Bran Castle, Dracula

by Andrada Costoiu

Bran Castle, Romania has probably gained his fame because of the legend of Dracula, a fictional character created by Bram Stoker. 

Stoker’s Dracula was a Transylvanian Count, a centuries- old vampire that inhabited a castle in the Carpathian Mountains.  His book was published in England in 1897 and there were many, many movies made after this legend! I have seen a few myself and my favorites are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, ( 1992, cast: Monica Bellucci, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder) and Dracula: Prince of Darkness(1966; cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir).

Getting there

The easiest ways to get there are by train or by car. I got there by car, driving from Bucharest to Bran (Bucharest-Poliesti-Sinaia-Bran). The distance is about 190 km and in good days it would take about 2.30-3 hours, but there is often traffic (especially in the week-ends) and it could take significantly more. The drive is beautiful as you would pass though some amazing scenery. 


What is the history of Dracula? Did Dracula as is presented in the movies and stories really exist?

Romanian mythology is rich in stories about troubled spirits that rise from the dead that can transform into animals and suck the blood of their victims. In Romanian mythology these are called strigoi and here you can read more about this. In Bran Castle you can find an exhibition of spells against strigoi.  

This is a poster with spells for strigoi that hangs inside the Castle’s walls

I felt chills reading this poster; I’d really like to ask Psykhe, the Greek goddess of the soul, what actually happens to the soul!  But Psyke is also a myth…..

If anything that the myths say is true, you should eat a lot of garlic! Romanians eat garlic, because this is supposed to repel the strigoi and prevent them of getting close to people….haha.

Who was in fact Dracula?

If you think about Dracula as vampire count, then you’re probably a bit far from reality. Dracula, the character from Bram’s book is associated with a Walachian Prince, also known as Vlad Tepes or Vlad Dracul. He was the ruler of Walachia and his favorite method of execution was to impale his enemies. It was a slow and painful death. This is one of the reasons why Vlad was also called Dracul, which in Romanian language means “the devil”.   Dracula, Bram’s character is fiction, while Vlad Dracul is the Walachian ruler that actually existed.

Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracul

I read that Vlad Dracul si related with the Queen of England, or at least that’s what Prince Charles said. Really!!!!

“”The link, it appears, is his great-grandmother, Mary of Teck, who was grandmother to Britain’s current ruler, Queen Elizabeth II, and was queen during the reign of King George V. A Wurttemberg princess, Mary – the woman for whom the liner Queen Mary was named – was believed descended from two of Vlad’s sons””

CBS News, October 28,2011” Vlad the Impaler: How is Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth related to him?”

The Castle

The Castle is at the top of a steep hill, looks like is coming out of the mountain stone! I wonder how they built it like that….

The entrance door has an exquisite door knob; I’m imagining people pounding the door in old times, to get the door open : )

The castle was a royal residence for Queen Marie, also known as Marie of Edinburgh. She was the wife of King Ferdinand 1. Their daughter Ileana ran a hospital here in World War II.

The rooms are not gigantic, not like in Buckingham palace, but they’re large and with beautiful sculpted furniture.

There are also displays of armor and posters that explain different parts of the history of the castle.

Romanian’s state emblem

Time Tunnel 

Queen Mary ordered the building of a tunnel, through which she could go down to the garden undisturbed. The tunnel remained forgotten after the royal family was forced to leave in 1948. In recent days the tunnel has been renovated and you will get down to it through a specially designed elevator(the elevator is built into a former water shaft that was built more than 600 years ago, in 1377!!). The ride is 31 meters down and during this time the elevator displays special media shows; there are some hologram vampires that are creating the feeling that you’re going down to the underworld. It’s an interesting experience! 

At the bottom there is a horizontal gallery and as you move through it you are part of an interactive media exhibition that explains parts of the history of Transylvania and the royal family. 

Down at the bottom, it’s the the tunnel’s exit

The garden and the restaurant

Casa de Ceai is a cute little restaurant in the Castle’s garden. They have fresh , tasty food! 

For Halloween they have a party. The party costs few hundred euro but you can go for free if:
”You don’t have a reflection in the mirror,
You decompose when sun light strikes you,
You’re over 200 years old, 
Can use your wings to fly to Transylvania”

At least that’s what one of the organizers, Dracula Tours say . Try to see if you qualify for free…..haha.

Bran Castle is the most visited attraction in Romania. If you go you would enjoy not only the castle but also the mysterious and beautiful land of Transylvania. But that’s another story…….one I will write about another day….

In the meantime, let me know if you’re planning to visit Bran Castle and if you have any travel related questions.


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wadi Rum desert, Jordan

By Andrada Costoiu

The desert always seemed a foreign landscape to me, until I took a trip to the Jordanian desert, Wadi Rum.  This desert is not well known, perhaps in the past years it started to attract an increasing number of foreign tourists, but it is still not so popular. This is why now it is a good time to go visit.

