Wandering Demon Boots

Monday 5 January 2015

Strange places in London.

I was born in London. I've lived here my entire life, I work here, my friends are here so you'd think that there wasn't much in London that'd take me by surprise... You'd be wrong.

In fact the city is full of surprises, mysteries and unusual places you just wouldn't expect to find.
London's past and present are are a mix of  triumph and disaster. The city has gone from being a small Roman town to the massive super city it is now. With over 300 languages spoken, over 8 million residents and almost 2000 years of history its not surprising that the city has a lot of lesser known oddities that even lifelong residents have never heard of.

One of my all time favourite lesser known places in London would have to be Saint-Dunstan-in-the-East.

A building that underwent multiple disaster to become London's secret garden.

The church was built almost a millennia ago in 1100 AD but for some reason it would seem that fate had other plans for Saint Dunstan. For you see.. the building was never able to survive.
In 1391 due to technical problems with the building repairs took place costing £2400 which would be a fortune today.

After when all seemed well the Great Fire of London broke out in 1666. The fire lasted 4 days destroying over 13200 houses and 87 churches. 

Saint Dunstan was not spared and was severely damaged however rather than rebuilding the church from scratch it was decided to patch whatever could be fixed and was finally fixed in 1671. 
But the ill fated church yet again needed extensive repairs in 1817 as it was discovered that the roof was to heavy and it was slowly unbalancing the walls.  It was decided to re-build the church from the arches up but the damage proved to severe and the entire building was taken down and re-built not re-opening until 1821. 

As everything seemed to be the way it should be and Saint Dunstan was fit for use the final disaster struck. 

In 1941 a Luftwaffe bomb struck the unlucky church finally destroying the entire east and west walls. 

After the war it was decided not to re-build this church and in the 1960's it was turned into a park.
in 1971 trees, a lawn and benches were added.
While the building now looks like something out of a post apocalyptic horror film it is still alive and continues to inspire those who know its tucked away whereabouts. 

Aside from a few benches the church looks as though it has been unaffected by the industrialisation and modernisation of the modern city. Even though the tip of the Shard can be seen gleaming in the sun, Saint Dunstan is very much in its own little world. 
Not only is it an amazing place to go for a lunch break for the local office workers, it is also an incredible place to do photoshoots. As seen in my online vintage company Regimental.

This amazing monument to an older London still lives as a place of worship too, with services conducted in the open air on special occasions such as Palm Sunday.

Amazingly dispute the Church's dramatic and unfortunate history, like the very city itself. Saint--in-the-East refuses to give up its place in history and I hope now all the misfortunes have run there course and this secret landmark will stay with us for ever. 

Tuesday 30 December 2014


On our last day in Romania we had one more place to visit, Arguably the most iconic and recognisable building in Romania... Bran Castle!

Set high in in the pine covered hills sits the centrepiece of Bram Stockers horror master work Dracula it is in this castle that fictional solicitor Jonathan Harker was imprisoned and tormented by the vampire until his daring escape. However as compelling as the novel was the truth about this mysterious castle is just as arresting.

Unsurprisingly the castle has a rich history of war and political instability from the 13th Century until living memory that have inspired not only great story tellers but almost everyone who looks upon the face of this towering stone giant.

The first fortification in the area was constructed in 1212 by the Teutonic knights. The wooden fort was built to protect the trade routes into the mountain valley which had been used for over a thousand years. Just decades later in  1242 the fort was destroyed by the Mongol army. As time passed the castle we all now know was drawn up by the Saxons in 1377. The stone castle was used by Vlad the Impaler to defend his homeland from the Ottomans in 1438 and continued to be used up until the second world war when Romania's princess Ileanna offered up the castle for use as a military hospital. Following the Second World War the communist regimes expulsion of the Royal Family and was not returned to the heir and rightful owner until 2005.

Upon entering the small town in the present day tourists can expect to find small stalls selling all sorts of vampire related souvenirs from mugs to t shirts to snow globes.
Unlike most landmarks in Europe though the atmosphere was relaxed and an absence of pushy salesmen was a refreshing  change from the chaotic, often stressful and occasionally intimidating methods used in major tourist attractions elsewhere in the world.
Sorry for the low quality image. I was trying to take it subtly to avoid being forced 
With time to kill before the castle opened to visitors we drank coffee in a nearby bar, bought some tacky Christmas presents and made friends with a few local residents including a rather chatty can and gang of very friendly dogs.

