When my kindergarten teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied “vampire slayer” with a straight face. With that knowledge, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I planned a trip to Transylvania as soon as I landed in Prague.
My head full of vampires, cobblestones and magic, I sat down and planned out a trip to Bran, just outside of Braşov. My travel-partner-in-crime Angie and I headed to the Florenc bus station in Prague at 11p.m., en route to Budapest. To get to Romania, one must go through Hungary, but having a stopover in a city as beautiful as Budapest is nothing to complain about.
After a few hours of roaming the streets, we bought train tickets to Cluj-Napoca, our first stop in Romania where we planned on seeing the haunted forest. Little did we know we wouldn’t get to do so.
We ended up missing our connecting stop and got off at Oradea, an industrial wasteland. Without a train ticket or a clue of how to speak Romanian, we followed the train tracks back to the previous stop.
After a few hours of traipsing about, we hailed a taxi and managed to catch a night train to Cluj-Napoca. Upon our arrival we were too tired to see the forest so we took another train straight to Brașov, laughing off the disaster of a few hours ago. Nothing helps two people bond quite like being lost together in a strange land without knowing the language.
When we arrived in Brașov, the final stop before we made it to Bran, I began looking for signs of the castle, of Dracula, of any tacky vampire souvenir. At the line for coffee outside the train station, I spotted miniature replicas of the castle. After locating the bus station where we were to board the bus to Bran, Angie and I began to walk through the streets of Brașov in the daytime.
I was surprised that the main city in the Transylvanian region so closely resembled my hometown of Caracas, and even had a nod to Hollywood. We walked on and the streets became sketchier and grimier until we arrived at a decrepit bus station. One Trip Advisor comment describes it as “pre-historic;” sketchy or not, where else could we head to Bran for 35 bani?
After a one hour drive through the Romanian countryside we were dropped off, and on the mountains I saw it.
Bran Castle is as imposing in person as it is in pictures — the cross on the mountain right across from it only added to the creepy effect. The sky was grey when we arrived, and stray dogs ran through the roads leading to the center of the town, where we would find a bazaar and the entrance to the castle. Let’s clarify something: Bran is a tourist town, and the Transylvanian people know how to squeeze the juice out of their little town’s fame as the home of the world’s most famous vampire. That being said, this is probably the coolest niche tourist town in Eastern Europe.
We spent three hours exploring the castle, learning the history of Vlad the Impaler and overlooking Transylvania from it’s most famous point — needless to say, the five-year-old vampire slayer in me was satisfied, and the 20-year-old adventurer was deeply humbled by the fact that I could pull off an adventure this crazy.
We bought some souvenirs and hailed a cab to Busteni, a mountain town where we would take a train to the Romanian capital of Bucharest.
Before heading back to Prague, Angie and I would get to experience an evening in Istanbul, make a victory lap in Budapest and stop in Slovakia. Four countries in one weekend and a childhood dream fulfilled, being greeted by Prague reminded us how lucky we were to have survived such an insane journey, and how lucky we were to be living in a city this beautiful. At least we sort of knew the language here, and we knew for a fact there were no vampires.
Email E.R. Pulgar at [email protected]