Jan Engkasser, the leader of our team, happen to be staying a couple extra days and had rented a car and driver to take him to castles up in the mountains in Transylvania. Jan was kind enough to invite me along and we split the cost. What an amazing experience! The fall colors were spectacular as we wove our way through these alpine villages that look like Leavenworth, WA in the midst of these majestic mountains. Snow was starting to blanket the tops of the mountains and in a matter of weeks these sleepy villages will be destination places for thousands of skiers descending upon them and their slopes.
First we visited the Peles (pronounced Pellish) Castle built by King Karl I (also known as King Carol) in the late 1800s. It is one of the most ornate, beautiful castles I’ve ever seen. The detail in craftsmanship is remarkable. This is the castle pictured at the top.
Next we visited the Bran Castle, often referred to as Dracula’s Castle. This castle was built in the mid 1300s – 550 years older. It’s not as impressive. It’s simpler, colder, not as well kept, but largely because it’s much older. It’s similar to the experience of visiting the Wartburg Castle in Germany (minus the grand ball room) and then visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany. Neuschwanstein is probably more impressive on the outside, but not nearly as impressive on the inside.
Why do they call it Dracula’s Castle? Bram Stoker’s fictions novel character Count Dracula is taken from the historic character Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler who had stayed at this castle for a short time. Stoker used this castle in his novel as the setting for his story. There were all sorts of kitsch trinkets one could buy as vampire memorabilia, but the history, architecture, and landscape I found to be much more interesting than the myths, legends, and fictions.
Next, our guide took us to an out of the way lodge nestled up in the mountain above a skiing village where we ate in a room that reminded me of The Halls of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. We ate in one of their dinning halls; a cozy, log room with with an open fire in the center, with pelts lining the walls and ceiling, and long open seating tables with wood chairs covered in sheepskins. We had bear, deer, and wild boar as our main course (pictured with the waitress bringing it on a flaming cutting board), where they bring you a selection of raw meat from which you cut your portion and choice of meat. And did you see the bread? Waaaay too much food for two people! The Romanians, in their pride of hospitality, feel they’ve have not amply provided for their guests if there are not leftovers, so they tend to prepare too much. We see it as wasteful, they see it as hospitality.
We also visited a series little hunting lodges up in the mountains that our driver was very proud of, but they were unfortunately closed. It gives you a picture of the grandeur of the mountains (that at the moment of this picture are hidden in the clouds). I was so thankful I got to see more of the beauty of the country and historic sites. What a great day!