This cat wouldn't stop meowing, I think he was actually telling me the history of the town in cat language.

One dog in particular made friends with me and followed me right up to the ticket office for the castle and then proceeded to accompany me up the slope and into the entrance of Bran Castle where he patently waiting for me.

The entrance fee for the castle was only 25 Lei which works out less than £5.00.
The interior is in my opinion the perfect balance of original artefacts and only essential information so it really is like stepping back in time.

Each room is kitted out as if it was still waiting for the owners return.

There was more than just fancy beds in Bran Castle... Suits of armour stand guard at every turn and the castle also has a rather curious collection of torture devises!

I'm not sure what this was for but I don't think it'd be nice. I'm sure someone in the fetish scene would disagree though.

All throughout the castle are windows, balconies and openings offering amazing views of the surrounding landscape.

While not nearly as lavish as the nearby Peles Castle there was something very enchanting about this castle. Maybe it was the centuries of warfare but at the risk of sounding like a hippy the place had a very strong energy. The troubled building seemed to have a soul.

In fact as I was reading some information I heard someone walk in and felt a breath on the back of my neck only to discover I was very much alone in the room.
I don't think I encountered the lost soul of a sickly soldier who died when the castle was used as a hospital or the vengeful spirit of a furious Vlad the Impaler.
It was probably just echoing footsteps and a gust of wind.. but it was an eerie place to say the least.


One the way out we got a sinister stare off the big man himself. Vlad's eyes seem to follow you around the room.

I really could not fault Bran Castle. It was everything I wanted it to be and I am very glad I saw it.
Pressed for time we unfortunately had to get back to the capital city and fly back to our vampire free reality. We were supposed to get a train back to Bucharest but we instead took a ride with a friendly Transylvanian all the way to the airport while driving over misty mountains and hearing all about contemporary life in the country.
Unfortunately our Wizz Air flight was delayed by 5 hours...

I loved Romania and I would love to go back someday and stay for longer. Bram Stockers's novel might have inspired me to go but now I have a lot more reasons to go back to this mysterious and addictive country.

If you are planning to go to Romania I hope this helped you out a bit.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions  please feel free to leave a comment and I'll endeavour to answer you!

Thursday 11 December 2014


Romania Day 3: Peles Castle.

Our third and penultimate day in Romania was cold, wet and foggy. My search for the same land I read about in Bram Stockers Dracula wasn't exactly going to plan. While Bucharest was a vibrant, cool city and Brasov was charming and idyllic it lacked the chilling atmosphere I was searching for. Coming to the epiphany that I was looking in the wrong places I changed my approach and decided to venture to the near by Peles Castle. After all, castles are probably the most obvious landmark that appear in the imaginations of those who hear the name Transylvania. Every interpretation from cartoons to comics to films of varying budgets all have one thing in common, a creepy secluded castle in a remote forest.

Just under 20 miles from our fairytale town of Brasov sits a palace that could potentially fit the bill. Built deep in the Carpathian mountains and surrounded by an ocean of pine trees, the location was certainly worthy of a horror film. While the location did tick all the horror boxes the building itself while beautiful looked more like the residence of Cinderella than Dracula. That would probably be because Vlad The Impaler who inspired the most well known villain in fiction never stayed here, in fact this castle wasn't even built during his bloody reign. Peles Castle is a far more recent addition to the evocative landscape. With construction starting in 1873 the castle is only 24 years older than the novel which would immortalise the area. That being said, Peles still has a lot going for it, not only is it a work of art as far as the architecture goes, any students of the subject would agree this is a wonderful blend of Gothic revival and neo-renaissance.

As we approached the castle we walked into the sights of two rusted cannons. No doubt once fierce machines of war to protect the castles royal residence they now serve as backdrops to many selfie taking tourists.

Past the castles now obsolete artillery pieces were the grand grounds of Peles which were scattered with a zoo's worth of elegant animal statues from lions and elephants to less exotic dogs.
It was not just animals either. Statues of women holding babies, bearded men and cherubs all inhabited this busy garden.

