I Spent Halloween in Transylvania & It Was Way Better Than You're Imagining
(I started writing this post on November 3rd, 2017 but life got in the way, as it does.)
About two weeks ago I threw out the idea to my friend, Suzzanna, that we should go to Romania for Halloween. It was very much just a "cool idea" situation without any real intent. But then the idea ruminated and two nights later I texted her that we should actually do it. She agreed and the next day we booked our flights.
The four day trip, while amazing, was full of mishaps from the very beginning, starting when we were in the wrong line at the Dublin airport and almost missed our flight to Frankfurt. Then, during our layover in Frankfurt, I accidentally got the bomb squad called on me. I forgot my small backpack on a bench and didn't realize it was missing until we were about to go through security. I went running back to get it, relieved when I saw it was still exactly where I left it. As I was approaching it, though, a security guard stopped me and didn't let me go any further.
"Is that your bag?" he asked. I nodded. "Please wait here one moment."
Then three other security guards descended. They asked me to list everything that was in the bag, then they let me take a few steps towards the bag, and asked me to list everything again. I told them it had my passport, wallet, iPad, kindle, and a few books. They made me open the iPad, turn it on, show that it could be logged into. Then, finally, I was allowed to take it back, but not until after they told me that they had to shut down the entire area because of my bag and had to call in a "special team," which cost them a lot of money. I apologized, not really sure what to say. I had to bite my tongue so as not to respond with something snarky about not intentionally inconveniencing them and that I was probably freaking out more than they were.
But alas, eventually we were able to board the plane and made our way to Cluj-Napoca, where we rented a car and drove to our hotel. We were staying at the Hunter Prince Castle and Dracula Hotel. Sounds exceptionally spooky, right? It was more spoopy than spooky. Fake gothic style buildings. Fake gothic style rooms and beds. The shower was pretty epic, though. The best part, however, was definitely the woman working at the check-in desk. She looked as if she was born to work in a place called the Dracula Hotel. Have you seen the movie Hotel Transylvania? She could have been the real life version of one of those characters. She had the body of Jack Skellington and the hair of Beetlejuice. Her limbs looked like they could fold in on themselves like a paper doll. Her eyes were wide and set deep in her skull. Her skin was sort of waxy and freakishly pale, like she had never set foot under the sun. None of this is an exaggeration, I swear. Ask Suzzanna if you don't believe me. It's literally the perfect description of this woman. I've always wanted to believe vampires were real, especially since my Buffy addiction in high school (who wouldn't want their very own Angel or Spike?) but this woman gave me more hope than anything else ever before.
The next day we went to the salt mines in Turda and holy shit was it freaking cool. I had never been to a salt mine before and expected it to be a pretty subpar experience, much like every cavern tour I have ever been on in my entire life. But everywhere I looked, people were saying the salt mines in Turda were a must see. And so we went and saw. Initially we were just walking through the tunnels and it was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be, but then we walked down a pathway towards one of the mines and it opened up to a terrace that wrapped all the way around and about 40 stories below was pretty much an amusement park. There was a giant Ferris wheel and skee ball and arcade games and a small shop area. You could rent little rowboats and paddle around in the natural spring. I have no idea if this is typical of salt mines but I’m afraid to find out. I feel like if I visit a salt mine anywhere else I’m just going to seriously disappointed.
