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After a good night’s rest, I went down to the Jonathan Harker Salon where they had a nice breakfast buffet. The food was good and the coffee was VERY strong, compared to what I
am used to. I guess that could be expected, considering that, in general, European coffee is stronger than what we have in the US. After breakfast, we all met in the hotel lobby to wait for our tour guide. Radu took us on a tour of the town, where there were many opportunities to shop for souvenirs. Most of us stopped and looked around in “Parasolt”, which is a store where they make their own glassware. I also stopped at a local newsstand and picked up a copy of “Dracula”.
Judging from the pictures and wording on the cover, this publication appeared to be the Romanian version of the “National Inquirer”. Walking along one of the side-streets, I had to laugh when I saw a sign on the door of the “Any Time Club”. The sign said “Orar 2000-0300” (Open 8pm-3am). I guess the place
really isn’t open “any time”, like the name of the establishment
implies. HaHa! While we were downtown, we were lucky enough to see a local parade. It was the kick-off for a festival in honor of Sibiu (another city in Romania) being named the “Cultural Capital of Europe for 2007”. The parade was actually very similar to one that you might see in the US. It featured local dance troupes, souped-up motorcycles,
a marching band and car dealers showing off their latest luxury & sports cars. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the entire parade, as we had to return to the hotel to check out and move to our next destination. Before boarding the bus, I packed my bags and paid the man at the front desk 13.5 Lei for a souvenir towel with the hotel’s name on it.
(Click on any of the pictures
below to enlarge)
After everyone checked out we filed onto the bus to go to, in my personal opinion,
one of the most beautiful regions in Romania. Leaving
Bistrita, we traveled along the infamous Borgo Pass (actually spelled Bargau, but commonly called
Borgo), which was featured in Bram Stoker’s classic novel “Dracula”. In real life,
Borgo Pass is very similar to how it was described in the novel and the way it has been portrayed in various Dracula films. The
steep mountain slopes on either side of the twisting, winding road were an
awesome sight. The view along Borgo Pass was definitely one of the main highlights of the trip for me. For the most part, the mountains were lined with tall trees, which is different from the baron landscapes that you often see in most Dracula films. According to
Radu, back in Vlad’s era there really weren’t any trees in the mountains; they grew in fairly recently. I couldn’t believe how close the edge of the road was to some very steep drop-offs to the valley below. Veering off the road
only a couple of feet could have ended in disaster. There were a couple of times when the bus came pretty close to the edge of the road, so I was on the edge of my seat! We really were in good hands, though, as Stephan was an excellent driver, maneuvering the huge tour bus as easily as if it were a small car. We took in some great
sights of the mountains on Borgo Pass and continued on to our next stop, Piatra
When we arrived at Piatra Fantanele, we checked into “Hotel Castel
Dracula”, which was the most unique hotel that we encountered in Romania. Converted from an old castle, the room layout of the hotel was pretty odd and honestly, a little confusing. For example, the 300 series rooms weren’t all on the same floor, like you would expect. They were divided up on three different levels, each separated by a short flight of stairs. There was also no elevator, so those unfortunate souls (myself included) who had rooms on the upper levels, had to carry their suitcases up numerous flights of stairs. Perhaps that’s why they call it
LUGgage.. because you have to LUG it around with you everywhere. HaHa! While the rooms themselves were fairly small, they were appropriately themed in blood red colors. The fabric on the chairs, curtains, sheets and the telephone were all a shade of red. To add to the Dracula theme, “sign of the dragon” logos were prominently displayed on various items in the room. Looking out the window, I had a really nice view of the valley below, with the mountains stretching across the horizon. If you ever want to visit a Dracula themed hotel, be sure to check out this one. Up until this point, most of the tour had been very structured and planned out for the group; however,
this day was different. Radu told us that we could set our own pace and explore the surrounding area at our leisure. Before letting us go on our way, he suggested that we visit the local monastery if we got the chance. Since we were hungry, a few of us decided to visit the hotel restaurant before we headed out on a hike. After fueling up at the restaurant, we went out in search of the monastery. Since it was situated on top of a hill, we had to go off the main road quite a distance, up a gravel
path to get there. It was a pretty decent hike and quite worth it, I might add. The view was amazing! Every direction you looked you could see rolling hills, valleys and mountains in the background.
No matter where you looked, it looked like a picture postcard! Just as we got up to the monastery, one of us noticed
an old path, leading further up the hill. Now overgrown with weeds, it was barely visible. Curious as to what lied ahead on “the path less traveled”, we continued on up the steep incline, pushing tree branches and weeds out of our way as we went along. We eventually came to a clearing where an old building stood. It had a small bell tower and looked as though it could have sustained some fire damage. Perhaps this had been the original monastery? Behind the building was another overgrown path that led further up the hill. Not wanting to leave a stone unturned, we continued up the hill until we reached the very top. All that was there was a concrete building foundation; however, the flat surface of the ground around it served as an excellent observation deck. Since we were even higher up than before, the view was even more breathtaking than what we saw at the monastery below. After admiring the view for a while, we decided to return to the hotel. Making it down the hill was even more challenging than the trip up. The hill was so steep that it was hard to keep my footing without sliding. Returning to the hotel, I was hoping to find out more details about the costume party they had planned for us later that evening. Radu told us that we still had four hours before the festivities began, so I decided to take advantage of that time and write out a few postcards to friends and family.
After getting into costume and make-up (I dressed up as a zombie), I went down to the hotel lobby to meet up with the rest of the group. Radu took us outside where they had prepared a bonfire for us. When we got to the site of the bonfire,
the members of our group were presented with a small glass of plum brandy. Radu had also arranged for some live musical entertainment. As we watched the mesmerizing flames of the bonfire, the musicians played traditional Romanian folk songs on a clarinet and an accordion. After the fire burned down a bit, a hostess handed us long skewers with meat and onions “impaled” on the end. Getting close enough to the fire to cook our food was quite a challenge. By the time it
was cooked, I felt like I was medium-rare.
HaHa! When everyone finished eating, we went back to the hotel where they had a banquet room set up for us. There was plenty of food and drink for everyone, as well as a DJ for our entertainment.
It was definitely a lot of fun. Most of the group stayed up until the wee hours of the morning.
Borgo Pass / Hotel Castel
Piatra Fantanele Monastery
(Click on any of the pictures
below to enlarge)