Halloween in Transylvania
Halloween in Transylvania is a little different than in Canada. There were not any costumes or trick or treating. There is an appeal to going to Transylvania this time of year, even if we chose this as a holiday destination based on Dracula and our preconceived notions. We set out on October 27 for 8 days of travel through Transylvania and Bucharest before returning through Szeged back to Kecskemet and on to Budapest, where we had rented the car.
Our first stop was Sibiu. This city is famous for it's dormer windows which are shaped to look like eyelids. We arrived after dark, so our first experience of these eyes was a bit of trepidation as every street we turned down looked as through someone was following you. To get to the old town you must walk over a bridge called the bridge of lies, where it is believed if you tell a lie, the bridge will collapse. This square was the most mysterious and beautiful I had ever seen. It was dimly lit, with few people walking about. As you passed underneath archways to come into the centre, it felt as though you had stepped back in time.
The next morning we spent the day at the Brukenthal Museum as well as the Astra open air museum. The latter was an outdoor park where historic folk homes and churches from all over Transylvania had been brought for preservation. The park is also full of trees and a little lake. It was the perfect, crisp, autumn day.
After some stressful mountain driving in the dark, we arrived at Sighisoara. Daylight savings kicked in which meant we rolled back our clocks. However, you could tell that winter was approaching because the sun set very early and again, our first arrival, even though only 6:00 pm was under the cover of darkness.
The following morning, we set out to tour the old town. It was very cold but no snow. The old town is well preserved, in part, thanks to the many guilds who built the towers, of which, 9 remain. We saw the cobbler's tower, butcher's tower, etc. We climbed the scholar's stairs to arrive at one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. It overlooked the entire city with a graveyard built into the side of the hill. We wandered the grounds for a little while, taking pictures, as even though it was cold, it was still sunny. We ventured out of the old town to see the Leper's Church. This walk showed a little more of the town itself away from the tourism. The Leper's Church was closed to the public, so we could not go inside. It was built in the 15th century. As lepers were not allowed to go inside the church, people would gather in the garden to hear the sermon. The garden was very interesting and about twice the size of the church itself. As we walked back to the old town you could see people chatting out their windows, or watch the many stray dogs wander the streets. We had lunch at the birthplace of Vlad Tepes II, which began our tour of all that is Dracula.
We woke up early the next day as it was October 31st and we were on our way to see Bran Castle. We stopped at the Rupea Citadel before heading to Bran. The citadel was amazing. It opened at 9:00 am. We were the first to arrive and had the whole citadel to ourselves for about half an hour. The ground was covered in a gentle blanket of snow. Everything was still and quiet. It was quite the contrast to our afternoon at Bran Castle which was swarming with tourists. You could barely walk through the castle without bumping into another person. It was extremely interesting though as it was only one of two castles we saw that had been inhabited in the 20th century.
We began our trip to Brasov and made a stop at the Harman Fortified Church which contained a very narrow and steep stairwell to the bell tower. Once we arrived in Brasov we saw the Biserica Neagra, a huge gothic church of massive proportions. Brasov was a lovely city and we stayed in a beautiful hotel/castle on a hilltop overlooking the downtown. This also had a fun shopping district, which we poked around after eating some sushi (you have to do this at least once while away!).
Keeping with the theme of Dracula we took to the road once again and stopped at the Snagov Monastery on our way to Bucharest. This is reportedly the final resting place of Dracula, however, we learned in a later tour that it cannot be proven as his coat of arms was never found and is not buried with him here. His head was sent to Constantinople for display, so this too, is not buried here. This was a very interesting leg of our tour. We parked the car and an old blind man with a cane said he'd watch our car for 10 Leu. We gave it to him although there was unlikely to be any trouble with our car in the designated parking lot. At the monastery we were completely alone (once again) without an entrance gate in sight. Once we came up from the view from the lake, the young caretaker asked us for an entrance fee. At first it sounded like he said 50 Leu but I think the look on our faces made him change his tune and he charged us 15 Leu/person. As it turns out, if you speak Romanian, it is nothing to enter the grounds and church, but most tourists are charged between 10 and 15 Leu plus a potential fee for taking pictures. It had been difficult to find information on the Snagov monastery but it was well worth the stop.
We stopped at the Mogosoaia Palace, which was the second palace to be inhabited in the 20th century and now contains an art gallery, before finally reaching our destination in Bucharest. We got lost on the drive to our hotel but after navigating the busy five lanes of traffic, multiple traffic circles, and impending darkness, we settled in for the night. The next day we took a fascinating walking tour and heading to the Palace of Parliament in the afternoon. One of the most interesting things we learned about Bucharest is that most of their old town was destroyed to make way for the communist structures now present. This was all a facade to hide the old town which is not gone completely. Once you walk only a block away you can find the history. We went back to the old town for dinner at Hanu' lui Manuc, a historic building that was once an inn owned by a prominent merchant.
On leaving Bucharest we stopped at the Poenari Castle which was 1,400 steps up a mountain to some amazing views of the forest and mountains. We stopped at Targoviste, both Poenari and Targoviste had a connection to Dracula. We stayed another night in Sibiu and stopped at Corvin Castle before heading back to Hungary. The Corvin Castle was breathtaking and looked straight out of a Harry Potter film.
Everywhere we stopped the sights were stunning. I kept thinking how every writer and cinematographer must have found some inspiration in Transylvania. I would recommend this holiday to anyone looking for an adventure. We drove the entire way, which was perhaps a bit ambitious. The driving on the mountain highways was no problem but driving in the cities, even with navigation was problematic at times. Perhaps a few extra nights would have made the trip more restful but overall, we set out to find a bit of history. We chose Halloween for this holiday because of the connection with Halloween but in the end, it was the stunning foliage and countryside that made this time of year breathtaking.