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Dracula Is Being Rediscovered in Romania

February 12, 1989|CLAUDIA R. CAPOS | Capos is a free-lance writer who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich

BUCHAREST, Romania — Dracula has been rediscovered in Transylvania.

Visitors who travel to this ancient province in central Romania in search of Dracula's roots are never really sure, however, whether the elusive figure they are pursuing is fact or fiction.

There were actually two Draculas--one a man, the other a myth. The Romanians, in an effort to accommodate the demands of foreign tourists, have given them a little bit of both.

The real Dracula was the 15th-Century Romanian prince, Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, who made a name for himself fighting the Turks and impaling his enemies on stakes around several of his castles.

The second Dracula was the blood-thirsty Transylvanian vampire count conjured up by Irish writer Bram Stoker in the pages of the 19th-Century gothic horror novel, "Dracula: The Dread Lord of the Un-Dead."

A Dash of Fantasy

Those who like to add a dash of fantasy and adventure to serious sightseeing when they travel will find the combination of the two Draculas unbeatable.

A weeklong Dracula tour of Transylvania by car can include stops at both the historic sites where Tepes (pronounced shep-pesh ) made his mark as a Turkbuster, and at the fictional locations described so vividly in Stoker's book.

Transylvania, which has seesawed between Hungarian and Romanian domination over the past century, is a high plateau in central Romania. Known as "the land beyond the forests," it is between the Transylvania Alps on the south and the Carpathian Mountains on the north and east.

The most dramatic way to embark on a Dracula tour is to rent a car in Bucharest and make a mad dash to the Borgo Pass to spend the first night.

The fastest way to reach the pass, located on Highway 17 between Bistrita and Vatra Dornei, is to skirt along the Carpathians through the eastern province of Moldavia.

From Bucharest, take Highway E-85 north through prized Moldavian vineyards and red poppy-sprinkled fields all the way to Bacau, a city that has been rebuilt with wall-to-wall apartment high-rises.

The two-lane roads in Romania are generally good, although you will find yourself alternately scooting around horse-drawn Gypsy wagons from the Old World and modern farm machinery.

You may lose count of the political signs heralding Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu and the Communist Party, but you are not likely to be bothered by the local militia . . . unless you are caught speeding.

Romanian citizens encountered along the way will generally be hospitable and helpful, but they don't speak much English.

From Bacau head northwest to Vatra Dornei, a storybook Victorian town famous for its mineral baths, and then west to the Borgo Pass.

This angular cut takes you along the Bistrita River valley on a narrow road winding around the base of the mountains.

Although driving is more challenging on this leg of the journey, it offers views of mist-shrouded peaks, placid lakes and rural villages where the stucco walls of the houses are decorated with brightly colored geometric patterns and topped with old-fashioned wood-shingle roofs.

If you leave Bucharest in the morning, you should be able to complete the 499-mile trip by nightfall and arrive at the pass just as the vampire vapor is beginning to swirl around the fir trees.

Tepes never built a castle at the Borgo Pass during his rule, but, true to Stoker's words, a castle rises out of the mist as you round the last curve.

The castle is actually a hotel called Tihuta that looks like a medieval fortress with turrets and an inner courtyard.

If you made advance hotel reservations when you rented your car, your fate that first night will be far better than that of Stoker's ill-fated hero, Jonathan Harker, who found himself a prisoner in Dracula's castle of vampires.

However, if you overindulge in the local plum brandy, called tuica (sweek-ka), your dreams may be far worse than Harker's.

Come morning, the green Transylvanian countryside will be rolled out like a soft velvet carpet as you head west to Bistrita, another landmark in Stoker's novel.

It was at the Golden Krone Hotel, now the Coroana de Aur, that Harker was warned of Count Dracula's evil powers and given a crucifix to wear as protection.

Although no mention is made of it in Stoker's book, Bistrita has a historic 15th-Century church in the center of town, as well as many attractive shops.

The next stop is Sighisoara, the birthplace of Romania's real Dracula, Tepes. The hilltop citadel of the city, also known as Schasburg because of its heavy Saxon influence, is crowned by a 14th-Century bell tower containing a museum with torture devices from the Middle Ages.

Where Dracula Was Born

On the main cobblestone-paved plaza stands a row of simple stucco German burghers' houses. The mustard-colored one with the wrought-iron figure of a dragon hanging near the small entryway is where Tepes was born in 1431. A plaque on the wall states that Vlad Dracul, his father, occupied the premises from 1431-35.

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