Category Archives: The Romanian Experience

How can you experience Romania like a local?

Wherever you travel, beyond the lists of sights to check, you might enjoy more to have a taste of what life for the locals is.

It actually doesn’t matter where you are and for what reason, if you ask me, experiencing any place like a local does, has a special power to create unforgettable memories. You don’t have to be very adventurous but you do need a certain level of courage to step away from being a traveler and you need not be a tourist for sure.

As a Romanian living in Romania and creating for you bespoke trips in my country, I can tell you how and where you can experience Romania as a local. It could be that you can translate this list to other places, in the end we’re quite similar across cultures and countries in the way we live day after day.

Here are my 3 tips for you:

  1. Go to a local market. Whether you want to buy something or not, ask for the most typical market in the village, town or city in Romania. Whether it’s a permanent market or a temporary one, take time to go in the early hours of the morning. Mingle with the other shoppers, the Romanian people rushing to buy what they need for the house. Stop by the cheese stands and ask to taste the various types of salted cheese. Buy if you like one a lot. See what people have on their tables. Try to distinguish the local and seasonal products from those that are imported. In July and August look for the large and often strangely shaped tomatoes. Definitely buy one; if not, at least smell it. Yes, smell the tomatoes. You’ll be amazed. Find an old lady selling herbs and see if you recognize them all. Smell the dill, the parsley, the more local leaves used for soups and other courses.
Have your pick! Source:PresaGalati.ro

Create your experience: take this a step further and buy a couple of ingredients for a picnic. You can find everything and your guide can help you learn and choose a variety of seasonal products.

  1. Take a tram or a bus for a short ride. There is no better way to experience the life of local people than by using the public means of transportation. I am biased here as I have a passion for riding trams every now and then. I feel that for those 20 minutes that we share the tram ride, everyone is part of the story despite the different stories we all come from, bring to the tram and go towards after the end of the ride. So try it out. Get yourself a ticket and alone or with a guide, go for a short ride in any city. Observe the people around and feel like someone belonging to that particular city.
Buy a ticket first 😉 Source: Metropotam.ro

Create your experience: plan a whole day using just public means of transportation. I can guarantee some adventure and some good stories to tell to friends afterwards.

  1. Attend a special event. This can be the most fun ride you have been on in a long time. I’d recommend attending a local wedding, if possible in a place where traditions are still kept. Ask your guide to translate the exchange of lines between the groom and the parents of his bride as he comes to ask for her hand. Pay attention to the negotiation going on when the bride is taken away. Definitely dance on typical Romanian music and enjoy all the food. If it’s not a wedding, maybe it’s a religious holiday or an important ritual in the life of a family. While these experiences cannot be produced on demand, ask for such opportunities and definitely don’t hesitate if they come your way.
Take off your shoes and just dance! Source: BD

Create your experience: plan ahead of time to increase your chances of being part of such an event.

Have I convinced you to go off the beaten track when you travel and experience life as local people do? Wherever you go next, try it out 😉

What to expect when you travel to Maramures

I won’t tell you what to expect when you travel to Maramures from my imagination. Last week I have actually done that for you and other guests who are planning to come for a trip in summer and fall.

We already wrote about Maramures, what is there to see and why you should go. But that was a while ago. I wanted to see how the region changed, what’s new. To be very honest, I also wanted to try out the traditional guesthouses I know had opened in Botiza, one of the villages where you can have an authentic experience of the region.

So what did we find? In a few words: beautiful landscapes, wonderful accommodation, and extremely welcoming and warm people.

We stopped for a night nearby Alba Iulia, the city known for Romania’s unification in 1918. We strolled around the Alba Carolina citadel before heading towards the mountain villages nearby.

The Roman Catholic Cathedral from Alba Iulia. Source: BD

The morning after we woke up to an amazing view of this oddly shaped mountain.

Morning view from Coltesti, Alba. Source: BD

Speaking of views, the week continued with beautiful, picture perfect images that I can only wish to wake up to more often. Here are some from Viseu and Botiza.

Morning view from Viseu de Sus, Maramures. Source: BD
Morning view from Botiza, Maramures. Source: BD

But while driving we also came across bee keepers, visited Mr Barsan and stopped by to visit some of the wooden churches that make Maramures famous and that are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Bee keepers on the side of the road in Maramures. Source: BD
Wood carving in Mr Barsan’s workshop in Barsana, Maramures. Source: BD

The places of accommodation we found? I’ll tell you this: you will get more than what you’ll expect when looking from the outside. Centuries old traditional wooden houses have been tastefully restored to allow guests to enjoy their stay in authentic locations while having excellent levels of comfort. Whether in Breb or Botiza, you can actually choose from the various guesthouses depending on what you expect your experience to be.

