The Birthplace of Dracula

After another delicious breakfast, we bid Ramona goodbye as it is time to move on to the next town.  On the way out of Maramures, we stop at another local market.  This time, I am excited to disembark from our van to check them out.  Fresh cheeses, speck and plums greet us in the entranceway.  But there’s all sorts of fruits and vegetables to be had, as well as clothes, shoes and socks like the market of yesterday.  It’s fascinating just to see the locals interacting with each other.  They don’t pay us much attention, but one of the ladies tells Marco (who I probably forgot to mention speaks Romanian despite his Netherlands heritage – and of course he lives here) that she is happy to see foreigners walking their markets.

Then on we drive to Sighisoara, almost five hours away.

Our driver, is a busy man.  He is constantly on the phone.  In fact, as well as driving us around, he is running three businesses at the same time – two accommodation facilities and an import/export business.  I’m glad to be sitting in the back of the van, as I’m spared the horror of watching him, talk, drive and write notes all at the same time.

Marco has a special surprise for us today – for lunch, we are eating at – ta da da da – Kaufland!  Noticing our mouthwatering efforts of yesterday, Marco has decided to let us check out the Kaufland grill.  Yay!  Unlike Bunnings, you get more than just a sausage in a bun here at Kaufland.  You have a choice of several grill dishes, either sausages or kofta like grilled meats.  And as our tastebuds alluded to yesterday, they are pretty damn tasty.  Those who don’t partake of the grill wander around to find something else in the supermarket giant.

Outside the grill, a small group of ‘gypsy’ children are milling around, hands shyly stretched out for some coins or a lucky note.  One of our American’s (let’s call him American Dad), pulls out a fiver and hands it over.  Bad move.  More children quickly close in and I’m guessing that American Dad didn’t read the notes about not giving money to anyone deemed to be begging.  He quickly realises his mistake.

At this point, I should probably talk a little more about the ‘gypsies’.  More correctly known as the Roma or Romani (the term ‘gypsy’ is incredibly derogatory), they were thought to have descended from several low north-Indian castes somewhere between the ninth and fourteenth centuries, appearing in Romanian history for the first time in around the mid 1200’s with the invasion of the Mongols (or Tatars).  They were a nomadic people and, in the early days at least, were a welcome source of skilled labour.  They had been craftsmen since ancient times, though with a preference for blacksmithing, they were skilled in everything from locksmithing, to knife/sword making and gold/coppersmithing, and through to pottery, cobblering and stonework.

That was until the Industrial Revolution came along and stripped them of their traditional means of earning a living.  At this point, they became entertainers, telling fortunes, playing music and putting on horse and dancing bear shows.  Many would say, they also became outlaws (hence the saying ‘you’ve been gypped‘).

The Roma continued to suffer persecution, being stripped of their citizenship by the Nazi’s in the 1930’s and added to Hitler’s list of ethnic groups to be dealt with, along with the Jews and Poles.  After the war, Communist governments tried to force the Roma to assimilate into society but instead of creative a cohesive society, it stripped them of any remaining time-honoured values and shattered their once tight social structure.  The end of communism led to massive unemployment in the Roma population.

It’s estimated there are about twelve million Roma worldwide, but this can’t be verified as many Roma hide their identities in government records such as census documents.

(P.S.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Roma in Romania, click here to read this fascinating document written by Viorel Achim titled The Roma in Romanian History).

Back in the van and on the road again.

Finally, we arrive in Sighisoara – birthplace of Dracula (or probably more correctly Vlad Tepes).  Everyone knows the name Dracula.  Sure it’s a made up fairy tale.  But did you know that it was based in actual history?  I didn’t know much about the story, real or otherwise, so I went a bit Dracula mad in my quest to find out more.

I looked to You Tube and Kasabian’s tune Vlad the Impaler, starring none other than Noel Fielding, but how much impaling could you really do with this big old thing?

I read Bram Stoker’s elegantly bound copy of Dracula, and apart from being overwhelmed by a language so old it took most of my effort to relate it to modern day conversation, it left me lost.  And in any case, Bram had not only ever been to Transylvania, but his story was a bit, well, lost in translation.

And then, I found this movie – Dracula Untold, with the delightful Welsh actor, Luke Evans, and it all made a little bit more sense.  Or maybe I was just a little starstruck.

So I think I am now fully up to date and ready to delve into Sighisoara.  Sighisoara is a medieval town in the magical region of Transylvania – that place of haunted castles, gothic churches, werewolves and of course, Vampires.  It’s the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler.  Born Vled Tepes III, the Prince of Wallachia, a member of the House of Draculesti.  The town was first settled by the Romans but flourished under the Saxons since the 12th century.

Our hotel is right on the main square, which is currently set up for a concert.  Marco takes us on a quick guide of Sighisoara’s old town, pointing out a few sights and interesting things we might like to check out during the rest of the afternoon.

Markets are set up around the streets leading away from the square with all sorts of products for sale.  There are Dracula swords…

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you can visit the room Dracula was born in…(well apparently the site where he was born in 1431 and lived until his was four years old)…

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buy a passport or some Dracula currency….

or you could be lucky enough to even spot Vlad Tepes walking around town….

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Behind the Church of the Dominican Monastery is a statue of Vlad with what Lonely Planet describes as ‘his trademark circa-1981 porno moustache’:

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There are a few other thing to do in Sighisoara of course – and one of those is to check out the colourful street markets.  Here, you can buy local snacks, flower headbands, peasant shirts, candles and of course, Dracula souvenirs.

The concert that is set up in the main square is an ethnic minority concert showcasing traditional Polish, Czech, Romanian and Croatian (for a start) songs and dance.  There are tents set up on the side of the stage with tables and benches for concert goers to sit and relax with a beer while watching the show.  A small group of local kids take hands and dance to the music in front of the stage.

A nice way to end the day.

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