Thursday, October 20, 2011


From Bucharest, we went out to the countryside to follow in Count Dracula's footsteps. Bram Stoker based Count Dracula on Vlad the Impaler, a 15th century count who was nicknamed "Dracul" meaning devil. He was as charming as the name suggests. He once set fire to a sealed castle filled with the poor and sick "to rid them of their troubles." He also liked to set up banquets so he could eat while he watched people die. Vlad is still something of a hero in Romania because he beat the Turks in battle. A lot of other character flaws can be forgiven here so long as you beat the Turks.

We went out to Bran Castle, which is nicknamed Dracula's Castle. Vlad was never actually here, but the name is great for tourism. The castle is gorgeous!

We spent the night in Brasov, which has declared that it is “probably the best city in the world.” (That’s taken from the Carlsberg beer ad- “probably the best beer in the world”).

 In the hills over the town, “Brasov” was spelled out in huge white letters, just like the Hollywood sign.

The next morning, we went out to see a fortified church. Back in feudal times, when the town was attacked, people would move inside of the church walls into these small compartments surrounding the church. 

On the way back to Bucharest, we stopped at Peles Castle, which looks like a fairybook castle. The inside is incredibly ornate and beautiful. They make you wear these ridiculous cloth booties over your shoes and then attempt to walk down the long flights of stairs. Miraculously, I managed not to faceplant.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bucharest, Romania

I've been having a great time in the EU's newest member country. Contrary to what I expected, the streets of the capital, Bucharest, are not overrun with gypsies and gymnasts doing backflips on the sidewalk. The city likes to think of itself as the "little Paris of the east." There is a lot of French architecture and people say "merci" for thank you. Then, alongside these French buildings are concrete monsters from Ceauşescu’s communist "rebuilding" phase. (Not unlike Northwestern's campus really.) Then the National Village Museum transported dozens of homes from the countryside to this large open air museum to show how people live in different parts of the country. I was really impressed by a 300 year old church built entirely out of wood. There were "no smoking" signs everywhere.

The Palace of Parliament, Ceauşescu’s 1984 3.3 billion dollar behemoth,  is the world's second largest building after the Pentagon. Apparently, all marble production in the country for five years went to this building. The starving citizens were not amused by this, and Ceauşescu's rule was ended by a firing squad on December 25, 1989. I wonder if "All I Want for Christmas Is You" was playing in the background? 

There's  monument to those killed in the 1989 revolution. The locals refer to this modern art piece as the Impaled Potato.