Traditional gate from Maramures, in Botiza. Source: BD
Beautiful guesthouse in Botiza, La Sesuri. Source: BD

We ended our trip with the loveliest of drives coming down from Maramures into Transylvania on a narrow mountain road, crossing very few cars and enjoying the views. Our last night before returning home was in Cluj, the NW gateway into Transylvania, home to more than 80.000 students, bubbling with life, and very inviting to stay for longer.

Statue of Matei Corvin from the Union Square in Cluj. Source: BD

As the week starts and so many memories from this trip are still very fresh on my mind, I can only plan to travel to Maramures again later this year. I’d recommend you do the same 😉

3 things we would love to do more of for you

As a purely bespoke travel agent, we are always putting first what you could enjoy the most while in Romania.

It takes time to understand what you like, have an interest in, love to learn about, try out, and simply have as an experience while on holiday. But this is one of the things that makes our job great.

Recently though, we had fun doing some things we’d love to do more of for each one of you. I’ll give you top 3.

  • Research for your trip a corner of the country.

Next week I’ll be in Maramures for a whole week of research. I’ve been there 2 years ago but we have 4 returning clients who want to spend 10 days discovering in a very laid back way this beautiful region.

Traditional wooden gate from Maramures at the Village Museum in Sighetu Marmatiei. Source: BD

What’s my plan? Firstly, I need to find the best options for accommodation and for excellent food; somewhere close to nature, authentic and yet with good standards. Secondly, I’ll check out the typical stops one makes in Maramures: the wooden churches and the Merry Cemetery. Finally, I’ll look for special experiences: craftsmen, water mills, the steam train, local chefs who could give a cooking workshop, local people who could share anything that would be of interest to our guests, and of course, I’ll stay open to surprises.

  • “Pimp” your selected accommodation

For a small group of guests coming in April, we’ll work on making their guesthouse an even cozier and nicer place to be in. Don’t think construction work! Think flowers, board games we know they like, candles, torches, better toiletries in bigger containers than the usual hotel ones, softer towels and bath robes, a larger selection of drinks, etc. None of these things are major changes and yet they are little touches that can take the experience of our guests from 98% to 100% excellent.

  • Find you the ideal teacher for your passion

There are many ways in which you learn about something you love. One of the best ways is to learn with and from someone who is as passionate as you are about the same subject and who loves to share the passion and the knowledge.

For a young group we have coming soon we’ve searched for an astronomer. Our guests wanted to learn more about astronomy, to look at the stars and the planets with a telescope, to learn about cosmological formulas, and to check out sky maps.

It’s not every day you meet someone passionate about astronomy but while searching for the ideal teacher for our guests, I could not help feeling impressed at the wealth of resources that are available. I am now certain that no matter what your interest or passion is, you can meet someone to talk to about it while on your vacation. Can you imagine how much fun that is?

Meet a local craftsman to learn about their work and make new friends Source: BD

The list could go on but I stop here with a thought I often have about travel: go slowly and make it an experience. No matter where you go and what you do, no matter what your budget can afford, choose to have experiences instead of a fast trip checking items on a bucket list.

If you ask me, that’s the essence of travel, that’s what makes travel great.

PS: Get in touch if you want your own trip to Romanian planned by us.

What to do in Romania after the winter holidays season?

So, the winter holidays season has finally ended, all the cabbage rolls have been eaten along with all salads du beouf, the dances of the masked spirits marked their way into the new year, and now everyone has entered their routine. This begs the question: is there anything else that happens in Romania after the winter holiday season? Is there anything else Romanians do or look forward to? The thing is, at least until the winter season itself has ended, there are plenty of things that are celebrated in Romania, so let us tell you about some of them.

1. Saint Peter’s wolves

Similar to Saint Andrews, the wolves’ apostle we told you about in our last article about the Romanian Halloween, Saint Peter is celebrated on the 16th of January, on the month of Frosty (January’s folk name), being a tradition transmitted from generation to generation.

