Transfagarasan

By Andrada Costoiu

Photo credit: Sorin Untu

If you love mountains and scenic drives, this is a place where you should go: Transfagarasan, Romania. This road is not fully open all year long! The whole road is open only from June to late October, the rest of the year a portion of about 27 km is closed because of snow and avalanches. 

Also called the “the Road to the Sky”, the Transfagarasan stretches for 71 miles (114km) and it links the highest peaks in Fagaras Monutains in Romania. It also connects two of Romania’s historic provinces Transylvania (the Center) and Walachia (the South).

This is a dynamite-forged road and it was built for military purposes, during the communist time. The views are breathtaking and it’s also nice because you will go through a series of tunnels (5), you will cross viaducts(27) and small bridges( there are 831 small bridges!!). You might not even notice all these, because your eyes would be captured by the mountain passes and peaks and by the beautiful views all over. If you are the driver though, keep your eyes on the road!! The road is relatively easy to climb but it can get very curvy.

Poenari Castle- Vlad the impaler’s home

If you enter Transfagarasan from Curtea de Arges, the first touristic objective in your way is Poenari Castle. This castle was the home of Vlad the Impaler, which was built around the beginning of the 13th century by Wallachians.

The castle is now abandoned and left in ruins. You can visit it, if the climbing path is open!!! To get up there you have to climb no less than 1.480 steps.

When we went, the climbing path was closed for safety, as bears might cross paths with the ones who would venture the way up. At least that was the explanation we got and at first I thought they just closed it because they didn’t want people to man up the castle for tourists….

But then…..as we were peacefully driving along Transfagarasan…..we saw something right by the edge of the road….right by the edge!! It was a bear!!! He  was eating berries……We rolled down the window and he gave us a look!

The highest point – Balea Lake

The highest point is 6.699 ft (2042 m) – Lake Balea. Here you will feel like you’re touching the clouds, because you literally are. The cloud ceiling can go much lower than Balea Lake and if that happens, you’ll feel as you’re at the top of the world.

Balea Lake is a glacier lake. So, even if it’s hot when you start your ride at the bottom, bring warms clothes because by the time you reach the lake, you will for sure need a jacket. If you want to walk by the lake, you will need some good shoes, as there is snow. 

When you get to the lake, there are many local shops and food. The shops sell all kinds of manufactured Romanian products and crystals (I am not sure if these are found on these mountains). The food is good, they sell Bluz ( a Romanian traditional dish of friend polenta with cheese in the middle), fresh grilled fish, steak with vegetables, corn….and other things. Do not expect fancy seating, as everything is set up in tents or buildings with just the roof:). 

In winter time they build here an Ice Hotel, which is made by blocks of ice all collected from the lake! Each year the hotel has a new theme. Here are some pictures from the previous years.

Vidraru Dam and Lake

Vidraru is an artificial lake, created in 1965. The only way it’s accessible is through Transfagarasan. The construction of the Vidraru dam took five and a half years starting in 1960. The lake is gigantic. To make it, it took 42 km long underground galleries, the excavation one million cubic meters of underground rock and nearly one million cubic meters of poured concrete. The dam is around 160 meters high and to get to the dam you will go through a tunnel. The views are breathtaking…

Plenty of waterfalls

Along the way you will encounter a lot of beautiful waterfalls. They take their water from the lakes in the mountains and they almost never get dry or frozen. I don’t know their names but here are a few pictures I took while we were driving.

This drive is amazing and I would do it again! If you’re planning to go there and have any questions, let me know!

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 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 a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sighisoara

by Andrada Costoiu

Sighisoara is an old medieval town in Transylvania, Romania. Perhaps not so well known as other older places in Romania, but equally beautiful and worth visiting…..not only for its history, but also for its beautiful surroundings. It is not big in size but it is one of the most beautiful well-preserved citadel-city in Europe.

Getting there

From Bucharest, you can take the train or you can rent a car. The train ride is really cheap, about 10-15$ and it would take about 5 hours. By car, it’s about the same amount of time, about 5 hours on 300 km, but you get to see beautiful scenery and also stop wherever you want.

