Bran Castle is popularly billed as ‘Dracula’s Castle’ by Romanian tourism companies, despite the fact that it bears no connection to Stoker’s Dracula and only the most tenuous link to Vlad Ţepeş – some claim he may have once owned the castle [there’s no evidence to back up this assertion] while others say that he once visited it. Regardless of whether the castle has any connection with the legendary Wallachian prince, calling it ‘Dracula’s Castle’ is a great way to fill the place with tourists.
It’s a short bus ride from Braşov to Bran Castle, and it’s easy to tell where to get off – just look out for the hordes of market stalls touting tacky vampire-related tourist junk. The castle itself is also pretty hard to miss. The first step is navigating through the market and its endless stalls hawking ‘Transylvania Survival Kit’ tshirts, plastic fangs and mugs sculpted in the visage of Vlad. Ticket in hand, I entered the gates and headed up the hill to the entrance of the castle.
The castle is today a museum, displaying art and furniture from the reign of Queen Marie of Romania. There are information boards around the castle which tell the visitor about the members of the royal family, with pictures and brief biographies. I found these far more interesting than the supposed Dracula connection. There’s a couple of small rooms in the castle dedicated to the Dracula legend and Vlad III Ţepeş, with more information boards about Bram Stoker and his novel, the life of Vlad Ţepeş and a few more about supernatural creatures in Romanian folklore that bear similarities to modern vampires, and the folklore surrounding them.
The castle is a bit of a maze, with lots of narrow hallways leading off everywhere and equally narrow staircases. It has a central courtyard, and views from the windows looking over the town of Bran. It felt a little sterile, like most castles and palaces converted into museums with velvet ropes ensuring that you stay on track. Below the castle is a garden with a pond, and the view of the castle through the trees from there truly is a little spooky – especially as most of the leaves were gone and the trees were thin, dark and barren.
Taking the bus back to Braşov, I jumped off at Raşnov where there’s a fortress on the hill behind the town. It’s a little hard to miss given that Raşnov appears to have the ego of Braşov – yes, it too has its very own Hollywood-style sign proclaiming its name to the world. It was about a five hundred metre walk into town and I think I saw about three people; it was a veritable ghost town. There were a few cars though…all headed out.
As usual I took the hard way up to the castle, walking up the hill from the main square rather than getting a taxi to drop me off at the entrance. It was quite a nice walk actually; the entrance to a set of steps leading to a little track is through an archway in the main square, and it winds through the forested slopes of the hill before taking you up to the Raşnov sign in front of the fortress.
It was another two hundred metres from the sign to the entrance. I was walking pretty slowly, enjoying the scenery, until I saw a large group of small children around the age of seven heading also making their way to the entrance. No way was I going to be slothing it through the fortress behind a group of miniature people, so I upped the pace to get to the ticket office before them. Little did I know that I’d end up stuck behind an even more annoying bunch of people – about forty teenagers who managed to take up every inch of space taking crazy numbers of photos of themselves making out in every corner of the damn fortress. The panorama? Blocked by some loved-up seventeen year olds. The highest point? Try squeezing through of amorous teenagers who desperately needed to get a room. There’s clearly no problems with ridiculously public displays of affection in Romania! It was quite sickening to be honest. Think of the horde of small children coming your way!
The fortress itself was quite small and not very intact; plenty of places are blocked off with orange plastic or weathered wooden planks. Most of what is left is the defensive wall and a few small rooms – some have been rebuilt to house souvenir shops. The view from the top was more impressive than the fortress, and the walk up and down was more enjoyable than being stuck between a group of teenagers who couldn’t keep their hands off each other in front and noisy small people running around in clown wigs and sequined hats behind me. I ended up spending some time sitting on a wall waiting for them to disappear and allow me to enjoy the site in peace and quiet rather than squealing and moaning.
I spent almost an hour waiting at the bus stop for a bus back to Braşov, before someone pulled over and offered me and another girl waiting there a lift. Not having a clue when the next bus would come, and knowing that this is a common way to travel around Romania, I took up the offer. I was soon back in Braşov in a place I’d never been before – it was near a bus stop and as Braşov’s bus stops are considerate enough to have transport maps on the walls I managed to take the right trolleybus back into town. Too easy!