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Hunting Count Dracula

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Romania's east coast lies on the Black Sea. The Carpathian Mountains and Transylvanian Alps divide the country into three physical and historical regions — Wallachia in the south, Moldavia in the northeast and Transylvania in the centre. Of its population, 89 percent are Romanian, but the 1.7 million Hungarians live in the Transylvanian basin. Romania shares borders with Hungary, Serbia, the Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria.

Bucharest, on the banks of the Dâmboviba River, is Romania's capital and largest city.

Transylvania, in a remote corner, is a region trapped in time. Known to the rest of the world for its folklore, fairy tales and legends of vampires, it was the birthplace of Count Dracula, Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler.

The ancient land of the 1000-year-old Hungarian kingdom has many castle ruins perched on hilltops, testament to bloody battles, political schemes and fantasy. It has Saxon villages, fortified churches and enormous historical estates in the shadows of the Carpathians.

Thanks to its many ethnicities, Transylvania became progressive in ethnic and religious tolerance as early as the 16th century. At that time, most of Europe was engaged in religious wars.

The little town of Bran, a five hour drive from Bucharest, attracts over a million visitors every year — all to visit Dracula's castle. Bran Castle is a national monument and landmark built by the Teutonic knights around 1212 after being relocated from Palestine to the Kingdom of Hungary.

Apart from its unique architecture, the castle is famous because of persistent stories that it was the home of Vlad the Impaler. There is no evidence of that, but it is believed he did spend two days in the Bran dungeon.

In 1459, Vlad ordered 30,000 dishonest noblemen and merchants to be impaled, then held a blood-curdling festival called St Bartholomew's Day. He had tables set amongst the forest of the dead and invited his friends along. One of those friends was also impaled because he complained about the stench of the rotting flesh surrounding them.

The castle was owned by Princess Ileana of Romania, who inherited it from her mother, Queen Marie. It was seized by the Communist government of Romania in 1948. For many years it was tended to erratically, but after 1980s restoration and the Romanian Revolution of 1989, it became a tourist destination. The legal heir to the castle is the Princess's son, Dominic von Habsburg, and in 2006 the Romanian government returned it to him.

Known informally as Dracula's Castle, the local economy has benefited from souvenirs depicting the castle and the Dracula name.

In 1897, Irish author Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, with Count Dracula being the title character. Told as a series of diary entries and letters, it is more than horror fiction. The book in fact has themes dealing with the role of women in Victorian culture, convention and repressed sexuality, immigration, post-colonialism and folklore.

While Stoker did not invent the vampire, his work is singularly responsible for countless theatrical and film interpretations and the popularity of vampires in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Sighisoara, in the heart of Transylvania, is straight out of medieval times. It is a beautiful, well-kept fortified town and gives visitors the chance to travel back some five centuries. For example, Vlad Tepes' house remains and is now a restaurant.

The city's architecture is eclectic — Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. A visit to the Wednesday and Saturday markets is fun — villagers arrive in horse-drawn carriages to sell cheese, meat and other produce.

Location

Romania in south-eastern Europe.

Cost

Dracula's Castle entry is $5. It's open on Mondays between noon and 7pm and from Tuesday to Sunday between 9am and 7pm.

For further information

Bran Castle Museum
General Traian Mosoiu Str. No 28
Bran 508025
Romania
Ph: +40 268 238 332
Fax: +40 268 238 335
www.brancastlemuseum.ro
info@brancastlemuseum.ro

Visas: Australians do not require a visa for stays of up to 3 months. They require a valid passport and return ticket.

Electricity: 230 Volts AC, 50Hz.

Time zone: GMT +2 hours.

Currency: New leu.

Telephone code: +40.

It is recommended travellers to Romania see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended for Romania. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, log on to www.smartraveller.gov.au.

To find out more about the hot deals mentioned on the show, check out Holidays for Sale.

User comments
when we visited bran castle in 2009, we were disappointed. all the hype was about it being vlad's former home. it was basically a very modest castle , furnished in the style of the previous owner, the former royal family. it could easily have included a room or 2 furnished from the era of Vlad dracul. the tourist market at the base was worth the trip. we stayed at the pretty ski city of Brasov, and it was a 30minute bus trip to castle.
I have spent a bit of time in Romania as my husband is Romanian. It was great to see Transylvania featured on your program, but disappointing that no attempt appeared to be made to pronounce the place names correctly. The 's' in the middle of both Brasov and Sighisoara is pronounced as a 'sh' sound in Romanian. Surely when preparing a travel segment,it is worth the effort to learn how to pronounce names correctly, or at least to make an attempt to do this. Filiming in Transylvania, it would have been as simple as asking a local.

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