Brasov : Time to strike for the heart of Transylvania
Brasov Travel Blog› entry 181 of 268 › view all entries
The two women sat opposite me cross themselves three times each as we roll out on the rails to Brasov in Transylvania. ‘Gulp!’ are we heading into ‘troubled’ lands?! I’m not ruffled. Honest. In myself I am happier now, following my excursion to the seaside but still in a bit of a travel trance. Back on route. My route - if I ever had one? - through Romania. I endure some poor old boy hacking, coughing and phlegming through a tracheotomy hole in his throat, which he dabs with a grubby, slimy hanky periodically, all the way. That ought to keep evil spirits at bay!
I’m sat now at a table in the Rolling Rock hostel, happy to have arrived and to be still with a hot tea in my hand.
Sinaia’s a pretty place. You should certainly stop on route through from Bucharest to Brasov and beyond.
But Brasov’s where I’m at now. So may as well go see some STUFF right? Take some PHOTOS yeah?. And maybe, if I’m lucky, have some thoughts; spill some ink in the form of words into my little notebook if I so be inspired. Will I be able to pick some words from the events of my time in town to weave into words of interest for you now? It doesn’t always happen of course.
Don’t worry, this rather maudlin tone is no slight on Brasov. But it’s raining. Both in Brasov then, and now in Zagreb where I finally pen these words.
As with any town or city of note in Europe Brasov is composed by the inner ring of its historic town centre, encompassed by sporadic, centuries worn stretches of the city’s old defensive walls, all of this being bordered as much as the local topography will permit by the shiny metal, oil-slick sprawl of The New city into the suburbs.
The weather clears. I head up for some panoramic views of the town which can be had at no expense from viewing platforms at the base of the Turnal Neagre ( The Black Tower but curiously white in colour) and its near associate the Turnal Albu (The White tower but curiously slightly greyish in colour). The pattern of the city is dominated by the high-spired grandeur of the Black Church. This shadows the main square with terracotta tiled houses fanning out from there, slanting this way and that.
Lots more strolling. The usual charming clustered collection of churches (St.Nicolae Cathedral worth noting) and cobbled backstreets. Romania’s oldest school and within it (if memory serves) first printed books can be viewed if you so choose. Brasov also possesses - apparently - Europe’s narrowest street. Strada Sforii (Rope Street) runs for 83 metres at 1.32 metres wide, which don’t feel so superlatively narrow in my mind as I traverse its length so I’m sure this claim is open to contestation. It reminds me of one of the only details that I can ever recall of a primary school trip to York in England where one can find ‘Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate‘, the city’s shortest street with the longest name.
I’ve taken refuge in churches several times from the rain at this point but mostly am happy for the change of it (the rain, that is) and to amble around with my black hood up, obscuring my peripheral vision. Clouds cleared away again now, the sun comes out all the better to paint the reflections of small, laughing children as they run through the puddles left partially carpeting the old square. Pigeons seem to be playing the same game. Running in fright of their own reflections - and the screaming children who chase them back to the skies. I chew my paper bag of pastries from Fornetti’s, a heavily franchised patisserie that accompanies me throughout my time in Eastern Europe where mediocre pastry products can be bought by the 100gram to fill that budget-conscious hole in your stomach ahead of a proper meal (maybe) at dusk.
On my second day in Brasov despite agreeing with my Polish pal Mike’s advice ‘not to do any of that Dracula sh*t’ whilst in Transylvania, I’ve not much else to do so I actually do hop on a bus for a half day trip to the town of Bran and its famous castle that is almost universally, and misleadingly referred to as ‘Castle Dracula’ for the purposes of tantalising tourists and their purses. It’s a cheap trip [see below] so “what the hey!”.
In all honesty it’s a mostly disappointing affair. Bran, a little tucked away town, once a village with the castle’s original purpose as a fortification for the pass it sits in and for collection of tax tithes is relatively unremarkable.
It’s a sunny ol’ day, not one speck or cloud coloured grey up there so I’m afraid I can’t cast visions of rolling black thunder clouds and lightening bolts crackling down to cleave the castle walls. All the brightly coloured tourism booths and eateries etc make it feel more in spirit of feeling with a trip to Margate beach. Closer to the walls of the castle, a large community of darting, screeching black forms swirl about the high stoney walls and - if you want - we can conjure them as clouds of swirling black day-light bats… but sad to say they are merely swifts singing into the breeze.
Nope, to carry on with the myth busting. Suffice to say the Irish born author Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker never travelled to Romania, and if he based his fearsome protagonist’s abode on any particular engravings of Romanian castle architecture, it was unlikely to have been the frankly, small(ish) and friendly looking Bran Castle.
The ’Dracula’ myth in one paragraph? “Dracula” means ’The Devil’s Son’ in Slavonian apparently and Vlad ’The Impaler’ Tepes was son of the erstwhile and equally feared Walachian ruler Vlad Dracul ( Vlad ’The Devil’ as so named by his subjects and enemies). To lift directly from the in-castle info Vlad Dracul was decorated by the King of Hungary ’in 1431, with the Order of the Dragon, superior class.
…And so gave rise to the novel that gave rise to the infinite movie spin-offs of equal parts grotesquery, humour and campness courtesy of Legosi, Lee, Oldman & Co which in turn gave rise to the ceaseless waves of tourist tack that wash against the walls of Bran Castle today (a place near impossible to get satisfying camera angles on). I fight my way, fingers raised and crossed in a make-shift crucifix to bare towards, and make back-off the various stall vendors hawking their scary wares. Postcards, puzzles, mugs, T-Shirts with fangs and dripping blood upon them, all year round Halloween masks and costumes, strange glittery nylon wigs sat next to traditional Transylvanian lace works next to ceramic mugs and Toby Jugs pottered in the form and features of terrifying, presumably caffeine-thirsty vampires ( it’s amazing how red one’s eyes, and how pallid or undead-looking one’s complexion can turn if the craving’s not satisfied regularly right? ) or of Vlad ‘The Shish Kebab-Man’ himself.
[ If when in Brasov you - as I - succumb to the need to visit 'Castle Dracula' don't bother with a tour package that will cost you four times and more than doing it on your own. Just take the #12 public bus (1 Lei/ 20p) from the main bus stop line just down from the Central Square to Autogara 2 (bus station number 2) from where public buses/ coaches leave almost every 30 minutes to Bran for just 4 Lei / 80p each way.