Pack of wolves howling
Source: madelaine.ro

The elders say that this is the day when Saint Peter is the “patronus” of the wolves, when all of them gather in packs, howling. It is said that this is when Saint Peter comes and shares pray to the wolves for an entire year, at midnight, riding a white horse. The pray consists of a sheep or a deer, the wolves “agreeing” to only touch said pray, while leaving the humans be.
The folk stories depict him as both an earthly and a divine being. He walks the earth alone, but sometimes accompanying God when checking how the humans are doing.

2. The small Union – the Union between Romanian Principalities

158 years ago, on the 24th of January 1859, a great deed was accomplished, one that stood at the base of what now we know as modern day Romania. Romanians remember with great pride the day of the Unification of the Romanian Principalities.

The Union of Wallachia with Moldavia that happened on the 24th is the political act that stays at the base of modern day Romania and the overall forming of the Romanian nation. The historical circumstances of those times didn’t allow the union of all three Romanian countries (Moldova, Wallachia and Transylvania), but it was the jumpstart to a gradual formation of the Romanian state, starting with the small Union in 1859, and ending with the Grand Union back in 1918 when the fight for the freedom of the Romanian people will be victorious.

Recently, the Romanian Government even passed a law that declared the day of 24th of January to be a free one from work, given the great importance in the history of the country that needs to be cherished as such.

3. Saint Valentine

Known as the lover’s day, Saint Valentine is celebrated in Romania as well, on the 14th of February, so if you want to spend your Valentine’s day with a touch of Romanian scent you can come over. Although this celebration has its roots in English culture, where young lovers take their partner out on a date, you’ll discover another facet here: elders say that this is the day known also as the day in which the birds choose their partners. It is well known as “the day of bird’s matrimony”. Maybe this is where the “lovebirds” saying stems from? It sure seems like a plausible thought.

Tradition here says that the first bird a girl will see it will foretell her the kind of man she’ll later marry. If it will be a blackbird, she’ll marry a priest, yellow feathered birds will bring her a rich man, while sparrow will bring forth a farmer. The blue feathered birds will be the ones foretelling her a marriage with a joyous man, while the dove a loving man. However, if she were to see a woodpecker, no marriage for her.

4. The “Dragobete”

Being the magical personification of love itself, the Dragobete is celebrated on the 24th of February, being considered the God of youthfulness and joy. This day is considered among Romanians as the old “lover’s day”, a more “authentic one” than Saint Valentine, given its inheritance, being passed down from generation to generation ever since the older days of the mighty Dacians.

Traditions here say that in the morning of Dragobete, girls would gather around fresh snow and wash their hair with the water that came from the snow, saying that their hair will get more beautiful.

Source: click.ro

Also on Dragobete you’ll hear around people saying “Dragobetele kisses the girls!”.

Besides that, if the weather permits it, girls and boys would wear traditional clothing and walked together along the woods singing and picking the first flowers of spring.

Other times they’d meet at a house where everything would turn into a big party, celebrating love and cheerfulness.

Dance of the masked spirits – Romanian traditions of winter holidays

Winter holidays have already begun in Romania by now, with the coming of Saint Nicholas who, as you already found out by now, brings gifts to the children who have been well behaved over the course of the year. The tradition is that you have to clean your boots in order to receive the gifts he has brought for you. And this is not all!

maramures-jocul-mosilor
Source: one.ro

Many other traditions follow as the other holidays of the winter season come around in Romania. Some of them are what we like to call the “dance of the masked spirits”, which occur around Christmas or New Year’s Eve. The masked dances are archaic habits that have transcended time and are still practiced nowadays in Romania. About them, the Romanian writer Mircea Eliade (who wrote “The History of Religions”) said that: “such ceremonies are still popular in the Balkans, in Romania especially during the 12 days of Christmas Eve to Epiphany. Originally, they were ceremonies in connection to the periodical return of the dead wearing all sorts animal masks“.

Want to know what sorts of masked animal spirits are we talking about? Well, let us immerse you in the magic of the Romanian winter holidays…

The dance of the bear

Practiced mostly in the region of Bucovina, where this animal is worshiped, the dance of the bear is a masked dance that takes place mostly around New Year’s Eve. These are archaic habits, being a millenary agrarian and pastoral tradition.
The dance of the bear symbolizes the death and renewal of nature, as presented by Mihai Coman in the Romanian mythological bestiary: “In the Bear carol, the animal dies and is revived, in a symbolical dramatization of the cosmos’/nature’s re-birthing myth. Thus, the rolling of the bears in circles, the beating and the death of the bear followed by its miraculous revival, likewise its ascension on the bat (rod), play in a metaphorical way the succession of the seasons which, a long time ago, were standing on the sign of this animal, capable of defeating the winter and announce the spring“.