Getting there

We drove from Amman to the village of Wadi Rum. It takes about four hours to get there, the distance is about 200 miles. The road is all highway, the Jordanian Desert Highway and it is pretty easy to drive. It becomes a bit more tedious after leaving the highway as you will drive on a two lane road, all the way to the Visitor center. Watch out for camels!! They sometimes might be by the side of the road and could cross in front of you. 

At the Visitor center there is a guard and he’ll ask where you’re going. After clearing with them, you will drive all the way to the Wadi Rum village( the Wadi Rum Visitor Center).This was our pick up place because we stayed over night at a camp and we took several tours.

The history

Wadi Rum has been the home of many human cultures since prehistoric times. The Nabataeans, the ones under which Petra flourished, also lived there. There are many marks in the form of rock paintings and graffiti. It looks like an open-air library! Too bad I can’t read Nabataean or Thamudic …haha.

In more recent times, Wadi Rum became known in connection to a British officer, T A Lawrence, also nicknamed Lawrence of Arabia. He was renowned for his liason role in the Arab revolt of 1916. The Arab revolt was a military uprising of Arab forces against the Otoman Empire. Lawrence developed a close relationship with Faisal, one of the leaders of the uprising, and supported him. Faisal later became the king of of the Arab Kingdom of Syria or Greater Syria in 1920, and the King of Iraq from 23 August 1921 to 1933.The movie Lawrence of Arabia(1962), which was inspired by T A Lawrence, was filmed here, in Wadi Rum.

Welcome to Mars

I am not kidding! Once you enter the Rum you’ll feel like you have left Earth! The red sand and the strange shaped sand stone mountains create a Mars like landscape. No wonder  the movie the Red Planet (2000) used Wadi Rum as the surface of Mars! 

There is a large diversity of landforms here, from the gargantuan rock mountains with towering cliffs, to sweeping sand dunes and narrow gorges.

Why you will fall in love with the desert

Wadi Rum is a strange and beautiful place. I loved everything about it, but most of all, I loved the silence!!! I have never ever been in a place where all the sounds are shut down, no….not like this….

You feel like the world stops, that your thoughts begin to settle down and that you start accessing the deep layers of your mind and soul….

You find the deeper you in the stillness of the desert.

The stay

There are no hotels in Wadi Rum. But there are several Bedouin campsites with many facilities and also wild campsites with no amenities. We stayed at the Wadi Rum Luxury Camp Site.

There is AC and a hot shower inside every tent…..

I chose this place because I wanted to experience those bubble tents that have a clear roof. I read before that Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon due to the beautiful night’s sky. I wasn’t disappointed!  The desert sky has no match. It was so clear with an astonishing show of stars, as if you could see the entire Milky Way and its sister galaxies.

The sunrise

We woke up at 5 in the morning to go see the sunrise. I put a scarf on because I didn’t know if it will be windy and I’ll need it to cover from dust. The other day while we were driving we experienced a mild sandstorm and the sand got into our eyes, nose and ears. Never forget to get a scarf with you in the desert!

We hired two Bedouins who promptly presented themselves with their jeep and whisked us away. After driving through the desert for about 40 minutes we finally stopped . They said this was the best place to see the sunrise….and they were right……

The sun came up behind the mountains and the darkness became day……….just like that, here in the desert, where everything seems still.

Our Bedouin guides and companions came well equipped. We had no idea what they were doing….but we were watching them gathering something! It was dried roots to build a fire!They made us tea ..….

I highly recommend you try something like this, it is not very expensive and the Bedouins are very friendly, kind people and professional guides. For many of them this is the main way they support their families.

Wadi Rum is a special place that I recommend to anyone planning to travel to Jordan. 


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Utopia, a world without money

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo: Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain

Informal rules that govern our behavior, set shackles that enslave us,
A different kind of slavery, domesticating the human society.
In hordes of coins, silver and gold, and then the plastic,
Currency has shaped our culture and beliefs entirely.
But what would a world without money look like?
A sedentary world? Anarchic chaos? Or a perfect world?
Without money are we all equal?  
But some must surely be more equal than others! 
I do believe that we are all rich in different things,
Like love and kindness, like honesty and hard work,
But rational theory says that this world is driven by greed,
What do you think, what would a world without money look like?


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Petra, Jordan

by Andrada Costoiu

 Petra is one of the most impressive archeological sites in the world. It was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom and it was established more than 10,000 year ago. Along with the the Great Wall of China, the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Brazil, Machu Picchu in Peru, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Colosseum in Rome, and the Taj Mahal in India, Petra was voted to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

I visited it during the month of August. I was lucky, it wasn’t so hot! But you never know, the summer has usually very hot weather and they say that the best time to visit is during spring (March-May).

The place is more incredible that you can imagine, and nothing that you read can prepare you for immersing in its immensity and its history. 

When you drive the desert to reach Petra’s site, you don’t see anything. Petra is so well hidden by the mountains that you would not imagine that anything, really anything, not to mention a city the size of Petra, lies hidden there! It was also called the “Lost City” because it is said that was inhabited for over five centuries until it was rediscovered in 1812 by John Lewis Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer.

