On The Trail of Vlad Dracula

Our journey begins in Sighișoara, birthplace of Vlad Dracula aka Vlad the Impaler. It is a warm, gloomy day in July 2010. My sister Pebby and I pass through the gate under the crumbling 14th century clock tower. The tiny walled city is more hushed than silent. Watchful. Although these days the invaders arrive on tour busses.


The house where Vlad lived until he was four years old is now a restaurant – Casa Dracula. My sister scrutinizes the menu. A waiter comes out and scowls at us. Pebby sets the menu down and we set off in search of friendlier establishments.

Two days later we drive the winding, magnificent Transfăgărăşan highway. Poenari Fortress, Vlad’s real castle, awaits us at the end. Contrary to popular belief, it’s in the province of Wallachia, not Transylvania. It’s nearly impossible to reach by public transport, and I’ve heard that many Romanians aren’t even aware of its existence. With every twist and turn of the road, a migraine digs its claws deeper into my skull.

We round a bend and catch our first glimpse of the castle, which is perched high on a cliff overlooking the Argeș River canyon. It’s 1480 steps straight up to the castle. On a scale of one to ten, my migraine is now an eight. I should be seeking a silent, dark room. But, dammit, I’m at Dracula’s castle. I take a deep breath and begin the ascent.

At the top, we find ourselves totally alone, except for the guard at the ticket booth. I stagger around the ruins, disoriented. The pain drowns out any wonder that I might feel. My sister wanders off on her own, annoyed that I want to stop in Curtea de Argeș for the night instead of driving another three hours of winding road to Brașov.

I spend the eternal night wishing for a swift death. My favorite quote from Bram Stoker’s  Dracula takes on a whole new meaning:

No man knows till he has suffered from the night how sweet and dear to his heart and eye the morning can be.

And yes, my migraine dissipates with the breaking dawn. I am weak, but euphoric. Ready to hit the road for Bran Castle, which is on the way to Brașov.

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Most tourists only make it to Bran Castle, which is marketed to the masses as Dracula’s Castle. It’s conveniently located a couple of hours from Bucharest and only thirty minutes from Brașov, which is on the main trail for those backpacking across Europe. It is said that Vlad might have attacked the castle in 1460. But this is not certain.

The parking lot is jammed with tour busses. Tourists swarm the entrance. Souvenir vendors beckon us from their wooden stalls. They glare at us when we pass by without stopping. The ticket cashier scolds me for not having exact change. Once inside, we follow behind an American family. The father sneaks up behind his very young sons, grasps their shoulders, and whispers, “Boo!” Pebby and I look at each other and roll our eyes.

31 thoughts on “On The Trail of Vlad Dracula

  1. Just reading Dracula now. As a book, it is not great literature in my view, although it’s first section is much better than the end which borders on the ridiculous. But the account of Jonathan Harker’s carriage ride to Dracula’s Castle is wonderful, as is the account of Dracula’s stealing into Britain under cover of fog.

  2. I like the vintage feel of these photos because it goes well with your explanation of your “tour”. I have always wanted to do something like this when I visit Romania — even though I am not a big fan of horror stories (I get scared easily, hehe).

    • Hi! Thanks for stopping by here. I can’t imagine going to Romania and not seeing at least the Transfăgărăşan highway and Poenari Castle. Even without the Dracula element, they are amazing. In a few years it will be changed…the tourist hoards will find out about them.

    • Thank you. 🙂 You’re right about the migraines coming at the worst times. I always seem to get one when I’m traveling, but they usually aren’t as bad as the one I had in Romania.

      • I always seem to get them when I travel too, its so strange and unfair. Your post reminds me of a book I read about Vlad and that whole area of the world; it’s called “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova. You might like to check it out now that you have been there!

  3. Awesome post, thanx! I was there twice: first, more than 30 years ago and last time 3 years ago… I was born in Romania and I love Transylvania… 🙂

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  5. Terrific photos and great post-the castle architecture looks a bit benign, though certainly no less impressive- -too much Hollywood and Hammer Film influences I fear on my part thinking Vlad’s residence would be darker and more sinister looking- 😉

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  7. Wonderful post and pictures, glad to see you visited Sighisoara, and did a “Dracula tour” :). I feel sorry for the little misunderstanding with that waiter, not the best example to attract tourists… Other than that I really hope you had a wonderful trip here in Romania. Have a wonderful Sunday!

    • The part about the waiter was not a reflection about Romania, but rather any place that sees a lot of tourists. It’s the same in Prague, Paris, Venice, etc. It certainly did not ruin our visit to Sighisoara. 🙂 I loved Transylvania. Lovely people there, in general. Cheers!

    • Hi Cris – yes, it was a little cheesy. I felt like telling them that it wasn’t even the right castle, but then that wouldn’t have been very kind of me to ruin their fun. 😉 It could have been a disappointing end to our little tour, but I look at it as a perfect example of the distortion and commercialization of the Dracula story.

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