Source: omofon.com
Source: omofon.com

The cult of the bear is known from the most archaic of times, being present in the geto-dacian culture as well. Here, the bear was seen as a sacred animal, and as a testimony of that stands even the name of the great god Zalmoxis, where zalmo translates as skin and oxis as bear, therefore dealing with the God covered in bear skin.

In the Romanian mythology, the bear is invested with multiple apotropaic (protective) virtues, therapeutic and wheaterly ones. Earlier, there was even a belief that if a newborn was anointed with bear fat on the body on the first wash, he would gain strength and the bear’s luck.

The dance of the goat

Just like the dance of the bear, the goat’s one is another millennia old winter holidays tradition, being another representative of the Romanian people’s rich spirituality. Same as the bear, the goat was a totemic animal that would tell the people if what was to follow was good or bad times.

At its origins, the goat’s dance was a harsh ceremonial – the killing, the weeping, the burial and the resurrection -, however during the agrarian holidays, the dance became a ritual meant to bring richness to the following year, growth in animal numbers as well as richness to the crops.

Source: agrointel.ro
Source: agrointel.ro

The dance itself is very lively and it’s mostly used to capture the attention of the viewer. However, that’s not the only way one can do this, as the costume itself can also do that, given that it’s a very lively one, as well with its multitude of ornaments – antlers, mirrors, colored rags, dried flowers or tinsel.

The goat itself (or deer in other parts of the country, depending on the features of the area it’s played in) is accompanied by other characters meant to symbolize the shepherds, old men or women, and dancers in traditional costumes.

So, what do you say? Curious to get your attention fully drawn into the dance of the masked spirits? If you come over, we promise you that you can definitely get to live one of these magical millennia old experiences firsthand. Plunge into the multitude of sounds and colors that accompany these old spiritual traditions the Romanians still keep and get to live some of the most authentic experiences of your life!

5 magical Romanian regions where you can spend the winter holidays

The winter holidays are drawing near with each passing day. If you have thought about visiting Romania to spend the winter holidays here, and want to experience true Romanian authenticity, then we have just the perfect places for you to immerse in the beauty that surrounds these magical days. Let’s take them one by one.

1. Bucovina

Often called the land of fairy-tale like landscapes, Bucovina is well-known for its firmness in still keeping alive the traditions and the rituals that come along with them, after so much time has passed, and so many things that have happened with the changing times. Especially when Christmas comes. So if you want to feel the purely authentic taste of Romanian holidays, you definitely need to visit Bucovina and witness firsthand the genuineness of the place and the people that live there and contribute to the feeling.

people-chanting-bucovina-christmas
Source: proiecte-structurale.ro

2. Maramures

Another equally beautiful and authentic place to spend your holidays in Romania is the Maramures region. Here, centuries-old traditions inherited from the elders have remained untouched by the hand of civilization or any other ideology or current. Spending your holidays in Maramures means going back in time, to the spirituality of older days, where you’ll meet unique customs and traditions.

Group of carolers in Maramures
Sources: radiocluj.ro

3. Poiana Stampei

Another location we think you should visit if you want to have a wonderful winter holiday is Poiana Stampei, in Moldova. Located at the pass between Transylvania and Bucovina, Poiana Stampei will conquer your heart with its picturesque-like landscapes, that together with the locals that have kept the traditions alive, make it another place perfect for living a truly authentic Romanian holiday experience.

Source: monitoruldedorna.ro
Source: monitoruldedorna.ro

4. Bran-Moeciu

Hundreds of years old unchanged traditions – that is how you can describe the Bran-Moeciu region. Close to the place that is known as Dracula’s Castle, the Bran-Moeciu area is one of Transylvania’s spiritual cradles, so if you are looking for a place where authenticity is at home and your soul can be tranquil, you’ll definitely love it here, and fully live the genuine experience that you’re looking for. It’s also well known for the delicious culinary experience it can offer.

Source: romaniatv.net
Source: romaniatv.net

5. Apuseni

Last but not least… Apuseni region, where the mountain ridges dress themselves in accordance to the holidays, like the locals, in order to celebrate the good times of the holidays season. That is why we also have in mind Apuseni when thinking about places you should visit if you want to live an authentic Romanian experience during the holidays. We bet you’ll be delighted when you’ll see the carolers coming at your door, as Apuseni is another region where traditions have been kept untouched.

dinner-table-christmas-holidays-apuseni
Source: cabanamotilor.ro

So, are you ready to have the ultimate Romanian experience during the holidays? Ready to be shrouded in the beauty of the lands, and feel your spirit more alive than ever by partaking in some of the local traditions? If you know that deep down below the answer is yes, then don’t forget, we’re waiting for you!

