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Our delightfully outdated locomotive was surprisingly comfortable as we left the station we saw a few examples of communist era trains standing ever ready for the Romanian commuters.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

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