Dave the motorhome is all on his own in a field near to the Vidrau Dam (N45.34511 E24.63483). The sign on the entry to it assured us that it was OK to camp here for 5 Lei per night (about £1), but there is no sign of anyone to collect the money or other campers – should be a nice, quiet night then.
Last night we snuggled up under our duvet as the temperature dropped below 20°C in Dave for the first time in ages. Strangely it was a nice feeling to be back under the duvet after so many months of sleeping on top of it. The car park was silent and we all slept well. Jay woke up at silly o’clock (which to us these days is anything before 7.30am) and headed out for a walk while I dozed. I suspect he secretly hoped to see a bear as the forest around us supposedly has quite a few of them in it, but instead all he got was three dogs giving him a scare by legging it as he’d woken them up. I got up at 8am, just as our alarm went off, and after breakfast we left the ski resort of Poiana Brasov and drove south to Rasnov.
We’d read about the citadel perched overlooking the town and how you climbed the steps from the main square to get to it, but before we reached the main square we spotted a car park with a sign for the citadel. A quick u-turn and we were in, an old fella with a violin pointing us into the nearest car park – closer to him, but away from the souvenir shops. After a quick scout around we couldn’t see anywhere to pay, so set off up the hill behind the car park to the citadel – having just missed the wooden clad tractor/train thing which whisks you up there almost as fast as we walked it.
The 13th Century fortress came into view and looked very impressive, its defensive walls draping down the slope towards us. Past a couple of snack bar places we reached the ticket office and paid our 10 Lei (£2) each to go in – skipping the archery hut; we’re from Nottingham, home of Robin Hood, so no need to test our obvious skills. Inside the castle walls we climbed up to the main entrance and went inside. I’ll admit now that we have been in quite a few castles on our trip, which may be why this one did absolutely nothing for me. It was as if it was trying to be all things to everyone. Part reconstructed, part ruins, mainly souvenir shops. There was little information about its past – just huge numbers for you to type into our audio guide (which we didn’t bother to get, so maybe it was our own fault).
We climbed up the dodgy paths to the 360° panorama spot and looked out over the town below – which for me was the best bit – before making our way around the castle. But there wasn’t really anything to see. A lot of stuff had chicken wire across it to keep you out, and the houses that were once there were either ruins or flogging stuff. With fake cannons as rubbish bins the place just had a really false feeling about it. I don’t know, maybe all castles are like this or this one just got me on a bad day, but after the great visit we had to Prejmer’s fortified town I obviously had too high hopes for this place. The entrance fee was more than Prejmer so if I had to recommend one, I know which it would be (although I guess it’s different if you have kids, a lot of the people visiting had children with them who would probably love the place).
After dodging an old fella dressed in medieval costume we made our way back down to Dave. Violin man smiled and waved as we drove past him again (as Jay pointed out, his actual expression was as if he had never smiled before and was unsure how to do it) and we decided to skip the town of Rasnov and make our way to Bran – home of WHA HA HA HA HAAAR, Dracula’s Castle. Oh but hang on a minute, it isn’t. Vlad Tepes, who it is widely believed that Dracula is based on, never lived there – he may have passed by once, but the town doesn’t let that stop it from camping up the Dracula ‘connection’.
We drove through the place first to spy out a decent car park that we could stop the night in. Unsurprisingly you had to pay for all of the car parks, so we pulled into the one that looked like it had the most space for Dave and was a little bit quieter in case we wanted to stop the night. Working out that at 5 Lei an hour (about £1) it would cost us nearly £10 if we wanted to stop there for the night, so we set off to have a look around the place to see if we fancied it.
Just around the corner from the car park we entered tat heaven, or hell depending on how you look at it. I can only suspect that the people who live in Bran all drink from Dracula mugs, wear funny coloured wigs and have gnomes in their gardens – either that or they shop elsewhere.The place was packed with souvenir huts, so much so that they even added a souvenir extension area, a courtyard filled with the stuff. I could tell straight away that Jay wasn’t a happy bunny. It’s one thing to look at the crowds buying up this stuff through Dave’s windscreen, but quite another to be among them all.
Refusing several punnets of raspberries and cheese from the local Roma folk, we walked over towards the castle for a look. We got to see the top of one of its turrets as the rest was surrounded by tall trees and a high fence. We looked at the queue going in, and at each other. We looked at the price list (25 Lei per person), and looked at each other. Agreed, neither of us fancied going in. Jay and Charlie took refuge next to an old lady (possibly a nun) selling religious stuff, while I wandered around the tat arena. For me I just find it all very amusing – I’m sure I used to lap up all of this stuff, and shudder when I think back to what rubbish we used to have at home, collected from many a holiday or trip somewhere. But now, I guess I must have changed a bit as I really didn’t fancy any of it – not that any of it would fit in Dave, his cupboards are chocka – even the postcards didn’t inspire.
We wandered around the outside of the big fence to see if we could get a better view of the castle, but it wasn’t to be, so we headed back to Dave and got going again. Our parking costing just 5 Lei as we were less than an hour. Bran has sold itself to the vampire devil – which in one way is a shame, but hey, it’s making plenty of money for the locals.
Looking at our map, the next stopping point we had was over at the Vidrau Dam, on the other side of the Carpathian Mountains. As no road went right over them, we had to do a sort of u-shaped drive, heading south before picking up a road going west, then another to go north again. All around us the countryside was bustling with families scything the tall meadows, turning the grass and stacking onto horse-drawn carts or into haystacks. It was like stepping back in time.
The rocky Carpathians in the distance, we weaved our way over green hills and down again to cross rivers, before climbing once more. The road was perfectly fine and we were making decent progress so we stopped for a spot of lunch on one of the hillsides (and a short nap for me).
Getting going again, we reached the westbound road and finally our expectations about Romanian roads were met. The road was made up of pock-marked concrete slabs which had been badly filled with tarmac (and apparently no roller). Dave’s speed dropped to 40 kilometres an hour as we dodged the worst of the holes but couldn’t avoid a couple of big dips needing us to stop and put everything back on its right shelf in the cupboard.
Progress was slow and Jay’s back ached from all the weaving, but eventually the concrete changed to bumpy tarmac. The views around us kept me firing the camera in all directions, as village after village filled with a mish mash of houses danced by. The fields now sprouted haystacks that wouldn’t look out of place as a Doctor Who baddie, absorbing anyone who gets close to them.
Eventually we reached Curtea de Arges, the west end of the road, and time to head north. The signs told us that we were only 28 kilometres from the dam so we ploughed on, looking forward to finally reaching our destination after several hours of driving.
Using our satnav we matched our GPS co-ordinates to those we’d got from Adam and Sophie at EuropebyCamper.com, who stopped here when they were touring Romania, and pulled in. We popped Dave on his chocks and cracked open a beer, another had gone in the fridge.
I finished off our guide to motorhoming in Bulgaria and a Bulgarian spending overview, while Jay and Charlie explored. Close to here is the real Dracula castle, the one that Vlad did live in – so we might tackle the 1480 steps up to it in a few days, when we’ve recovered. But for now, we’ve been joined by several wild dogs, three just came up to Jay when he went outside. Walking pampered pooch is going to be a two person job tonight and then we’ll relax!
More piccies from today – sorry I can’t help it, there’s loads to see!