Is it just me or does this statue look like its crying?
However its not just a pretty face, the building is bursting with historical trivia. For example did you know that this castle was the first in the world to be completely powered by locally produced electricity made in its own on site power plant? King Carol the first, who ordered the construction of the castle was a clever chap too, rejecting designs that to closely resembled Western European palaces wanted something more original that everyone would like, awarding the job to German architect Johannes Schultz who combined the elegance of Italian and the formidability of German design, works were also carried out by the Czech architect Karel Liman who designed the towers including the central tower which at 66 meters tall dwarfs even the tallest of the pine trees around it. 

The inside of the castle is just as interesting and beautiful and if you don't mind paying an entry fee of 164 RON (About £30.00) you can have a look around.

The interior labyrinths of hidden doors and spiral staircases of heavy carved woods adorned with hand painted murals and exquisite fabrics are slightly overwhelming, it is a lot to look at and you are not given a great deal of time to do so as guided tours are often hot at your heels .

My favourite room was the hall of arms, where every conceivable inch of the wall has a cluster of weapons nailed to it. From elaborate and beautifully crafted swords, pole-arms to elegant crossbows and muskets to the less decorative but very deadly maces and morning stars it seemed that the only theme was an ability to kill and maim which made me feel like a kid in a very sharp sweet shop.
This was more like a small museum than a simple hall of arms there is enough hardware here to start a small war. Maybe King Carol the First favoured understatements as much as he did hoarding an impressive 4000 various items of arms and armour.

The palace is not just equipped for the unhinged weapons collector like myself, the lucky residents could also keep themselves amused with the palace library, variously different themed rooms and various styles of statues, paintings, furniture, gold, silver, stained glass, ivory, fine china, tapestries, and rugs. 

If that was not enough, the palace also has its own small theatre!

The castle was getting busier with tourists and unless you are a part of a guided tour you only have a few precious moments to take in the very detailed works on each room. As we decided to not take the guided tour and explore at our own leisure the staff saw fit to usher us out or make us wait for those being shown around. At this point we decided we'd seen all we could and headed out. In my opinion the grounds and exterior with its dramatic mountain backdrop was far more interesting than the lavish inside but it was defiantly an impressive sight.

The weather had gotten considerably colder as the sun began to set and after a few coffees in the near by cafe we had the daunting task of figuring out how to get back to our hotel in Brasov. Heading down the icy, foggy pathway I suddenly noticed how this earlier scenic palace now had a very eerie feel about it. Glowing in the dark and obscured by a thick layer of mist it looked like a ghostly apparition.

The light fading ever quicker the terror struck that we might not find a taxi and would be stranded for the night. Hurrying along we passed pathways with skeletal like shadows from the winter trees dancing in the dying sunlight.

As it got darker it got colder. The main road was deserted and quite apart from the occasional barking of an unseen dog.

Eventually we saw the neon sign of a hotel lit up like a beacon.
We explained to the staff that we were trying to get to Brasov and we'd be very grateful if they could call us a taxi. Unfortunately they did not assist our simple request telling us no taxi would take us back to Brasov and our only hope was to find a bus.

Disheartened and now rather stressed we ploughed on through the thick snow pausing every time we saw what might have been a taxi coming down the road.

That is when we heard it, a squeak then another, like a mouse only higher pitched...

Then we saw them. Bats! Swooping through the frozen air.

I at last had my taste of how I imagined Transylvania, it was cold and dark, we were lost and now there were bats, all in the shadow of a faintly lit castle sat high in the hills. This was what I was hoping to experience but it unnerved me all the same I felt could imagine presence deep in the woods around us and as foolish as it sounds in retrospect I made sure my crucifix was securely around my neck and visible to any potential paranormal aggressors.

Then out of the dark void came at last our salvation in the form of a taxi. We jumped in as took off into the now pitch black night to Brasov, and a more pleasant yet equally surreal incident took place, the taxi driver had not overcharged us!

Getting out the taxi the contrasting bright lights of Brasov's old town were more dramatically enhanced by the colourful twinkles in the sky as what appeared to be every citizen of the town were launching Chinese paper lanterns into the sky.

