Transylvania Stories and Tips

Transylvania & The Danube Delta

Transylvania, for me, has always been a dreamland, a land of myths and legends, famous as being the home of Dracula. In truth, the area is mountainous and spectacular. In the north of Romania, the journey from Tulcea was rather arduous. A four-hour bus ride took us to Bucharest, which was then followed by three hours on a very slow express train. Popular in winter for its ski resorts, the tall, rugged mountains dropped down to lush, green valleys. Arriving in Brasov, the municipal center for the area, a short drive brought us to Bran, a picturesque village, and birthplace to the folklore Legend of Dracula. This time, for accommodation, we found another ecologically friendly residence. The wonderful thing about these places is that they are incredibly cheap. Our beach cabin was only $10 per night, and here, all five of us fitted into two rooms for a total cost of $20 per night. Once more, we had an adequate restaurant and bar, where even the barman joined in by becoming the nightly entertainment. Guitar in hand, he serenaded everyone with a national and international repertoire. Castle Bran is visited by thousands daily. From all over the world, they pass through the gates and climb up the winding path to enter the ancient portals, cameras in hand. Built in the second half of the 14th century as a stronghold against the Ottoman Empire, Bran owes its notoriety to the striking image associated with the places where Dracula haunted, the title hero of a novel, created by the Irish novelist, Bram Stoker. Now a National Museum, in the latter half of the 20th century, Bran became one of the summer residences of Queen Maria of Romania. The most infamous resident, however, was Vlad the Impaler, King of Wallachia. His unsavory reputation came from the fact that he had a penchant for skewering his opponents on stakes and then eating his dinner amidst them, as they died a long and painful death. The insides of Castle Bran shows no reference to Vlad or Dracula, but the visiting guests certainly get a feeling of the evils possibly done centuries before, and it is not hard to understand why Bram Stoker used the castle and village as his source of inspiration. It’s possibly to travel in Transylvania very cheaply. We hired a local resident and minibus that charged us $20 a day, including fuel. For this, he took us wherever we wanted to go for a twelve-hour period. One place was Sinaia, home of yet another National Museum, Peles Castle. Where Bran offered legends and history, Peles gave us grandeur, opulence, and elegance. Built in 1873 over ten years, the castle was the stately home of King Carol, the first Monarch of Romania. Even today guarded by armed soldiers, Peles boasts the first central heating system in Romania, which is, amazingly, still intact and working. The king also installed an electric lift, never heard of before in this country. The various collections, including furniture, artwork, and armoury are wonderfully preserved and are a definite must for budding antique experts. It was sad that we could only tour the ground floor. The others were off-limits due to the aging woodwork being diseased. Still, what we did see was well worth the while. Brasov and the surrounding areas are tops for skiing in winter. We took advantage of the ski lifts and cable cars, still running in summer. A twenty- minute ride takes you to the mountain peaks over 1400m high and more. Peace, quiet, and clean fresh air certainly make you forget the troubles of the world. As I looked on the miniature villages far below, I had visions of Julie Andrews, running across the hills in full song. From high up, I realized that I had found a true form of relaxation, where the stresses of a busy life had been left behind. We spent five nights in Transylvania and, as we made the long journey back to Tulcea, I wished that we could have stayed a little while longer. Anyway, I decided that a return visit was a must. Once more back down south, I was soon to discover that the Danube Delta had a lot more to offer. The area should be declared an “outstanding beauty.” My hosts seemed to know exactly what were the right things for me to do. On this occasion, they had hired a boat, and off we went for twelve hours with the wildlife. We cruised for miles without seeing another soul. Our only company was the wild birds perched on rushes, watching our intrusion. Sitting on deck with a drink, it wasn’t long before I dozed in the sunlight, the only intrusion being the low drone of the engine. Our destination of the day proved to be Mila 23, a fishing village hidden away in the Delta. A row of small houses lined the riverbank, standing out against the greenery with their blue painted façades. Fishermen sat outside the solitary bar waiting for passers-by to purchase their catches of the day. We didn’t disappoint them and cruised away with eight kilos of fresh river crayfish. These were later cooked on the boat and washed down with a few litres of homemade white wine. I even tried fishing. Everyone cheered as I had three successes, although I do admit that the largest was only four inches long. Still, I was pleased at my first attempt at “big game fishing.”

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