Dave the motorhome’s driver drank too much Bulgarian lager last night, which has delayed his ascent of the fearsome Transfăgărășan Pass. Instead, he’s actually moved a few hundred meters back away from the dizzying heights, as we’ve discovered the other side of the road camping area’s much nicer than the spot we were at (N45.34372 E24.63492). There’s a sign at the entrance stating ‘Private Property’ but underneath it says it is still 5 RON to stay (£1). No-one been around for the cash though, and we can find no-where to pay. This really is a nice place to stay, just a few feet from a small, clean river, with a water tap and even a WC. Ah, hmmm, when I say WC, what I mean is a small shack with a hole cut in the floor dropping the waste about a foot onto the ground. Said hole’s quite large, but not large enough for some folks (flippin’ ‘eck folks, the Dambusters managed to drop bombs on smaller targets…).
Yesterday afternoon we saw perhaps ten or fifteen different feral mutts sniffing about the field we were camped in. At one point I went for a stroll and three of them immediately attached themselves to me, all cowing down and looking for attention rather than baring teeth. I love dogs, but the one which I fed yesterday had a foaming mouth, not a good sign. Not fancying a course of rabies treatment, I picked up a stone. Two of the dogs legged it, the third stayed put, looking at me with gentle eyes. Over the months we’ve come across so many stray dogs, we’ve kind of worked out how the locals treat them just by gathering a stone like this. If they run off, then they’ve felt human-inflicted pain before, if not then probably not. Here it seems the dogs aren’t universally hated, in fact one chap we spotted yesterday was emptying out entire carrier bags full of food for a small pack of them. We’ve had no trouble, apart from the pack waking us up barking, encouraging our tiny defender to respond with a few echoed barks of his own. The Romanian lady we met who’s living in France translated a response from her father when we asked if the dogs are friendly: ‘maybe 5% of them you cannot trust’. Ju replied ‘like humans then?’. He said ‘no, the percentage is much higher for humans’, his face creasing into a smile.
With the dull thud of a hangover knocking on my noggin, we decided to take a walk up the road and look for the dam which lies somewhere along this road. A group of school kids had walked past earlier, so we knew it must be near. As we rounded the corner after a few minutes walk the ruined castle of Vlad the Impaler, who’s family name of Dracul was recruited by Bram Stoker, popped its head around the wooded funnel of the valley. Ah, we’re nowhere near the dam, but we’d fancied seeing the castle anyway, the Poenari Fortress.
On the whole Dracula thing, from glancing at a few Wikipedia entries, it seems this is how it panned out. Bram, who was Irish, met a Hungarian writer who regaled him with folk stories of the Carpathian mountains, which we’re in the foothills of now. Bram went off an did a load of research of his own (I can’t tell if this actualy resulted in him coming here), and voila, Dracula! The name Dracula comes from the fact Vlad’s father was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a group of nobles acting to defend Christianity in a time of threat from the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Vlad himself appears to be revered here in Romania, having initially fought off and later pacififying the Ottomans through paying tribute. He did do a fair bit of impaling though, sticking a small tree-sized wooden stake through his many victims (I spotted a reference to ‘forests’ of impaled folks), from backside to the shoulder. It would take a couple of days to die like this.
Anyway, the crux of it is, Vlad and Dracula are linked by only the most tenuous of associations, he didn’t even live in Transylvania, but here in Wallachia south of the Transylvanian Alps. Being fair to Romania, they don’t make much of the Dracula link, I even read the owner of the Bran Castle, which sees hordes of tourists, wants little to do with the association of a national hero with a blood-sucking monster, fancy that?
Here at the Poenari Castle there’s a sign which half-heartedly refers to the Dracula name, at the base of about half a million steps up through the forest. Legend has it Vlad exacted revenge on some disloyal locals by descending on the village, killing all the old folks and laying their bodies in a circle about the village (for why I wonder?) before marching the rest off to carry pillaged materials up the hill to re-build this castle. He only let them go when their clothes were so worn they were falling off them (this would have taken about a day for me and Ju, our clothes are getting a bit thin). A stall sells boiled corn on the cob, rounds of cheese and pretzel-like things, but that’s about it. The wooden tat shop was closed as we started the Great Ascent of the concrete steps, something like 1500 of the things. At the top a chap took 5 Lei from each from us, happy for Charlie to go into the castle, unlike Charlie himself who’s fear-o-meter needle pinged off the limiter at the sight of the short bridge over to the ruins.
The views up there were fabulous. I looked north, up towards the Transfăgărășan, and gulped in a bit of air, even though I can’t see anything much of the road from here. Dave’s been over a few passes now, but this is the big one. The valley is already starting to tighten up, even this far from the famed road itself, the sides steeping to precipitous angles. I’ll be honest, I’m sure Dave can get over the route, it’s the flippin’ huge logging lorries which thunder past us from time to time which give me the willies. The only thing to hit Dave so far was a lorry in Morocco, cutting over our side of the road at a hairpin. It just clipped the wing mirror and did no damage, except to my confidence. I’m wary of these guys now. They’re earning a living I know, but their familiarity with the routes they plough along seems to breed, as it does, contempt for it and the other folks using it. All will be good though, no beer will be consumed tonight and fresh coffee will be my drug of choice before we head north tomorrow. The Top Gear crew rate this road highly, it seems like an age since I read Europe By Camper’s blog about it, now we’re here, I’m excited and nervous. Wish us luck.
After a wander about the head-high ruins for a few minutes in the fresh air, we headed back to Dave and moved to other side of the bridge, to a far nicer bit of land. A few locals have arrived and are chilling out by the river. Charlie’s had a much needed savage-the-stick session and we’ve checked the restaurant up the road is open (it is, until 10pm) so we can try out some Romanian grub. The camera’s been charged, the bathroom mirror hinge bodged up again so it (hopefully) won’t fall off at the first bump, we’ve had showers to lessen the weight of water and it’s now a waiting game. Poor old Ju, I’ll be awake by 6am and chomping at the bit I suspect. Bring it on, the Best Road in the World!