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Second World Dracula Congress

(Dracula 2000)

Post-Congress Tour

The Second World Dracula Congress was followed by a 6-day tour of Romania, with the primary focus on sites associated with both the historical Vlad Dracula (the Impaler) and the fictional Count of Bram Stoker's novel. Many of the participants of the Congress (including several members of the Canadian Chapter of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula) stayed for the tour, and I doubt if any one of them regretted the decision. Visiting Dracula sites is always a fascinating experience; visiting them in the company of 25-30 equally enthusiastic and knowledgeable aficionados is a thrill indeed! We also had the unique experience of being accompanied on the tour by Ingrid Pitt, well-known star of such films as "Countess Dracula" and "The Vampire Lovers". Also intersecting our journeys were two television documentary crews: one from the Discovery Channel (who are preparing a video for the Travel Channel's "Mystic Journeys") and one from Seoul, South Korea.

We set out from Poiana Brasov, site of the conference, on the morning of May 29. In spite of considerable skepticism from several of us who had attended the first Congress & Tour in 1995 (as evidenced in a pool as to how late the bus would leave), we were on our way shortly after the scheduled departure time. Our guide for the tour was the chief organizer of the whole event, Nicolae Paduraru, president of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula in Romania. During the course of the trip, he not only supplied us with vital (and interesting) tidbits of Romanian history and culture, but maintained a sense of humor that helped us over the inevitable rough spots.

It was not long before the chief of those "rough spots" became apparent. "Traveling in Transylvania demandeth much patience," wrote John Paget in 1850. Some thing shave not changed. The roads are in many places narrow, winding, and rough. In fact if there is one thing that Romania needs to do in order to capitalize on its potential as a major tourist destination is to improve its roads. But never mind. Jonathan Harker did not have it any better!

We traveled northeastward from Brasov into "szekler" country, and stopped in one of these ethnic Hungarian towns for a local dish. Then it was on to the monastery at Durau, nestled beneath the "Magic Mountain", a truly majestic scene. This peaceful site was to be our first overnight stop, intended, as our guide put it, to allow us to put our souls in order before proceeding into Count Dracula's domain.

The second day was to be far more hectic. We started off by taking a short detour to Voronet, one of the famed Painted Monasteries of Bucovina (Moldavia). I don't think that anyone on the tour was disappointed that this site was added to the itinerary. It is one of several such monasteries in Romania which are unique for the frescoes that are painted on their exteriors, images that have survived five centuries of wind and rain. As luck would have it, our visit coincided with that of a group of singers who were performing exquisitely beautiful Orthodox chants. We moved on, confronted with the only rainy day of the tour. How appropriate, as we followed the course of the Bistrita River, across the Carpathian range, into the Borgo Pass itself. And just as we neared the Pass, the mist began to lift, showing the mountains in all their glory. So it's not exactly as Stoker describes in the novel. But it is magnificent anyway!

Our destination was the Castle Dracula Hotel - not much like a castle, but at least it is located in the right place. The night was full of activities. First there were ceremonies: the induction of new TSD members, and the award of the title "Consul of Count Dracula" to two members of the Canadian Chapter of the TSD (Stephanie Moss and Anne Fraser). Then several tour members showed up in a variety of costumes for the Masquerade Ball, followed well after midnight by a bon-fire. All that was missing were the howls of wolves (though I suspect some of us heard them as well).

Day Three began with a short bus drive to Bistrita, and the Golden Crown Hotel (where Jonathan Harker spends the night in Chapter 1 of Dracula). After a walking tour of the city, we had lunch in the newly renovated Jonathan Harker Room, and were served something resembling the meal Harker partook of (including the Golden Mediash wine). Our host was former mayor of Bistrita - Alexander Misiuga - one of two persons who have been awarded the title Baron/Baroness of the House of Dracula (I am the other one).

Then it was off for the long drive to Sighisoara. After some confusion as to who would be staying at which hotel (the only time we faced this problem), we were off to the main citadel to see a re-enactment of a seventeenth-century witch trial near Casa Vlad Dracul (residence of Vlad's father and birthplace of the Impaler himself). The house was close but lucky for us, we were able to return next morning and have a brief tour, just hours before the official opening of the newly renovated site. There have been many improvements, including the accessibility to the public of more of the house, and further restoration of the mural which depicts a person presumed to be Vlad Dracul.

Next day (Day 4) we left for Sibiu, where we visited the church where Vlad the Impaler's son (Mihnea) was assassinated and is buried. From there it was off to Wallachia, through the southern Carpathians via the Olt Valley and on to Curtea de Arges, where we spent the next night. That evening we went to the village of Aref, where local residents keep alive their songs, dances and legends from the past. Among the latter are several stories about Vlad the Impaler who to them is a hero. We all gathered with a large number of local residents (including dozens of children who took part in the performances) in the town hall and enjoyed genuine hospitality and folk entertainment. During the proceedings, the mayor of Aref awarded me with the title "Daughter of Aref".

On the morning of the fifth day, twelve of us undertook to climb the almost 1500 steps to Vlad the Impaler's fortress at Poenari. All of us made it. Though I had been there several times before, I was still awestruck by the magnificent view as well as overwhelmed by the sheer sense of history. I could not help recalling how some writers have claimed that Poenari was Bram Stoker's model for Castle Dracula. Hogwash! Stoker, unfortunately, knew nothing about this place. After the climb, we rejoined the rest of the group and headed to Vlad's Wallachian capital city of Targoviste to see the ruins of his Princely Palace. I was impressed at the improvements at the site, especially the collecting of Vlad artifacts for display in the Chindia Tower (which was closed to visitors on my previous two visits). For anyone interested in the historical Dracula, this site is a "must".

After a restful night in the resort town of Sinaia, some of the group toured the royal palace (Peles) while others of us just lounged around and continued the search for souvenirs. Then we proceeded to Snagov, to visit the monastery where Vlad is supposed to have been buried. Nobody knows for sure, but tradition holds that his headless body was laid to rest in the monastery in the middle of this peaceful lake just north of Bucharest. The capital city of Bucharest was our final destination, with an evening of entertainment at the Count Dracula Club, a suitable way to end a very successful tour.

A few of us who were still around the next day took an extra trip to Targsor, an active archeological site where Vlad the Impaler had built a monastery in 1461. Some scholars believe that this is where the voivode may have been buried. Maybe some day we will know for certain.

And so the Dracula 2000 tour came to an end. In terms of organization and logistics, it was quite successful. While there were a few snags, things went much more smoothly than in 1995. Again, if Romania wishes to be a major destination for western tourists, much work needs to be done on infrastructure, primarily the roads and tourist facilities (especially toilets and plumbing). Romania has much to offer the visitor, and has a natural drawing card in Dracula. I would heartily recommend it.

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COPYRIGHT©2005 Dr. Elizabeth Miller