On day two of my Romanian adventure, I headed out to the mysterious mountains of Transylvania – a place where fairy tales, legends, vampires and mysteries abound.
Transylvania, the geographic center of Romania, has been a popular destination for business-people and travelers for centuries. Its position at the crossroads between Europe, the Middle East and Asia put it at the center of more than its fair share of territorial claims over the years.
It’s perhaps most famous for the territorial claim of one man, Transylvania’s most famous resident. His name was Vlad Dracul, or, as he was known in the middle ages, Vlad the Impaler. He was immortalized in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.
The region has often been referred to as one of the last remaining medieval regions in Europe, and I must admit, I can see how it got the reputation. Endless fields plowed by farmers using methods from the olden days (think horse-drawn carts) eventually give way to villages with still-dirt roads and thatched roofs. It’s stunning – certainly not untouched, but only very lightly touched by modernity.
We started the day at Pelisor Castle – the little sibling of the famous Peles Castle. (Peles Castle is closed for cleaning in November.)
Then, though we weren’t allowed inside, we got to spend some time on the grounds of Peles Castle.
Bran Castle, located just outside of the little village of Brasov (which we’d visit later in the evening – stay tuned!) might just be the oldest building I’ve ever been in. It was first built as a fortress in 1211, when a the Teutonic Knights – a Catholic religious order – was tasked with defending the border of Transylvania. Over the years, it became home to numerous royals and dignitaries of Romania, including its two most famous residents – Vlad the Impaler in 1459 and later Queen Maria.
We explored the area around the castle, which was mostly a little market set up to look like a village, selling both touristy souveniers and traditional Romanian crafts. We also stopped to get a snack – a Kürtőskalác – or, a doughnut cone covered in cinnamon and sugar. (es – it was just as tasty as it sounds.
Then, it was off to Brasov – a nearby village known for its medieval structures and charm.
After the tour we headed back to Bucharest, where Andrew and I explored a little more of the Old Town, grabbed a bite to eat at one of the more famous restaurants, and took a walk over to the Parliament Building to see how much of the second-largest administrative building in the world we could see. We ended up getting stopped by a guard before we made it too close, but we still got to see the outside, and the walk there and back turned out to be a great time to reflect on our time abroad.
After all, this weekend in Romania was the last out-of-Italy trip I’d take for the semester.
And honestly, I wouldn’t have chosen any other place for that honor.