In a few days I will have an anniversary marking three years since I began my European adventures. When I began my exploration I also started to create my blog. I think of my blog not only as a journal of my discoveries but also as a place to remember the stories I have heard, the people I have met, and the cultural differences which I have encountered.
I maintain my blog for myself so I can enjoy reliving memories from the many places I have visited. However, I have shared my blog with everyone and I can’t help but notice that people in 61 countries have read at least one of the 75 stories I have written. I hope that you, my readers, enjoy the glimpse into my life and my explorations.
This story is different from others I have written. I always try to add several photos into my stories to help bring memories alive. I have also noticed that I have a significant collection of photos from the past three years that have not been posted. So, this story is all about the faces I have encountered over the past three years.
I began my nomadic adventure exploring Europe in October 2014. I recently realized that breakfast is my favorite meal when I visit local cafes. Not only is it my favorite meal but it also has become almost an obsession in what I eat. While in different cafes I have met some very interesting personalities who have helped me understand and appreciate their respective cultures. This story is about my breakfast obsession and the friends I have made as I have crossed Europe and found several mouth-watering breakfast delights.
It is 5:00 AM and the neighborhood rooster noticed that the sky is brightening and he begins to crow. Moments later he is joined by another and the chorus is aggravating the dogs and they begin to bark. I am uncertain if the barking is at the roosters or the townspeople who are making their way into Cluj-Napoca. Such has been the typical start of everyday in my exploration in Transylvania.
Soon the sun is completely visible and the roosters return to their “more calm” state! But the construction crews on the sides of my apartment now begin their day’s labor as the edges to Cluj expand further into the countryside.
With the seven hour time difference between the Eastern Europe Time Zone and the Eastern Time Zone in the USA, it is not uncommon that I am awake and going before my friends and family in the USA have gone to sleep! While I have often written about Cluj and my journeys, this entry is about my typical daily routine in Transylvania.
Dark and highly intense tales of mystery, superstition, and legend are passed from generation-to-generation in Transylvania. I am fascinated with Dracula and his blood-sucking legend which permeates our thoughts of this Romanian region. Transylvania is synonymous with Dracula and to this day there are also many additional local legends involving torture, coercion, punishment, death, magic, beasts, and alliances with the devil that have become common parts of the exciting local culture. Continue reading “Burned at the Stake in Transylvania”
You have seen my sensual “girl’s eyes.” You are taken aback by them as you stop and stare. You are oblivious that I am staring back at you. In fact, I see and know more about you than you can ever imagine. I have watched patiently through the centuries as you and those before you are unaware of my silent, piercing gaze. You see me on the surface, through your imagination, as you stare at my deep, dark mysterious eyes. But there is so much more.
I have now been in Cluj-Napoca, Romania for almost a month and I have made many observations while exploring this small city. This entry into my travel blog is about my observations during my exploration of Cluj.
Cluj is located in the north central Transylvania region of Romania. It has a very long history influenced by Romans, Hungarians, Gypsies, Transylvanian German Saxons, Communists and several religious affiliations.
Cluj is a livable city of about 330,000 people. Much of the population is composed of college students from the 6 universities in the city. I like it here and have decided to return during June and July to further explore Romania in general and Transylvania in specific.
Mihai Viteazul is remembered as a Romanian hero with memorials to him in Cluj, Bucharest and elsewhere in the country. Known as “Michael the Brave,” he was the Prince of Wallachia, of Transylvania, and of Moldavia. He united the three principalities under a single rule which eventually became modern-day Romania.
Through the centuries there has been so much historic interaction between the Romanians and people from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Germans, and others. To recount history would make my head hurt so I won’t. That said, the area in and around Cluj has a huge history and there are many remnants as reminders of the past.
For those so inclined, Cluj presents an exceptional place for historic research and learning. In this blog, however, I am going to emphasize more about my thoughts and observations with some historic notes interspersed.
I arrived in Cluj by train from Budapest in early April. The 7 hour train trip was delayed arriving by 3 hours but once I was settled, my exploration of the city began at its ancient heart, Unirii Square. In and around the square are important Roman artifacts from the 1st century and newer structures.
The newer points of interest include the imposing Saint Michael’s Catholic Church dating back to the 14th century and the massive memorial to Matthias Corvinus, a former King of Hungary and Croatia born in Cluj, Romania in 1443. Banffy Palace from the 18th century is home of the National Art Museum and was the palace for the Governor of Transylvania. It is located opposite St.Michael’s Church and a block away is Corvinus’ birthplace from the 15th century in the center of the medieval historic museum area where numerous street vendors and outdoor cafes are located.
The city is bursting with memorials. Preserved old city walls and remnants of earlier protective fortifications are found nearby. There are many memorials to historic and noteworthy individuals throughout the Central Park. And the architectures of the Dormition of the Theotokos Orthodox Cathedraland the adjacent Romanian National Opera Houseare beautiful. From a vantage point on Cetatuia Hill (once the location of a fortress) overlooking the city, St. Michael’s dominates the city skyline. Just outside Central Park is a monument that is dedicated to the resistance to the Communists and those who died in Cluj during the violent December 1989 revolt that ended the Romanian Communist government.
Historic Orthodox Church
Romanian National Opera
There are several museums and an attractive Botanical Garden in Cluj. These along with the places I have previously mentioned attract numerous visitors mainly from Eastern and Central Europe. Theater, opera, symphony, and cultural events are highlights within the city. There are many small cafes, hidden bistros and aromatic pastry shops that provide traditional, very flavorful Romanian and international foods and drinks.
