jueves, 15 de noviembre de 2012

Dracula, here I am! The journey continues...

Dracula's castle
A dream of almost 15 years was about to come true. The illusion of an 8 year-old kid, who once said, "One day I'll go to Transylvania", did not seem so impossible. There are many places I've always dreamed of and Transylvania had been for years in the top of my list, after Egypt. The merger between myth, reality and adventure made ​​this trip unique.
Agnes and I arrived in Harghita in Odorheiu Secuiesc County, where her parents live. We parked the car and I had to see where I had to walk to not slip with the ice on the floor. I took my “Nightmare Suitcase” and Agnes helped me with “Suitcase of Sorrows”. We walked inside the house and there we waited for Csilla and Agnes’ parents. They speak a little bit of English, but it was not a problem to be friendly and have a nice conversation with me. Outside, it started to get much colder. That winter the temperature reached -29 degrees Celsius. At that time there was not so cold, but enough. The house lacked of modern heating, but it has a fireplace like in the movies. The atmosphere was warm and friendly and also Csilla’s family.
I was starving, really starving. I had only eaten two sandwiches on the bus and a cup coffee while we waited for the car. Csilla's mother was cooking dinner and there was about to be ready. I do not remember the names of any of the dishes, because their names were Hungarian. All the people of Odorheiu Secuiesc speak Hungarian, not Romanian. Most of the Transylvania region belonged to Austro-Hungarian Empire and it was part of Hungary until a few decades ago.

Csilla and I
What I ate that day was a strange and delicious tomato soup with other vegetables, then a plate made of rice and fried mushrooms. I was in heaven! I love mushrooms and I was welcomed with that wonderful meal. I ate and ate always trying not to show the hungry I was. After the meal, I could not miss a good latte. By the way, it was homemade milk. Almost every house in Transylvania has their own cows and they wake at dawn to milk them. Something that surprised me about that part of Romania was the fact that almost everything is homemade. They still keep the tradition of harvesting many things and eat them fresh. After having lunch and drinking that coffee I was exhausted. I felt heavier than before, I had eaten so much. I spoke with Agnes and her parents for a while and then I checked my Facebook. I had two million notifications, thousands of posts and hundreds of e-mails. People asked for my whereabouts. Many started to think that I had been kidnapped by some bipolar vampire. It had been almost two days away from the World Wide Web, which is very rare and people began to worry. I read and answered all of my e-mails, Facebook messages and notifications. I called my house and I could not hide the happiness I felt that moment. Again my aunt answered the phone and I said: - "Auntie, I came to visit Dracula" - my aunt full of joy replies "Great, my love! Is that Romania, right? Are you in Bucharest? “Wow! People already knew more or less where I was. Actually I was far away from Bucharest, the capital. My aunt told me that since the last time we talked she did not know where I was, so she began to search on the Internet to not be lost next time I call. I talked to everyone in my house. Everybody was excited. Meanwhile, in the kitchen of Csilla’s parents everyone was lloking at me like if I was crazy and nobody understood what the hell I was talking. That day ended up well. Later there was more food and as the saying goes "Full stomach, happy heart." I went to bed early because of staying up all night in the haunted bus, left me knackered.

