stick a Label

luni, 3 iunie 2013

Bastybikes in the Motorcyclist Magazine USA

On the Trail of Dracula 

Touring Romania With Vlad On the Mind 

WORDS: Peter Starr PHOTOS: Peter Starr & Zed Zawada 
hen the Irish novelist Bram Stoker 
wrote the dark Gothic novel Dracula 
in 1897, the world of mysticism, the 

occult, and belief in the underworld were held 
in a very different regard than today. His novel 
dabbled in the unknown and was indeed made 
of scary stuff. Doubtless he would be amazed 
that his fictitious vampire character not only 
spawned numerous cult movies but also an 
entire tourism industry for the district of Transylvania 
in Romania. 

So who was Dracula and where might I 
find him or evidence of him? My quest first 
took me to Bucharest where I picked up travel 
partner Zed Zawada, guide Gabriel Jderu, and 
a couple of BMW motorcycles. 

Old Town Bucharest with its cobbled 
streets, quaint hotels, and outdoor cafés 
provided the perfect atmosphere from which 
to launch our journey. We left on Saturday, 
perhaps not the best idea given the two-lane 
main roads and abundant weekend tourist 
traffic. But with our guide, a very experienced 
rider who happened to have a PhD in motorcycle 
sociology, we were able to run down the 
outside of sometimes miles of stationary car 
traffic with little or no hindrance. 

The real life Dracula was Vlad Dracula or 
Vlad the Impaler (because of his well-earned 
reputation), who lived between 1431 and 
1476. He was the son of Vlad Dracul. Dracul 
can be interpreted in two ways: Dragon or 
Devil. Dracula has been interpreted as “Son 
of the Devil,” but I am told that was not until 
after his death. 

Evidence of Dracula’s castles are scattered 
all over Transylvania and our first stop 
was the elegant Peles Castle some 75 
miles and two hours of easy riding north of 
Bucharest. Built in the late 1800s, this castle 
is relatively new. But it was on an existing 
medieval route linking Transylvania to the 
north with Walachia to the south, which quite 
likely would have been defended by Dracula 
in his day. However, there was no evidence of 
his presence at Peles Castle or its environs, 
so our trio headed north to the next castle, the 
much more famous Bran Castle. 

The August weather as we headed into the 
mountains was clear and hot. The sinuous 
roads made wonderful riding and once off 
the main north/south highway the traffic was 

light. Our respite that night was at the modern 
and architecturally dramatic Hotel Orizont in 
Predeal, leaving us a fast and twisty 20-minute 
ride through the mountains to Bran the next 

Bran Castle, which has become the center 
for “Dracula tourism,” lies 18 miles south of 
the city of Brasov. Those who visit Romania 
in search of vampires and Dracula are told to 
visit Bran. The small town has welcomed the 
myth with open arms. As our castle guide told 
us, if they had asked Disney to invent such a 
marketing tool, it would have cost millions. 
Bram Stoker’s novel and a plethora of movies 
starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula in 1931 and 
Christopher Lee’s portrayal in the late 1950s 
created a major tourist attraction for free. 
Finding hard evidence that Vlad spent any time 
at Bran Castle is difficult, but many historians 
agree he could have spent some time there en 
route to Brasov. 

With our bubble burst and no empirical 
evidence of Vlad Dracula, we headed north to 
Brasov. Romania is a country in transition. It 
is scrambling out of the repressive communist 
regime into a free market capitalist system. 
But growth and change are not without their 
own struggles. Sometimes old habits are 
hard to break and old demons hard to shake. 
Whatever the eventual outcome, I found 
the people to be one of Romania’s greatest 
assets. We were welcomed and befriended 
wherever we went. 

Every town in Transylvania can trace its 
heritage back to the time when Leif Eriksson 
landed in America circa 1000. And many of 
the foundations of the original buildings can 
be identified and even viewed. The very narrow 
roads are for the most part paved, but cobblestone 
streets can still be found and make for 
interesting riding. 

Our first experience of Brasov, where 
Vlad was said to have led raids against the 
Saxons merchants, was a visit to an artisan 
motorcycle builder called “Basty,” short for 
Sebastian. He has a very eclectic collection of 
his work on display and is quick to show you 
his “Polski Zaklad Lotnicze” (Polish Aircraft 
Works) radial aircraft engine. Imagine that in 
a chopper frame! Basty built our guide’s bike, 
and it was here where Gabriel left us to return 
to Bucharest. Zed and I were now on our own. 

This is potentially the greatest road hill-
climb track anywhere. Standing at the top of 
the Transfagarasan pass can make any road-
racer salivate. Bring toe sliders! 

