Tag Archives: Castle

The Real Dracula

Who was the real Dracula?  Is it this guy trying to bite Diane?

Guy in cheesy Count Dracula costume with fake teeth and blood pretending to bite Diane's neck

Is this the Real Dracula?

The man known as Dracula was born in 1431 in Sighisoara (pronounced ‘siggy-schwa-ra’), a town that we visited in Transylvania.  Dracula (Vlad III) was named after his father Vlad II, a commander of the mountain passes between Transylvania and Wallachia. His mother was Princess Ceneajna of Moldavia.  His father lived at Str Muzeului 6 near the clock tower, which is probably where Dracula was born.

Three story corner house on main square painted golden yellow

Dracula’s Birthplace

Dracula’s birthplace is now a tourist restaurant and coffee shop.

Diane seated at a table with small lamp, orange wall, with coffee in white cup

Diane enjoying coffee in Vlad Dracul’s House

In the year of Vlad III’s birth (the son), Vlad II (the father) traveled to Nuremburg and was vested into the Order of the Dragon, a society with the goal of protecting Christianity in Europe and defending it against the Ottoman Turks. The Order of the Dragon was founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor and king of what later became Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. Afterwards Vlad II was known by the nickname Vlad Dracul (meaning ‘dragon’).  Like his Dad, Vlad III was also initiated into this Order at age 5.  Young Vlad became known as Dracula (‘son of the Dragon’) after his father.

In 1436, Vlad II Dracul became Voivode (King) of Wallachia, making Vlad III (Dracula) a Prince. His rule didn’t last long and he was overthrown in 1442 by rival factions in league with Hungary, but regained his thrown with support from the Ottomans (Turkish Muslims) in return for agreeing to pay the Jizya (a tax on non-Muslims).  In addition, he was required to send his two sons Vlad III (Dracula) and Radu to the Ottoman court to serve as hostages to ensure his loyalty, a common practice in those days to ensure that people lived up to their commitments.  There Vlad Dracula probably observed the Turks using torture and other techniques of terror, which he would later use against them.

Vlad Dracula grew and became a three-time Voivode of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462.  This was a period of growing attacks on the Balkans by the Ottomans.  As a member of the Order of the Dragon, Vlad III spent much of his life battling against the Ottoman Empire and the expansion of Islam.  In order to discourage them, he began the practice of impaling his enemies and allowing them to die slowly.  He developed a reputation for excessive cruelty which was renowned across Europe.  The total number of his victims is estimated in the tens of thousands.   As a result of his practice of skewering his enemies, Vlad was later dubbed Vlad Țepeș  (Vlad the Impaler).

Black and white image of man with long hair and mustache, hat with raised insignia in front

Vlad the Impaler

Vlad was the inspiration for Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror novel Dracula.  There is no evidence that the real Dracula drank blood, could change into animal forms, or was undead.  Stoker knew just enough Romanian history to make the connection with Vlad Dracula and Transylvania undoubtedly seemed like such an exotic place for the home of his main character.

We also visited Bran Castle, which claims to have a connection to Dracula, one which is tenuous one at best.  Still, it was an interesting castle to visit given its position, history, and design (many small rooms linked by twisting staircases and passageways).  The Castle has displays about its own history, that of Vlad Dracula, plus information about vampires and strigoi (Romanian poltergeists, evil souls of the dead born again with the ability to change into animals, become invisible, and to drain the vitality of victims via blood loss – sound familiar?).

Castle above trees.  1 tower.  Grey with reddish roof.

Dracula’s Castle?

Vlad III Dracula was murdered at the age of 45 in the year 1476.  His head was taken to Constantinople as a trophy, and his body was buried unceremoniously, but his memory and his descendants live on.  Vlad Dracula is an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth.  Mary of Teck, a descendant of Vlad the Impaler, joined the British Royal Family in 1893 upon her marriage to His Royal Highness Prince George, Duke of York, who later became King George V in 1910. In October 2011, Prince Charles publicly claimed that genealogy proves that he is a distant relative of the real Dracula.

Vignette Regret

Today, you get a $60 blog posting.  Others may give you a $20 posting, or perhaps even a $30 posting, but I give you a full $60 posting.  I’m willing to suffer for my art.  How can I be sure what it’s worth? Read on.

We were camped at the foot of the Tatra mountains in Northern Slovakia.  The sun was shining and the mountains were beautiful, literally begging to be climbed, but we had other plans this day.