5 things to do in Romania in the cold season

Winter is coming! So then you might ask yourself what can you do once the cold season hits the Romanian plains, and you want to come over and have a nice vacation? Well, given that Romania is such a rich and diverse place, we compiled a list of activities you could undergo while visiting our beautiful country in the chilly season. So, let’s take them one by one…

1. A trip to the caves

Did we mention Romania is rich in diversity on all planes? Oh, yes, we did! That is why we recommend, once you hit these lands, to not miss a trip to some of the coolest caves you can find on our territory.

Pestera Muierii/Muierilor (The Woman’s/Women’s Cave) is one of the most renown around here for its rich series of formations that makes it a monument of nature: stalagmites, stalactites, karstic landforms etc. Inside it you can as well find the Stoned Falls, a Santa Claus, even a Church as well.

The cave is located in Gorj, near to Baia de Fier, being one of the most visited speological objectives.

Source: http://silvia-iordache.blogspot.ro/
Source: http://silvia-iordache.blogspot.ro/

At the other pole of the Romanian map, in Bihor, at Chiscau, you can find the Bears Cave, equally known as Women’s Cave to tourists. You can find inside the Bears Gallery, the Emil Racovita Gallery, the Candle Gallery and the Scientific Gallery, all having an unique and fascinating story.

Source: cartitaplimbareata.ro
Source: cartitaplimbareata.ro

Other caves you can visit are Scarisoara, Polovragi, Liliecilor and Dambovicioara, each possesing its own beauty you can marvel at.

2. Follow the steps of the wilderness

Passionate about wildlife? Well, Romania is just the spot for learning as much as you can about it, given its rich biodiversity. Want to see how a bear paw looks on the freshly fallen snow? Or maybe you want your little one to learn the difference between a lynx paw and a wolf one?

Source: absolute-nature.ro
Source: absolute-nature.ro

No matter the reasons you want to undertake such an activity, be it for fun or for education, you can definitely get both experiences in just one go, and at the same time learn even more about the Romanian plains than you’ve already known.

3. Shop at the winter holidays fairs

If you’re passionate about shopping and holidays fairs then you might as well immerse in the magic of the winter holidays fairs that take place in Romania. Depending on where around in Romania you are, or around what time, you can either go to the Bucharest Christmas Fair or Sibiu Christmas Fair.

Source: targuldecraciun.ro
Source: targuldecraciun.ro

The Sibiu Christmas Fair starts on the 18th of November and takes place until the 3rd of January next year, being open daily between 10am to 10pm, while the Bucharest Christmas Fair starts on the 1st of December, this year, despite last year starting on the 27th of November and lasting until the 27th of December. The closing date hasn’t been announced yet, but you can always check their Facebook page and find out for yourself.

4. Take on skiing and other winter sports

Yes, we might not have the Swiss Alps, but we do have our Carpathians and other mountain chains that give you the opportunity to involve yourself with skiing, or any other winter sports for that matter. 1/3 of Romania is covered in mountains so imagine the things you can do!

If you’re into skiing, do know that Romania has around 150 approved ski slopes whose length goes a little over 130 kilometers, where you can go and immerse yourself in the magic of the white season.

Some of the best destinations for that are Poiana Brasov, Straja, Transalpina Ski Resort or Predeal, as well as many others, all of them being able to give you some of the best cold season experiences you’ve lived on the Romanian lands.

Source: ontheroad.ro
Source: ontheroad.ro

5. Feel like Elsa in her Ice Castle

But how can one do that if Romania isn’t Arendelle? Well, we might not be in Arendelle, but we definitely have what it takes to be quite close to it. How can that be possible? Well, let us tell you about one of our land’s magic places: Fagaras Mountains, or to be more exact Balea Lake and its surroundings.

Source: soundofice.eu
Source: soundofice.eu

If you want to feel like the Ice Queen and sleep in a Ice Castle, you can always visit the Ice Hotel next to Balea Lake, the only hotel made entirely out of ice from Romania, where you’ll have a unique and strange experience that definitely needs to be tried out.