Services to sustain the infrastructure appear to be a challenge to the city authorities. Basics such as utilities and transportation are provided well. Although it is interesting to walk back in time in the city among old structures and memorials, the buildings that look good are maintained by private investments. It is sad to see deterioration of the public buildings such as the historic Banffy Palace which is literally crumbling. Many of the residents see this as a difficult reality where spending decisions have been made to allocate revenue among many competing priorities.
Under the prior Communist regime people recall long queues for small amounts of meat and bread. One person told me that it was special at Christmas to be able to get his only orange for the year. Life today, although difficult, is better. Life outside the city is very much at a subsistence level and I will discuss that in a future blog. The massive ugly housing projects during the Communist era remain as a stark reminder of that sad time.
Almost everyone I have met is pleasant and speaks English… and often a third language in addition to Romanian. Everyone has stories that they are happy to share about themselves, their country, its history, and the world. The people are often highly educated with post-graduate degrees but many times find themselves doing service related work or jobs with lower skill requirements. Pay is low for all positions. Many Romanians go to other European countries to work in construction and agriculture. Buying fresh flowers from street vendors or the market is really big in Cluj. Everyday there are beautiful floral displaces in many places.
Cluj is a very nice Eastern European city. I like it and the surrounding area and will blog more over the next few months about my observations from my explorations throughout Romania. If you have comments, please let me know in the space provided below.
Dark legend surrounds “Count Dracula” and his vampire wives as living in their Transylvania castle. Nourished by blood that they suck from their victims at night, these vampires are rumored to live an otherwise solitude life in the Carpathian Mountains. With wisps of clouds hanging low in the deep forest, I ventured to Bran Castle in Romania. The castle is otherwise known as “Dracula’s Castle.” This blog is about my latest exploration to learn more of this character made famous by Bram Stoker in his book and by Bela Lugosi, the actor in the 1931 Dracula movie. A light drizzle on a cold, gloomy, dismal April day set the mood to visit such a place shrouded in mystery.
Standing outside the castle entrance I observed a young Orthodox Christian couple taking a selfie and then blessing themselves prior to ascending the slippery, uneven stone steps to the open castle door.
I didn’t bring any garlic or wolfsbane with me but my traditional Romanian pork stew lunch was so loaded with garlic that I thought that only a breath directed toward any vampire would overpower and easily repel them. As I walked into the castle’s entry room, I noted the locked basement door were it was logical that vampires would be “resting” during daylight in their native soil. I saw no bats and heard no wolves; I saw no red eyes staring at me from the shadows. As legend has it, vampires cast no image in a mirror so I remained vigilant to look for mirrors but I found none.
The small castle has all the mystery one might expect to lend credibility to Bram Stoker’s creation. In reality, Dracula is based somewhat on Vlad III, “The Impaler,” Prince of Wallachia, who I will discuss a bit later. Stoker in his genius drew from tales he heard of the castle (that he didn’t visit) and other legends from Eastern and Central Europe. It is amazing how authors and screen writers can paint images in our minds so we escape into an artificial reality… and Stoker was quite capable of doing so with Dracula.
Constructed atop a huge rock, this small but imposing structure is a large interesting house with many rooms containing numerous artifacts of medieval furniture, carpets and utensils. The interior is often dark and certainly must be even more mysterious at night with its secret, dimly lit passages between floors, fireplaces, and numerous staircases throughout the building to link the rooms. In the 1931 movie, the castle entrance and cob-webbed rooms are larger than the actual castle. However, the castle in Bran provides exceptional inspiration for one’s imagination. And in this house there are other things that one doesn’t find in one’s house today.
Among the things to see in addition to the medieval furnishings are medieval clothes, suits of armor, ancient weapons, shields, items for torture and execution. The castle is very artfully decorated and I must say that the exhibits for torture and execution were the most compelling I have seen. The cruel inhumanity and ingenuity for inflicting pain and death from simple objects is amazing. I felt ill seeing them. And that’s where Vlad comes in; he is known as “The Impaler.”
Count Dracula might be a fictional character who emotes fear from the scenes painted in imagery by Stoker and the movie by Lugosi. However, Vlad III, was known in his time as Dracula (Drăculea, in old Romanian). He was real and, in a sense, blood thirsty medieval prince. Known as “The Impaler,” Vlad would have been a terrorist tried on crimes against humanity for his brutally for the ways he punished his enemies. You can read more about his life and his brutality elsewhere on the Internet.
One of Vlad’s infamous ways of execution was to impale the person by driving a large wood stake about 2 1/2 inches in diameter up through the person’s torso along the spine, through the neck and out their mouth. If the procedure didn’t kill them, they likely would last only a short time until they did. Vlad was known for having mass impalements and reportedly washing his hands in the blood of victims before eating his meals among the “forests” of them. These forests of rotting flesh were his design to deter advancing enemies and to warn populations about the consequences of dissension to his rule.
This castle known as “Dracula’s” was not where Vlad lived. He was at another one that today is rubble, However, the images for the biting, blood-sucking vampire tales are drawn from imagination based on facts and legends from this mysterious part of Europe that provide interesting and often gruesome stories (of which the Bran Castle is part).
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Dracula, the castle, and Vlad. If you have a reply or comment, please post it above where indicated. If you would like to receive my travel blog in your email, enter your address where provided on the right side of the page.