History

The city was built around 1280 and it played an important strategic and commercial role in Europe. It was a place of resistance against Ottoman invasions, which is why the city is so fortified. The city is surrounded by walls and there are 14 towers and 5 artillery bastions. Vlad Dracul (the father of Vlad the Impaler-Dracula) has lived here in exile. They also say that Vlad the Impaler was born here, but there is no actual proof of the house where he was born.

Prince Charles has visited the town; he owns a beautiful 18thcentury cluster of houses in the village of Viscri, which is about 45 km away from Sighisoara. You can rent rooms and spend time there.

What you must see

The Clock Tower

This is the symbol of Sighisoara. It began being built at the end of 13thcentury, but it was destroyed by a fire. The construction of the tower as it is today dates back to 1676. There are many things that make this tower special, but the main attraction is the clock with the puppets inside.

There are seven puppets that represent each day of the week, but they also represent seven ancient gods, seven planets and seven metals. This one in the picture is Friday: a female character representing Aphrodite or Venus, goddess of beauty and love. She is admiring her beauty in a mirror held by a little person. She carries on her head the symbol of copper, a metal that is associated with passion and beauty.

There is a window glass through which you can see the mechanism that is moving the clock.

The tower is also the place for the History Museum of Sighisoara.  To visit, you will have to climb some steep set of stairs and it is very narrow. Watch out your steps! Traffic up and down can get awkward. 

The museum has interesting pieces; there are cases that display layouts of the city and different things that people living in the city owned and some archaeological discoveries. I saw this doctor’s kit and I was so happy that I didn’t have to live during those times!!!!

The balcony of the tower clock has panoramic views. From every corner and place the views are breathtaking.  

The Church on the Hill

This was a crazy ride! I started counting the stairs then I gave up!! So many steps! I searched on google after and they say you’re actually climbing 300 steps to get there!  I was impressed, because at the top there is also a school, and kids have to climb these stairs everyday to get up. Imagine how fit they are! Besides the school there is the Ghotic church( The Church on the Hill), which is quite beautiful. Inside you can find the only ancient crypt in Transylvania. 

The colorful streets

Sighisoara has beautiful , colorful streets. The citadel is quite small so not a lot of walking, but the streets are paved with stones; you will need good walking shoes. By no means DO not wear high heels! 

The medieval festival

If you visit this place during the month of July, you can be part of the Medieval festival. People dress up in medieval costumes, there are concerts of flute, mandolin, tambourine, games of jousting. You can assist public trials, convictions …In all, you will experience the fascinating atmosphere of medieval times.

Where to stay

We stayed at a Domain called Dracula Danes, that is only 6 km away from Sighisoara. From the accommodations, to the food and horses, this was one of the most wonderful experiences we had in the area. The rooms are beautiful, clean. Our room had a fireplace, so if you’re going with family or for a romantic trip, that might be a nice touch. 

If you feel like walking, the domain has a beautiful park. There is also a small zoo that kids might enjoy and a pool. 

This place is wonderful. Here the love of nature and animals comes together.  These people love their horses and you can tell! Their stables, the manege and everything about their horses is well kept and very professional.

Here you can take horseback riding lessons, you can go riding alone or you can simply rent a horse drawn carriage to enjoy the landscapes together with your family or friends.  We did both, horse back riding ……

And the carriage! I have learned how to steer the horse and….this was a fancy carriage! It had breaks! The horse was one of those that they use in October fest to drag the carts full with beer barrels ! I forgot my horse’s name, but I started riding with a stranger and we came back friends…

At the restaurant, the food is yummy. You can try some authentic Romanian food; this in the picture is called bulz, a dish with polenta, cheese and sausage. Or….you can try more common dishes, made with a special touch, such as burgers. Your choice! 

All that being said, I hope you do go visit Sighisoara and you do go by Dracula Danes. You’ll have a wonderful experience. And if you have questions while you’re planning your trip, I’m here. Ask!

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 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 a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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. 

History

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.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 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 a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.