Dracula's Castle & Old Town Brasov
Day 15: Dracula's Castle and Old Town: Jess is a Wanderer has seen it all...
Despite hitting the hay after midnight yesterday, we decided to wake up at 7 and maximise our short time here in Brasov. We headed down to the bus station and were informed to get bus 23 to Bran - the location of Dracula's Castle. We were charged 4 lei for two return tickets. It seemed like a fair price for two 45+ minute journeys. It also seemed too good to be true...
Well, I can tell you that bus 23 will not help you at all in this situation. We got to the 'end of the line' and the driver was confused about a) why we were there b) why we didn't want to get off the bus due to not being able to see a castle. With his broken English and my non-existent Romanian, we communicated that, actually, we needed to be in a minibus that departed from the opposite side of the road - he kindly dropped us off in the right place and we hopped into a minibus for 7 lei each (one way).
In Bran, we were heavily reminded of Blackpool Pleasure Beach (or similar, I hate to say it, tacky tourist resort). It was a complete tourist trap with people dressed up as zombies or monsters. Everyone was selling Dracula related goods - magnets, t-shirts, hats and postcards. There were market stalls galore lining the cobbled street all the way to the main gate of the castle. Entry is 35 lei for adults and you can't really get close to the castle without going inside. The steep climb to the entrance is quite difficult - especially if you're a bit wobbly on your feet. Inside the castle, thousands of people are ushered around in large groups - far too large for the narrow stairways and corridors. There is no time to enjoy the artefacts that are on display, nor take in the history of the place. There is no information about anything that is on display anyway and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to reference Dracula. It was wholly confusing, we thought there would be at least something to stir the curiosity about the legend of the Count himself?! Without the 'Dracula' in front of this castle's name, I'm not sure any tourists would visit at all.
There was quite a good view of the castle from the garden, down by the pond. There were also no tourists around as they were all being rushed off, back to their tour buses en masse. It made the walk around the garden more enjoyable but there was a lot of building work going on so the area was cordoned off in parts.
Having had enough of battling the crowds and not really seeing much, we decided to venture further afield and climb a sort of hill that we had spotted from our time on the upper level of the castle. It was a short walk from the tourist hubbub to a narrow bridge. This led to a 'national park' which had a trail leading into the woods and up a hill. There were two options available - a four hour walk or a one hour walk. We were intent on doing neither. We had seen a cross at a clearing in the trees. Just a simple, Christian style cross poking out from the bushes, almost directly opposite the castle. We decided to enter the woods, climb the hill, find the cross and thus take the only picture that we actually wanted of the castle.
It was a truly steep climb but the walk only took around ten minutes. We found the cross with no issues and were actually the only people around for miles. Everyone else was busy being ushered around the castle! It was fantastic: peaceful, perfectly positioned and picturesque. We were able to take pictures of us posing in front of the castle, pictures of the whole castle and just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Back at the bus stop, we boarded an actual bus that would take us back to Brasov. There were no minibuses in sight and it was as if we had dreamed our journey to Bran. We didn't question it, however. We had to pay another 7 lei for a ticket and were taken straight back to the bus stop. It was ever such a confusing experience but we made it alive and well.
On our return to Brasov, we explored the Old Town, sampled some local beer, ate our first meal in over 48 hours and planned our day tomorrow: hiking to the top of Tampa hill/mountain and enjoying the view from above.