At the entrance you buy the ticket for your visit. The tickets are 50 JD for a tourist that stays at least one night in Jordan and 90 JD for tourists on one day trip tours.  In the same area where they sell tickets there are also few coffee shops and restaurants for the thirsty and hungry. A few stores also sell local items. I suggest that you buy a hat or a keffieh(a bedouin headscarf) if you got nothing to cover your head. The place has been modernized a lot, compared to what it was few years ago when I also visited. Yes, I came here twice!

When you start walking towards Petra, at the beginning there is a wide-open road. Then the road becomes a narrower path that has been carved through the mountain, called the Siq. The Siq is about 1.2 kilometers long.

If you’re hot, or tired and want to save your breath for the inside visit, or you just want a fun local adventure, you can take a horseback or carriage ride all the way through the Siq. The rides are ran by Bedouins and you can bargain with them for the price. We did that and it was fun.

At the end of the Siq, the mountain walls open. The Treasury stands in front of you; this is probably one of the most famous buildings in the city. When you’re facing it, it feels like you’re in the Indiana Jones movie! The film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed here, in 1989.

It is best to take a tour guide, which is what we have done. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we learned so much more about the place than we would have done on our own. After all, a local is a local!

There are many locations to visit in Petra, the Street of Facades( a collection of houses all carved in stone) , the Theater(carved from the rock in one piece; it could seat thousands of people), the Palace Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Monastery (you will have to climb a steep set of steps to get there)….and many, many others. Petra is a magical place and you cannot stop but wonder, how could the Nabataeans build something so sophisticated such a long time ago! What kind of tools did they have to carve the stone? Who and how did they design the layout of the city? 

The facades are beautiful, not only because of their carving details but also because of the type of rock that they are carved in. Petra is called the Rose Red City because the stone is red-rose limestone.

If you’re tired, you can take a camel ride back to the Siq’s entrace. But be careful! Some of the Bedouin owners they will let you drive the camel on your own, which can be a bit scary and funny at the same time. First, you have to lean backwards for take off ! Yeah, it feels really weird , you feel almost like you’re going to fall backwards and then you’re suddenly so high up!

Then you have to learn how to steer the camel but this is not a difficult skill to pick up, so by the time you’re getting back to the Siq you’ll be a professional….

Petra is a travel back in time! It is a beautiful, unique place… put it on your bucket list !


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

by Andrada Costoiu

I visited Spain and Barcelona in March. The weather was unusually sunny; it was a great time to gallivant around the city. La Sagrada Familia was one of the first things I visited, and thanks to my friend Alice, I had one of the most wonderful time ever.

La Sagrada Familia is a gigantic Roman Catholic Church, one that took hundreds of years to be built to what it is today, and it’s still not ready! The beginning of the construction dates back to 1882 and they estimate that it will be done in 2026.  When it will be ready it will have taken longer to build than the Egyptian Pyramids and only 50 years less than the Great Wall of China!

I took a picture of the makete. If you look at it, the parts in gray are still to be built. It doesn’t matter though because even as it stands today, this is a beautiful piece of architecture.

Sagrada is Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, a genius that dedicated his life to his profession. He remained single his entire life after his one love, Josefa, did not reciprocate his feelings.

La Sagrada looks almost like a giant piece of jewelry! There is so much work and detail in every part of the building. There are three facades, each of them built in different time periods and you can that tell by their color and their style.  Only one, the Nativity Façade (constructed between 1894 and 1930) was completed by Gaudi himself.  I loved it the most! This façade has a lot of life, and a lot of artists and sculptors collaborated with Gaudi to decorate it. If you go visit, take time to view it and understand it.

The other two facades, the Passion Façade and the Glory Façade are also beautiful. The Passion Façade is more austere and simple. The Glory Façade is not ready yet but I have read that it will have some constructions shaped as clouds that will rise through the four bell towers (the towers symbolize Saint Andrew, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint James). These clouds will surround an image of God and the façade would to be seen from the sea. Imagine that!

When ready, the highest tower of La Sagrada will be 170 meters tall! What is interesting is that Gaudí believed that nothing man-made should ever be higher than what God has created. So 170 meters is only one meter less than Montjuic, the mountain in Barcelona, which is the highest point in the city!

The interior of La Sagrada is based on nature, because Gaudi wanted to build things that resembled nature. It is a pure example of biomimetic architecture, although this is a contemporary philosophy of architecture and Gaudi is a precursor. If you don’t know, biometric architecture uses nature inspired designs to create an organic architectural flow.

When inside, I just wanted to stay there for a while! I didn’t know where to look first and what to admire. The columns resembled threes, with branches and leaves. The light was coming from different windows and it was creating this spectacle of colors. The light reflections on different parts of the church gave the columns different colors.

Gaudi is buried in La Sagrada. I stopped by his grave and I did say a silent thank you to him, and reflected on his work and his life. His grave is located in the underground level. He was killed by a tram…… 

If you go to visit this beautiful place you’ll also help with its building. It will still take a lot of money to complete it, so every penny helps!


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.