Read, Write, Run, Roam

Dogging Dracula: A Transylvanian journey


For some, the word Transylvania triggers Rocky Horror Picture Show flashbacks.

For RHOB, it means Dracula.

I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula while we were traveling through Romania. Though the story is largely set in England, it ends and begins in Transylvania, “in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.” As Dracula himself says, “We are in Transylvania, and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.”

Indeed.

They say truth is stranger than fiction, and I have to agree. Dracula is presumed to be based on Vlad Tepes III. Vlad (we’re on a first-name basis) was born into a high-ranking family. He was the son of a member of the Order of the Dragon, Dracul, and signed documents as Dracula, meaning son of a Dracul.

What Vlad lacked in good looks (see right) he made up for with military prowess, a flair for hats, and a vicious sense of revenge. He was a military commander and leader of the Wallachia region. He defended his territory from the Ottoman empire, implemented economic trade reform, and instituted a zero-tolerance capital punishment system for criminal offenses large and small. His “signature punishment” was impaling people on large spears very slowly. There are legends of Vlad “the Impaler” leaving thousands of skewered Ottoman corpses on the Danube. German and Hungarian pamphlets testified to Vlad’s atrocities, but these may have been printed for political reasons. In any case, the legend of “Dracula” spread far and wide. The 16th Century German woodcut above shows Vlad feasting in a forest of impaled victims. Looks like Vlad needed a better PR manager.

We decided to track down the legend while we were in Romania. Our first stop was Bran Castle, often called “Dracula’s Castle.” That’s a bit of a stretch, since there is little evidence that he did anything more than stay here temporarily, but we were undeterred. I’m not a fan of castles but I figured this one was too good to pass up.

Bran didn’t do much to dispel my attitude toward castles, but the damp and largely unfurnished structure offered a suitably chilling ambiance. And the screaming children on school trips added an unexpected touch of horror. The castle is a bit “Disneyfied”-they even have a room dedicated to films about Dracula-but it was all in good humor and a worthwhile morning spent driving around Transylvania.

Our next stop was Sighişoara, Vlad’s birthplace and one of the more fun cities to pronounce: Siggy-SWAR-a. After driving Muz insane with my DJ rendition of the name (Siggy-siggy-siggy SWAR-a, accompanied by phantom record scratching) we pulled into the historic part of town.

How could such a cold-hearted person live in such an adorable place?  We wandered around the car-free Old Town and stopped by Vlad’s childhood home. The original building is long gone, but it’s been replaced with a…wait for it…Dracula-themed restaurant. Of course.

Sighişoara wouldn’t be complete without a statue of Vlad. Milos led us to the man himself on his afternoon walk. They both tried to look as tough as possible.

Our time in Romania was coming to an end, and we hadn’t seen a single vampire. It was a bit of a disappointment. Sure, Dracula was a work of fiction, but vampire stories existed for decades, even centuries before the book was written. In fact, the word “vampire” originated in Serbia in the 1700s, and Serb Arnold Paole unleashed vampire fever in Europe. So it couldn’t be completely fake, right? RIGHT? Milos and I were bummed. Muz was just hungry. So we called off our vampire search and went to dinner.

The next day (our last in Romania), Milos met a stray dog who was popular in the main square. I’m not sure what was said, but apparently he decided to let us in on a secret. As we drew closer to our new furry friend, he rolled over and showed us his pointy, sharp teeth.

I know what you’re thinking–RHOB, those are canines, not vampire fangs–but I know better. Vlad, Arnold and Nosferatu, your secret is safe with RHOB.

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