After having spent five days in the little visited northern Romanian regions of Maramures and Bucovina we headed to that region of Romania that captures every travelers imagination: Transylvania, the land of count Dracula. First stop: Sighisoara.
Vlad the Impaler
Contrary to what some people believe count Dracula is not a real historical figure but a creation of Irish horror author Bram Stoker, who wrote the gothic novel ‘Dracula’ in 1897. But Stoker did model his bloodsucking persona on a real person, that of the 15th-century Transylvanian prince Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, who used to impale his victims – rectum in, shoulder out – so that they would die a slow death. Most notorious is the ‘Forest of the Impaled’, when prince Vlad impaled 20.000 Turkish soldiers after surprising them in battle.
We had expected the Dracula theme to be overexploited in the places associated with Vlad Tepes and Dracula, but we were pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Apart from a cardboard Dracula sign in front of what is thought to be the birth house of Vlad Tepes in Sighisoara and the unavoidable Dracula knickknacks in souvenir shops we didn’t find much references to the figure that’s most associated with Transylvania.
First stop on our Transylvanian adventure was Vlad Tepes’ birthplace Sighisoara. Lonely Planet calls it ‘so pretty that it should be arrested’. We totally agreed. The medieval citadel with streets full of brightly colored 16th-century houses is a photographer’s dream come true, either in the early morning haze or in the afternoon sun when the reds, yellows, greens and blues burst off the housefronts.
Like many towns in this part of Romania the origins of Sighisoara are German. Sighisoara is one of seven walled cities built by the Saxons in Transylvania. Although the town of Sighisoara and the Unesco World Heritage listed citadel are quite small it was easy to spend a long summer’s day here.
We strolled up and down the streets of the citadel several times, climbed the 64 meter tall clock tower (from 1280) for some nice views over the streets and the 14th-century fortified wall (that has nine of its original fourteen towers remaining) and walked the 175 steps of the covered stairway to the Gothic-Lutheran ‘Church on the Hill’ with its German cemetery, enjoying it all at a leisurely pace.
Both coming to and walking around Sighisoara we had some unplanned excitement. First we almost lost half our belongings (including all our medication and battery chargers for our cameras, mp3-players and tablet) during the bus ride from Suceava to Targu Mures, where we’d have to change buses for Sighisoara.
Buses in Romania double as package distributors so we were not surprised when halfway through the journey the bus stopped to drop something of for an old lady waiting beside the road with a handcart. After the bus driver had gotten back behind his wheel and started to drive away Roel noticed a familiar shape on the old ladies’ cart: my backpack.
He sprinted to the front of the bus to stop the driver and got out to take the backpack back from the old crone, who clearly had no intention of letting it go. As it appeared, she’d been waiting for a big white package and my backpack had a (dirty) white cover. Her package, however, had been lying at the other side of the luggage compartment. After this narrow escape we decided that from then on we’d be carrying items like medication and battery chargers in our day backpacks next to our passports, cameras and tablet when traveling.
Fighting for food
Another thrilling moment was when a Roma boy tried to steal our compact camera as we walked back from the citadel to our cabin on the local campsite where we were staying. We’d just bought some local delicacies to eat at the campsite when we encountered a group of Roma (gypsy) women and children who started to pester me about the bag of food I was holding while Roel was a little bit further away taking a picture.
Naturally I refused to hand it over, but then a boy in the group just snatched it from my hand. At the same time I felt him grabbing for my pocket camera. I immediately got a hold of his collar and Roel, who had rushed over after hearing me yell, grasped his arm, but still he wouldn’t let go. Only after Roel hit him over the head hard, did he give it up. They probably didn’t expect tourists to fight back as the rest of the group decided to stay out of the skirmish. I was a little shaken after the incident, but the food didn’t taste less because of it. It probably has something to do with a kind of primal instinct; If you have to fight for your food it always tastes better.
We visited Sighisoara in July 2013
Travel tips Sighisoara
Stay – In Sighisoara we rented a small cabin for two nights on the Aquaris campsite, a 10 minute walk from the Sighisoara citadel crossing the Tarnava River. The cozy cabin had twin beds and a small porch. The campsite had a swimming pool, a communal kitchen for guests and the shared facilities were clean.
Transport – Getting from Suceava to Sighisoara took us most of the day changing buses in Targu Mures, one hour north of Sighisoara. Sighisoara itself is easily explored on foot. We traveled to Brasov by train.