The first room is the restaurant room, after which come the rooms where one can sleep, each of them having an ice guardian in front of them and furniture sculpted in the ice itself. The beds are covered with thick blankets, furs and pillows. A true experience for everyone who visits the place.

Romania-Ice-Hotel-Dragon-Cave
Source: uniquehotels.com

If you want to take this icy experience to the next level, you can always visit the Ice Church as well, and if you’re lucky enough, you might even witness a ceremony being held there.

balea-lake-ice-church
Source: yourshot.nationalgeographic.com

So, what do you say? Are you coming over to try out one of these experiences? Don’t forget that the diversity of the Romanian plains awaits for you and upon arrival, you’ll definitely find out many more other things you can experience here, we just compressed some for you in these 5 blocks, however from these five we assure you others can surface as well. All you need by your side is the time to actually experience them all.

Dracula – the man, the myth, the legend

Who doesn’t know him by now? The one about whom the history books talk as being one of the most ruthless rulers the Romanian land has ever seen, the same one who inspired the main character of the world’s most notorious gothic novels, as well as many other movies that followed for decades thereafter, and last but not least, the one who gave life to one of the world’s most popular legends – Dracula. But who exactly is Dracula, after all?

The man

Vlad the 3rd or Vlad the Impaler – the man, was a well-known voievode of Wallachia, who ruled the lands three times in 1448, between 1456 and 1462, and last in 1476 before his death. Son of Vlad the 2nd and a noble Transylvanian woman, he was born in Transylvania in the citadel of Sighisoara. In turn, Vlad married three times.

The first time it was in 1442 with a noble woman from Transylvania named Anastasia-Maria Holszanska of Transylvania (also known as Cneja Bathory), niece on the sister lineage of Sofia Jagello, queen of Poland, wife of Vladislav the 2nd. From this marriage Vlad fathers two sons: Radu and Vlad. Sadly, in 1462 she commits suicide because she didn’t want to be prisoner of the Ottoman Empire – Vlad’s sworn enemies, by throwing herself in the river that surrounds the fortress of Poienari, which was a branch of Arges river, giving thus life to the legend and the name of The Lady’s River.

His second marriage is with Jusztina Szilagyi, cousin of the well-known Mathias Corvinus. As a result of this marriage, he fathers Mihail and Mihnea 1st the Evil – who later becomes ruler of the Wallachian lands himself.

Following after, his third marriage is with Ilona Nelipic of Wallachia in 1463 (as it seems to result from a letter to Mathias Corvinus), with whom he lived in the Hungarian capital. From this marriage resulted a girl named Zaleska.

vlad-tepes
Source: pinterest.com

As a ruler of Wallachia, during his reign he obtained temporary independence from the Ottoman threat. He became infamous because of his cruelty methods and his usual way of impaling his enemies.

Despite cruelty being a common method of the times, Vlad got more “recognition” in this matter because of his disputes with the merchants of Brasov, which were the ones that characterized him in a very propagandistic way, as being very cruel.

The myth

From how and from where did the myth of Vlad being a vampire came to be? As we all know, it all came from the world’s most renown Gothic novel written by none other than Bram Stoker. It is believed that the circumstances under which Stoker wrote the book, as well as those under how his novel was received is what gave birth to such mythical thinking.

Be it that Stoker took his inspiration from the British Museum’s collections where Vlad is described as being a monster, a vampire that drinks human blood and a big cruelty amateur, or as historians suspect, from his friendship with a Hungarian professor from the University of Budapest, Arminius Vambery (Hermann Vamberger), who might’ve gave Stoker information about Vlad (in the 1897 novel, dr. Abraham Van Helsing recalling his friend Arminius), the author writing about this subject increased the reader’s belief that the novel had been inspired by real facts and that the story was maybe just a little bit romanticized, given its nature.

bram-stocker-dracula
Source: rebloggy.com

Behind all of this might be the genuine epidemic of “vampirism” that had spread across Eastern Europe at the end of the 17th century and continued throughout the 18th century with a reported number of cases that ascended dramatically, especially in the Balkans, later travelling towards the West, to England, Spain, Germany and even France. That is what might had given birth to this widely accepted “truth”, since travelers that were returning from the East kept telling stories about the undead, which helped keep the perpetuating of this mythical thinking.

However, years later, the contemporary researchers “bust” this myth suggesting that behind all of this epidemic was actually cholera.

