I say “Dracula’s Castle” like so, because, really it has absolutely nothing to do with “Dracula” (obviously a fictional character that’s *maybe* based off of Vlad the Impaler). Andrew was disappointed. I wasn’t exactly surprised. Basically, Bran Castle (as seen below from the inside) explained that the Irish author Bram Stoker *might* have visited the castle and it *may have* given him inspiration for the character, Dracula’s castle. Vlad the Impaler, whom Dracula is *said to have been based on* visited Bran Castle once. That’s it. There are a few rooms in the castle dedicated to the history of Dracula and Transylvania and basically the acknowledgement that Bran Castle really has little to do with the fictional story. It was a beautiful castle though, as was the view from Rasov Fortress and the grandeur of the Romanian summer palace, Peles Castle.
First stop: Rasnov Fortress! There really wasn’t much information given to us about the fortress, and it was crumbling down in many parts. But it provided a beautiful view of the city below. On our way in, a North American accent greeted us and asked us where we were from. He was sitting down, waiting for his family and heard us speaking English. (We were a mix of nationalities, hailing from America, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore…) He was from Kentucky. Ashland to be exact. I told him I was from the other end of the AA and he smiled really big. He spends half the year in Romania working as a missionary. I’m always intrigued by these folks we meet along the way, but try not to ask questions that may come across as confrontational. Instead, I wished him well and skipped ahead to catch up with Andrew (who usually can’t be bothered with us ‘Kentucky folk’).
When we were in the heart of the fortress looking out over the view, we overheard a couple of older women talking about the view. They were obviously the family (or friends) of the Kentuckian waiting at the entrance below. Their accents were a dead giveaway. The very same accent I’m accused of not having time and time again on this trip. Andrew nudged me and reminded me that I’m supposed to sound like them. I responded with a few words I probably shouldn’t type out online. I thought it was sweet that they made the comment that the mountains reminded them of those in West Virginia. I find it interesting how so much of the land reminds me of home. Or how some flowers, like cannas seem to grow EVERYWHERE. In Sofia, I smelled something wonderfully familiar. Some of the streets were lined with catalpa trees. The very same tree that grows at the bottom of my parents’ driveway. In Bucharest, it was lavender. Women sold bunches on the streets, reminding me of the summer I spent studying in Aix-en-Provence. Obviously, I’m on this trip around the world to see. the. world. But I find such beauty and grace in these details that remind me of another place that has wormed it’s way into my heart.
The Australian girl did seem to agree with this thought. I decided I didn’t need to befriend her then and there.
“Why would you travel half way around the world to think the mountains look the same as they do at your home?” She grumbled and might have made fun of their accent. I rolled my eyes and walked away, knowing I would have to spend the next six hours in her company. We ambled down the hill and bought some fresh raspberries along the way. Knowing the Australian wasn’t around, I told Andrew all about the raspberry patch at my parents’ house in Kentucky.
Second stop: Bran Castle aka, “Dracula’s Castle”. I was expecting something dark and dreary, it was anything but. It was beautiful and modern (at least compared to what I expected it to be) and airy and bright. The beautiful wood floors showed off the collection of Queen Mary’s furniture well. It was quite simply, a well maintained, picturesque museum inside this once inhabited castle. The balconies overlooking the courtyard were my favorite- even though they were quite low and I’m positive Andrew had a hard time walking through.
Third (and last) stop: Peles Castle. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside without paying an exorbitant fee. As we were only going on a tour of the first floor, I figured I could go without taking photos during the thirty minute tour. The Castle was and still is the monarchy’s summer palace, although we were told it’s closed in November because that’s when the family comes to stay in the palace. It’s gorgeous and over the top decadent inside. There’s a huge receiving hall with a retractable colored glass ceiling. Two arms rooms. A library with a secret door leading up to the King’s bedroom. An arts room, a receiving hall, a dining hall with places laid out for more than thirty guests. It reminded me of the dining room in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. You know, minus the singing tea-cup. There was a parlor for smoking and even a small theater before we were told that our tour was over and only those who have paid to see the second level could remain.
On our way back to the hostel from our day trip to the castles, we approached a car in the middle of the road missing the bottom of the car on the passenger side. We were the first vehicle to arrive and immediately our driver got out to investigate. Had we been a few seconds earlier, who knows what would have happened to us and our own vehicle. This is what I thought of, especially after our bus accident in Tanzania. Thankfully, the driver was able to get out and walk around. Maybe only suffering a concussion. His passenger, an older woman, wasn’t so lucky. With the bottom of the car completely gone, her legs were stuck and she eventually had to be cut out of the car. Police and Emergency services responded roughly within ten minutes. (Which was positive to see after none had arrived on the scene of our accident in Tanzania, even after an hour’s time.) We were told later how accidents happen all the time in Romania, mostly due to young drivers and the robust interest in drag racing. It made me cringe talking about it the next day with a Romanian girl as we got into a car for a two hour drive to the next town.
Once back at our hostel, we went out for a Romanian dinner with the majority of our castle tour group. Australian included. In addition to her negative comments of the Americans earlier in the afternoon, our entire group managed to hear her life story more than once. She had a way of cornering you and talking… and talking… and talking some more. She also liked to ‘country-drop’ which I’m not a big fan of. At. All. During dinner, she complained about how someone she had met at a passport control was excited over the number of countries she/he had just hit visiting. The Australian complained, not understanding why someone would count the countries they’ve traveled to. And while I don’t understand this either, her sentiments didn’t seem to correspond to her unsolicited tales of her travels around the world that we had all heard multiple times throughout the day.
“You know what I don’t like? Country droppers. They. drive. me crazy.” I deadpanned, responding to her country-counter rant.
“What do you mean?” She asked, like she had no idea…
“You know, those people who just drop the places they’ve been or tell a story when it has absolutely nothing to do with the conversation at hand…” I trailed off, trying desperately to ignore my new German friend giggling, and my new American friend leaning back pointing his finger at the Australian as if I didn’t know what I was doing.
“Ohmigod! Who would do that?!” She asked. Completely annoyed at the thought. Genuinely so, without a clue I was hinting at her own actions.
“I don’t know… But it happens… And I just think a conversation should be a two way street. Especially when it comes to travel. You know what I mean? I don’t need to hear or overhear about EVERY country another person has been to…” I practically had to pinch myself from laughing because by now the German and American were losing it.
The Australian didn’t notice. She didn’t get it. And the conversation took a turn, she asked about our time in Korea, only to talk about how much she likes Korean food, completely disregarding our response. I started to feel sorry for her. For her complete unawareness. I’m a talker. But if nothing else, this trip has taught me the beauty of listening. A trait I’m now grateful for, because as soon as I think “Maybe I’m talking too much?” I shut my mouth. I ask a question. I stop talking and listen.