The Travel Diary is a retrospective blog about our 3-month long wedding trip in 2003. We’re sharing stories about our honeymoon across 11 countries, including accommodation details, recipes, travel stories, and the story of how 2 people started a lifelong adventure together.
When we last left you in the previous travel diary entry, we had left Hotel Hell in Brașov on a sunny morning after pretty much zero sleep, and boarded a rickety little bus with dirty lace curtains that would take us further south to Bran. We were definitely on local transport this time – a few tiny elderly ladies with colourfully embroidered head scarves chatted across our laps as we snuggled in to our tightly packed transport.
The experience of local busses in many parts of the world varies greatly – whereas we might be used to catching a bus that arrives like clockwork or go through an informal ride where everyone stares straight ahead or at their phones, try taking a bus in the Caribbean, India, or Romania. You’ll find that clinging too tightly to a “schedule” will only make you increasingly mad as the bus stops for chats by the roadside, cups of tea for the driver, or a chance to douse the screaming hot brakes with cool water by the roadside (one day we’ll tell you about our cliffside bus race in China). On many back country busses, you’ll be a close seat mate to new friends (or enemies?), possibly try whatever piece of fruit or fried snack is being passed through the window at various stops, and earn the office of deputy chicken wrangler. Local transport might not be comfortable in some ways, but it is a priceless experience, as we will discover over and over again.
By the time we got to Bran (which the entire bus of friendly people had helped us find the right stop for on this rural back roads route), it was late afternoon, and we had a short walk towards the foothills to the little orchard where we would be staying. After our experience at Hotel Aero Sport (may it rest in peace), we couldn’t wait to check in to this sweet country guest house on a working apple orchard. It had a few small log cabin structures on the hillside, with the rising slope behind the living areas thick with apple trees. A few scattered goats and sheep grazed in the thickets at the edge of the secluded property. It was heaven.
The orchard ran a small farm restaurant for the guests, which was quite empty due to the low season we were travelling in. This place was a family farm and hostel, and to this day we can’t re-locate it anywhere online. We would recommend contacting any of the local farms and orchards surrounding Bran if you are looking for a similar experience – they are definitely budget traveler friendly, and depending on whether you volunteer your services to the farm itself, you can definitely afford to check this option out. The people of Bran are well aware of the tourist draw that the castle has, and the city has spent considerable money over the past decade in order to improve the village surrounding the castle grounds, while local farmers and homeowners take advantage of the influx of guests by offering accommodations.
The restaurant/dining area at our sweet little apple orchard was located on an outdoor wooden platform that overlooked a communal fire pit and seating area below. We saw no other guests while we enjoyed the homestyle Romanian food that our hosts offered. After dinner, our hosts brought us some home made apple cake and served some of their local apple wine, while a group of neighbours gathered at the fire pit below and started up a nice glowing fire. A retreat group of paintballers from a town nearby suddenly arrived – they must have been out enjoying the afternoon while the rain held off. One of them brought out a guitar, and a few of the farm’s neighbours and farmhands began to tap a wooden stick on to what looked like a little drum near the fire. For the remainder of the evening, we drank apple wine, watched some joyous dancing around the fire, and sang along loudly in the Roma tongue we couldn’t understand. Every one of us went back to our rooms in bliss, warmed by the fire and by the simple beauty of music & dance.
The following morning we headed down the road towards (dun-dun-dunnnn) Dracula’s Castle, or Bran Castle as it’s more correctly known. You see, Vlad Tepes (the historical figure that the fictional Count Dracula character is modelled) never actually set foot in this imposing building. The fortress that surrounds the Royal residence was built in 1211, and in 1377 the construction of a grand castle began, to be completed 11 years later. The castle as it stands today has been remodelled and kept up with great care. We were lucky enough to arrive just after a thorough reconstruction and renovation period, so our images certainly reflect the fairy tale nature of this enchanting building.
But our wander through the castle grounds comes with a story. A very strange experience. Something we still laugh about to this day, so we thought it was Travel Diary worthy.
After sneaking past the German tour group that shuffled ahead of us through the narrow hallways and winding stairways of the castle, we finally had some space to peruse the castle properly. The thick stone floors had been strewn with heavy woven carpets and bear rugs. The bedrooms revived with repaired tapestries covering the plaster walls, and a heavy hand made quilt covering an ornately carved wooden bed. The visuals were right out of every daydream about Dracula’s castle you’ve ever had.
From behind us, a small voice whispered something to us. A tiny baboushka stood near a side door to a staircase, motioning for us to follow her. She whispered, “Secret place. I show. Secret, you see. You come.” how could we possibly resist a tiny Romanian nana leading us up a forbidden old castle staircase towards a “secret”??
We crept up the tiny winding staircase until we came to an old wooden door that had clearly not been included in the recent renovations. We wondered whether we would get in trouble for being out of bounds, but nana removed a heavy iron key from her belt – perhaps she worked there – and unlocked the door. It creaked open, and we entered one of the off-tour towers. Thrilling, apart from the fact that the tower was filled with sweaters that our lovely secret tour guide had knit, and was now demanding we buy.
Aaah, yes. This would not be our first encounter with pop-up salesmen and barracuda-like merchants. Luckily for us, our baboushka didn’t take it personally when we kindly refused and made our way back downstairs. I’m fairly sure I saw her shrug and light a cigar as we left.
That evening we enjoyed another dinner on the balcony overlooking the orchard. Some of the friendlier wild dogs – the farm their temporary shelter – came and slept by our feet as we ate. The sound of the guitar and drum kicked up again as the sun went down.
Sometimes after a challenging time on the road, when things don’t go as planned or when your patience is tested to it’s utmost limit, it’s important to remember that there will be magical moments and places to come too.