Dracula. It’s a name that strikes fear into the hearts of millions. Books have been written and movies made about this Translyvanian nightmare. Every Halloween thousands dress up in his likeness in the hopes of getting candy. On this trip we would be in the homeland of the ‘real’ Dracula (the one who inspired Bram Stoker to write his book), a medieval prince named Vlad from Translyvania who impaled thousands of his enemies at a time (hence his nickname “Vlad the Impaler”), and rumor has it, drank their blood. We tracked down “his” (more like one that he visited once…) castle near Brasov, Romania. While staying there we had been informed by the locals that not going to Bran Castle is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. We decided it would be best if we went, so we headed off on a bus for a rather unpleasant ride with Asher on my mom’s lap and my dad and I sitting next to men with knock out amounts of smoke on their breath. I went to sleep to avoid becoming a casualty of third hand smoke. When I woke we were at the bus stop. You could see the castle through the trees, but only partially.
We bought some drinks and hiked a short way up to the entrance of the castle. I looked at it awe struck. It could be described in one word, “incredible.” Yes, incredible. Incredible that this small, scrawny wimp of a castle could be the home of Vlad the Impaler, the only person who gave me nightmares as a kid. It was a square, box-like structure no bigger than a small office building. I thought to myself, “No, that’s not it. That must just be the front gate!” We walked through the sea of Dracula merchandise until we reached the gate to the castle. We read the information sign which told you that the castle was built as a buffer against the Ottomans, that it had changed hands many times during history, and that it was currently owned by the people of Romania. After we hiked the small road up to the castle and entered it, my fears were realized. This was the castle in its entirety, the alleged stomping grounds of one of the world’s cruelest mass murderers. We went inside and started to look around. It was not even a square acre in size and had a small courtyard with a garden the size of your grandma’s and a well in it. I couldn’t help but shake my head and laugh.
We made our way through the castle looking at old woodwork and strange pictures of the most recent royal residents of the castle. While going through one room, we heard a weird beeping noise followed by someone talking in Romanian and then a voice speaking in English. McKane stuck his hand out and touched a guard rope; the noise sounded again. The voice sounded in English screaming something that sounded like, “Please, don’t touch the obelisks.” Mom told Mac and the little kids to stop but they couldn’t resist the temptation to keep on touching the rope. We deciphered that the voice was really saying, “Please, don’t touch the objects!”. Everyone was laughing and having great fun but to avoid a confrontation with the security guards and having to explain why we were continually grabbing the rope we left. We made our way through the rest of the rather dry and boring castle and were on our way out when we were called over by the guard woman. I froze in fear. What if she was going to talk to us about our fun with the rope? We walked over. “Do you want to see some wood products, some souvenirs? We have them upstairs. Cheaper than in the gift shop downstairs.” She gestured to a staircase behind a rope. We said no but she was persistent. Apparently secret trading in souvenirs is an unofficial but serious aspect of her job. We finally convinced her we weren’t interested and exited the castle.
We walked around the forest surrounding the castle for a little while and I found, of all things, an old Asian coin. Mac was excited due to the fact he collects coins. We took a few pictures and headed off to board another stinky bus back to Brasov. I looked at the castle in the distance as we drove away and thought, “How could anyone ever, ever see that as Dracula’s castle?” I still don’t know, but maybe if I had seen Vlad the Impaler’s real castle when I was little, I never would have had nightmares about him.