We squeezed into another 5-seater rental car (above, they are all looking at a screen btw) like we did at the start of the trip, and this time we had ML on hand-yes, that makes 7 of us! And let me tell you those twins are getting big!! We were headed to Dracula’s grave. Outside of Bucharest the land quickly became rural and we passed large fields of blooming sunflowers. Before long we were seeing wooden carts being pulled by horses. The villages had orange terraced roofs and picturesque churches with domed towers. We followed our map and an occasional sign with Vlad Tepes’ name. Then we parked and walked across a bridge to a lovely old church on a quiet island.
A bit about Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula; of course I got mildly obsessed with the history. He is associated with Dracula but he died in 1476, over four hundred years before the novel by Bram Stoker. He ruled for about six years and was killed at age 45, accidentally or purposely, by his own men, or maybe by Turks, who may or may not have decapitated him, preserved his head in honey, and displayed it on a stake in Constantinople. Facts are fuzzy; it was a long time ago. He got the charming nickname regarding impalement after his death, and most sources seem to agree that he was somewhat sadistic and did impale his foes. Vlad had fans, too, among Romanians and Bulgarians who appreciated his protection against the Ottomans and credited the Dracul Order for defending Christianity against the Turks. Sources say he was buried in one of a number of locations- we went to Snagov, a monastery possibly founded by Mr. Tepes, but perhaps not since it maybe existed before his birth.
It was really a lovely, quiet place on a warm summer day. There is a fee to walk around the island and enter the church, but the tourism factor ends there. Nowhere are seen Dracula images or any type of souvenir. The church is small, modest in decorations, and dark inside. People pray and buy small candles, lighting them and placing them in a metal cabinet outside. There are religious paintings on the walls, high wooden chairs to each side of the central space, a modest altar, and a marble rectangle on the floor with a picture of Vlad Tepes propped up on top. There were flowers and two lit votive candles on the marble slab. It felt more like a saint’s grave than the inspiration for a horror story.
We wandered the little island, the twins lit candles, we all petted the dogs that were there. Eventually we made our way back across the bridge and resumed our drive. We went a couple of hours to the town of Brasov, where we stayed two nights. We had a spacious terraced house perched on a hill and we could walk to the mideival walled city. We did walk there and up to a tower that had great views. View of mideival Brasov, cute house near ours, Fiercely in front of our rental.
While there, we went on a marvelous hike in the Seven Ladders Canyon in the Pietra Mare Mountains, part of the Eastern Carpathians. Wow! We walked on the paths, passing a clear mountain stream and many locals enjoying picnics and the beautiful weather. After hiking uphill an hour or so, we paid a fee at a hut to continue to the Canyon. There is a zip line network you can take downhill from there if you like. Not far after, we came to the foot of the Canyon and started climbing the metal ladders to the top.
Leaving Brasov, we went slightly out of our way to see Bran Castle, of Dracula fame. Vlad Tepes has only a minor association with the building; had may have visited it once or twice, but locals have capitalized heavily on the theme. It was as touristy as Snagov monastery was plain. There were numerous kiosks, shops and restaurants laden with drawings of Dracula and Vlad, souvenirs and toys. It was full of buses and groups of summer camp kids. We had decided to look at the ‘Dracula’s castle’ from the outside rather than join the screaming groups inside we had read about in reviews. It was a beautiful castle on a rocky hill, not at all scary with its blooming flowers on a sunny day. Our next stop was to be a quieter castle and we would explore there. And we headed away from Bran towards the next part of our trip. Here’s the famous castle and also a pic of a Christian type of shrine we saw in many places in the area, it kind of looked Dracula related to me.