Being Brave In Romania #5
I’ve Seen Dracula’s Castle And He’s Not Smiling
I stepped off the bus in Bran and looked into the eyes of Dracula’s castle hovering like a malevolent force above the city. With civilization down here and centuries of mystery up there, it was exciting like a vampire movie in your childhood. I remember seeing “The Fearless Vampire Killers”, and suffering many sleepless nights afterwards. They got the bad guy in the end and the village was saved. But here in Romania, this was just one of the many castles Vlad the Impaler was said to have frequented. If you talk to the locals – they laugh. It’s an uncomfortable subject with truth inside the myth.
Castle Bran was beautiful in an eerie sort of way. At its feet, you looked through a small village, preserved intact, with bedrooms, kitchens, stone ovens, tapestries, and a mill arranged in a circle. A stone walkway leads you away up to a sheer rock face. There’s writing on the outside walls, like a warning or a curse that time couldn’t hide. I climbed the stairs and went through the huge wooden doorway. Tourists joked and whispered “Boo!” to each other. We all laughed and it was easy to join in with the game.
I thought about the dust mites floating around recycling for hundreds of years. Was I breathing the same air as he did so long ago, if in fact he breathed at all? And why were there huge iron locks on all the doors? Secret passages, tunnels under the castle, and rooms that twisted around corners, with no mirrors, icons, or crosses in such a religious place as Transylvania? The bright white walls seemed out of place. The darkness was contained, packaged, and sold to spectators.
In the main town, you could buy Dracula T-shirts, mugs, faces on a stick, and a huge assortment of souvenirs. I bought a handmade orange sweater and strolled through the vendors. There was a restaurant decorated with costumed ghouls, skeletons, dripping blood red paint, and smoke that made your lungs sting and stayed with you long after the experience.
But there’s more to the story than what most tourists see. Dracula was vicious. His cruelty far more outweighed anything the fictional character could dream up. But when evil was so rampant in the countryside, he was needed to exterminate the Turkish invasion. Thus giving him national hero status and a commemorative stamp. Some say he will rise again to conquer when Romania needs it the most.
I vowed to read up on poor Vlad. A hero to many. A villain to others. It all depends on how you look at it. Actually, the real vampire at that time was a woman. The fear of werewolves and other superstitions played a huge role in why the towns came to be so fortified. On a bright and sunny day, the castle’s not so bad. We can go home and laugh about a silly Hollywood induced story. But the villagers know there are still some places you wouldn’t want to be found. Alone… Outside…After dark.