The legend

It is undeniable that from the man to the myth, the path led later to the globally widespread legend of Dracula. Everybody knows the vampire lord that feeds on the blood of his opponents. Where does Dracula come from, though?

dracula-untold
Source: http://glvalentine.livejournal.com/

Well, being the son of Vlad the 2nd, Vlad the Impaler gets his name from his father, who was a renown member of the Order of the Dragon. But what does the Order of the Dragon have to do with the name of Dracula? Well, very much.

It is where the name of Dracula comes from, as for his father’s great deeds the Order – being comparable to that of the Teutonic Knights, gets bestowed upon him, which later grants him the name of Vlad Dracul (in Latin the word for dragon being draco). Therefore, Dracula – the title Vlad Tepes receives, and which later will pass through centuries as a legend, means Son of Dracul ( or son of the Devil – as in Romanian, the word Dracul stands for evil, given the biblical association of the devil to the serpent that tempted Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden, despite in medieval times dragons serving as a symbol of independence, strength and wisdom).
Moreover, what also might have inspired count Dracula’s well-known attire – black cloak over red accouterments, was possibly the ceremonial uniform of the Order.

With all of these details put together, the legend was going to rise from the depths of Stoker’s imagination, and mixed with facts from the real life that inspired his character, gave birth to what we know today as one of the most controversial and spooky characters – Dracula.

A trip to the past: royal Romania

On a valley of the Carpathian mountains, 120 kilometers away from Bucharest, right in the heart of Romania, dwells a special construction, which remained impregnated in the sentimental geography of the people that reside there: the royal castle, Peles.

Peles Castle’s beautiful history begins in the year of 1866, on the 5th of August when the newly-installed ruler of Romania, Carol the 1st, accompanied by renowned personalities such as Dimitrie Sturdza, Carol Davila and others, visits for the very first time that little mountain village that would later become what we know today as the village of Sinaia. Being absolutely mesmerized by the beauties of the place, he decides that he should build there a summer residence for his family. To make this happen, he then sells an estate he owned in Germany, and from his own money, in 1872, bought at Sinaia a swampy area of 1000 acres.

regele-carol-1
Source: istorie-pe-scurt.ro

In a letter sent to his father in the same year, he writes: “Here, the air is always clean and cool… So, by each passing day, my desire of beginning the construction of a residence here strengthens.”

After all the negotiations with Dimitrie Ghica – the man who owned the land where Carol wanted to build his residence – were closed, in the following year, 1873, began the work for stabilizing the land where the palace would later be seated.

Initially, laying of the foundation stone kept being postposed because of the landslides. A lot of underground springs had to be captured through a series of drains. That is how the professor architect Wilhelm von Doderer makes his entrance, being brought to Sinaia by his highness in order to help him with problem, given that he had previously built the spa complex from Mehadia. The ceremony of laying the foundation stone was held later on, on 10 august 1875, on a Sunday.

Let this castle be raised and finished, and serve as the cradle of my dynasty, the national dynasty!”, Carol said, visibly touched, after which he put on an apron and together with his wife holding the trowel puts the plaster at the cornerstone, after the three traditional hammer blows. Next to the stone, he sits the foundation act as well as the building one, and along them dozens of gold coins of 20 lei, being the first Romanian coins with the face of Carol the 1st.

carol_i_of_romania_coin
Source: wikipedia.org

Peles Castle’s construction lasted 10 years – from 1873 until 1883. As a matter of fact, Peles was going to become an entire complex, that would eventually include many more buildings – like castles Pelisor and Foisor, the power plant or the royal stables. The initial plans were drawn by architects Schultz, Benesch and Liman, but over the years dozens of other engineers, architects and artists, Romanian or of any other kind, worked for broadening the complex.

Although in the year of its inauguration, back in 1883, the castle was very close to the borders of Austro-Hungary which began beyond Predeal, after the unification with Transylvania back in 1918, the royal castle of Peles became the second capital of the country, right in the middle of Great Romania.

On October 7th 1883, the chalet shaped castle is finished, and Carol offers a gala lunch, toasting with Romanian wine “in honor and happiness of Romania”. The well-known poet Vasile Alecsandri accompanies the toast with the following lyrics:

“Me, Carol and my nation

Have built in one mind and miss

A kingdom in times of altercation

A palace in times of peace”

At the end of the construction, Peles Castle would occupy 3200 square meters, having 160 rooms. With the improvements made after the war, the castle would be one of the most coherent ensembles of Art Nouveau in Europe.

castelul_peles_sinaia_-_vedere_panoramica
Source: wikipedia.org

In the interior decoration, Carol the 1st wanted to combine the modern with the old. For instance, although the heating was done via radiators, he still kept the fireplaces. The equipments were the most modern ones. A Viennese firm installed an elevator and an electric buzzer in December 1883. Almost all rooms had buttons “from the grand marshal to the servant.”