I wasn't exactly sure why they were doing so but decided it looked fun and so few joined in. Watching until our paper aircraft saw float and dance into the starry sky until they were engulfed into the night.

After this odd yet flight of fancy we dinned at a local Romanian pizza joint and turned in for our last night in Brasov.

Tomorrow would be our last day and we still had Bran castle, perhaps Romania's most famous site to see.

Wednesday 10 December 2014


 Chapter two: Journeying North.

Waking up early to give ourselves plenty of time to get to the station and leave the capital, I was slightly disappointed to have not been able to adequately explore Bucharest, but I had to remember my objective: to find the land Bram Stoker wrote about in on of my favourite works of literature Dracula. And while Bucharest had charm and plenty of history and beauty, it was not the mysterious and haunted land I read so intently about as a teenager. There was only one obvious place to start my quest for Stoker's described land and that was of course Transylvania where we would stay in the town of Brasov, one of the more well connected towns in the mythical region.

After the awkward affair of hailing a taxi on a busy road our ever helpful apartment host was able to tell a our slightly unfriendly driver exactly where to drop us off over the phone. After a brief ride we arrived at Gara Du Nord which was built more like an indoor market. Bucharest's main railway hub was littered with various fast food joints, shops and tables selling everything from Christmas decorations to sheepskin rugs. Staffed by railway workers in military style red peaked caps and blue uniforms this scene would not have looked out of place in an early James Bond flick. 

Our host offered to meet us at the station to ensure we bought the right tickets and got on the right train which was a relief as all the trains looked very similar and some will take you as far as Turkey! Our two 2nd class tickets racked up a bill of 50.50 RON each which works out about £10.00. With our tickets printed and our train in plain sight and 15 minuets to spare I bid farewell to our very helpful and honest host. While Jasiminne found seats and looked after our luggage I went to the closest McDonalds to buy us some breakfast for the journey. I could lie and tell you it was the only place open but in all honesty as a well travelled vagabond the slight differences Mc'D's have from nation to nation amuse me. With our not so cultured snacks of muffins and hash browns, and our Nat Geo magazines we got as comfortable as we could and started our two and a half hour expedition north. 

Our delightfully outdated locomotive was surprisingly comfortable as we left the station we saw a few examples of communist era trains standing ever ready for the Romanian commuters.

We were quickly hurdling through the city limits and the elegant Bucharest cityscape gave way to abandoned buildings and sparse hamlets. The ride was relatively peaceful save for the odd salesman attempting to sell his fine merchendise of pens and toolkits and even a few bands of children singing what I guessed were Christmas carols. As we approached our first stop the various passengers entered and exited and the rest of the northbound folk took the opportunity to step out for a cigarette, cigar or pipe on the snowy station platform. Unaccustomed to such a liberal approach to smoking, I was elated at the chance of a quick ciggy. The locals calmly puffed away and even the railwaymen's whistling and flag waving signalling the impending departure of the train did little to hasten the smokers. It was only as the train rolled away and picked up speed did they finally decide it was time to get back aboard and hope back on to the moving carriage. 

Again at full speed I found myself rather uninterested in my magazines article about over fishing in South Africa. I averted my gaze to my outside surroundings to be rewarded with a spectacular view of fog unglued, snowy mountains as far as the eye could see. As with each mile the view became more and more idyllic I knew I was approaching Transylvania and for the first time I could see a similarity to the land described by Dracula's opening character  Jonathan Harker. At last! 

I just hoped my trip into this enchanting land would end better than Dracula's ill fated solicitor.

With the train coming to a halt we had arrived at Brasov. A taxi rank outside appeared to be the simplest option and after a rather frustratingly tedious sales pitch from our driver we eventually convinced him that we did not want him to give us a private tour of Bran castle at an very inflated price he agreed to take us to our hotel. We were still overcharged for our fare, a practice becoming ever more frustrating. 

On the plus side the hotel was very well located just off the main pedestrianised road and minutes from the Old Town square. The hotel Casa Albert's staff were polite and helpful and our room was pleasantly large, airy and offered us a comfortable king size bed and a large TV.

