Chapter 6: Bran Flakes

Sunday, we headed north again, back up into the mountains of Transylvania. For the first time, we had days of nice weather, having left the heat and humidty back down in the lowlands. Dang. I knew I forgot to pack something...

Of course, no trip to Transylvania would be complete without a visit to Dracula's Castle, hmmmm? And the Transylvanians were more than happy to provide one...even if it actually had nothing whatsoever to do with Dracula, or even Vlad Tepes. Such is the case with Bran Castle in, yeah, you guessed it, the town of Bran. Some enterprising folks decided it looked like Dracula's Castle (a point on which I disagree strongly), and a tourist trap was born...perhaps the only bonafide tourist trap in Romania.

Bran Castle, overlooking the market square

Now mind you, there's nothing actually wrong with Bran Castle. It's an interesting place, and it's snuggled into some very nice surrounding scenery. It's just that some tour companies have gone a bit nuts on the Dracula thing. In fact, in the Ceausescu days, they were actually worse, they played up the Dracula thing for all it was worth. It is said that castle staffers used to hide in closets and such, and leap out to scare tourists...until an American dropped dead of a heart attack. Today, they've toned all that down, and the people of Bran have discovered the joy and profit of giving the public what it wants. The Castle rests on a hill overlooking a market square that features all kinds of Dracula merchandise for sale. There's a "Dracula's Market." There are bottles of red-colored "Dracula vodka." There is every sort of knick-knack with Vlad's brooding face painted on it.

But if you can get past all that, Bran Castle is an interesting place to visit. We waited for an English tour, and eventually just tagged along behind a private tour group, much to the chagrin of the tour leader. Guess she felt that having more people hear her words was harder work or something.

A "screaming tree" on the grounds of Dracula's Castle

Dracula's Market in Bran

Leaving Bran, we headed up the road a little ways to the town of Moieciu, where we checked into a penzion, an extended bed & breakfast sort of establishment set up in a private home. It actually had real beds, no fold-out couch!

That evening, we were served dinner in an upstairs dining room. To start off, we had ciorba, which is a traditional Romanian sour soup, made in many different ways with various ingredients. This was a veal ciorba, and scored as one of the very best dishes we had in Romania. Yeah, yeah, I know. The animal rights people are throwing a hissy fit just now. "Don't you know how veal are raised? How can you bear to eat that?" Relax. Chill. Drink some decaf. Romanian veal calves are not raised anything at all like their factory-ranch US cousins. In Romania, the little veals run free in lush green pastures with babbling brooks, chirping birds, and cute little ducks and bunnies scampering about. Every night, the farmer comes around with a mug of warm Ovaltine and tucks the budding entree up to sleep in a goosedown comforter (down that was voluntarily donated by the geese, I might add). When the little one's "time" comes, the farmer just slips a mickey into the Ovaltine, and the critter slips peacefully off into an eternal rest, dreaming of asparagus spears and bernaise sauce. So calm down, OK? Anyway, the soup was fabulous. The only thing that kept us from filling up on it and not having room for the rest of dinner was that they ran out, and when we called for more, they brought us chicken ciorba instead. It was good, but not in the same league as the other.

Even with a real bed and cooler weather, all was not happy in slumberland for me. Yeah, there's just no pleasing some people. The only cover I had on the bed was a duvet with an incredibly heavy wool blanket inside it. This thing felt like one of those lead bibs they put on you at the dentist when they take x-rays. In order to roll over in bed, I had to bench press the thing off me. Pam thought I was just whining, but we traded beds the following night, and she learned I was right.

Also, we got the room next to the cow. The people who run the place have a cow, and the cow has a bell on its neck. All night long, the cow would be just standing there, then it would move slightly. Dink. Pause. Dink, dink. Long pause. Dink. Back home, we had car alarms keeping us up at night. In Romania, it was the cow alarms.

It's always something...
Photo by Pam Bloxham


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