Now that I have toured Transylvania and I know a thing or two, let me dispel some Transylvania myths. Firstly, Vlad the Impaler was not a vampire and there are no vampires currently living in Transylvania. So leave your cloves of garlic and crucifixes at home.
Secondly, there are no bats flying around, or at least none that I could see, (I was there in the daytime) but there are plenty of bees. In fact, I have never seen so many bees in my life. My guide Vali explained to me that Brasov, the town where Bran Castle is located, is a prime spot for beekeeping.
Lastly, and to my disappointment, people do not laugh like the Count on Sesame Street. Ah ah ah! I laughed this way with Vali a couple times and he indulged me by doing the same, but it was not his natural laugh.
Vali my guide was hilarious so there was a laugh a minute with him. I knew the walking would wear me out, but by the end of the day, a day full of driving, walking, taking photos, hearing about history, sharing stories, and laughing, I was nearly depleted. Even on the drive home, I was tired enough to sleep in the car, but I wanted to stay awake and enjoy Vali’s company for as long as I could.
I realized how very gullible and naïve I am as we approached a room in Bran Castle and he announced, “This is the friendship room.” I honestly expected to see a cluster of cozy chairs, maybe some pictures of adorable puppies on the walls. The image in my mind was heartwarming. Then I saw the iron collars and chains, and spiky chairs, and it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. When I saw some knight armor on display, one wearing pants and the other one a kilt, my first response was, “They had lady knights!” Vali patiently informed me that the kilts just made it easier for knights to go to the bathroom.
Râșnov Castle was the oldest castle we visited, built between 1211 and 1225. Vali told me there was a surprise awaiting me when we got closer to the castle. The surprise was a ride on a tractor with a dinosaur on the front. He must have pegged me for the type of person who gets excited about riding on dinosaur tractors, and he was absolutely right. I enjoy the simple pleasures in life, if riding on dinosaur tractors fits into the category of simple pleasures. Unfortunately, on the ride up to the castle, the dinosaur tractor got a flat tire and we had to walk the rest of the way. Still, the walk was pleasant, and exercise is good.
Most of Râșnov Castle has crumbled to the ground and what’s left of the church near the castle is just outlined in stone. The view from the top was spectacular and I even got to stop at a booth and throw axes on the way down. I sometimes imagine having an axe when I need it in a desperate moment of self-defense against a serial killer or some other kind of deranged psychopath. I saw this as my opportunity to put my imaginary axe-throwing skills into practice. The guy working there was a pro. He could throw five axes at once and they’d all hit the target with deadly speed and accuracy. The first axe I threw seemed so slow in arriving at the vicinity of the target that if I’d been aiming at a person, they would have had plenty of time to get out of the way.
I had to surrender to the reality that I’m not a natural killer. Vali told me that if I ever need to kill someone, it would be easy; I just shouldn’t aim at him. I threw a total of five axes and four of them went flying way over the target and one of them hit, but it was the blunt end of the axe. “You put him in the hospital,” the guy working at the booth said encouragingly. Vali and I left and the guy working there went back to reading his book. I asked him what he was reading and he showed me. “The Pope Must Die,” was the title. I thought that was fitting for a man working in an axe-throwing booth.
The final stop on our tour was the Peleș Castle in the Carpathian Mountains. I think this was the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited in my life. The castle is surrounded by mountains and trees and stands by a river, so the sound of water flowing can be heard while you’re walking around the huge grounds. It’s considered one of the must-see castles in all of Europe, so it was busy. In order to keep the flow of tourists under control, the castle employs their own tour guides who take big groups through the rooms and make sure nobody dilly dallies. This is smart, because there is so much intricate detail in every painting and piece of furniture, I can imagine some people would just stand there dumbstruck, trying to process all the abundant decorations. Vali waited for me at a café outside and when I returned, I told him what I’d enjoyed seeing the most: King Carol’s movie theater, his Arabic room, and his secret door in the library. It was just like the one in the movie Young Frankenstein. A book can be pulled out, which electronically opens a door to a spiral staircase leading to the King’s bedroom. I thought the whole point of the secret door was so the king could have affairs. I’m naïve about knights, and friendship rooms, and axe-throwing, but I know what a secret door to a bedroom is for. Vali said, “Yes, and if he wanted to be really really bad, he could sneak out of bed in the middle of the night, go down the stairs to the library and read a book!” Ah ah ah!
I love meeting new people in my travels, even if we’re like two passing ships in the night. It’s still better to meet briefly and share some vampire laughs than to never meet at all.
I realized later that the puppeteer who dresses up as Big Bird on Sesame Street is named Caroll, so now Transylvania has one more Sesame Street connection in my mind. And on that note, here's a lovely song from the Count. Ah ah ah!