Agnes and Csilla
The cold was petrifying that night. To go to my room I had to go through an outdoor corridor, and within seconds my ears and nose were frozen. When I got to the room, opened the door and the room was ready and warm. It was a surprise for me to see the heating system they use. It is a kind of refrigerator made ​​ of cement and ceramic with a small door in the bottom side from which is filled with wood. This is surprising. This system is capable of heating up the entire room all night long.
Then my body, in contact with the bed and the blankets, felt completely relaxed until the other day.
The alarm went off at 9:00 a.m. After a bath I had some breakfast waiting for me, Royal treatment! We had breakfast and started our 3 hour trip to go find Csilla at Targu Mures Airport. We went back through the town of Odorheiu Secuiesc. Agnes and I talked for a long time until we ran out of conversation topics. Then we fell silent and when anything happened we talked again. Thus, it passed three hours until we got to the airport. Csilla was waiting outside. When we met it was like a trip to the past. She was with that great smile that characterizes her. We hugged warmly. I could not hide my excitement. Visiting a new country is an unique experience, but meet-again with friends is something even better.
After the moment of euphoria over the reunion, we headed back to Odorheiu Secuiesc. There were three hours of road. We stopped for a coffee somewhere and then we continued. Csilla and I talked and talked like never before. I told her the most recent and relevant events of my short life. Among stories and laughter it came again three hours until we finally arrived in his parents' house. Again the table was ready, full of food and more food. Everybody hugged Csilla with excitement and then we sat down to eat. We talked and talked again and so we spent hours talking. One more day, it was less and less to meet my bloodsucker uncle.
Next day, we started our first walk. We woke up early. It was bitterly cold. We had breakfast and started talking about my itinerary during those days in Romania. That day we went to a place where real sparkling water comes out of the ground. It is 100% drinkable water. I never believed Csilla about it until I saw it and tasted it. How come real sparkling water comes out of the ground? There seems to be normal. People come with dozens of empty bottles, do lines and take them back completely full. Apparently this sparkling water contains special nutrients and vitamins, so it is highly sought and popular throughout Transylvania.
Sparkling water
After being shocked by that weird sparkling water emanating from the ground, we headed to a place within hours of distances. Everything was at least an hour or two of where we were.
An evening filled with snow and adventure was waiting for us. Skiing was orgasmic!
We reached the place. I do not remember what it was called. Everybody spoke Romanian and, of course, I did not understand a damn thing. In the area where we rented the ski equipment, we had a coffee to warm up a little before the day we expected. The day was cloudless, but the sun seemed rather cool instead of warming.
Ski boots on, adrenaline 100% and I prayed. I was "ready" to go mountain down. Agnes looked like a professional while Csilla and I could barely keep on our feet. I tried to go sideways slowly. First fall, the snow muffled, but I was all covered with snow and when the snow melt it penetrated my clothing and I almost got hypothermia. I did not care. I stood and likewise as I do with adverse situations, I keep on going. I studied the ski technique and I realized that it was all a matter of balance and concentration. I tried again and fell. Shit! - It looked easy, but it was not. I insisted and 20 minutes later I was already a professional and I am not exaggerating. It was like ice skating. It was only a matter of get on with it and nothing else. Things did not look so good for Csilla. While I flaunted my success, Csilla still could not stand up for a few seconds. Gradually things changed and eventually we all became professional skiers. I spent a spectacular, unique, special afternoon with Csilla and Agnes. Happiness overflowed me and the feeling of freedom was unique.
I had skied for the first time in my life and I have the conviction that I will do it again.
We ended up that day with a visit to another village where a Csilla and Agnes’ friend lives. First, we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant where the waitresses wore Mexican suits, but none spoke Spanish and the food did not look like anything Mexican, although it was very delicious. Csilla asked for me, because the waitress did not speak English. I ordered a chicken with mushrooms and rice. At first it looked weird, but it turned to be delicious.
We ate and then we went to Csilla’s friend house. The village, where we were, was very curious. It looked like a village, but a bit more developed than others we had visited. When we got Csilla’s friend house, he received us with a cup of homemade wine. As I mentioned, almost everything is homemade. If you want to buy fresh milk, you can go to a place with an empty container and someone fill it for a low price.
"Mexican food"
Agnes, Csilla and their friend talked for a long time. I tried to understand a little, but I was unable to do so. was also afraid of misunderstanding something, and I did not want to be in the same situation as in Nitra. After a while we left, and Csilla’s friend finally spoke to me in English. After that, we go back home tired, and Agnes and Csilla parents were waiting for us.
