I woke up to eye staring at me.
I shook my head, it was just the light reflecting eerily off the life-size Elvis “The King” figurine which was haphazardly shoved in between the bunkbeds of our hostel. Dawn meant it was time to wake up and gather my things. I was backpacking through Europe, but to get to my next stop, Budapest, I had to cross Transylvania. Far off in the distance the Carpathian Mountains loomed menacingly like fenceposts, both forbidding you to cross yet taunting you to peek over to the other side. On the train I sat across from an old Romanian woman.
From my studies on the culture I knew the scarf was worn on her head to prevent ghosts from following her.
Although she didn’t understand any of my English, I spoke to her and she smiled politely. A Beggar came up beginning to cry in an attempt to sell me some small trinkets out of his dirty bag. The old lady shot him a glare and mumbled a single Romanian word harshly under her breath which caused the Beggar to literally backpedal and seek a different railcar. But the tough composure did not last long as we entered the mountains. The compartment dimmed as we entered a narrow pass of the sleek grey stone. Rough terrain made the railcar rock back-and-forth. The old lady looked down at her lap and quietly started to pray in her old-tounge. The train hit a large bump which caused several people to gasp or jump out of their chairs.
I didn’t know what had these people on edge until I saw the large crumbling graveyard.
Even in daylight the place had long creeping shadows and ivy growing up the side of the main structure. Thinking this graveyard had to be from World War I or possibly the communist era, I looked closely for a date on one of the tombstones. Chipped into the side of one burial house was the date 1357. Maybe these graves were from the Crusades then, I thought, that would explain the large white crosses which stood on top of the cliffs which bordered each side of the graveyard. I couldn’t figure out if the crosses were positioned like that to keep evil away from the resting souls or to keep the resting souls locked in where they eternally slept.
I got off the train next to an old castle to take refuge for the night before continuing to Dracula’s castle in the morning.
The ancient town of Sinaia was rumored to be a tourist friendly Ski Resort but was deserted this time of year due to lack of snow. A group of large stray dogs met me at the train station along with two old ladies who argued over which one was going to take me home for the night. I waved them both off and went around to the front of the train station to figure out where my hotel was. All I could see was a single stone stairway which led up the ivy-covered mountain. The old ladies followed still trying to sell me a room for the night in their houses. I turned to go back into the train station when I stubbed my whole foot right into the concrete doorway. I doubled over in pain as blood started dripping from my broken toenails. The two old ladies initially looked concerned but caught side of the blood and hurried away quickly. Fearing a Third World infection nightmare, I opted not to walk and caught a taxi instead to get to my hotel. I still wasn’t too sure of my bearings or where the town actually was but as the taxi driver droned on in thick Romanian accented English, his little yellow Soviet era car chugged up the steep switchback road which revealed the quaint old-fashioned town built directly into the side of the mountain.
I stayed the night in the stables of the old castle which was now an INN.
It was here I learned about the wolffish man in the picture. Sitting out under the inky black Romanian sky while drinking hot spiced wine, looking at the stars, and warming my feet on the furry pelt of a stray dog who slept at my feet; the waitress told me the story of King Carl.
The king had been hand selected by German Royalty to come lead the new Romanian nation. It had been he and his wife which built the castle I stayed in. They weren’t German royalty themselves and no one really knew where they came from but they showed up speaking five different languages. The towns people loved the Queen, Mary, who was beautiful and charming and really got to know the towns people. She stayed with the towns people while her husband, King Carl, fought the fiercest battles to keep the Ottoman Empire at bay. Romania was the last frontier before the great Middle Eastern Ottoman Empire in modern day Turkey. The towns people have rumors that the queens maiden name, Silva, actually meant Forest and that she came from a family of witches who took Werewolves as consorts. Even though King Carl died long ago, the towns people say he watches over them through the eyes of the stray dogs.
That night in my room I awoke to the sound of barking dogs. Feeling a draft and remembering the bats flying about my head during dinner, I quickly got up and closed the window. I laid back down half asleep when I heard something rustling in the corner of the room. It was nothing I told myself and went back to sleep. Sometime later I woke again to a sharp pain on my ear. Fearing I’ve been bitten by a bat, I jumped up and went to the bathroom touching my ear and feeling something sticky. As I got to the bathroom and turned on the lights, I was shocked to find white spiderweb completely covering my ear. I started ripping the web off of my ear. I freaked out just imagining what kind of big spider I would find now living in my ear. But no matter how much I tried to clear the spiderweb away from my ear I just couldn’t get it off. That’s when I realized I was dreaming and that something was still rustling in my room. I fully awoke, turned on all the lights in the hotel room, and checked it for bats. There was none. I checked my ear for cobwebs in the bathroom. There was none. Feeling satisfied I went back to sleep.
The next day I continued on to Dracula’s Castle.
The trip to Draculas castle was a “Must-See” tourist spot in Transylvania. But all of the tourist money over the years had paid for extensive remodeling on the castle which now looked more like a summer retreat than a fearsome rulers castle.
I wanted to see how the real Dracula lived. Vlad the Impaler style.
It wasn’t until I got to Budapest that I found what I thought I was looking for. I walked through the palace in Hungary where young Vlad Dracula had spent his adolescence as a member of the royal court. That is where he caught the eye of his bride-to-be, Maria, who was cousin to the future king of Hungary. His name, Mathius Corvinus. Ring a bell? Corvinus is the famous clan from where both vampires and werewolves came from. Mathius and Dracula had a bitter disagreement which resulted in Dracula being imprisoned in the cave labyrinth beneath the palace, which I happened to be touring.
While Dracula was imprisoned here by Mathius, his castle was besieged by the Ottoman Empire’s Army. His wife threw herself out of the tower to avoid be captured.
The only thing that eclipsed Dracula’s hate for Mathius, was his hate for the Ottoman Army. It is for this reason we know him as Vlad the Impaler. He chased the Ottoman Army back into Turkey and lined the roads with their corpses. Using a sharpened stake, he could pierce through a man’s whole body. As long as he didnt hit any vital organs the person would stay alive for up to 48 hours suspended in agony on a stake.
It is unclear how he settled his dispute with Mathius. Some say Dracula cursed his family to be like the dogs which ran the streets. Some say, they are still fighting their battle today.