Old Brasov, founded by Teutonic Knights 
in 1211, sits protected in a valley about 110 
miles north of Bucharest and is the most 
visited city in Transylvania. In its beginning, 
Brasov was located at the intersection of the 
trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and 
Western Europe. The old city is well preserved 
and can be seen almost in its entirety by 
taking the cable car to the top of Tampa 
Mountain. For us, drinking a local beer in the 
town square after a full day of riding in the 
heat was a delight. As the sun disappeared, 
the sidewalk cafés blossomed to the sound 
of universally identifiable music. And the 
summer antics of the “young at heart” filled 
the cooling air. 

After a night’s rest at the Villa Prato 
boutique hotel, a walking tour of the “old 
town” and still no empirical evidence of 
Dracula’s presence, we took to the winding 
roads in the direction of Sighisoara. Once 
out of town, the roads were free of traffic 
on this weekday, allowing us to enjoy the 
long sweeping bends as motorcyclists 
often do. But there is one caveat. Never 
assume that there is not a tailback 
around a blind corner, as my friend 
Zed found to his chagrin. Several 
trucks and cars were backed up 

The Castle is the centerpiece 
of the small town of Bran, 
which has wholeheartedly 
adopted the modern-day 
legend of Count Dracula. 

The essence of Dracula is everywhere around 
the town of Bran. Kind of like Mickey Mouse 
and Anaheim, but driven by historical tradition, 
not the Disney marketing machine. 

trying to get around a horse and cart. That’s 
why they call it adventure touring! 

I was excited at the prospect of spending 
the night in the citadel at Sighisoara, not the 
least reason being that it is the birthplace 
of Vlad Dracula. But first we took a 5-mile 
detour down a narrow and mainly unpaved 
road to Viscri. It was a challenging road, but 
given that Britain’s Prince Charles has bought 
and restored two 18th-century houses in 
this Saxon village, I felt the effort was worth 
it. The central attraction, however, was the 
fortified church built in 1100 AD. There were 
three or four other motorcycle tourists there 
when we arrived including a family with an 
Africa Twin with sidecar, which made for some 
good stories. Many people in Romania speak 
English, making communication easy for 
us monolinguists. With more miles to 
go we headed north, dodging the sheep 
and other farm animals meandering 
across and along the dirt road, and 

set our sights on Sighisoara. 
Sighisoara is a fine example 
of a small, fortified medieval 

Casa Vlad Dracul is a restaurant located in 
the house where Vlad Dracula was reputedly 
born. There are, however, no bloodthirsty 
items on the menus. 

town that sits on the banks of the Târnava 
Mare River and has been inhabited since the 
6th century BC. It is also the birthplace of the 
object of our quest, Vlad Dracula III. Finally 
some hard evidence! At the city center on a 
hill is the walled citadel, or the old fortress 
town. We entered through a portcullised 
gate, and it was as if 21st-century people 
had suddenly descended on a 12th-century 
community replete with spired towers, cobblestones 
and central drainage. Walking through 
here is like stepping back in time, and only 
a little imagination is required to visualize 
the mystical days of yore. When Vlad III was 
born, Sighisoara, Transylvania, was a part of 
the Kingdom of Hungary. There is much to 
see here from the ancient graveyard that is 
adjacent to the almost equally ancient church 
at the top of the hill to the 175 steps in the 
wooden covered stairway that leads from the 
town to the church. 

The real history of Count Dracula can 
be gleaned from the records housed in 
Sighisoara. But although he was born here, 
much of Dracula’s cause célèbre was earned 
in other cities. So after a restful stay at the 


In the medieval village of Viscri, we ran 
into a family with their Honda Africa Twin 
touring sidecar. Sidecar touring is still quite 
popular in eastern Europe. 

delightfully unique Fronius Residence, we 
headed southwest to Sibiu with a planned 
stop at Biertan to find another of Romania’s 
fine fortified churches. The interesting thing is 
that although there are many tourists seeking 
to delve into this medieval history, those on 
motorcycles always attract the attention of 
the local children. Biertan’s inquisitive urchins 
were no exception. 

There are no freeways in this part of the 
country, which means motorcycle riding the 
way I like it, with all of its rural challenges. The 
roads are generally good as long as you stick 
with the ones more traveled. From Biertan we 
rode the less traveled road and found a dusty, 
dirt-only track that climbed from the valley 
back to the main road to Sibiu. 

There are many aspects of Transylvania 
that make it a popular motorcycle tourist desti 
nation; the challenge of constantly twisting 

The folklore associated with the beautifully 
created Lovers Bridge in Sibiu is that if you 
tell your lady that you love her and you lie, 
the bridge will collapse and bring you to 
your early demise! 

A true motorcycle artisan, “Basty,” creates 
a variety of motorcycles from whole cloth, 
which means just about anything he can lay 
his hands on. He lives in Brasov. 

roads and sparse traffic being two. Another is 
the availability of local motorcycle tour guides 
like Claudia Palfi, who also has a stock of 
the latest BMWs. Claudia rode the two hours 
down from Turda to meet us and presented 
us with her special “I survived Transylvania” 
certificate. Claudia knows south-eastern 
Europe very well. 

