For a place so heavily reliant on tourism, perhaps unsurprisingly there are leaflets everywhere for tours in and around the Brasov commune. The most popular (for namesake at least), is a visit to Bram to see the castle. Separately, Rasnov supposedly offers a stunning fortress and then there is bear sanctuary fairly near too! All three sounded great but for 69 euros (excluding site entry) this sounded expensive and so I undertook my own research. Well, me another a couple of lads of which one was Jacob from LA who I met in Bucharest! He was one of the guys that I didn't get to say farewell to due to my early start on that final Bucharest morning but yet here he is in Brasov and we're completely coincidentally in the same hostel! Random or what - especially considering neither of us knew of the others' plan. Needless to say it was great to see a recognisable friendly face and so naturally we went for a drink to 'catch up'.
Also from the hostel we met an Indian fella named Pranav. Together we set about working out how we could achieve what the tours offered but for less expense. How did we get on? Read on to find out...
Now, I don't know about you, but in my imagination images of Transylvania and Bram Castle would look a little something like this:
Well, if you were thought anything like me then I'm sorry to spoil this long tern vision but Bram is soooo not the place Hollywood make it out to be There's nothing dark and sinister about this place whatsoever which is why, contrastingly, I chose to shoot this image of a tourist outlet opposite the castle selling balloons! Hmmm, not very Dracula like hey.
Hopefully you've recovered from that disappointment but at least I knew this was coming as it's a common discussion point for travellers to this area. The majority are already aware through their own investigations that there are other stunning castles within the vicinity and these are said to be several times the spectacle Bram Castle is, Peles castle for example which I didn't get to see.
Did you know that Vlad the Impaler - the real life person who Bram Stoker based is fictional character Dracula on, reportedly only visited here a handful of times! Really makes a mockery of the whole story in my opinion. Wanna hear something really, really gruesome though? Try this:
Vlad Tepes, translated as Vlad the Impaler got his morbid nickname using his favourite way of dispensing with his enemies. He used to order his victims to be held up high with a wooden post of some form to be inserted in the person's anus which would go straight up through their bodies, thus, impaling them. To make that worse (as if it could be right), the wooden instruments were often blunt to cause the victim unparalleled pain for a number of hours prior to an inevitable death. For Muslims, apparently the end of the wood would be smothered in pork fat or something alike to add insult to injury so to speak. Nice...
Rasnov, however, was well worth the comparably measly £2, compared to Bram's entrance fee of £8. In fact, this citadel fortress offered us the best images and scenery any of us had seen so far in our independent stay in Romania which we will shortly get to. They say that this fortress was built in the early 13th century and naturally it's seen its fair share of wars and subsequent restoration over the centuries.
We continued walking up and around the citadel knowing we were slowly ascending to the top most point but still we didn't expect the breathtaking views that would soon be upon us. Here we have on one side the view of the Carpathian mountains and on the other side, the many villages below and in the distance:
Finally, a special place; a sanctuary for big brown bears. Outside of Russia, I believe Romania to have the largest brown bear population so they are highly thought of over here by the vast majority. As in, not the scum of the earth killers who try to hunt them down. Doesn't that just make you shudder at the thought...
Before we got to see the bears, we watched a ten minute video that showed some terrible things of what these bears used to go through as part of their Circus background. It was unimaginably sad to watch but thankfully this all ended on a much happier note with the bears being rescued and now protected and offered relative freedom in these safe, cared for surroundings.
They have a wolf too that they say was rejected by his pack. Check out the close up image and the one I got of him howling:
If you were wondering if we could get closer to the bears, we really could at one point we were less than 1 metre away (granted with an electric fence in front of us). Also, note how within just one hour the weather turned from being quite bright to it snowing!!!
How much did we spend today?
We spent a maximum of 100 LEI (22 euros) for everything, including transportation. The tour people (multiple organisations) genuinely wanted 300 LEI (69 euros) and wait for it, this did not include entry to the attractions so at least another 15-20 euros on top of that.
If you are thinking of visiting the area and don't want to pay those prices, get in touch and I'll give you some useful information along with a couple of other tips to save even more money!
The time is upon me for some more train travel folks so I'll hope to write to you again in the next couple of days.