Wasting no time we took advantage of the unusually sunny weather and headed outside with the aim of having a look around the town. Unfortunately unlike Dracula I cannot transform myself into a bat so to get the best vantage point of the area I opted for the top of Mount Tampa which shadowed the Old Town. Fortunately not much climbing was needed as Brasov is equipped with a nifty cable car which for a small price could take you up the 3000 foot mountain in a few minutes. 

The Coca-Cola painted cable car makes light work of the formidable hill face.
Once at the top one can see all of the town and beyond to an icy wilderness. The snow covered summit was thick with trees, rock formations, oh and ''Beware of bear'' signs. 

While we didn't spot any bears the fresh air and alpine settings made for a nice walk and the map like view of the town was interesting. While beautiful it looked more like a scene from a Disney princess movie than the dark abode of a monstrous fiend. With the possibility of bumping into a cloaked figure looking less and less likely we headed back down in search of an early dinner. 

With bears known to roam the area and vampires not to far away it would have been stupid to not attempt to conceal myself with my Swedish military smock.


Gliding back down via the cable car into Brasov Old Town we passed by the Council Square which was cluttered with medieval buildings including the curiously names Black Church, curious as its not actually black. Built as a Roman Catholic church on the site of an earlier church destroyed by Mongol invaders in 1242 AD the building had a mixed and rich history dating from as early as 1383 AD the church changed to become one of the countries first Lutheran places of worship during the Protestant reformations of the 1500's. In 1689 another invading army of the Habsburg Empire (modern day Austria) torched the town in what became known as the great fire, the church was heavily damaged and the fires of the surrounding buildings stained the church black. It took another 100 years to restore the church yet the macabre nickname stayed on. However through its turbulent past the church stands proudly over its town and remains the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul. 

While I had a lovely day exploring this fascinating town I was still far away from my envisioned Transylvania but after the train, mountain walk and sightseeing in the old town I was done for the day. 

We planned to see the castles and palaces where Vlad the Impaler frequented. The real Dracula who's brutal methods of defending his land would inspire one of the most noticeable horror characters of all time. 

But that would have to wait until the morning. 

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Vampire Weekend: In search of Dracula

PART ONE: Bucharest.

This story starts a long time ago when I was a teenager. I was gifted a book from a good buddy it was Bram Stoker's Dracula. I never really got into the vampire hype but this book with its exhaustingly detailed descriptions of a mysterious and enchanting land left me hungry to learn more about the buildings, people and country that inspired what is arguably the grandfather of all horror fiction. In the present day after the usual distractions that one is bombarded with as an adult (work, rent and so on) my girlfriend and I as fate would have it happened to take a ride with a taxi driver who was well versed and passionate about the history and culture of his home land, Romania. After we heard about the geography, weather, economy and history from the infamous Vlad the Impaler to the fall of communism my thirst to explore this country was re-animated. Within a few minutes of searching the internet we'd found return tickets to the capital Bucharest for a measly £40.00 each! My mission was to find and experience the land which inspired the famous novel which was written in 1897 but the contemporary nation is equally mysterious. As a communist dictatorship until the late 80's the country was shrouded in secrecy and if not for one fantastic book and several hundred terrible films I doubt many people would have even heard of the spooky and rustic Northern Romanian district Transylvania. As with most parts of Eastern Europe Romania still remains a relatively obscure travel destination. Rumours of gangs of pickpockets and a myth of political instability in Eastern Europe may be the culprits. After a very chaotic flight our bright purple Airbus A320 touched down after three hours of screaming babies and turbulence, one aspect of Romanian social etiquette I was not aware of was the tradition to clap and whistle as soon as the plane lands which woke me up from my less than comfortable slumber to behold the frozen runway of Bucharest international airport. Apart from a police woman paying particular scrutiny to my passport and asking me if I was an illegal immigrant this first part of my journey into the land of vampires was relatively uneventful. As a precaution against a greedy taxi driver ripping us off we opted to pre-book a driver for less than £10.00 we were taken in relative ease and comfort to our apartment for our one night in the capital. We found our accommodation via booking.com and while a little bit ''ghetto'' the location was fantastic. Entering onto the main road of the city centre and overlooking the hospital which looked more like a palace. Our room came with complimentary beers and a very sincere and helpful landlord who explained in very good English how best to experience his city.