As interesting as towns and architecture 
can be, it is the people I met who provided 
me with the variety of character that brings 
it all to life. Across from the Imparatul 
Romanilor hotel, Zed spotted a purple Harley 
parked in front of the Transylvania Tattoo 
Parlor. Curiosity, not being the sole domain 
of cats, led us to introduce ourselves and 
that led to more tales of motorcycle culture in 
Transylvania courtesy of Ovidiu, master tattoo 
artist and Harley partisan. 

A one-day round trip from Sibiu to 
Hunedoara proved to be the hardest single-day 
ride of our trip. But it rewarded us with a visit 

Our guide for the first two days was Gabriel 
Jderu, Professor of Sociology at the 
University of Bucharest. His Ural-powered 
chopper was built by Basty. 

to a known Dracula castle: the picturesque, 
Gothic-style Corvinilor Castle built in the 14th 
century, where Dracula was imprisoned for 
crimes against the Turks. Legend has it that 
it was here Dracula designed the punish 
ment that made him the scourge of the Turks, 
honing the bizarre rituals of blood and torture, 
extending them to rodents but making friends 
with the bats. He continued to eat rare meat 
that still had blood remaining in it. 

By now the heat was having its effect, 
and it felt much better to ride. So ride we did, 
south to Petrosani and then east along a very 
narrow, twisty, mountainous road to join up 
with the northbound Transalpina highway back 
toward Sibiu. The altitude gave us a much 
cooler ride. Although the Transalpina highway 
was declared open, it is far from finished. It 
is not so much of a problem for cars, but the 
unpaved, crossroad culverts can come as a 
surprise to a motorcyclist, particularly if one is 
appreciating the wonderful scenery when you 


BMW-mounted Police check out my 
International Drivers license. They were 
polite but very professional. Fortunately, I 
had not broken any laws. 

should be looking forward. Quite exhausted, 
we got back to Sibiu for our second night at 
the elegant Imparatul Romanilor hotel. 

Our final day of riding was the 56-mile 
Transfagarasan pass that links Transylvania 
to Walachia and climbs to almost 7000 feet 
before passing under the mountain peak 
through a half-mile tunnel and down the other 
side. The BBC television show Top Gear called 
it the best road in the world, and the featured 
section on the north side of the pass is quite 
wonderful and exciting by any standard. I 
have no idea if Dracula ever made it over this 
pass. But I am glad to say that I did, and I 
enjoyed every rising foot of it. The down side 
of the pass is longer and travels along the 
Arges River and the 6.5-mile-long Vidraru 
Lake through forests, and as such lacks the 
sheer vistas of the north slope. But it is an 
engaging road that will keep you amused and, 
depending on skill level, challenged. 

A relic of the communist regime, this 
Antonov An-2 is displayed near Petrosani. 
Interestingly, these circa-1946 utility 
airplanes still fly in some countries. 

Just as I was wishing for somewhere to 
stop, we arrived at a watering hole without 
which I might have ridden right past the last 
of Dracula’s castles and the one that firmly 
established Vlad the Impaler as Eastern 
Europe’s most feared leader. Poenari Castle, 
considered to be the authentic Dracula’s 
Castle, sits on top of a peak that is impossible 
to see if you are traveling south. The 
parking lot at the base leads to a 1480-step 
staircase to the castle. This wasn’t something 
we wanted to do in 100 degree heat and full 
riding gear, but perhaps something we might 
have done at the beginning of the ride. 

Poenari is where Vlad III put into practice 
the punishment of impaling, which he had 
learned from the Turks during captivity in his 
youth. After marching the boyars 50 miles 

Complete with portcullis, this main gate 
wall fortified the citadel of Sighisoara, 
birthplace of Vlad Dracula. Cobblestone 
streets are everywhere. 

without rest, he ordered them to build a new 
fortress on the ruins of the original Poenari 
Castle. Those who were old and weak he 
impaled for any advancing army to see. It was 
a great deterrent to potential invading forces 
and his own citizens. Almost any crime could 
be punished by impalement, yet Vlad III was 
looked upon as a hero by his people because 
crime and corruption ceased while commerce 
and culture thrived. 

There is much known history yet much 
speculation about the life of Vlad Dracula. 
After six days, almost 900 miles, plenty of 
memories and Poenari behind us, our six-day 
quest was almost over. All that was left was 
the 100-mile ride to return to Bucharest to 
spend one more day enjoying the remarkable 
city that is spearheading Romania’s transition 
from repression to freedom. So many roads 
to ride and so many reasons to put riding 
Romania on your bucket list. MC 

Nicolae Ceau.escu was the last Communist 
leader. His house included 1100 rooms, one 
as big as a football field, four underground 
levels and 3,700,000 sq.ft. of floor space. 

Niciun comentariu:

Trimiteți un comentariu