Sighisoara, Vlad’s place

Travel Journal Overview: Sighisoara, I could actually pronounce this place, which is unusual for me. I’d heard the place was going to be turned into a giant Dracula Theme park in the future. So I decided to visit now, before I never wanted to go back. Turn out to offer many little insights. Again, in my book this is a significant place in the search for home. Or rather the lessons learned.

Vlad the Impaylers Dining room (click to enlarge)
Vlad the Impaler's Dining room (click to enlarge)

The train journey was just fine, barring the fact I still haven’t mastered the task of how to identify carriage numbers (they really do not number them). Sufficed to say there were some other backpackers getting on-board and so I followed them in hope the not so nice ticket lady had put us all together. Nope, the Dutch girls knew how to read the ticket and told me I was at the opposite end, and in reality their carriage was full. I headed out and ran to the first carriage asking stupid questions (like what carriage does my ticket say) along the way to various uniformed people. I got on-board one minute before we headed off. I think the trick is to actually count the carriages and not pay any attention to the numbers on the side as they are all quite random!

I began to think about my visa worries. Time was up. Sofia was a place to go for one visa, but then there was the choice of Istanbul, or Bucharest. The guy in the book traveled with no guide book, but spoke Persian quite well, though he doubts it himself. I began to doubt myself a lot as I read and thought about both our journeys. I had a target of no later than 1/1/08 to be somewhere. That was photo time. If I was late, then no photo due to dust. But what of the journey in between, if the Visas get screwed up do I extend time and take another route or take a dreaded flight. The BCN Stuttgart fiasco told me no flights, that was what my instinct was telling me too. And then deep inside there was also…finding home…

I arrived in Sighisoara at exactly 12.02, one minute late (damn these east europe trains were good, up yours Eurolines). I headed straight for the little ticket office and asked for the timetable to Bucharesti, no problems 9.30am. Then it was to the main road where I thought my LP map would once again fail me. So spotting the tourist info “I” across the road I headed over to the office. However the office was a bar, nonetheless the girl reassured me, and the first hostel on my map was literally across the road. I then got the feeling that Sighisoara was a very small place.

I went to the hostel and waited for 5 minutes before someone showed up, I asked the most important question, “Do you have a washing machine?”

“Yes”, but little else was said.

If the town was this small then no problem I would head off and look at the other hostels conveniently dotted along the same road. Next up was the little Ellen Villa. I met the Germanic lady and immediately got into a language barrier problem, she spoke Romanian, German and her daughter spoke Spanish… meaning she knew a few words… bar the word for washing machine. Anyway, she managed to get me inside, and the rooms were nice, no bunks, single beds, en suite, but no locker, also no other guests. I said yes, and she immediately changed her tune and became a friendly lady in her 50’s. I asked about the washing machine again and then it was no problem. Also the internet, this is when the subject of her daughter came up again, apparently she ran an internet cafe in town. I bundled my laundry together and followed her down to the cellar whereby I loaded it all in. It was then that the lady took me in hand and guided me into the next near barren room…

It was obviously a little shrine to Jesus Christ, as his picture was all over the place along with burning candles and flowers. Oh dear, please let her not make me say a prayer or something?!! Through a mixture of Spanish (Romanian has a Latin base) she shuffled me over to the corner… still not having a clue what was going on she crouched down to the brick covered ground and started signaling me to follow suit. Hmmm, I stared at the bit of ground she was pointing to and then it clicked! I was looking at a stain on one of the bricks that took the shape of Jesus… she thought her house was blessed!!

For the next hour we chatted on about the other stains in her brick floor that resembled various saints and so on. She had me standing near a footprint of Jesus hand outstretched to feel the vibrations in the air, and in my fingers, and foot. Ok, any time you outstretch your hand at an angle you get the tingles, and yes I did feel something in my right foot, an itch. But I have seen many things in the world, and as she was a nice lady, I played along. After all she also told me that the tingling sensation was meant to have healing powers. So why not, this was the leg with many afflictions. Then another older lady shuffled into the cellar, blessing herself by the stained bricks…

The pseudo Spanish, Romanian, English conversation then changed to people, politics, Cesaucescu’s days here in Romania, and how everyone was leaving for Italy… hmm, it was here my host burst into tears… oh dear, how did I end up here again? Normally I would have bolted, but to be honest I was enjoying Romania so much, and now I was getting to be apart of “normal life”… well, maybe. Anyway 10 years ago I would have run away, now I took it in stride.