The view from our apartment was pretty impressive, even if it is just the local A&E 
 We realised that our time was precious as we had to get a train to Transylvania the next day we decided to make the most of our one night in the capital. Jasiminne as always had several proposals and we both decided to check out the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. Unfortunately finding a taxi proved a challenge and by the time we arrived the museum was closed. With nowhere else in the museum district open we chose to address our dinner. Caru Cu Bere or in English The Beer Cart was renowned as one of the cities best restaurants. The setting was very impressive. Like a scene from a fantasy novel the wooden interior was complete with stain glass windows, elaborate arches, tiled floors and spiral staircases and ash trays... YES you can smoke inside as a British Citizen this is nostalgic. I remember the days of old when we to could puff merrily away in our pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Me being me asked for a local Romanian beer and was pleased to see that it was served by the litre which again was a nostalgic reminder of getting hammered with my father in Germany as a child.
As for the food, I went for the curiously named ''Lord's meal'' which was a pleasingly hearty stew of mutton and boiled vegetables. Jasiminne however ordered a pork knuckle which would not have looked out of place on the dinner table of Fred Flintstone. It was essentially a slab of what could have been mammoth meat larger than my head on a mountain of various equally obscenely large vegetables. Overall the food was fine but as an establishment known to have to best cuisine in the city I would have expected a little better. Oh well at least the interior was pretty spectacular.

Carc cu Bere. The decor made up for the mediocre food.
Beer by the litre for the borderline alcoholic in all of us. 
The best thing about this place was definitely the interior. I was waiting for angry dwarfs to start fighting at any moment to the dismay of Bilbo Baggins
With our tummies painfully full with mutton and beer we went for a wonder around.
We accidentally happened across Stavropoleos Church. By night it looked rather spectacular.
I'll confess I didn't actually know where I was but later research taught me that this is infact of one of the cities most loved churches. Being a Greek orthodox with influences of Romanian architecture made this a very atmospheric place. Apparently in inside is the most impressive but we didn't get the chance to look so it will be worth checking it out if you find yourself in the area.
The courtyard was very interesting. With large Celtic style crucifixes and what I assumed were graves in an ancient Greek style setting of pillars overgrown with ivy gave me my first taste of the spooky Bram Stoker's interpretation of Romania.

I'm a bit cross that I didn't see the inside.... but the courtyard made up for it.
Moving on... We found another curiosity, a shop selling Orthodox church paraphernalia from communion wine cups to priests gowns. I would not say I am superstitious but I like to be prepared for anything so we bought two crucifix necklaces just incase we ran into a certain someone while in Transylvania.

We decided to head back to the apartment, it was getting colder by the minute and the early start, chaotic flight and heavy meal had left us weary and we wanted to have our wits about us for our journey to vampire land.

We made one last stop at a charming Parisian style bakery with a window display of the nicest looking cakes I've ever seen.

After buying some snacks we were approached by a charming yet rather vampire-esque woman who told us she had a special surprise for us... I waited half expecting her to sink her fangs into my neck but instead we were gifted two free cups of hot chocolate to take away and with the night getting colder and colder it was a very welcome treat especially as I rather arrogantly assumed after experiencing extreme cold conditions in Norway that I'd be able to handle a mere minus 4.

Proven wrong I clutched my life giving hot chocolate and thanked the vampire waitress who then told us we must return tomorrow. I told her that I was regretfully unable to oblige her offer but with a smile she simply said ''I'm waiting for you''.... Was this the trap of a blood sucking vampire or simply a good hearted waitress who valued customer service?

I guess I'll never know.

Finally with only one detour around a christmas market we were warm and in bed.

My exhaustion caught up with me and I fell into a deep sleep whilst watching some crappy documentary on the discovery channel. It was either about venomous snakes or Nazi's.. I don't really remember. Either way I slept well with dreams of castles, bats and hooded fiends in foggy villages.
So far after just half a day in Romania I hadn't quite found the same land that inspired Bram Stoker but I did buy a crucifix and possibly met a vampire. The hunt had to continue the next day.....
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