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Transylvania – Dracula and more!


Transylvania, located in the west central part of Romania.  It is a historical province that was part of Hungary for many years. Much of the older population still considers themselves Hungarian, even though the border changed after WW2.  Street signs are still in both Romanian and Hungarian in some parts of Transylvania.
We spent a little over a week in Transylvania starting in the city of Brasov, one the 6th largest city in Romania.  It felt more modern than Bucharest and bit more like western Europe. There was a large shopping mall and modern housing as well as a quaint old town. The old town had lovely cobblestone streets with fun shops and many restaurants.  It was a long summer holiday weekend, so a music festival was going on at a few different venues.  The one we ran into on the way to our restaurant was featuring a blues and jazz band from Mississippi and everyone was really into it! Lots of fun listening to the live music just outside the venue.

A day trip from Brasov took us to Bran Castle, most notably the home of Vlad the Impaler and later Dracula.  The castle is now a museum dedicated to displaying furnishings and art of Queen Marie, the last queen of Romania.  The area where the castle is located is a key strategic location in the 15th and 16th century on the trade route between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Vlad never actually lived there but it was within his area of control.  His notoriety arose as he defended his area from the Ottomans.  He had a tendency to impale the Ottoman invaders who threatened the state and leave lots of their bodies on posts leading up to his castle; your imagination isn’t wild enough to believe what impaling actually is.  It served as a significant deterrent and the Ottomans were not successful in conquering the area while Vlad was alive.
The Dracula story came about when Bram Stoker became intrigued with Vlad.  Dracula is pure fiction and in fact, Bram apparently never visited the castle.  However, the castle and the region have capitalized on the story as the home of Dracula.
Another day trip took us to the little town of Sighisoara, established in the 12th century by Saxons, a group of German born craftspeople and merchants who were sent to Transylvania by their Hungarian overlords.  Here we found a UNESCO site with one of the best-preserved medieval citadels in all of Europe - beautiful compact old pastel painted buildings, a church and a fort.  During its time, it was a successful frontier community and trading hub with as many as 15 trade guilds.  It was also the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler.


Emese's Wonderful Agri-Tourist Pensione

From Brasov, we headed to Lucna Merisului to visit our friend Eseme Foss (for those who know Willard, yes Eseme is Willard’s sister!)  Emese runs an amazing agro-tourism pensione located in the heart of rural Romania.  She has a lovely small farm with lots for guests to do on the experience related to farm life.  One of the things we did was to harvest honey.  We scraped the wax from the frames to free the honey then loaded them into the manual extractor.  We cranked up the speed of the drum and honey poured out into a collection jar. The honey was the best I’ve ever tasted by far – nothing like honey that’s a few minutes old!! We also made stuffed cabbage rolls by rolling a meat mixture in, you guessed it, cabbage leaves.  Into the pot went herbs, meatballs, pieces of ham and tomato consommé made from tomatoes on the farm.  Dinner on the patio with a pot out of the oven – so delicious!

Next to polinka, a local alcoholic specialty.  A 5-gallon container of small yellow plums, again gathered at the farm, had been fermenting for a few weeks.  It was time to distill the alcohol.  Anyone thinking moonshine?  The 50+ year-old still came out. The fermenting plums were poured into the bowl of the still. A cornstarch paste was used to seal any leaks in the old still.  After an hour, about 2 liters of 65% alcohol was collected. The second distillation only made it smoother.
Emese has a few workers that help her manage the farm, this includes her many varieties of peppers.  While we were there, 2 wheelbarrows of peppers were collected and strung on string to dry.  After drying for several weeks, they will be ground up to make paprika.  The farm would then sell it or make it available to guests.

Off the farm, we had plenty to do.  One day we hiked with Emese up to a castle ruins – beautiful hike through the countryside to the top of a hill with what used to be a 2-story home.  The story goes, the land owner got too greedy and the workers stormed the castle setting fire to it and leaving it in ruins where it remains today.  On our way back down, we were serenaded by a herd of grazing cows and their musical bells.
We found a winery located in the very old basement of the local high school!  You went into what felt like caves and it was hard to imagine there were students overhead.  The various halls went on quite a way into the dark where we saw dusty bottles that obviously had been sitting for quite a while.  Everyday wine was packaged in plastic bottles that looked like it should have been vegetable oil.  We tried their varietals and selected a bottle for dinner.  Nothing special but certainly a unique location.