Day Trip to Bran: What Does This Castle Have to do with Dracula??

2 Jul

Bran castle in all of it’s glory- white horse adds to the scenery nicely

7.1.2011 2:17 p.m.

Arrival in Brasov and a trip to Bran Castle

I had a packed first day in Romania yesterday. In fact, I already feel like I’ve been here a week! I stayed with Adina and Mircea, a travel-loving middle-aged couple who have discovered the joys of letting cuochsurfers stay in the spare bedroom. Since I arrived at 9:30 pm, almost 4 hours later than I intended,  Mircea immediately came to pick me up at the station and pointed out in broken English the passing landmarks as we drove to their family home. I could hardly keep my eyes open, but Adina made me feel comfortable when I arrived, making sure I didn’t need warmer clothing or anything to eat. She explained that I will be living in the downstairs apartment in a room across from grandfather who is 87 years old. She insisted that I stay two nights instead of going back to Bucharest the next evening. So, that’s what I did.

The next day (Thursday) the weather was rainy and terrible, but I made the most of it. As Adina had suggested, I took a path along the river just outside of the city ramparts (built once upon a time for keeping out the Turks), which led me to the bus station. From there, I caught a smaller bus which led to the city of Bran, home of the infamous Bran castle. Bran itself was pretty touristy, as touristy as a small Romanian mountain village could be. They were really pushing the Dracula theme via a bunch of little huts stocked with Romanian souvenirs and tacky Halloween masks and wigs. I thought the connection was a bit of a stretch, but whatever. After paying the entrance (10 Romanian Lei, only $3.00) I embarked on the journey.

As far as castles go, I really didn’t think this one was anything special. This may sound crazy to some of you, but after seeing some big-shots like Neuschwanstein or the El Alhambra, your expectations get pretty high. I can’t believe it’s come to “castles are just castles!” Four years ago, when I arrived wide-eyed to Italy, some European friends and I took a day trip to check out a seaside village. There was a castle there,  and me being a curious castle-less American, suggested we check it out. My friends ‘poo-pooed’ me with a series of off-handed waves. “It’s just a castle” they said. Maybe now I understand.

Bran castle was inhabited by a Romanian Queen. No bloodthirsty Vlad the Impaler, no carnivorous spirit of living dead, just a straight-up queen. Somehow, since Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, people have come to associate Bran castle with the legend. The castle tries to support this with informational signs in the last rooms of the tour, but the connections are weak.

How did this happen?

Mr. Stoker probably based the Dracula character off of the real-life Wallachian prince Vlad Tepes, Tepes translating to ‘Impaler’. During young Vlad’s rule from 1448-1476, he instated an authoritarian regime based on terror and gore. For a laugh, he enjoyed torturing his enemies in the most brutal of manners—use your imagination! Vlad also had another nickname: Son of Dracula, after his father Vlad Dracul. In Medieval times,  ‘Dracul’ or dragon, used to have positive connotations relating to fertility and dragon-slaying , i.e. slaying one’s enemies in order to defend the cross. However, in later years Dracul became synonymous with the devil…muah hah haaah.

Ironically, although Tepes gets a bad rap for being a brutal ruler and such, he goes down in the Romanian history books as a sort of Robin Hood-esque national hero, one who protected the poor while fighting tooth and nail against the invading Turkish army. For better or worse, Tepes was speared to death by his enemies.

Don’t mess with Vlad

Anyway, Vlad Tepes lived nowhere near Bran castle, but luckily for Bran’s economy, someone decided that this Schloss resembled the one mentioned in Bram Stoker’s novel.

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