By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
When I was teaching World Geography to high school students, I created a project about a Europe Vacation. The students had to pick 5 places to visit in the 4 regions of Europe and write about those places in a report for a major grade. For the eastern region of Europe, the most popular choice of my students was Romania, because they all wanted to go to Dracula’s Castle. Since it is only 3 days past Halloween, let’s visit Dracula’s Castle together and explore the myth of the world’s most famous vampire and learn a little about Romania.
The Myth of Dracula’s Castle
The story of Dracula’s castle comes from the novel written by the Irish writer Bram Stoker. In his story, he writes about Count Dracula who lives in a castle in Transylvania. Count Dracula is a century’s old, vampire who lives on human blood and is said to be descended from Attila the Hun. He has many powers and sometimes is known as the king of the vampires. Although Bram Stoker never visited Romania, his description of the castle that Dracula lived in best fits the present day Bran Castle. This is a weak connection at best, but that has not stopped most folks outside of Romania calling Bran Castle by its nickname–Dracula’s Castle.
There is speculation that the vampire character’s name, Dracula, was inspired by Vlad Tepes. He was more infamously known as Vlad the Impaler, but sometimes Vlad Tepes also used a different name–he was also known as Vlad Dracul. The legend just grew and Bran Castle has embraced it as a good promotional way to get people to visit the castle.
This story just would not be complete without hearing a little about Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler. Vlad was a prince during the 1400’s and was involved in the conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and Hungary. He struggled to maintain power and was in constant conflict with the boyars of Wallachia (the Bucharest region of present day Romania). History has documented his gruesome way to dispatch his enemies—he had them stabbed and then finished them off by impaling them on long sharpen poles in agonizing deaths, that sometimes caused his victims to suffer for days. His ruthless way to kill just fits perfectly into the Dracula legend of being blood thirsty. Most of his impaling happened between 1456 through 1462. Vlad was killed in 1477. Shortly after his death, stories about his cruel acts were published, especially in Germany, were they became very popular. There is a famous wood cut carving print, published in 1499, showing the prince eating a meal while, some of his enemies are impaled near him in the town of Brasov.
Vlad is a controversial figure—some accounts praise him as a defender of his homeland, others say he was a ruthless tyrant. Some say the name Dracul roughly translates to Devil. While his association with vampires is fictional, the legend remains and he probably was the inspiration for the Dracula vampire character in the horror story by Bram Stoker. There is evidence that Vlad passed through the Bran area often and some accounts say he was imprisoned in Bran Castle for 2 months, but he never lived in the castle as its ruler.
This is an interesting castle that allows visitors a chance to see most of the insides of this old medieval fortress that was completed in 1388. This castle was built to defend Bran pass and it certainly does not hurt the legend that at times the castle is shrouded in fog. We visited on a rainy day—it just was just what you should expect when you get to go to Dracula’s Castle.
For those expecting a spooky castle, the inside rooms are surprising livable. This is due to the fact that the castle served as a royal residence from 1920 until 1947. It is well decorated but very sparse for a royal castle. Yet the haunted mood of the castle is set prior to getting to the upstairs rooms—you have to climb a narrow secret stairway—this is not for the claustrophobic—it is steep and the walls are rough and rocky—perfect for an entrance way to the supposed home of Dracula!
The castle is compact with living and dining spaces. There are a lot of passageways connecting the four wall of this castle/fort complex.
Here are pictures of some of the rooms:
As you would expect there are towers, there is an armor collection and a dungeon.
It is a worthwhile adventure and one we hope to help you see sometime in the future.
How can you visit Bran Castle?
I think the best way to visit Bran Castle is to base yourself in Brasov, Romania. This was our base of operations for our visit. To get to Brasov, we took a train from Bucharest to Brasov. Along the way, we stopped at Sinaia to visit Peles Castle. This elegant castle was the royal summer residence and is more a palace than a castle. It has over 100 rooms. I will write more about this wonderful castle in a later blog.
We were on an AmaWaterways lower Danube cruise, so we arranged a private transfer from our rivership to the Bucharest train station. We then caught our train, visited Peles Castle, got back on the train and stayed in Brasov for a couple of days. Using our hotel staff in Brasov, they arranged for a private driver to get to Bran Castle. Brasov is a great town and our experience there was wonderful—we would visit again. Here are 3 pictures of Brasov:
We did learn however, to be cautious about taxis in Romania—they often charge extra instead of the established fare. Using your hotel to reserve a taxi or private tour was wonderful—we were charged a fair amount. To help combat this problem, we also learned there are government registered taxis that have agreed to charge fair rates. It was a great lesson learned.
It is quite possible to arrange a trip from Bucharest to visit both Peles and Bran Castles. It is a long day trip, usually 9 hours or so, but a lot of folks think it is another worthwhile way to see these two great castles.
My Final Thoughts
Our visit to Romania was inspired by the fictional demon Dracula. A river cruise that ended in Bucharest made it pretty easy to venture out on our own and simplified some of the transfers. Funny how a legend started our interest, and we expected to see a great castle, however, what we got was so much more—it was a visit to a wonderful country, with warm, friendly folks eager to help visitors. We learned about a new great castle by doing some research—Peles Castle. Brasov also is a great stop. But most of all we meet some great folks. They have worked hard to escape their communist past and we enjoyed our time there. It is not on the normal tourist path of London, Paris or Rome, but a surprising place we loved. That is the wonder of travel—just get inspired to try something new and often it will turn out fabulous—just as our experience did.
Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you! We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel. Maybe you also will want to venture out to Romania—we certainly hope so and we will be glad to help. Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at email@example.com. We want to help you: Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
- AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
- Viking River Cruise Specialist
- Scenic River Cruise Specialist
- Emerald Waterways Specialist
- Avalon Waterways Specialist
- Brit Agent