Our camper van parked in a grassy field with tall, snowcapped mountains behind

S&M Motel at the foot of the High Tatras

I went for a run on the hilly trails while Diane planned our route south.  We were heading first to Spišský Hrad, the ruins of a 12th Century castle that along with the surrounding region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ruins of a castle on a hill with grassy fields in the foreground

Spis Castle

It was less than 1 hour of driving through the beautiful Slovakian countryside to our destination.  This route is ornamented with rolling hills and picturesque villages right out of a Brothers Grimm folk tale.  The previous day our route had been blocked temporarily by a wedding party in traditional clothing getting into horse carts.

Horse with red collar pulling a wagon with driver sitting in front of a church

Wedding Wagon in the Slovakian Countryside

I was slowing as we headed down a hill toward an upcoming construction zone.  The speed limit dropped quickly from 90 km/h to 40 km/h.  Diane said that there were police up ahead so I braked a little harder.  I was pretty sure that I was under the limit (or pretty close to it), but as we approached them, one of the officers waved me over using a short stick with a reflector on the end of it.  I pulled over and tried to look innocent.

The officer had to walk around the car as our steering wheel is on the wrong side (or as Martin would probably say, the correct side but in the wrong country).  He seemed pleasant enough but he was speaking to us in Slovakian, so it was hard to be sure.  I smiled and said, “English”.  Fortunately he spoke very basic traffic cop English.  “Driving license, car registration, and documents”, he said.  We took the later to mean my passport.  We searched for a couple of minutes to find all three, and debated whether I should also offer him my International Driver’s License or not.  After all, I paid $15 for it at BCAA and haven’t needed it yet, so why not get my money’s worth?

He stared at my driver’s license for a bit with a puzzled look on his face and then walked to the front of the S&M Motel to check the license plate.  He walked back to my window and said, “You need a vignette. This one is finished.” and then pointed to the small coloured sticker on my windshield.  I’d placed it there last October when we arrived in Slovenia on our way south from the Czech Republic.

Vignettes (pronounced ‘vin-yets’) are a method of taxing vehicles that is used in some European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegero, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland).  All vehicles using the road are required to pay a tax, regardless of the country of origin of the vehicle.  A small sticker is then affixed to the windshield to indicate that the tax has been paid.  Vehicles like ours that travel through a lot of these countries can end up with a windshield looking like it was decorated by a kindergarten class!  Vignettes are typically available for as little as 4 to 10 days or up to a year, and usually cost $10 to $20 dollars for the minimum duration.  When entering a country there are usually signs indicating that a vignette is required, which are then reinforced by the many additional signs of the various vendors offering to sell them.  Unfortunately there were no such signs, at least none that we saw, when we entered Slovakia on small mountain roads the previous day and so we had forgotten to purchase a vignette.

Close up of a purple and white 2012 Slovakian vignette sticker on the windor of our motorhome

Slovakian Vignette

While we were waiting I noticed that what I had initially thought was a radar gun on a tripod was in fact a spotting scope.  They were using it to look at a distance for cars without current vignettes.  This gave me some hope that I wasn’t going to receive a speeding ticket also.

The police officer returned and said in pretty good but halting English, “The max-i-mum fine is 140 Euros.  The min-i-mum fine is 40 Euros.”  I said, “I’ve got 40 Euros” in an attempted presumptive closing.  In Slovakia, as in many European countries, police issue ‘on-the-spot’ fines, which means that you have to pay in cash immediately.  I’ve always wondered how having police offers handle cash didn’t promote corruption, and I was about to find out.

Diane dug out €40 from the back and I handed it over the officer.  It felt very strange to be handing money to a cop through my car window, like something that happens in Africa (right Norma and Wayne?) but not in Europe.  A few minutes later, he returned with 4 chits worth €10 each as receipts for my payment.  He then told me to drive to Levoča, the next village, where I could buy a vignette at the Shell station.  I nodded and said that I would.  He returned my papers and waved us on.

I was grateful that I didn’t receive a speeding ticket (not that I think I was nor would admit to speeding), and thankful that the fine wasn’t larger.  Checking online later we read that driving without a vignette in Slovakia can result in a cash fine from €100 to €500 ($150 to $750).  Who carries that kind of cash?  And why is the amount of the fine not specific?  On what basis do police officers decide which people to charge 20 times as much as we paid?

Anyhow, we were not unhappy with the result.  It could have been a lot worse.  Diane was afraid we were going to Soviet prison.  We bought a vignette in the next town as instructed and were on our way to the castle.

Our €40 fine equates to roughly $60, our cost for the story you’ve just read (labour not included).  Hence, today’s $60 blog posting.