Another day had passed and my vampire fantasy was even closer.
I would like to tell you guys a little bit about Transylvania. You know, not to lose the habit and talk about the things that surprised me. First, despite belonging to the European Union, they do not have Euro as currency. Their Romanian currency is called LEU (plural Lei) this has been their currency since 1880.
Of all of the destinations I visited, Romania was one of the cheapest. A full meal in a restaurant can cost between 10 and 15 lei (only 3 euros!).
Furthermore, I thought Transylvania was a state in Romania or just a city but is not. I imagined, that upon my arrival inTransylvania, on the first corner, I would see Dracula's castle, but no! Transylvania is a region that encompasses nearly half of the country. It's like the region of the Andes in Venezuela. We all know there is a place called "Los Andes" but these are not necessarily states or cities but regions composed of several states. So is Transylvania. My dear and gloomy Transylvania.
Next day Dracula was waiting for me. From Odorheiu Secuiesc to Braşov, the city where the famous Dracula’s Castle is, it took us about 4 hours. I was lucky to have a beautiful driver who guides us without any complaint, and by the way, she was also a professional photographer. It was priceless. Can you imagine? I have my own photographer! It was Agnes.
With my uncle! lol
The road seemed eternal to me and I was as anxious as when I was kid (because I still think I have the same size. We talked about many things to kill time. But apparently the time is immortal. We passed through a town that smelled like rotten eggs. The smell was so awful and even with windows up the smell was horrible. After that, we passed by another town that smelled like shit cow and other animals that apparently suffered from terrible indigestion. We passed several villages, small towns and roads that seemed to have no end. Finally, after one long journey, we arrived in my most expected destination in the old continent.
My smile was from ear to ear. We parked the car and I got off immediately. I looked sideways and there, very close to me, the famous Bran’s Castle was. This was more than a dream come true. It was my own Hollywood movie, with special effects and background music. I had already read more than half of the book written by Bran Stoker's Dracula. I already had visualized the castle in my mind. I imagined the halls, rooms and gardens. We walked to a nearby cafe, and we had a cup of coffee. We walked through a small boulevard just outside the castle. Agnes decided to stay down taking some pictures because she already had been there many times before. The ticket to the castle was only 21 lei, about 5 euros.
The castle is located on the top of a hill; this location makes it look pretty dominant above all the buildings in the town. I imagine, in the past, it was the most striking building in the entire region.
Before walking on the small road that connects to the front door of the castle there is a small garden around the hill. It was still full of snow and the fountains were frozen. We walked slowly and the closer we got the castle the bigger it looked. When we reached the top, my perception changed completely. The castle was not as big as it looked, that was my first impression! I was finally inside the castle. At first, it was a small door. The first thing I saw was old photos and paintings on the walls. Until now everything seemed normal. The castle looked like it was built for someone really short. We kept on walking.
The castle is divided into several rooms and it is confusing to walk through. You enter through a door and walk out the other side and without realizing it comes back to the same place. The building itself is not as majestic as I thought. It is rather simple. The finish is a bit rough and the walls are extremely thick. It looks more like a home rather than a castle. According to Bran Stoker's book, he says that the castle is huge and it has hundreds of rooms and endless corridors, but it is not so. It’s magically charming and it has a unique appeal. But personally I thought it would be bigger. This is not to say it is not worth visiting.
Inside Dracula's castle
When I was in the castle I learned something that at first I did not like so much: this is not really Dracula's castle, and worst of all, there is NO a Dracula’s castle. It turns out that this building was the inspiration for Bram Stoker when he began writing his famous novel "Dracula". Moreover, the character of Dracula was inspired by Vlad Dracula better known as Vlad the Impaler. Stoker took this notorious murderer, who really did exist, and created the famous character we all know as Dracula. Vlad Dracula was a Count who was known by his so raw and bloody way to kill his enemies. Dracula used to impale them with a sharpened stake that it went through the anus and came out to the mouth of his victims, causing their death. This famous and bloody Count never lived in that castle, indeed, he never owned it. There is no evidence that Vlad has lived there and according to different versions, the Impaler spent only two days in the castle, locked in a dungeon, when the region was occupied by the Ottoman Empire.
The castle is open to the tourists who can go inside without a guide. Outside the castle there are examples of traditional Romanian houses.
