Travel: Transylvania for suckers: Carole Cadwalladr fancied a ghouls' night out in Brasov, but she missed the incubus and could find nothing to get her teeth into
Saturday 28 May 1994
Brasov was the obvious starting point for the vampire tour because of its proximity to Castle Bran, which according to my guide book had been the home of Vlad the Impaler, believed by some to be the real-life inspiration for the mythical Dracula. The woman at the tourist office was not so sure.
'You want to go where?'
'He did not live here,' she said with a shrug.
Brasov is Romania's second city and has, like everywhere else in the country, suffered decades of neglect.
It was Sunday and the streets were empty. A few decrepit trolley buses lurched through the centre. The few people who were out looked terminally depressed.
We went off in search of taxi drivers, as they were obviously better sources of information than tourism officials. We found a disconsolate group of them at the bottom of Republicii, Brasov's main drag, which inexplicably boasts a Chanel boutique, sandwiched between near- empty food shops. They perked up when we approached.
'No.' They tried a different tack. The biggest and ugliest dug into his pocket and produced 200 lei, about 20p. 'Sex?' he inquired. We gave up and walked away.
At a kiosk, a copy of a newspaper caught my eye. It was called Dracula and was filled with stories of satanic child abuse and multiple rape, plus an interesting series on historical bloodbaths. There was, however, no handy advice on vampire hunting.
It was then that we met Sam and Liz, who were in Brasov renovating an orphanage. They had been on the dole in Birmingham for three years and had decided that Romania could only be a change for the better. 'Castle Bran? Don't bother. There's not one mention of Dracula in the whole place. Anyway it's probably closed. Most things here are.'
Accepting defeat, we decided to try Sighisoara, where Vlad was born. The train was packed with adolescent boys off to do military service, leaving the platform awash with weeping girlfriends and mothers. We asked them if they had seen Dracula, the movie. 'Oh yes,' replied one, without interest. 'Do you think I can get political asylum in Britain?' It seemed too cruel to say no. 'I went to Germany, to an agency to try and get wife,' he told us. 'But they took my money then reported me to the police.'
Sighisoara turned out to be the perfect gothic fantasy film set. Soaring medieval spires, cobbled streets and, at last, the evidence we were looking for: a plaque marked the house where Vlad was born. We took a photograph and went inside. The house was now a restaurant with vaulted ceilings and dark wooden furniture. What's more, it had a menu. The place was empty, and there was no sign of life. After a while a waitress sauntered up to the table.
'Tea?' we asked hopefully.
'Tea?' she replied.
I tried a different pronunciation, 'Tey?'
She laughed and walked away.
Back in the sunlight, we combed the town for Dracula gear. Just as we were giving up hope we saw an old woman selling assorted bric-a-brac spread on a rug on the ground. There were no T-shirts but there was a box of pills: 'Anti-baby,' she told us, 'made in USA'. Next to them was a solitary pair of plastic fangs. She named her price, and when we accepted it without a quibble, she threw in a pack of the anti-baby pills for good measure.
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