Our tour also included the Trănsfăgărăşan Highway, which I didn’t know much about. Have you ever seen the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? You know that part where he’s longboarding through Iceland? That’s what this highway reminded me of.
Every bit of the country we traveled through was green and lovely. Though it was three hours to get out to the castle, our ride was packed with excitement, from hiking to a waterfall-
-to spotting wild bears, which Transylvania is famous for because of the untouched condition of its forests.
When we finally reached the castle, I could barely contain myself. This edifice contains so much dark history that people don’t know about-it’s way more exciting than the vampire legend. And now I was standing in front of it.
It’s not as abandoned as I had imagined from the guidebooks and online blogs I’d read, which said that you had to walk or hitch a ride from the nearby village of Arefu, seven kilometers away. Now, the area around the castle is almost like a village in itself. There are snack and souvenir stands and a decent restaurant at the bottom of the peak. There were lots of other tourists making the pilgrimage.
On the way up, I regaled some of the girls with pleasant tales, like how Vlad was angry with his noblemen for betraying his father and burying his older brother alive, not to mention trying to oust him from the throne, so he surprised them with a fun little impalement party at his court for Easter 1457. All those who were not killed with sharpened stakes were forced to march up this mountain to build the castle until the clothes literally rotted off their bodies.
Our climb was a little bit easier-1480 steps in the shade up the side of the mountain. I was still puffing when we got to the top, though.
Walking around the ruins, I could see why it made such a dramatic point for a castle. You can see to all sides of the peaks surrounding it, and every position is defensible. The Turks often attacked this area once the castle was built, and came very near to capturing it several times. On one such instance, the Impaler’s first wife declared that she would rather die than be the Turks’ prisoner and flung herself out a window into the river below. Here’s the exact spot.
I’m sure the girls were really bored with my geeky history facts, but they took it all in stride. After we’d all gotten our fill, we made the three-hour journey back through pleasant villages, complete with the occasional herd of cows roaming the road.
The next morning, we got to go inside the Black Church, which I’ve mentioned before. Inside is the largest organ in Romania, Turkish prayer mats covering the balconies that date from the seventeenth century, and high, sweeping ceilings.
We also made it back to the flashy Peleş Castle-only to be told we had missed the last tour by five minutes.
To top it off, when we arrived back in Braşov, we were later than we had told our driver and it was raining heavily. We hid in a closed courtyard while I called him to tell him we wanted to get something to eat before we left. All of the sudden, there was a river running in under our feet. “Let’s find a restaurant,” I yelled over the sound of a terrifying wall of water.
“Where should we eat?” another one asked.
“WHO CARES, RUN FOR IT!” screamed a third, and she made a beeline across the now-flooded road to a restaurant light across the street. We followed, screaming as our shoes and heads were soaked.
Long story short, we wound up in a very nice five-star restaurant looking like drowned rats. I’m talking turkey florentine stuffed with spinach. That’s how nice this place was. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.
We finally made it back to Iaşi without event and went through our last week of working. Yesterday was my last day in the orphanage, and it absolutely broke my heart. I’ve come to love my babies like my own children. I don’t want to leave so another volunteer can come and take my place. But that’s the way of things. People leave, things change. But I will always have the good memories, the valuable lessons I’ve learned, the renewed desire to do something to make a difference in this world. Thank you, Romania, for all you’ve given me.