We were up early the next day to head about an hour north of Pitesti to hike up to see Poenari Castle. Most of you probably have no idea this castle exists, or why it is of any interest. Turns out, Bran Castle is not Dracula’s castle. From what I understand, Vlad Țepeș, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, whom Dracula is based on, was only held captive for a very short period in Bran Castle. It was never actually his castle. However, it is in great condition, gorgeous, and in an easily accessible place, so, it is marketed to tourists as Dracula’s castle. We visited this castle as well, on our next day in Romania, and we got to see firsthand just how much of a tourist trap that one is.
Vlad Țepeș actually lived here, Poenari Castle. The castle was already in existence, yet in a horrible state of disrepair and rubble. As the story goes, Vlad decided to rebuild this castle due to its strategic, defensive location. In a neighboring village were enemies of his. He invaded on Easter, impaling the elderly and frightening the other villagers into obedience. They were marched to the castle’s location and forced to rebuild it, which if I remember the sign right, took several years. Also, it was specified that the villagers worked until their clothes fell off of them.
Parking is along the side of the road at the bottom of the mountain, just find a spot. There’s a little tourist shop/stand at the bottom, and another selling some food along the bottom stairs. Throughout the lower area are plenty of stray dogs. No mean ones, just curious and friendly, and probably more than likely hoping you’ve got some food for them.
The downside to visiting Poenari Castle? It is up 1,480 stairs. That is A LOT of stairs. Even more discouraging, are the signs they have placed at about a third of the way, and two thirds of the way up, telling you how many stairs you’ve climbed… Nothing is more disheartening than thinking you must be almost there, than to read a sign that says you are at stair nine hundred and something….
Eventually you do reach the top, though, and the view is worth it. That is, once you’ve paid the guy at the little guard shack. It works out to only being a couple dollars, cheap, just like everything else in Romania.
Of course, set up in front of Poenari Castle, which yes, is just a pile of ruins now, are a pair of impaled men, with blood painted on them. I guess you just can’t have Vlad the Impaler’s castle without an impaled man or two?
Most everyone remembers the story in Dracula, about how his wife threw himself from the castle into the river below, believing him to be dead. Well, Vlad Țepeș’ first wife supposedly threw herself from this castle. The Turks were attacking (who eventually destroyed this castle), and she feared she would be taken hostage, so rather than face that, she jumped…
From the pictures, you can see she obviously couldn’t have made it into that river. Rather, she smashed into the rocks below and bled. The blood eventually reached the river, making it red, and since then, has been called The Lady’s River. True? Who knows? Who doesn’t love a good story, though? And, seriously, who doesn’t love being able to actually see the real castle of the man that Dracula was based upon?
On the way back down all of those stairs, we found this guy. Apparently I almost stepped on him and didn’t even notice! I am not a fan of bugs at all, and will not touch them (my friend made the mistake of trying to hand the stick to me so he could get a picture of it…), but even I will admit, he was beautiful. In a completely gross and disgusting kind of way…
After Poenari Castle we got back on the road. We had planned on doing the Transfăgărășan highway, however, we had had a few hiccups with our morning, and assuming the twisty mountain road would take longer, we backtracked a bit and went around the mountains. Still pretty views, but not the gorgeous ones. Oh well, not every trip goes according to plan…