When we left we passed by a stand selling langos. It’s traditionally a Hungarian food but it can be found all over Romania, especially in the Transylvania region. When I was in high school, I used to mix shredded cheese and sour cream in a bowl and eat it with a spoon. Everyone thought it was disgusting and, honestly, everyone was probably right. But langos is pretty much just that and it was delicious. It’s fried dough topped with sour cream and cheese. You can get other things added into to it, but honestly why bother when it’s already so amazing? I can’t believe I had never heard about it before. I got one everyday and even attempted to seek out where to find it in Dublin. (I haven’t been successful yet but the search is always going on in the back of my mind. I should probably just learn how to make it on my own…)
Before leaving for Romania, and especially during our stay at the Dracula Hotel, Suzzanna and I were making constant vampire jokes. They became even more frequent, more redundant, and surprisingly funnier during our four hour drive from Turda to Brasov. It got dark about an hour into the trip and within thirty minutes of that it started snowing. Suzzanna, who grew up in California, was nervous about the full on white out we were driving through, but I grew up in upstate New York and pretty much learned how to drive in those conditions. Our route was taking us primarily on back roads and we drove through many small villages. Each one of them was pitch black. Not a light to be seen. We barely saw any people as well. The only times we saw any sign of life (or the undead mwahahaha) were when we passed by a person who was standing alone on the side of the road in the snow staring off into space. This happened maybe seven times. Other than that…no one. Obviously the vampire jokes were rampant. We decided everyone stayed inside because they knew the vampires were out and they kept all their lights off so the vampires wouldn’t know they were home and the people we saw on the side of the road were obviously vampires. We thought we were hilarious.
We arrived in Brasov unscathed. I was walking back to the hostel after parking the car around the corner, I swear I saw a werewolf. Don’t laugh. I’m serious. It walked in front of me, howled at the moon, and kept on going. You might think it was just a regular wolf, but we were in the middle of a pretty big city. How many wolves do you know about that just run around big cities? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
The next day was Halloween. Spending Halloween in Transylvania was pretty much a dream come true for me. We took the car out and drove through the snow-covered mountains for a few hours. It was absolutely gorgeous. Freezing cold, but gorgeous. We wanted to drive down the Transfargasan, a famously beautiful road in Romania, but it was closed due to the snow. Looks like that 100 Romanian lei I still have in my wallet will come to good use when I had back that way this summer…
We also went to the Bran Castle, which was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I just want to reiterate that this all happened on Halloween. I was in Dracula’s castle…on Halloween. And to top it all off, that night I went out and got my Rocky Horror tattoo. So, again, in case you missed how cool this is: I got my Rocky Horror tattoo…in Transylvania…on Halloween. I’ve been toying around with the idea of getting my Rocky tattoo for years, always thinking that each con I go to will be the right time, but it never felt right. This felt perfect.
That night we went out to a bar with a big group of travellers from our hostel and other hostels nearby. I drank half a bottle of disgustingly sweet strawberry wine and a few beers and was sufficiently drunk for Halloween in Europe, which, just to clarify, would barely pass as “tipsy” on Halloween in America. But it was great. At one point the whole group was sitting in a lounge part of the bar with couches and chairs around a coffee table. Our group was so large that each seat was taken and people were sitting in each other’s laps so I sat on the table, leaning my back against the wall. One of the servers gestured at me about sitting on the table and I assumed she was telling me I needed to get off, but then she said, “Most people dance on the tables. Good for you for just sitting!” She gave me a thumbs up and walked away.
The next morning we drove back to Cluj-Napoca through all the same small villages we had come through on the way to Brasov, but this time during the day so we were able to get a better sense of our surroundings. In most of the villages, there was garlic hanging on all the doors. The next thing we noticed was that at the entrance and exit of almost every village there was a wooden rack full of brooms with the brushes pointing towards the sky. Many of the houses we passed also had brooms oriented the same way. I wondered aloud if they just made brooms and sold them to each other, but that didn’t really make much sense so Suzzanna googled it. Turns out sprinkling brooms with certain spices and pointing the brushes towards the heavens is a way to protect against vampires. After all of our jokes about running into a vampire in Transylvania, we were shocked to discover how many people actually believed in it. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been, considering we were in the place most vampire stories centre around. But it was really incredible to understand how seriously many of the locals actually take the vampire lore, fully believing in their existence.
Honestly, I have never before in my life been so positive that vampires are real.
P.S. If you ever get the opportunity, you absolutely MUST try kürtóskalács. I had it for the first time at a small market outside Bran Castle and loved it so much I made an impulsive swerve off the highway during our drive back to Cluj to stop at a little shack selling them on the side of the road. You can get them with lots of different flavours and seasonings and they are AMAZING.