In Transylvania, it seems that every other town or city advertises itself through a connection with the world’s most famous vampire – sorry Twilight fans, I’m talking about Dracula. It’s vampires that spring to mind when you hear the word ‘Transylvania’ [also sweet transvestites, but I didn’t find any of those], and Sighișoara – a town in the heart of the region – bears the honour of being the birthplace of the historical figure of whom Bram Stoker drew inspiration in the creating of the character of Count Dracula. That’s right – Vlad III Dracul, better known as Vlad Țepeș, meaning Impaler, was born in the little town of Sighișoara in 1431. The house in which he was born has been turned into an overpriced restaurant named after him, and I must admit it’s not particularly interesting to look at. It’s just a house, and being painted a mustard yellow colour it hardly looks scary. There’s also a statue with a bust of Vlad Țepeș in town, and he doesn’t look a whole lot like Count Dracula.
That’s all there is in Sighișoara about Dracula, if you discount all the souvenir shops selling plastic fangs with bottles of fake blood, tshirts proclaiming things like ‘Transylvania Survival Kit’ or bleeding fangs, and hundreds of terribly tacky ceramic mugs and steins in the shape of Vlad Țepeș’ head. The rest of the town is Dracula free – after all, Vlad only lived here for a few years as a very small child. There will be more about Dracula in another post.
For visitors, virtually everything you might wish to see is within the tiny fortified Transylvanian Saxon citadel, which dates back to the twelfth century – although most of what remains is from a later period as it was extended and further fortified in the sixteenth century. It seems like a popular place to visit on a day trip, and in all honesty you could certainly see all the sights, spending time at each, in a day. I’m not kidding when I say it’s tiny! I stayed for two nights and didn’t regret it. I didn’t rush around, and I spent much of my time sitting on benches reading books or eating apples, and slowly exploring each little tower and alleyway.
I stayed at Burg Hostel, which although it has dorms is really more of a hotel. It has a restaurant and pub downstairs, and while it’s nothing at all like a hostel I did enjoy it there. I had my own room for the price of a dorm bed, as there was no one else staying there. I did get attacked by the shower door my first night – the heavy panel of glass decided to fall off and whack me in the head – but aside from that, it was great. The restaurant on the ground floor had a wood burning stove, which heated up the restaurant beautifully, and it served cheap but tasty Romanian food. It was also about ten metres from the central square, so there’s no complaining about the location.
Arriving in the early afternoon, I had a wander around the citadel before heading out through the archways under the clock tower to the town proper to find a late lunch. I found a great little restaurant that served a killer pasta and incredible hot chocolate, and I stayed there for a few hours just people watching. It took almost an hour for my food to come as it was very busy, but that didn’t worry me as I wasn’t famished – I was more interested in being out of the cold. It was dark when I left – I didn’t get my lunch until about four – and inside the old town was beautifully lit up.
The next day, I visited the History Museum. I wasn’t surprised that despite the hefty 10 lei entrance fee, if you wanted to take photos you had to pay extra. What did surprise me was that the photography fee was a whopping 60 lei! I decided against forfeiting more than a third of my budget on some pictures and was glad I chose this – while the museum is quite interesting, there’s really nothing that demands a photo. The museum is small and spread over a number of levels – it’s housed in the clock tower and so you are continually moving up. They had a lovely collection of furniture and some interesting artefacts, but the best thing was the view from the top.
I concluded that the 60 lei photograph fee pertained only to photos within the museum, not to photographs taken from the viewing veranda near the top of the tower. The lack of no-photo signs here, given their proliferation through the museum itself, lent support to my conclusion. The view was nice, but what I liked most were the small brass plates attached to the railing in various places indicating the direction and distance of cities around the world. I searched for Melbourne without luck, but found Sydney. This isn’t a surprise – I didn’t bother looking for Canberra, as most of the world thinks that Sydney is the capital. Still, it was a reminder of just how far from home I am.
In the main square of Sighișoara there’s a small cafe at the House on the Rock that has homemade sandwiches, pies, quiches, cakes and more and so I decided that it would be a nice place to visit for lunch. They made a quiche Lorraine that could have done with little less salt in the pastry but was otherwise quite tasty, and I went all out and followed this with a giant slice of lemon meringue pie. They gave me the only piece that was basically without meringue so it was a bit of a disappointment, but the lemon tart it became was good.
Once I’d finished lunch, I walked up to the Church on the Hill through the ‘Scholar’s Stairs’, a wooden covered walkway with two hundred and something steps. Now here was something that interested me! As in most churches, photos were forbidden. The church took more than two hundred years to build – given that it was first mentioned in 1345, it’s safe to say that it’s rather old. Originally a Catholic church, it became a Lutheran church after the Reformation when most of the Saxon community in Sighișoara converted to Lutheranism. What was most exciting about the church however was the remains of frescoes dating back more than five hundred years to the late fifteenth century. Originally painted prior to the Reformation, they had been painted over in the mid-eighteenth century, and many removed completely on the proviso that the frescoes were copied so that they could be repainted. The copies were lost, and the frescoes were thus not repainted, and only a few of the original paintings remain today following careful restoration work. The church has been beautifully restored, and it’s a very peaceful place. The photo below is not the church but a little house next to it. The church didn’t look too exciting from the outside.
Opposite the entrance to the church is an old Saxon cemetery. Call me morbid, but I like cemeteries – particularly old ones. I find the silence relaxing, and ( was also interested in seeing how different the cemetery here was to Săpânța. This cemetery was as one would expect; concrete or marble tombstones, carved with the usual details of name and dates. Old women pottered around collecting dead flowers from graves, while others came to place candles and fresh flowers on the graves of their loved ones.
The main path was lined with graceful old trees, and ancient tombstones had been used to create a retaining wall at one point. The only thing that marred the peace was a group of mountain bikers who rode through. Them, and a little black and white cat who decided that it would be my new friend. He followed me around, rubbing up against my legs and meowing, before leaping up onto a grave and then to my shoulder. I got a few strange looks, walking around with a cat on my shoulder. I was quite sure that he had a home – he was far too friendly to be a stray. He was also fairly well fed. I tried to get a picture of him – like most bloody cats, as soon as you pull out a camera they either run towards it and headbutt it, getting cat-hair on your lens, or mysteriously vanish from the place that a moment before they’d been posing perfectly.
I hunted around in the souvenir shops for something that wasn’t completely terrible and tacky without success. There were some lovely traditional shirts and embroidery, but they were quite expensive and I couldn’t justify spending $100 on a shirt in Romania when I wouldn’t spend that at home. I was hoping to find a sticker to help cover up the shinyness of my new computer, but was surprised to find no stickers. I’d also been unable to find a flag patch, so I figured that the only small things they sold were fangs, keyrings and painted thimbles.
The best part of Sighișoara is just wandering around. There are so many old buildings, some crumbling while the building next door will be in pristine condition. Like everywhere else, everything is painted in deep pastels and so what could be a grey, detached citadel is vibrant and welcoming.’
My last night in Sighișoara I met up with an American couple from the hostel in Sibiu, and we had dinner and a few drinks in the hostel’s restaurant – they were also staying there but in a private room. It was definitely a night to be inside by the wood-burning stove, with a few carafes of wine and hot, homey food. They went out for a wander of the town a bit later, but as I’d done the same the night before I decided that it was not worth leaving the warmth and comfort of the restaurant. The citadel is beautiful at night.