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.

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