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.....


  1. Awesome start !! Looking forward for more nice shots and stories !! -yivon-

    1. Thanks Yivon! I'm really glad you enjoyed it. Parr two will be posted tonight!


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