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New Europe

Day Sixty-one: Sighisoara to Bucharest

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The soaring walls of Bran Castle, around which Bram Stoker built the Dracula myth.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThe castle is full of framed photos of Nordic queens and princesses, in silk gowns and Art Nouveau belts, all of them wholesome and handsome in a Rhinemaiden-ish sort of way, their sturdy white throats perfect vampire bait.

And suddenly he's there. Petre, in full Dracula costume, complete with black cloak, candle wax-spattered coat and white silk scarf, is ready to frighten the kiddies.

As the first group of schoolchildren toils up the steps, Petre puts in his teeth and starts to roll his eyes.

'In Transylvania you can see very strange things. Sometimes you can see blue flames in the forest, sometimes... '

At that moment his mobile phone goes.

'Might be some work,' he says, stepping nimbly out of character, and roots around in his cloak. The children love it.

Drive into Brasov to catch the train on to Bucharest. Sinister Saxon legends lurk here as well. The gloriously spacious Piata Sfatului, Council Square, is reputedly where the Pied Piper of Hamelin emerged with his children in tow. It's surrounded by beautifully proportioned buildings, including the fifteenth-century Council House, the Renaissance Merchant's House and, most striking of all, the Black Church, a huge edifice, bristling with pinnacles, which my guidebook assures me is 'the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul'. Its name comes from the way it looked after a fire in 1689. I found its sheer sides quite forbidding. And all the doors were locked.

High on the great slab of wooded rock face that rises behind the old town are picked out the letters B-R-A-S-O-V, in almost identical size and shape to the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. It seems appropriate. When it comes to purveying fantasies, Hollywood and Transylvania have much in common.

The evening train to Bucharest twists and turns through the Carpathians, Europe's last great natural barrier. Every now and then there's a gap in the mountains and the sun spills through, bathing the beech and oak woods in a rich auburn glow.
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Dracula schlock, on sale in the car park.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Sixty-one: Sighisoara to Bucharest
  • Country/sea: Romania
  • Place: Braşov
  • Book page no: 146

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