Dracula's Castle at Bran
After our three nights in Bucharest, we were ready to get on the move. After two trips to the car car park going up and down in lift and wheeling the big suitcase across the square and then the Doona buggy loaded up with travel cot and Tiger on my back (!) we finally managed to leave Bucharest at about 12.30pm, perfect timing for Tiger to have her after lunch nap!
The drive was a little over three and a half hours so we arrived in Bran around 4pm. Tiger slept for about two and a half hours and was a good back seat traveller placated by biscuits! When we finally arrived we could see Bran Castle looming over the town and you could see this was a popular tourist town, but our guesthouse Pensiunea Ciubotea Bran was set high up on a hill in the green countryside a few kilometres from the centre of Bran. My sat nav didn't find it to start (now knowing where it is, unsurprising!) but I was able to call and get directions. The owner, Tina, met us at a bridge which had a sign for "Casa David". From there we drove along a track, and as it turned a corner she said to me "ok so now you have to be in first gear and drive hard!". It was a very steep hill, and putting the car into first and flooring it got us up, definitely easier with a bit of practice!
The room itself was lovely, £54 for two nights, with a balcony and a view of the mountains. It also had a separate building with a kitchen and dining room, a BBQ area and a children's play area with trampoline, slide and toy house. On reflection, our room wasn't quite so good for Tiger as I couldn't fit the travel cot anywhere except beside my bed. It meant that later on, I had to put her to bed and leave the room to have my dinner and a drink outside whilst she settled herself to sleep. As much as I love her, listening to her rocking and rolling around in bed all night is also a bit distracting! Still, we managed it.
Day one, we really just arrived and had an excursion to the supermarket but day two, 4th August, we drove down to Bran, paid 20 lei (£4) to park and walked through all the tourist stalls selling Dracula memorabilia to Bran Castle. We queued socially distanced from everyone else and bought our ticket (free for Tiger!) for 45 lei (£8) for me plus 20 lei (£4) for a "time tunnel". Wearing a mask was compulsory throughout the castle. You could also pay to see medieval torture instruments but we managed to miss this but peaked in the door without paying!
Bran Castle looks every inch the Transylvanian Castle with turrets, steep walls and imposing location on top of a rocky crag, and this is the place visitors to Romania come to see the real Dracula's home. Except that it isn't. Author Bram Stoker located the castle of his fictional Count Dracula far to the north, near Bistrita, although he probably saw drawings of Bran in the course of his research for the book, and its striking features may have been one source of inspiration for his fictional castle. The castle also had precious little connection either with Vlad the Impaler, the historical figure most linked to Count Dracula, beyond the possibility that he was briefly imprisoned in the castle and the fact that he passed through the area in 1459 on his way to attack Brasov. There are plenty of displays about them both though which we enjoyed as much as learning about the true history of Bran Castle.
Bran Castle lies at a point of considerable strategic importance, guarding a mountain pass which served as a trading route between Transylvania and Wallachia. Built in 1377, it is hugely atmospheric, centred around a cobbled courtyard focused on a 57m deep well. It offers a mix of the medieval, with spiral staircases, loggias and turrets, the comfortable rooms of the 20th century royal family, decorated by Queen Marie of Romania. The rooms were so beautiful I thought I could quite happily live in Bran Castle! On Queen Marie's death in 1938, the castle was left to her daughter Princess Ileana, who, forced into exile by the Communist regime, turned the castle into a museum.
We exited via the multimedia show of the time tunnel which was quite fun, and emerged into the beautiful gardens surrounding the castle. Tiger finally got to run around a bit on the grass too! Tiger had her nap back at the guesthouse, and we took a quick early evening trip out to find a playground and ended up 20 odd minutes away in Rasnov on the swings to round off her day. Mine was rounded off chatting to the lovely family staying there in the gardens.