Travels with Kehaar: Bran, Romania
In March of 2005, I had the opportunity to travel to Romania and Hungary with a group of classmates from my MBA program at UNCG. We spent 8 days “studying” and seeing the sights in Bucharest and Budapest, the capitals of the respective countries. We also spent one night in a villa nestled in a valley of the Carpathians in Transylvania, Romania.
The entire trip was certainly the experience of a lifetime, but the night we spent in the village of Bran was one of the real highlights. For one, we had the entire villa to ourselves and we could be as loud and obnoxious as we wanted. There wasn’t another living soul within a half-click of the place. This was fortuitous because, as Americans abroad, we were especially loud and obnoxious.
For another, it was some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen. The Carpathians are truly magnificent. For someone whose chief experience with mountain ranges is the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina and Virginia, it was an eye-opening experience. Where the Appalachian mountains grow soft and slow from the foothills, the Carpathians rise sharp and steep over the land. You get the sense that they’re packed together more tightly and that they’re somehow more ominous and aggressive.
I dug up some of the pictures from our trip and I thought I’d share them with everyone in this space. These don’t cover Bucharest and Budapest, but they give you some sense of what we experienced while in Bran.
|As I said, the Carpathians were absolutely gorgeous. When we left the low-lands for the mountains, all we could do was stare out the windows at the beautiful scenery. The first chapter of “Dracula” really does provide a good description of the area and you really do feel transported to a different world. You certainly felt like you were traveling several hundred years into the past. The mountain roads were very narrow and twisted back and forth like a snake with scoliosis. Horse-drawn carts loaded with firewood were a very common site.
Besides being beautiful and quaint, it was also bitterly, bitterly cold.
|Our “authentic” Romanian meal. Notice the dead animals and garlic in the rafters. Some of the meat on the plate was bear meat. We got very tired of all the salt in the food, but we enjoyed the tuica (plum liquor). Well, some of us enjoyed it. It was served warm and was very strong. I once challenged my Romanian friend’s father to a shot contest in which I would do three shots of tuica and he would do three shots of tequila, which he’d never had. Needless to say, three shots later, he was complaining about the “water” I’d given him and I was unconscious under a coffee table.
The “traditional” Romanian musicians were playing Broadway show tunes. Go figure.
|Bran Castle is situated on a huge rocky outcrop. One can imagine the difficulty the Turks might’ve faced in assailing it, if indeed the Turks ever did. I am not sure on this one. Because of the snow and ice, we had a difficult time getting to the castle ourselves. Several of us, myself included, took a spill in the ascent.
When we got to the top, the castle was closed. It was Romanian “Women’s Day”, a national holiday. The Romanians very graciously opened the castle for us because we were
|A few shots of the central castle courtyard. This was my favorite part of the castle. It was especially beautiful given the falling snow. It was also especially treacherous. Time-worn stone stairs plus a light covering of frost and snow equals a near death experience for unwary travelers.|
|The inside of the castle has been furnished with art and furniture from the time of one of the various Vlads. Vlad Tepes rather than Vlad Dracul, I think. One thing you don’t get from the various Dracula films is the sense that Dracula was a munchkin. Walking through the interior of the castle, you realize that Dracula could’ve been no taller than 5’5″. If he were taller than this, he would’ve bludgeoned himself to death on the low doorways and ceilings.|
Overall, our experience in Romania was great. Bucharest is kind of a dump, but the Romanians are very warm and friendly people. They are certainly the warmest and friendliest I’ve encountered in my few trips abroad. If you ever get the chance to visit, be sure to spend some time in the mountains. Hopefully Bran Castle will still be on the list of tourist attractions.