I followed the little old lady and host out into a beautiful grape vine covered garden, grapes hanging from the roof and floors adorning the garden. Yes it was a good choice to stay there. Talk of the internet came again, and the lady shuffled off only to reappear with car keys, offering me a lift to her daughters house. We headed off into the citadel some 5 minutes away. Only it turned out I was lost in translation again, and her daughter did not own a cyber cafe, but did in fact have her own hostel, with internet which I was free to use. And I did, for 2 hours, for free. Romanian hospitality was making be enjoy the place even more.

I had a giant pizza just out of the old citadel, for an amazing 2.50 Euro, but was back to tiny 20ml coke bottles again. It was now I realized how small the town was, you could do it on a day trip from Brasov. 3 hours tops. Even the lady in the tourist office struggled when I told her I needed something to do for two days. Without car she said, not much. So I visited the stature to Vlad, saw Vlad’s house as a kid, and noted that the three museums were closed until tomorrow. I found another internet, and decided that the next day would consist of book reading and visa preparation.

I took a tour of the town and saw little but roadworks, and reconstruction, it was like they were rebuilding the place.
A quick jaunt up the 176 steps of the wooden walkway leading the “Church and School on the Hill” and I had basically seen the place, including Vlad’s poorly made statue. A cheerful little dog did follow me around the “Church on the Hill” erm, yes it does have another name but for now that’s what’s written on the map. I headed back to the center of the citadel and pondered about for about 30 mins, should I go into the former residence of Vlad, the father was Vlad Dracul, that had been converted into a restaurant or avoid tourist temptation? I walked around some more, and then said to fuck it I wanted a steak fantasy and charged in, ready to see tourists and stupid black cloaks everywhere.

I headed up the stairs to the first seating area, empty, then to the lounge bar, also completely empty?!! Wrought black chandeliers hung from the arched ceiling, the walls half dark terracotta half royal green. Seven small heavy dark wooden tables lined the oak floor surrounded by high backed wooden chairs set in dark red material. Two traditionally dresses middle aged ladies stood by the bar. I sat at the end of the room, full view of all, lord & master!!! A painting of Vlad hung from one wall, a painting of his stake implanted victims hung high above in front, with he having a meal amongst the suffering. Traditional string music from a few hundred years ago played as I ordered red wine and steak. The only shocking thing about the place was the price of the food, my meal would cost me 20Euro it seemed, but really and truly I was lost in my fantasy world, alone at the head of the table, two peasant wenches serving me red meat and wine!!

I am not ashamed to say that being lost in that medieval high brought a tear to my eyes, I simply could not have asked for more. I was granted 30 minutes of this private solitude at the head of the banquet table before people started to arrive in. Cameras in hand, and flash bulbs lighting the place up as people posed by the paintings. The food was not great, indeed a chestnut mash is very heavy, however so were my Hammer House memories. A highlight of my trip so far that I am not sure anyone else would understand.

I headed back to the house, read a little and slept.

The next day I headed off to the museums, apparently one 10 Lei ticket bought you entrance into all three museums. Unfortunately as I entered the clock tower museum the gruff woman said the Torture museum was closed. Hmmm, it was the only one worth seeing apparently. I paid 5 Lei for the clock tower and headed through a mostly boring place consisting of the usual pottery, jars, book or two, and an odd pair of shoes. The thing about Romanian tourism is that they are trying, but not quite getting it right. The entrance is only 5lei, yet for the privilege of having taking photos they wanted a whopping 20lei, a video was another 25 lei?!!!

I went to the top, and although I could have snuck in a photo, nothing really inspired me from the 360 degree view of the citadel. Indeed Sigisuara looked as if it was being built from the ground up as a purpose built tourist trap. Roads were unearthed, churches, towers and any thing of interest were covered in scaffolding. It was easy to imagine the place in the 12th century, witches, markets, prisons, battles, and the smell of such things. But today it was being rebuilt into a tourist haven. In this tiny, seen everything in 3 hours town, there was a total of 7 hostels. Yet in Brasov there were only 2??? Why!?? Maybe Brasov is not wanting the club 18-22 party crowd. Yet their giant Hollywood naming sign dismissed any sign of taste they had.

Lunch, another wander around, and internet in one of the only two working internet cafe’s they had…. hmmm, get your stuff right Romanian tourist board!! At least I had my ticket to Bucharesti, though it would seem I had not mastered the art of train travel in east Europe, I was in carriage 450… not really possible!!

Related Links:

Travel  Guide to Romania

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