The castle was actually holding by Eliana Princess of Romania, which inherited it from her mother, Queen Mary. In 1948 it became the property of the Communist government of Romania. For many years it was left practically forgotten, but in the 80's it was restored and it became a tourist destination.
Nowadays it is owned by Dominic von Habsburg, an American engineer who lives in New York. According to the U.S. magazine Forbes, the castle was valued at $140 million. However, the current owners and the authorities insist on rejecting the myth of Dracula, and prohibit exploiting the castle as a theme park, which makes it less attractive for the tourists. Although I think it has already become an icon and many identify it as the home of the most feared and famous vampire of all time.
Whether or not home of Vlad Draculea or Vampire Dracula, the important is that this castle is worth a visit. People are friendly and the merchants who sell souvenirs are very friendly. It was here where I bought the cheapest souvenirs of my trip.
Picture with Dracula
While I was inside the castle I could not forget to take a picture with my uncle Dracula Gonzalez. As told to do for me, the breeze made a door open and then I turned around and told Csilla: - "There's Dracula" – Then I raised my arm and hugged my great uncle and Csilla took a picture. It's a pity that Dracula did not appear in the picture, but vampires cannot reflect on mirrors and pictures. I did everything I could to portray that moment, but it was not my fault.
Finally, I made ​​my dream come true. My vampire fantasy was sated and that day I was 100% grateful to life for giving me such opportunity. Dracula never existed and never lived there, but, who tells a child that this entire story is a lie? And then I went back to being a child, that child of eight years that once read a book about the amazing story of Dracula and was fascinated. Transylvania is an icon of science fiction and I have watched plenty of movies where the main stage is Transylvania.
I took dozens of pictures. I walked every part of the castle, every corner. I always felt it was very small. At the end of walking the hallways and small rooms, we went down to the center of the castle where there is a book for visitors. I wrote something in Spanish. We turned around and said goodbye. That dream was no longer a dream, but a reality. We left the castle and went down to meet Agnes who spent time taking photos. I could not miss the opportunity to have a professional photographer and not taking a decent picture in front of the castle.
We bought a sort of typical bread with a hole in the center, surrounded by sugar and cinnamon made in Transylvania. Very good! We went to the car and began our journey of more than four hours back to Odorheiu Secuiesc.
I already met Dracula, but the adventure was not over. I had two more days in those mysterious lands. That day we came home and dinner was served again. I was in heaven again; I was treated like a king and I had nothing to complain at all.
Next day, I was surprised with delicious breakfast: Hungarian pancakes. The night before I told them about my stay in Budapest and how much I liked those pancakes.
I thoroughly enjoyed and they reminded me of Adrienn and those days in Budapest. An hour later we went to Turda.
Turda is a city located northwest of Romania in Transylvania region. It is a simple city with a very peculiar Romanian style. The reason for visiting this city was visiting the very famous Mine o fTurda. This is a fully underground salt mine. Yes, the whole mine is made of salt. This is not a simple hole in the ground, but a full resort. It is immense. Since 1075 local poeple have been working it out and it has gradually become what it is today. A bus took us from the surface to the depths of mother earth. Once we got there we took some endless stairs until we finally arrived. The floor ceiling and walls are made of salt. There are sculptures carved in salt and a small church. The most impressive of all, is that you have Wi-Fi for free! It is said that this atmosphere brimming with salt is beneficial to health and therefore the mine became a place where people can go to spend a day. The resort has restrooms, restaurants, tennis courts, and areas with benches where you can have time to surf the Internet, among other things. The year-round temperature remains about the same. It varies between 15 and 23 degrees Celsius, it does not matter how cold is outside, inside it is always nice.
We finished the evening at a restaurant near the mine, where I had a delicious mushrooms salad. I know, I'm a little obsessed with mushrooms, but I love them. I joked with Csilla and Agnes and I told them I was in Mushroomland.
In two days I'd be in London for my long awaited appointment with Queen Elizabeth. That last day in Transylvania we went for a walk around Odorheiu Secueisc. It is a small town with a lot of people. As usual we had a cup of coffee in a weird bar. I learned some very important words in Romanian. And, to finish my walk, we went for a walk through Harghita, still covered with snow.

On March 22nd, 2012, I went along with Csilla in a bus to Cluj Napoca, considered the unofficial capital of Transylvania. Our flight to London came from that city on March 23rd at 6:00 a.m. We departed at 6:00 p.m. from Odorheiu Secuiesc and arrived in Cluj Napoca at 11:00 p.m.
The night was young and London was waiting for me.

See you guys in London...

Greetings and hugs from the Queen.


2 comentarios:

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