After dodging cows on the rural roads of Romania we finally made it to Bran, the home of Dracula’s Castle. Now, in case you weren’t already in the know, Dracula is fictional and when Bram Stoker wrote the book in 1897, he had never actually set foot in Eastern Europe. His description of Castle Dracula closely matches the castle in Bran so they have laid claim to the title. And that is why we were in this part of Romania for Halloween.
Bran Castle has a long history, including once holding Vlad the Impaler in its dungeon, but its most recent inhabitants were the royal family of Romania. It is still owned by the (former) royals but is now used as a museum and, of course, as party central on Halloween weekend.
When we arrived we decided, as we usually do, to head out and take a look at the town. As you would expect, “downtown Bran” celebrates Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, nothing rivals U.S. Halloween but they did their best. Restaurants hung skulls and bats from the ceilings, displayed “Happy Halloween” banners in their windows and carved and lit pumpkins for the weekend. The tourists shops of course, have a never ending supply of vampire fangs and they stamp Dracula’s face on anything that will stand still. But the town is so small that, even though every stall sells the same vampire mugs and magnets and postcards, it never gets overwhelming. We also got our first real view of the castle which is really quite charming for being, you know, Dracula’s house.
We spent the following day exploring the surrounding area. We stopped first at Rasnov, a medieval citadel that has made the unfortunate choice to add it’s name in huge white letters to the side of the hill it stands on in an obvious attempt to copy the Hollywood sign. Egads. Still the area was quiet and historic and surrounded by yellow and red changing leaves and housed a large family of stray cats. Romania has a huge stray animal problem.
Then we were off to Brasov, a small city with a very pretty historic area, a nice square full of pigeons for the kids to chase and a handful of easily found geocaches hidden in the old surrounding wall. We even saw a few kids heading home from school with devil horns and black cat ears and faces painted for Halloween. Brasov is a very nice place to spend an afternoon.
We arrived back in Bran that evening and had a small scare when we saw an enormous line waiting to get into the castle grounds. But our party is tomorrow night, right? We asked a traffic directing policeman what was up. Private party. Whew! Let’s go find a geocache under a bridge in the dark just behind Dracula’s castle. On Halloween. High five on the spooky factor!
The following day we actually took two trips into the castle, once during the day to see things by sunlight, then again for the Vlad led tour at night. I can see why the Romanian queen liked it so much. It’s as cozy as a Romanian castle in the Carpathian mountains can be but is also full of winding hallways and secret staircases and tiny courtyards.
This year’s family costume theme was Victorian Vampire, for very obvious reasons and we seemed to be appreciated. Several tourists asked to take our picture and the director of tours for the evening told us we were the best family costume he had seen all night, which I take as an enormous compliment, considering from whom it came.
The following day we said goodbye to Bran and Max, Chokey, Dracula and Vlad (the stray dogs that the kids named) and spent five of the most boring hours we had the entire trip driving to Constanta on the Black Sea. The beach resort of Mamaia was absolutely deserted, save for a few US government contractors (if our eavesdropping skills are any good). We had one of the only hotels open for the season completely to ourselves (well, and the contractors). We walked on the beach, stuck our hands in the Black Sea to say that we had, collected shells and sea glass, then rested up in our cushy family suite, using the hotel provided slippers, bottles of water and every mini bottle of shampoo and conditioner they had.
Thank you, formerly Communist Romania, for hosting us! And Happy Halloween from the Martins!