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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Map - Haunted Illinois goes on a Dracula Tour in Transylvania - Romania

Day 6:

The day started off with Radu taking us on a tour of downtown Sibiu. That gave us an opportunity to see more of the restoration efforts that were happening throughout the city. As we were walking toward the main square, Radu pointed out a local bank that had its own restaurant, so customers could sit down and have something to eat while they waited to do their banking. I’d never heard of anything like that before. It was an interesting concept, but I can’t even imagine having to wait in line at a bank that long! “Hey, it looks like we’re gonna be here for a while; let’s order lunch.” HaHa! I couldn’t believe how clean the town square was, considering that a rock concert had just been held there. With not a scrap of paper left on the ground, we never would have known there had been a concert in the square, had we not been there the night before. I found it interesting that a lot of the buildings in town had open-air vents, shaped like cat's eyes, built into their roofs. There was a newly-built section of roof sitting in the middle of the square, at ground level, so we could see how the vents were constructed. Looking in from the back side, I could see that underneath the rectangular ceramic roofing tiles was an intricate wooden framework that formed the oval vent holes in the roof. Now that was some impressive craftsmanship! It was really nice to see these old buildings being brought back to life with some reconstruction, a new coat of brightly-colored paint and fresh roofing tiles. Sadly, in the US it’s called “progress” to knock down old buildings, in order to build a strip mall or a new subdivision. It’s nice to see that the people of Romania are putting so much time and effort into preserving their heritage. While walking through another part of the city, Radu pointed out a popular tourist attraction called “Liar’s Bridge”, which was the first bridge in Romania to have been cast in iron. According to local folklore, the bridge is supposed to fall if anyone standing on it tells a lie. As a result, it has been a popular locale where political speeches are made, honest merchants trade goods and lovers promise their undying love... or so the legend says. 

Sibiu, Romania
(Click on any of the pictures below to enlarge)
This bank had its own restaurant, so customers could eat while they waited to do their banking
Roof Vents
The tour group on Liar's Bridge Liar's Bridge Newly rebuilt street

After exploring downtown Sibiu, we returned to the tour bus. Our next stop would be Cozia Monastery. With vehicles lined up on both sides of the road, I could see that it was clearly more of a popular tourist stop than Snagov Monastery was. Radu warned us to keep an eye on our wallets. Being a popular place for tourists to stop, it was also a place where you could find pickpockets. Just like the one in Snagov, this monastery had numerous murals of religious figures and scenes covering every inch of the walls and ceiling. Outside the monastery there was a cross-shaped water fountain, with plastic cups lined up around the base. Some people came to drink the holy water, while others took some home in containers they brought with them. I couldn’t believe how many people were drinking from the same cup. Hmm... I think I’ll pass on that one. 

Cozia Monastery
(Click on any of the pictures below to enlarge)
Holy water fountain

After everyone was ready to leave, we got back on the road and headed for the place that was my favorite stop of the entire tour, Castle Poenari. Built in 1457 and located near the city of Arefu, this structure has more than just a casual connection to Vlad Tepes’ Dracula. Unlike some of the other buildings in Transylvania that bear his name, this one really was Vlad’s castle. The story of its origin is pretty interesting. It was reported that Vlad had invited many noblemen and their families to a huge feast. When they arrived, he confronted them as conspirators, as he thought they were responsible for the death of his father and brother. He impaled most of them, but let the younger & healthier ones live. He forced them to march to Poenari and work as slave labor to build his castle. The castle was built on a high mountain peak overlooking the Arges River. It would have been nice to see what the castle looked like intact. Unfortunately these days, only ruins of the castle remain. Just imagine how difficult it would have been for Vlad to get up to his fortress back in the 1400’s. In his day, there were no concrete steps with handrails. He had to make his way up the mountain on horseback! To make our way up the steep slope to the castle ruins, we had to climb more than 1,400 steps. There were parts of the slope that were so steep that it would have been practically impossible to go strait up. In these areas, the steps actually zig-zag back and forth diagonally, to make it less drastic of an incline. Even walking as fast as we could, it still took about twenty minutes for the first group of four of us to reach the top. The rest of our group toughed it out and arrived just minutes later. This was THE high point of the tour for me (no pun intended). Still, this is definitely not a place to visit if you are afraid of heights. I saw a couple of local residents who were pretty fearless, not at all phased by how close they were to impending doom. I saw one man sitting on one of the outer castle walls, outside of the safety railing! One little slip and he would have fallen straight down into the valley, 1,800 feet below. Another person was sitting on the handrail of the castle stairs, near the mountain ledge. I definitely wouldn’t have taken any chances like that. Anyway, the view from the castle ruins was unbelievable! Standing by the railing, you could look straight down into the Arges River valley. What a sight! It was like being on top of the world. Being up there is something I will never forget. It’s just so surreal to think that I was standing on the very same ground that the infamous Vlad the Impaler stood on more than 550 years ago! Getting up to the castle ruins was pretty exhausting, but surprisingly the trip down wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It was so steep in some areas that you really had to work hard to slow your momentum on the way down. 

Vlad Dracula's Real Castle - Castle Poenari
Near Arefu, Romania

(Click on any of the pictures below to enlarge)
More than 1400 stairs to the top More than 1400 stairs to the top More than 1400 stairs to the top More than 1400 stairs to the top
Looking from one tower to the other
Looking from one tower to the other

After we were done marveling at the view from Castle Poenari, we all met down by the tour bus to continue our journey. On the way back to Bucharest, we stopped at a small local graveyard. It was actually fairly new; the oldest grave was from the late 1800’s. There was quite a variety of grave markers ranging from fancy marble to plain wooden crosses. Some of them weren’t even marked with a name, to identify who rested there. While most of us took pictures, one couple in our group had the foresight to bring along supplies to do tombstone rubbings. What a great idea! I wish I had thought of that. We explored the graveyard for about twenty minutes or so before returning to the bus.

Graveyard Along the Road
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Continuing on toward Bucharest, we ran into a big traffic jam. Apparently the city was planning some road construction, because they had one lane blocked off for several miles. I found it funny that such a long length of the road was blocked off, yet there weren’t any workers, equipment or sign of actual construction going on. Perhaps it was still in the planning stage? It was pretty much stop & go the whole way and we arrived in Bucharest much later than we had expected. For dinner, we stopped at the Count Dracula Club. It was appropriately themed with flaming torches on either side of the entrance and the front windows were tinted red, with a silhouette of a suit of armor in each window. The inside was painted to look cavern-like and there were assorted wild animal heads mounted on the walls. Their selection of food was interesting. We were served rat as the main course. Well, it looked like a rat, but it was really breaded chicken with melted cheese inside that had been dyed red with food coloring. To make it look even more rat-like, they formed a little tail on each piece of chicken. When I cut into my “rat”, the red cheese, which resembled entrails, oozed out. I really didn’t expect that and I think that some of the people in our group lost their appetite, as a result. After dinner we returned to the hotel to rest up for our last day in Romania.  

Count Dracula Club - Bucharest, Romania
(Click on any of the pictures below to enlarge)
Flaming torches at the entrance of the club
They served us rat.  (It was really chicken with cheese inside that had been dyed with red food coloring)

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