Aching Legs & Vampire Stalking

People say that traveling together can be a good checkup for couples. During our trip across Europe we challenged both ourselves and each other more than once. Not  really surprising at all, but the good news is… we survived the trip and each other!

Romania brings to mind.. gypsies, Transylvania, Dracula… but actually there is so much more than that! We had several interesting moments in the three days that we spent in this beautiful land full of secrets.

Ever since I read the book ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker, I dreamed of visiting Transylvania and the famous Castle Dracula. In my minds eye it was a dark, cold, and unpleasant castle on the top of the hill, a dramatic and mysterious place.  So of course crossing Romania without visiting it would be just wrong. Another place that I really wanted to explore was one of the Bucegi, a natural park surrounded by high mountains, and then of course if you are nearby mountains it would be a sin not to do some mountain hiking.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Castles, cottages & burning rubber

Our plan was to stay somewhere in the mountains near by to Bran Castle (the mythical Castle Dracula), so I chose some nice looking cottage high in the mountains. Maybe I just didn’t realise how steep it would be to reach it! By the time we were arriving it was already dark, the last 29 km took us an hour and a half, the last 2 km took 8 minutes! Navigation was not so helpful, neither was our paper map and it seemed that we are just taking smaller narrower forest roads leading us up forever! The last 20 metres made our little car sweat a lot and the tires afterwards had a smell like the burnt rubber of a Formula 1 car. The cottage owner met us with cherry liquor – I needed it! She didn’t speak English, but we managed to have some kind of  conversation, then the next morning we saw the amazing views (including from the toilet) and felt like staying here for one more night.

Bran Castle was so different from my expectation, but not disappointing. If you are familiar with a little of the history surrounding Stoker’s novel about Dracula and vampires then you will know that the main character was inspired by Vlad Tepes, the ruler of  Wallachia in the 15th century. While he may not actually have been a blood drinking immortal, Vlad wasn’t the most cheerful of characters and you would expect a dark and forbidding place.  Legend says that Vlad Tepes lived in Bran at some point, but while the castle is a stone fortress on the top of a hill, it is also super cosy and pleasant to visit, like a place you could happily live. It is because in the later times any of Tepes’ legacy was renovated and renewed by the royal family who lived in the castle. If you are expecting to find the vampire’s spirit then this is not the place to visit, but in general I felt super happy to visit it and when the fog came around then it became really mystical!

So we stayed one more night at the cottage, bought some wine made in the Transylvania region, ate some traditional cake and had a nice evening together with an older Romanian couple who were also staying there. It was very nice to talk with them and share our impressions about the beauty of the land, crazy drivers, the number of police everywhere and random cows on the road stopping the traffic.

The long way down

As I mentioned before we definitely needed to do some hiking around, and after a small investigation we decided to go to the Bucegi Natural Park. The plan was to take a cabin up to the Bucegi Plateau, to see the Romanian Sphinx, the Babele and then to have an easy hike back down the mountain. But you know, as always, there had to be something that we miscounted…

The Romanian Sphinx is a formation of rocks shaped by eons of rain and wind, and the name comes from the shape because it is a little bit like the Egyptian Sphinx of Giza. The Babele is another rock formation, which directly translated means old women and these rocks are shaped like mushrooms. Maybe the most interesting thing is the story about this place, some people believing that the Sphinx is a signal of an extra-terrestrial presence on Earth.

But, coming back to our little hike of 1-1.5 hours….

Hmmm… We decided to take the straight route down, according to google maps it was supposed to be around one and a half hours. This is not true!!!

On the sign at the top we saw that the route is scheduled for 3.5-4 hours, and that was correct but still didn’t really tell the whole story.

At the beginning we were super excited about the nature and the view, all around it was so magical and the beauty literally made us catch our breath. The first 20 minutes was just an easy nice walk down the hill, and after that… after that it started! The route was not easy and we were not ready for it – our shoes were running shoes not made for slippery stones and soil in the mountains. It was super steep, a 6 km route going 1400 metres down the hill. In some places there were chains and ropes, in some places we were just holding the grass and stones. Meeting tired people, some people on the way saying that it actually something like a 7 hour route. One amazing thing about the route was that the markings were very clear and easy to follow. By the end our legs were working without any connection with our brains :D. The last 700 metres it was definitely easier to run than to walk! We were super happy about this achievement even through the next days when we felt the muscle pain.

If we travel back to Romania in our minds then we have super nice memories of the super sweet and helpful people we met, the astonishing beauty and our downhill achievement!