Transylvania, home of a type of brown coal called lignite, scary aging nuclear plants, grim-faced locals who smoke way too much and, of course, Dracula. Halloween in Transylvania. How could be anything but awesome?
We spent a couple of days in grey-scale Bucharest (where the highlight was trying to escape from a Dextrophobia room) and then headed into the mountains to the lovely little town of Brasov and eventually to Castle Bran, supposed home of Vlad the Impaler, for Halloween.
First step? Procure some costumes. So the internets told us that there was a costume rental shop near our apartment. We searched and searched and eventually found it – no signage or any indication that there was any kind of shop anywhere in sight. We had to go through a small door into a dodgy alley to apartment number one. The humourless woman standing outside the shop put out her smoke (much to my surprise as folks smoke everywhere in Romania – in bars and restaurants, in police cars, in clothing shops!) and let us in. I was expecting some cool outfits, this being Transylvania and all. What we had to choose from consisted of basically what you’d find in the sale bin at Walmart on November 1st. Swanson and Tami managed to find some garb (Tami, some sort of run-down, sea-witch affair and Swanson a pretty good looking Grim Reaper – Lil’ Reaper and Junior Reaper we called him). The clothes smelled a little funny, a combination of sweat, tears and cigarettes. I left empty handed. But I had another plan.
Next step? Get ourselves to Castle Bran which was about 30 km away. We looked into taking the bus and set out to do so. Too bad we either missed the bus, went to the wrong bus stop or imagined the whole bus thing. Figuring we wouldn’t arrive at the castle until at least 7:30 (if we even did find the stupid proper bus) and, according to the website, things started at 7pm, we found a cab and asked how much it would cost. I was expecting a lot (considering how much the cab into Bucharest cost us – yes, we got ripped off by a cab driver, big surprise) but it worked out to only $15. On our way!.
The festivities didn’t start at 7, the box office (well one small window) opened at 7. We arrived early enough to get near the front of the line and waited for about half an hour in the freezing cold to get in. That cup of hot wine helped though.
The castle loomed in the darkness, looking imposing and terrifying and beautiful. We were lead into a courtyard where I managed to procure more wine (cold this time though). Evil fairies danced an evil dance screaming randomly at the crowd. It was pretty neat. Our group gathered, waiting to tour Dracula’s Castle, well actually Vlad the Impaler’s castle (dude that Dracula is kind of based on). Well actually, as the supposed real story goes, Vlad never even visited there. Or he was imprisoned there. Or his Uncle stopped by one day for tea. Nobody knows.
Then the man himself appeared. Vlad the Impaler burst into the courtyard, stomping his feet and yelling various horrible (I assume as he was speaking Romanian) insults and threats at the crowd. He came up to Swanson and promised him horrible tortures and a cruel death (again, I assume). Swanson responded holding up his scythe. Vlad laughed and then stormed off.
Before being lead into Vlad’s castle we had to pass by the dancing devil-fairies who would randomly screech at the crowd in a vain attempt to scare. It didn’t really work as you could see what they were doing well before you got near them. That was the only hint at any kind of scares for the entire evening. Vlad then lead us into the castle to show us his digs – for about 5 minutes and then he was gone. Off to yell at another group. That was it. We were left with 17 year-old kid wearing earmuffs and a cape for the rest of the tour. Or the tour of one room. After running through his lines as fast as he could giving us the boring wikipedia history of the castle, he promised that his co-workers had much more interesting things for us to see and do. That didn’t really happen as we were basically left to wander through the castle to complete the tour on our own. The kid’s co-workers barely lifted their heads from their iPhone’s whenever we entered a room.
It’s a lovely castle decorated with an odd assortment of 50’s furniture, flat screen TVs and torture devices (many were gruesome and had odd names – things like The Judas Cradle, The Woman at the End of the Street at Night, and The Spanish Tickler. One description added that “this method of execution is popular in modern action films, particularly films about espionage”. OK.
Not much effort was put into the big night I have to say. No Dracula was to be seen anywhere, greatly disappointing Swanson (and me). Even Vlad was a bit of a letdown – just a guy with badly glued-on felt moustache and eyebrows who walked around shouting at you in Romanian for 5 minutes. He kind of looked like cheery Frank Zappa. Such a lost opportunity.
After grabbing another cup of cheap wine (Dracula’s blood they called it) we were ushered out the door behind two drunk guys who were getting kicked out. How do you manage to get kicked out of a tour of a castle? Christ.
Swanson was so disappointed and bummed out he was on the verge of tears. The promise of a party with Dracula and untold candy riches almost broke his brain when Dracula didn’t show and the only candy he got was one small Romanian gummy bear (80% hooves, 10% sugar, 5% traktor tyres).
We left, passing by the huge line of people waiting to get in – some of the folks I saw in line before we entered 2 hours prior. They looked so cold and miserable. Just wait. We headed to the cab stand. The first guy we asked wanted $25 to take us back to Brasov. We balked at the price and after a little negotiating Swanson got him down to $20. He then took the taxi light off the roof and put it in his trunk. Uh-oh. Was this going to turn into some sort of Hostel situation with us being sold to rich folks who want to torture us for their sick pleasures? I think he took it off for fear of it blowing off the roof as he approached speeds of 140 Km an hour, hurtling us down a dark 2-lane road. “Do you like music?” he asked. “Of course!” He then cranked up a pretty awesome sounding stereo system blaring some rave music (they still call it rave music right? Or is it EDM or MLK or TDM? I’m old).
We got safely back to our favourite smoky cafe/bar (I think it might have been called Cafe Bar) for a nightcap to end our Halloween in Transylvania adventure. Disappointing? Yes. Glad that we did it? Most definitely. Would I do it again? Hell no.