In October 1885, Peles is equipped with three telephones that would connect with Sinaia railway station, Sinaia post office and Bucharest. The electrical plant is made by a German company and an Austrian one, and the power plant is maintained by the Electrical Society of Bucharest, which offers the supporting staff as well.

Carol the 1st then orders two monographs to make known the wonders of the palace, both making their debut in 1883. One of them spoke in German and announced the speaking public of that language about the great achievement from the Carpathians, and the second one, in French, addressing specially the Romanian elites, highlited the superiority of German art over the French one.

Peles Castle, inspired by the German Renaissance, is a sumptuous building, with a great wealth of forms and decorations; a royal residence that rivals the beauty of castles such as Miramar near Trieste on the Adriatic coast, Neuschwanstein or Berg from the Bavarian Alps.

A return in time – taking a ride with Mocanita

Somewhere on the bank of the Wasser river, a few kilometers South from the Ukrainian border, where the land with high mountains and deep forests can be seen, you can find one of the last remaining narrow gauge steam railways in Europe, and with it the well-known steam-train – Mocanita.

Built after the first World War only to carry logs that would later be part of the composition of the well-known gates and churches of Maramures region, Mocanita is still used nowadays for its original purpose. However, with time, despite its old age, it was given another role – that to carry tourists, as well.

mocanita-steam-train
Source: www.cffviseu.com

Unlike the standard gauge trains that run on 1435 mm gauge, Mocanita runs on 760 mm one, this technicality offering it a certain quality – that to be able to access easier the rocky valleys which are hidden in century old forests, offering its passengers some of the most amazing fairy-tale like views they’ll ever witness.

One of the places that piques the interest of tourists when riding with Mocanita is Wasser valley which crosses the Maramures Mountains in the middle of one of the most beautiful and wild landscapes of Romania.

Source: www.cffviseu.com
Source: www.cffviseu.com

Its access point is Viseul de Sus city, which also constitutes the starting point of the steam-train Mocanita. Given the fact that this place is one of the fewest where someone can ride in a wagon pulled by steam power, each year the old Mocanita attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world, offering them thus unforgettable journeys.

They can ride the Mocanita up into the end of the valley and also back, in the meantime enjoying the striking beauty of the Romanian nature, with the possibility of stopping down the road where they can afterwards start a trip through the mountains.

Source: BD Team
Source: BD Team

The starting point of the journey is at the train station Viseu de Sus, which is not a usual train station given Mocanita’s initial role, therefore misses the platform for passengers. However, that doesn’t constitute a problem for the tourists given its scenery that makes it even more authentic, accompanied by a strong smell of fresh wood.

How does a trip with this century old steam-train look? It all starts fresh in the morning, when the morning dew has hit fresh and Mocanita is prepared for its day to day journey: both its wagons for logging carriage and passengers one are attached to the steam-engine. Afterwards, the “main dish” that Mocanita serves in order to run is brought: water and wood supplies, after which the mechanic starts the engine. After a while, its well-known strong long whistle is heard and the steam puffs along the way.

Source: BD Team
Source: BD Team

Following the Wasser river in cascades, the train first passes along the houses of Viseu de Sus. Afterwards, after about 7 kilometers, the route engulfs itself in the wilderness of the forests, passing by the strait’s steep cliffs, making its entry into the mountains through dark tunnels.

Source: www.cffviseu.com
Source: www.cffviseu.com

The nature’s silence that follows is not only interrupted by the noisy and rushed waters of the rivers, but also by the train’s puffs and hissing and the locomotive’s sharp whistles. Mocanita then gently sneaks up the steep slopes, often giving the impression that it’s not going to make it forward, and that the steam power it’s not enough, only at the end to surprise its passengers with victoriously continuing its adventure and transporting them to picturesque planes that look as torn from a fairytale book.

It is then when all the contact with the contemporary world is lost, given that whenever one travels with Mocanita, it sends you back in the times when technology wasn’t so advanced so, for example, if you find yourself not having phone coverage, do not panic! It’s just a normal thing to happen.

That is why we advise you to just let yourself be immersed in the magic of the Mocanita steam-train and the utterly scenic places it’s going to take you, while you’ll be its passenger.