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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Brasov, Bran, and Sighisoara

It would be unthinkable, of course, to go to Transylvania and not visit Dracula's castle. The Dracula character is based on a real historical figure named Vlad the Impaler, known for impaling his ememies heads on posts after defeating them. Bran Castle itself is impressive, and lovely, but has little if anything to actually do with old Vlad. He may have passed by there once.

Outside the castle is a truly tacky souvenir market, with probably the same stuff you'd find in Salem Mass. in October, glow in the dark skeletons and the like. And prowling around the market was an imposing figure in black, on stilts, with a rubber werewolf mask. In his hand was a plastic saber with which he prodded young women in the rear end. And then "Dracula" decided he was thirsty. He removed his mask, revealing a sweet faced teenage boy, bent down, and ordered a Coke.

Brasov is the city one goes to in order to visit Bran. I went with no expectations, and was delightfully surprised by its charm. It is a wonderful combination of ancient and ultra modern architecture. I could easily have stayed there a few days longer.

But my next stop was calling. Sighisoara was described as a quiet, charming medieval town. It was, but I was a bit surprised when the first folks I encountered were from a British magazine, doing a fashion shoot. In the year or two since my guidebook had been written, Sighisoara had been discovered. Like so many places, it was fast becoming overtouristed. And I would imagine it has gotten even more so in the several years since my visit. But I enjoyed myself nevertheless. The best moment was when the band playing to me, the only customer at an outdoor restaurant, suddenly paraded into the kitchen. I followed. There, among the pots cooking my supper, the cooks linked arms and danced while the musicians played.

I hope the town finds a balance between tourism and keeping its genuine character. A local agency was training young local people to be tour guides. Mine was terrific, and not only knowledgeable but clearly proud of his town. He was probably about fourteen.

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