Explore the Mystery and Folklore of Transylvania, Romania

The birthplace of the legendary Count Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, has inspired authors, film producers, and playwrights throughout history. Robert Browning wrote of children escaping from Germany to the enchanted land of Transylvania in his famous poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin. From the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein published in 1818 to Bram Stoker’s horror story of Dracula in 1897, many of us are fascinated with Gothic fairy tales, mythical vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures seen in movies, television, and on stage today.

Transylvania is a huge, scenic area of mountains, forests, old castles, villages, and cities of considerable historical significance. We will visit the popular tourist destination of Sighisoara on the Tarnava River, about 180 miles from Bucharest, and discover some of the mystery that surrounds Romanian folklore. History reveals that Vlad Tepes, born here in the 1400’s, lived with his father Dacul, governor of Transylvania and member of the Order of the Dragon. The name Dacul was subsequently changed to Dracul, which may explain the origin of the Romanian name Dracula for his son Vlad. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the picturesque walled town of Sighisoara is a wonderful model of 16th century architecture and medieval atmosphere. Explore the 9 remaining defensive towers in the walls, which were built and maintained by different trades or guilds of the medieval era including blacksmiths, cobblers, tailors, and tinsmiths. Horse drawn carriages are a familiar sight on cobblestone streets and around the town square, where visitors gather at cafes and shop for souvenirs.

Attractions:

The 12th century Citadel, historic center of town, hosts a 3-5 day medieval festival the last weekend in July, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. Music, parades, concerts, jousting, street vendors, knights and minstrels, craft displays, and other medieval entertainment are featured in the festival. Entry fee: $3. (Inexpensive rooms are usually available from local residents.)

The 210′ Clock Tower, or Council Tower, built in 1556, was the center for the judiciary. The 2-sided clock from the 17th century works like a cuckoo clock with carved wooden figures representing Justice, Peace, and Law, guarded by two angels Day and Night on one side. On the other side are figures of pagan gods depicting the days of the week. A weather vane at the top still turns with the wind to forecast weather. Within the Tower, a small history museum features 3 floors of crafts, clocks, and furniture exhibits, a torture room, a 4th floor display of the clock’s mechanism, and an outstanding view from the top 5th floor.

Hours: Mon, 10-4:30pm; Tues-Fri, 9-6pm; Sat & Sun, 9-4:30pm. Admission: $2.15

From the Citadel, you can climb 175 steps of the Covered Staircase, which was used by schoolboys and residents during inclement weather to reach the school and church on the top of the hill. This old Lutheran church is certainly worth visiting for its beautiful architecture, paintings, and frescoes. Relive the legend of Dracula in the eerie atmosphere of the church graveyard as evening approaches.

Vlad’s House, or Casa Dracula located near the Clock Tower is easily recognizable by the brownish yellow color of the building and the sign of a dragon over the entrance. The ground floor has been converted into a medieval tavern with candlelight and Dracula’s menu, while the first floor houses the Museum of Weapons. Hours: Tues-Sun, 10-3pm.

Travelers may enjoy a 2-hour side trip from Sighisoara to the town of Brasov and Bran Castle nearby. Bran Castle is often referred to as Dracula’s Castle in keeping with the legend, yet history does not reflect that it ever belonged to Vlad. The castle served as the royal residence for Queen Marie, however, and visitors can explore the underground passageways and 60 rooms of medieval art, furniture, weapons, and armor. Plans are ongoing to restore the historical importance of the castle, which has become somewhat touristy with the usual souvenir vendors of Dracula trivia.

Hours: 1 May-30 Sep, Mon, 12-6pm. Tues-Sun, 9-6pm. 1 Oct-30 Apr, Mon, 12-4pm. Tues-Sun, 9-4pm. Admission: $6, $5 (65+)

Trains about every 2 hours; fares avg $25.

(Note: Hours and admission to attractions, if available, are approximate and subject to change.)

Accommodations:

Hotel BinderBubi, rated 5 stars, has up-to-date guestrooms and suites for business and leisure travelers in addition to numerous amenities including buffet breakfast, BBQ facilities, lobby bar, spa, workshop and conference conveniences, bicycles and cars for rent, ticket service, and gift shop. Rates: $90-$105 & up.

The Korona Hotel, located at the foot of the Citadel, receives positive reviews since its renovation this year. It offers rooms with modern amenities, a restaurant and pub on site, room service, and outdoor pool. Rates: $68-$122/night

Casa Wagner is recommended primarily for the old world atmosphere, comfort, good Romanian food, and a first-rate wine cellar. Restaurant is open daily, 8am to 11pm. No air conditioning, but the rooms and bathrooms are huge, and there’s a nice courtyard and terrace in the back. Rates: $42-$125/night

Vila Franka, just 5 minutes from the Citadel, offers large rooms with cable TV and mini-bar at extremely reasonable prices, restaurant nearby. Avg rate: $50/night

Budget accommodations and popular pensions include the am Schneiderturm, Citadella, Legend House, and Saseasca. Rates avg $45-$65 (with 4-night stay).

Dining: In addition to hotel restaurants, others receiving positive reviews include La Perla for Italian and Romanian gourmet cuisine, as well as delicious pizza. Specialties, typically Hungarian, Austrian, and Turkish, include cabbage rolls, goulash, moussaka, polenta, and pilaf, as well as baklava and dessert crepes. Romanians love pizza, as do most of us, and La Terrace Jo is a popular pizzeria.

Take time to visit Teo Coroian’s distillery and shop where he lives and makes palinca, a unique blend of apple, plum, and pear brandy. Teo has some unusual bottles of brandy crafted by local artisans for sale, which make excellent gifts. You can rent a room in his home for $57 a night, which includes breakfast and a mini bar of snacks and beverages.

Getting there: International flights from London, Barcelona, and Rome to Budapest, Bucharest and major cities in Romania. Train service throughout the country – fares based on distance traveled, seat class, and type of train. Regular train routes from Bucharest, the capital, 5 hours, and Budapest, 10 hours. Eurolines bus travel, although slower, provides connections from numerous cities. May-December ferries twice a week between Bulgaria and the Ukraine to Romania.

(Note: Sighisoara is small enough to explore on foot.)

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Movie tourismTravel ideas

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