<%-- Page Title--%> Travel <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 144 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

March 5, 2004

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Visiting Dracula
Srabonti Narmeen Ali

Apparently, summer in Romania is much more beautiful and an overall more pleasant experience than the wintertime. Geared up and ready to brave the cold, however, I took a small trip to Romania's capital, Bucharest in early February to visit my mother, who now lives there. I found it to be, despite the snow and minus 10 degree temperature, quite beautiful. The architecture in the capital dated back to the 16th century. Some of the newer buildings, built by the ruthless dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, stood proud -- a reminder, my mother said to me, of how the Romanian people had suffered when Ceausescu left them starving and poured all the country's money into infrastructure and paying back World Bank loans.

Bucharest was a blur of activities for me and my mother -- from going to traditional Romanian restaurants, to going to the Ballet (Swan Lake) and also visiting palaces and buildings dating back to the times of both Romania's Royal Family, as well as Ceausescu. Of course my mother and I also spent a good portion of our time in the mall watching movies and shopping! Aside from the capital city, we also visited two towns: Sinia and Bran. In Sinia we visited two of the Royal Family's summer palaces and a beautiful old Monastery. But all in all, my trip to Bran was probably the more exciting of the two.

I came to Romania knowing for sure that there was one tourist spot in particular that I wanted to see: the famous Count Dracula's castle. I had heard before I went to Romania that there was actually such a person -- a prince, in fact. Vlad Tepes was the Prince of Wallachia, a district in Romania, in the 15th century. His permanent castle, now in ruins, was in an area 500 kilometres away from Bucharest, but the castle used for tourist attraction purposes (one of his temporary residences) is in Bran, which is two hours away from Bucharest by car. It was built in the year 1212 as a fortress for the Knights of the Teutonic Order. Tepes used the castle later on as a headquarters for his incursions into Transylvania. Nicknamed "The Impaler," he kept a very strict totalitarian regime with his people. Legend has it that he used to bleed people to death when they opposed him or crossed his path -- thus giving rise to the gory, blood-sucking image we have of Dracula today.

Driving through the countryside I couldn't sit still. Being one of those people who love listening to scary and creepy stories (and not being able to sleep at night in fear of life) I was expecting Bran Castle to be completely something out of a story book: weird architecture, dingy corners, secret passages -- the works.

I was not disappointed.

As we entered the area of Bran, a sign saying "Welcome to Dracula's Country" greeted us. What followed was a deserted road surrounded by what seemed to be acres and acres of empty land. We drove down a curvy road leading up to a castle on top of a hill. Beyond the gates a pair of trees were joined at the base and curved in a half circle towards each other. A long, sloping walkway paved with stones led us up to the castle. It was cold and the wind seemed even colder from the hill where Bran castle stood. The castle itself was surrounded by what looked to me like dead grass and depressing-looking trees. Although the furniture inside the castle was from a later time, when the Royal Family lived there, the overall ambiance of the castle itself was definitely what I like to think of as Dracula-style. Not Hollywood Dracula-style, but a more realistic portrayal. There were secret passageways, one of which was open to tourists, long steep wooden staircases, both straight and winding, a courtyard that somehow, even in the middle of the day, did not seem so sunny and several tower rooms that were blocked off to tourists. The rooms were all made of stone and cement, with arched doorways and long wooden pillars. Small windows letting in very little light were placed in strange dark corners. Everything seemed a little creepy, even the furniture, which was mostly made out of wood and had strange, stiff, uncomfortable looking shapes.

When the tour had finally ended and I was finding my way back down the winding, stony walkway I realised how important legends were to people. In truth the castle was quite ordinary and nothing compared to the European style rooms in the other palaces and castles I had visited, with their gold furniture, imported Persian and Oriental carpets, magnificent paintings and jewel encrusted weapons on display. However, there is a different kind of charm in simplicity -- especially when there is a gruesome legend attached to it. The entire way over to Bran, my mother's driver was chuckling and saying that it was all tourist attraction and that this was not even the real castle of "Dracula." For him, my mother and I were just silly foreign tourists, willing to believe anything sensational. For me, however, it was exciting enough just to imagine that it was, in fact, a castle that had housed the story about a timeless character, who brought terror into my heart every time the lights turned off. Just to prove my courage to the monster that had found me in my nightmares, I had gone to his castle (in the daytime, of course!) and fought my fears.




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