Friday, May 1, 2009

A Visit to Dracula's Tomb

A Visit to Dracula's Tomb


Vlad Tepes - the original Dracula

Romania is a beautiful country. I had plenty of time to admire it since it takes forever to get anywhere in that country. In the land of Dracula, it’s not vampires that one should dread but the slow transportation system. Communism’s lazy hand still lingers over the land when it comes to public transportation. In much poorer countries like Egypt you can always get something from bus, minivan, to camel to get you just about anywhere.

Enterprising Romanians are making efforts, however, to make mass public transportation more effective (note: this was in 2003). Mini-van taxis called “Maxi-Taxis” are springing up in many areas providing short-distance travel for locals and intrepid independent travelers. Still for those short on time, it might be best to go on a tour where the transportation is reliable and guaranteed.


Count Dracula - Romania’s cash cow that sucks up the tourist dollars

I just wanted to go a simple 38 kilometers from Bucharest to see the tomb of Dracula, Vlad Tepes, the notorious fifteenth century ruler of Romania. Only a few buses go there a day and they only run every two or three hours. By the time we finally reached the small village of Snagov where Vlad Tepes is buried, it was late afternoon. Our guidebook neglected to mention that the tomb and the bus stop are a few kilometers apart. We were forced to walk two or three kilometers with our heavy backpacks. I was in my usual spirits at times like this; i.e. complaining up a storm about inefficient Romanian public transportation and the laziness of travel book writers who probably never go anywhere that they write about but just read encyclopedias and make up the rest of the stuff.

Vlad Tepes’ tomb is inside a small monastery located on an island in the middle of a lake. I had to rent a boat in order to reach it. The boat rental place was closed because it was an off day, so I had to pay inflated prices - about $15 as opposed to the usual $3 - to rent a boat. What I got was a disgrace to nautical engineering. Our boat was more bathtub than boat. At least we were given proper oars and not the planks of rotten wood they had originally planned to give us.


Snagov Monastery - the resting(?) place of Dracula

I let my long-term traveling companion, Deirdre, handle the oars of our little rowboat-bathtub first as she has stronger arms than me (a fact she rarely ever brings up). I took over once we were out of sight of shore and the possible ridicule of my boating skills that might have followed had anyone seen me. After going around in three circles, I got us back on track to the island.

On the island we were met by a man whom we thought was a priest. He greeted us warmly with the grace of God then asked us for $6 photo charge. Since we had already taken pictures of the outside before he arrived, we politely declined.


Dee with one of the small children of the night

Our religious faith was further stretched when the priest then asked us for 10 Euros to enter the monastery. After making sure he meant 10 European dollars and not 10 European people, I took a good look at the monastery to see if it were worth such a price. Only slightly larger than a breadbox with an inside covered in scaffolding, I decided that 10 Euros for the monastery was a wee bit too high of price to pay especially considering how the normal price was less than one Euro.

I was besides myself in anger and despair. I had really wanted to come here and was willing to make any sacrifice necessary to do so. Prior to coming to Romania, I became obsessed with Dracula. I wanted to visit all of the places associated with the historical Dracula - Vlad Tepes - and Snagov being reputedly his final resting place was naturally on my list.


Dee, Drac, and Dave

Despite the lack of transportation to Snagov, I had been willing to submit to an inconvenient bus schedule. I really had no plans on how to leave Snagov either save hitchhiking. I had dragged Deirdre along with me who could have cared less about an old dusty tomb then I marched us both to the shore with our heavy packs. I let myself get ripped off on the bathtub boat which I rowed with less ease then I’d like to admit. Now near the end of a trying day with my goal in sight I had a crooked priest trying to rip me off.

I numbly handed over 5 Euro note but I hesitated on pulling out the rest. I didn’t have much cash on me and I still had to get us out of Snagov somehow and find a hotel for the night. Deirdre pulled the note from the greedy priest’s hand and gave it back to me. Suddenly I realized that despite all the hardships it took to get here, somehow it wasn’t worth it. A slight inflation of the price I might have accepted or even been willing to offer but this priest pushed too far and even my Dracula obsession couldn’t overcome my indignation and my overall cheapness.

