Friday, August 26, 2016

A Visit to Dracula's Castle

Bran Castle in Romania
Bran Castle in Romania
The castle marketed to the public as "Dracula's Castle" is actually Bran Castle, a fortress perched high on a mountain above the town of Bran in Romania. It sits at the border between the Romanian regions of Transylvania and Wallachia.

Construction of the present castle was completed in 1388, and for nearly 500 years thereafter it served as both a customs house and military stronghold to defend Transylvania from invasion.

We visited the Bran Castle in August, 2016. As our Romanian tour guide repeatedly reminded us, the castle has only a tenuous connection to either the fictional character Dracula, or to the real-life Vlad Tepes ("Vlad the Impaler"), also known as Vlad Dracul, who is said to have been at least part of the inspiration for Bram Stoker's classic vampire. Its real value is its role in the history of Romania. Yet there are indeed a couple of Dracula connections, as we shall see shortly.

Looking at the town below from Bran Castle.
Historically, the castle served the function of most castles -- i.e., to defend its region from invasion. The castle is situated strategically above a mountain pass. Thus, its occupants are able to see for long distances all around, and they are also able to control the only entrance to the area. But by the late 1800s, for a variety of reasons, the castle had lost its strategic importance and fallen into disrepair.

In 1920, after Transylvania had become a part of the Kingdom of Romania, local residents offered the castle as a gift to Romanian Queen Maria. She undertook an extensive restoration of the castle and turned it into a residence for the royal family. They remained there until 1948, when they were expelled by the newly installed Communist government, who also seized possession of the castle.

In the early 1990s, the people of Romania overthrew the Communist regime. And in 2006, Bran Castle was legally returned to the heirs of the royal family.

The castle is now open to the public as a museum, housing pieces from all of its eras -- from medieval torture devices to a secret staircase to early 20th-century royal furniture.

There is also a room devoted to the Dracula connections.

Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia
Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia
In terms of Bram Stoker's fictional vampire, the bloodthirsty Transylvanian Count Dracula, Bran Castle is said to have been the inspiration for Stoker's description of Count Dracula's sinister residence in the novel. According to the castle's website, Stoker himself never visited Romania. But he did have access to pictures and descriptions of Bran Castle, from which he developed his own description of the fictional Dracula's Castle.

In real life, Vlad Tepes -- also known as "Vlad the Impaler" or "Vlad Dracul" (Dragon) -- was Prince of Wallachia, a region bordering Transylvania, in the 1400s. Vlad was a fierce defender of both Wallachia and Transylvania against repeated invasions by the Ottoman Turks. Today he is revered as a hero in Romania.

Although Vlad did not live at Bran Castle, it is said that he would stay here as he traveled between Wallachia and Transylvania. It is also said that Vlad was once captured and imprisoned for two months in Bran Castle, after his relations with the Transylvanians had soured.

We visited Bran Castle on the 2-Night Dracula City Break from Bucharest. This is a great tour where you not only visit Dracula's Castle, but also have guided tours through the cities of Brasov and Bucharest. We learned more about the history and culture of Romania than we even knew existed, yet we left wanting to learn even more!

For more information on Bran Castle, you can check out the castle's website and its Wikipedia article.

Here are more photos from Bran Castle:

Fittingly, the castle contains a room full of torture devices. Here are a couple of ways  to make your guests feel welcome.

Some of the furnishings used by the royal family.

The King's bed

The King's crown and sceptre. This display is located in his bedroom.

The Queen's bathroom

Here are some views from outside the castle.

The secret staircase. A bit confining, but handy when you need to make a quick getaway.

The King's fancy-dress uniform.

Old suit of armor. Note the weapon: a crossbow.

Vicky in the courtyard of the castle
Ed with a picture of Vlad

Ed, Vicky, Jeanine, Norm (l-r), with the castle in the background

Dust and shadows, but a few beams of light... time for Dracula to crawl back into his coffin...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Italy Earthquake, August 2016

So devastated about the earthquake in Italy. We were in Umbria two years ago this week, not very far from where the earthquake struck today. Lovely countryside, and many tiny villages with buildings almost 1,000 years old.

Our hearts go out to the people affected.

This is a view from the house where we stayed, near Spoleto.

View of the Appenine Mountains from a country house
outside Spoleto (Umbria), Italy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Athens at Night via Segway

The four of us on our Segways. It's easy!
The four of us on our Segways. It's easy!
Segway for Seniors. :-) We did a tour of Athens on Segways after dark. It was GREAT!! None of us had ever ridden a Segway before, so we were a little nervous. But Vera, our tour guide/instructor, had us riding, turning, stopping, and even backing up in literally five minutes. It was incredibly easy.

After an hour, we were navigating through throngs of tourists, avoiding the occasional car or motorcycle, and riding along bumpy, winding, even pitch-dark streets like pros.

I don't know how many miles we did, but the tour went for three hours. We Segwayed up to the Acropolis, then all around the city. Vendors, musicians, food and drink, and tourists everywhere -- Bourbon Street on steroids, and then some. Thousands of people. And we got to see it all, along with some historical sites, from the backs of Segways.

This was an extremely cool adventure, and riding the Segway is far easier than you might imagine. If you are heading to Athens, book this tour. You will not be disappointed.

View of the Acropolis at night
View of the Acropolis at night

Looking out over Athens from the Acropolis
Looking out over Athens from the Acropolis

Ruins of the Keramikos area of Athens
Ruins of the ancient Keramikos area of Athens

The nightlife in the city squares is hopping - this was a Wednesday night!
The nightlife in the city squares is hopping - this was a Wednesday night!