Nothing like a great sleep on a 13-hour overnight train, until Hungarian Border Police find a problem with our passport. Someone stamped it incorrectly along the way, but they let us out anyway. We must not resemble refugees. Our only vow today is to not get ripped off by a taxi driver, like back in Budapest! That translates here in Transylvania into lugging heavy backpacks for over two miles traversing snow and ice-covered sidewalks. It’s not about the money, it’s the principle (and a sore back).
After another nineteen cups of espresso at a coffee shop where we also get directions, Viola! We splurge on a room with a view (US60) at the “Casa Wagner,” smack in the middle of Piata Sfatului, the old town square.
Off to a pub! It’s almost noon. We get better tourist information at pubs that at info centers. Silviu, the barkeep at the “Old Firm Beer House,” tells us his favorite local restaurants and his impressions of Americans. “When I worked in Constanta on the Black Sea, American soldiers would come to the bar and drink like maniacs,” he says. “They couldn’t pronounce my name, so they called me ‘Dude’ but I didn’t mind.”
We roam around yet another fantasy land of cobbled streets, bohemian cafes, statues, medieval spires, and a Gothic black church, so named due to fire damage.
We take the cable car up Mt. Tampa for inspiring views of the city and take note of the Hollywood style sign near the viewing platform. Really liking this place.
Off to the first of Silviu’s recommended restaurants, “Gaura Dulce” (sweet hole) which has historical roots as a brothel. Let’s get Romanian, with an order of pork liver, fried brains, bounce enticed beef tongue, and blood sausage. Delicious. We even took leftovers and ate our brains out for breakfast the next morning!
Vasile, from the hotel, agrees to drive us to Bran Castle, often referred to as “Dracula’s Castle,” about 20 miles away. Built around 1380, this spectacular castle imprisoned Vlad the Impaler for about two months.
It became associated with Dracula because of appearance rather than Vlad’s brief stay. Mainly furnished and lived in by Queen Marie around the 1920’s, the antiques and secret passages add to the Dracula mystique. A deep shaft leads to a stream on the village level for sneaky ins and outs.
Some locals believe in “Strigoi,” whose souls leave their body at night and torment people. They hunt prey until daylight when they lose their power. Dracula derives from these myths.
Roaming around the hilltop ruins of Rasnov Fortress, a short driving distance away, you could almost see fur donning peasants walking around. Stone vaults held food and supplies for villagers to survive in the event of an invasion by nomadic tribes and armies.
Back at our haven, we waste no time trying another of Silviu’s restaurant recommendations, “Sergiana,” for some more Romanian fare. Subterranean tables greet you with breaded, fried chunks of pork belly. I order the Sarmale (cabbage rolls that originated in Romania) accompanied by pork chop sized hunks of bacon, and Marilynn orders the Ciorba (Transylvanian sour soup with smoked gammon, tarragon, sour cream, and lemon juice or vinegar). This is perhaps one of our best meals ever.
Struggling to make forward plans forces us to extend our stay in this lovely city. I guess we’ll need to visit Sergiana one more time before lugging those backpacks again.