The priest understood our spiritual plight and told us in the most polite way to get off the island. He had some flunky with him who spoke a little English but he didn’t speak very much except to make sexist comments about Deirdre and laugh at us like one of those villainous sidekicks that aren’t too bright and just laugh at whatever their bosses say even if it isn’t funny.

Taking our boat back into the water resulted in a comedy of errors. I was so angry at the priest and the cackling village idiot that I couldn’t control that stupid bathtub of a boat we were in. The boat kept going around and around in circles as Deirdre traded insults with the two gentlemen. I became so angry at one point that I stood up in the boat and told the two quite loudly that they should engage in Biblical relations with themselves. A wicked enraged thought passed quickly through my mind that I should moon the pair. I have no idea know why this particular desperate, depraved action came to mind. I hadn’t mooned anyone since junior high.

I brought down my zipper and was about to execute an about-face to unbutton my pants and release their cargo when suddenly I realized such an action would probably capsize the boat. I would have rather drowned than be rescued by those jerks so I sat back down and tried to row again. Eventually I got us away.


Me and Vlad

Overall the experience was a Pyrrhic Victory. The scheming duo didn’t get any money from us and we got our pictures but we didn’t see the tomb. They, in turn, got to laugh at something for a while and thereby were able to relieve themselves for a few moments of the tedious boredom they must apparently suffer from. So we were both winners and losers in this sad affair though I still relish the idea of tipping the scales in my favor by slipping back to that island one day and burning down their houses.

The irony of the situation is that these two tried to rip us off in seeing the tomb of a man who was known for his fierce policy of honesty. With long, sharp, pointy sticks, Vlad Tepes used to treat the prostrate glands of dishonest merchants who had the cheek to cheat and overcharge their customers. Had Vlad been around today, that so-called priest and his flunky would have quickly gotten acquainted to splinters in the most embarrassing of places.

Vlad Tepes was a cruel man living in cruel times. The name Dracula was a title meaning “son of the Dragon” which was in reference to the fact that both he and his father belonged to an association of royal knights called the “Order of the Dragon.” In Romanian, Dracula has a double meaning which is “son of the Devil.” Enemies of Vlad Tepes began to use this meaning implying that he was the “son of the Devil” because as prince, Vlad was one mean son of a bitch. This double meaning is what inspired Bram Stoker to choose the name Dracula for his vampiric villain.

Vlad Tepes was a Prince of the Romanian province Wallachia and Lord of Transylvania. His realm was bedeviled by thieves, plotting nobles, corrupt merchants, and Turks - yet it was blissfully free of vampires. Vlad’s solution to the majority of these problems was impalement. Tepes was another title given to him (though probably never mentioned to his face) which means: “the Impaler.”

Vlad Tepes ruthlessly cleaned out the thieves and bandits of his territory to such an extent that according to legend, he was able to leave a golden cup outdoors in the center of his capital of Targoviste and none would dare steal it. Anyone caught stealing knew they would end up at the top of a long stake.


Vlad dines amongst the impaled

Impalement was an awful way to die in a time when there were many awful ways to die but dammit! I can’t think of nicer bunch of bastards who deserve it more.

I don’t think of these two as representative of Romanian people. Such experiences are not common place in Romania but, as with anywhere you go, there is bound to be some scheming fellows who will try to earn an extra buck or euro or bean or whatever the local currency is, off of the tourists. That they were Romanian has little to do with my dislike of them or my desire to set fire to their homes. That they were bastards trying to rip me off had everything to do with my dislike of them and my desire to set fire to their homes.

The rest of my time in Romania was great even with the slow transportation. Romania is incredible country filled with fascinating sites from crumbling Gothic castles to fortified churches and painted monasteries. I love traditional Romanian food and culture. As for the Romanians, they are quite friendly, honest, and very helpful, but it seems as with those two on the island that Vlad didn’t impale all the bad apples when he had the chance.


Vlad gets a kiss from Dee

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Tokyo, Japan
Vagabond traveler currently hold up in Tokyo. I've done a far bit of traveling and had a few interesting adventures along the way. This blog is a chronicle of adventures past and present and those yet to come. I’ve been to about 30 countries though some no bigger than a kitchen table. I’ve run with the bulls of Pamplona, hiked the Inca Trail, got mugged in Mexico City, floated down the Nile in an old boat, climbed the Great Pyramid of Egypt, got ripped at Oktoberfest, and rode the notorious Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Party Train.