March 2018: I returned to Romania for 3 days with one goal in mind, to spend the night in Dracula’s castle. I missed out on an opportunity during my first visit to Romania in 2005 and it was time to make amends. I was with two friends, Frank and Jimmie and nothing was going to stop us. No vampires, werewolves and not even Frankenstein. Well maybe just the police or a bear but besides them we were going to stop at nothing until we stayed the night in Dracula’s castle. This is the story of our crazy adventure.

About Dracula

Who is Dracula? Dracula is a fictional vampire character created by the author, Bram Stoker. But the fictional character was inspired by a real man with the name Vlad Dracul, who was nicknamed Vlad the Impaler.  Vlad, a 15th century ruler of the Romanian region of Wallachia, earned the nickname Vlad the Impaler because of his preferred method of execution that involved impaling his enemies through long sharp like stakes and leaving them lined up veristically in rows to die a slow putrid death while he reportedly would feast on steak. Vlad’s blood lust against the Ottoman’s was fueled by revenge. He was kidnapped by them as a youth and subjected to unspeakable acts.

To Romanian’s, Vlad is similar to what George Washington is to the USA. He is a national hero and defender of Christianity who united a divided Romania to fend off the invading Muslim Ottoman Empire from modern day Turkey.

 

 

Location of Castle

Location of castle

Although the more picturesque and intact Bran castle is promoted as Dracula’s castle, it is likely he never even stayed there.  The only castle that is known to have been his residence is Poenari Castle. Bran castle may look more impressive but the location of Poenari in a remote forested mountain top overlooking the Carpathian Mountains is far more dramatic and wilder. For this reason, Poenari receives fewer visitors and gets very little attention from tourist brochures.  It is in ruins because of damage sustained from an earthquake in 1913 however most of the castle still exists and can be reached by climbing 1,480 stone steps through forest.

Dracula legend aside, Poenari castle is steeped in dark legend. When Vlad first observed the castle in the 1500’s it was in a state of disrepair. To rebuild it, Vlad used the slave labor of his peasants that revolted against him and captured Ottomans. Many of the prisoners died during the construction or were killed after it was complete when their services no longer needed. Countless bodies of prisoners are believed to be buried near or even beneath the castle.

Then there is the tragedy that befell Vlad’s wife. During an Ottoman siege of the castle, Vlad managed to escape via a secret passageway and by horseback, but his wife was not so lucky. She decided it was better to commit suicide than to be captured by the ottomans, so she jumped to her death from the tall walls of the castle.

There has been many reporting of supernatural events at the castle, and it has a long history of being associated with evil and vengeful spirits. i remember a documentary I watched about a group of descendants of Vlad that visited the castle at night a few decades ago. They immediately felt a dark unwelcoming presences and experienced unexplained phenomena, being bit, loud noises, or orbs, and the event ended in one of them almost dying from injuries that occurred from a rockslide.

The lonely castle on top of a mountain with all of its myths and mystery was exactly the kind of place I wanted to explore and spend the night and experience the full brunt of its terror. My first attempt in 2005 failed.

 

First Attempt 

During my first trip to Romania in May 2005, I planned to camp in Dracula’s castle with a girl friend. I planned the castle stay as part of a larger week long road trip in a Romanian Dacia car around Transylvania. At the time, the castle was shrouded in an eerie fog. We arrived at the lonely setting in the mountains in the later afternoon as it started to get dark.   There was a suspicious Gypsy guy hanging out in the parking lot who seemed very interested in our presence. Otherwise we were alone. We climbed up to the top passing numerous bright red salamanders. It was cold, and raining  and the castle without a roof was not very appealing at the time and we ended up deciding not to stay, and instead stayed in a guesthouse of a nearby community of descendants of Gypsys once known to serve Vlad Dracula, wgo gifted them the land where they now live.  The  decision to not stay in the castle was something I kicked myself over for many years until I decided to return and completeme my goal in  2018. 

Castle Tower

Salamanders we saw on the trail

View of the Transfagarasan Highway built by Communist Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu

Spending the Night in the Castle

In 2018 as part of a larger eastern Europe trip, I organized my 2nd attempt to sleep in the castle. This time it was with two of my friends, Jimmie and Frank. Our climb would need to be at night since our plane would arrive in Bucharest in the afternoon and we would need to drive a few hours to the castle from there to Curtea de Agres. This worked out because climbing under the cover of darkness was safer anyways to avoid being detected by the authorities, since there would be no doubt that this would be considered trespassing.  I surveilled the area of the castle via Google Earth and devised a strategy. There is a lot of forest around but the steep cliffs, darkness and wild bears living in the area all posed a danger. The easiest route to the castle would be via the established steps adjacent to a small hydroelectric building.

Google Earth location of Poenari castle

Our plan was to stay in a nearby new guesthouse that had popped up since my last visit. The guesthouse was about a mile from the entrance, and we made this our base to leave our vehicle and packs before climbing the castle.   We ended up arriving at the guesthouse around 11pm.    We packed up a small backpack with warm clothing because it was freezing outside but rain wasn’t in the forecast. We also packed a sleeping bag and some beer for the castle.

We set off from our room in dark clothes with our flashlights off trying to be as clandestine as possible. We snuck out the room and immediately a sentry dog started barking and the night watch men at our guesthouse observed us. So much for clandestine. But I figured we had nothing to hide, we were just going on a night walk. The hotel was located in a natural place next to a river so going on a night walk was perfectly within reason.

Scary Encounter During the Climb

We walked for a mile along the lonely Transfagarasan Highway, the mountain highway built in the 70s by Romanian dictator Cheshecau at the cost of the lives of 40 soldiers to ward off a Soviet invasion.  We reached the forest entrance to the steps that lead up to the castle, but it was blocked off by a fence and gate and was adjacent to a hydroelectric power station. There was a Dracula campground and a small office kiosk, but no one was camping, and the kiosk looked empty. We decided to go for it and tip toed over the top of a fence. As soon as we did a motion light was activated exposing us, so we hurried off to the cover of the forest.  It seemed no one noticed us so we continued walking until we heard a vehicle pull up to the road.  We turned off our flashlights and stood in complete darkness. We continued to walk slowly up the trail. Then a man started to yell at us from below and I thought for sure we would be pursued so we started to walk faster up the stairs. I knew that we would never get caught since there were many escape routes through the forest providing the dogs weren’t released on to us.  We stood in silence for a few minutes hoping the man, maybe a police officer, security guard, we didn’t know would go away. Then as we stood in silence, a huge crashing sound erupted around us that sounded like a large animal charging us through the forest.  My immediate thought was it must be a bear. After all there was a warning bear sign at the beginning of the trail and the castle was known to have bears and wolves that sometimes seek shelter inside of it. We had no choice but to turn on the flashlight for a moment to make sure we were not standing eye to eye with a bear or something worse. When we did, we heard whistling and approaching footsteps below from the man who must have spotted our light, so we quickly turned it off without enough time to look around us to see if here was a bear nearby, we decided to keep moving… There wasn’t enough moonlight to light our way, but we could walk by feeling the steps. We kept climbing and it seemed that whatever came at us was no longer with us and the footsteps ceased. We agreed that if we get into a Foot chase it was everyman for themself and that we would all rendezvous back at the hotel room. Getting arrested in Romania was not an option.

After an hour of slowly climbing the 1480 steps, we reached another gate at the entrance of the castle. Luckily for us the gate was open and before us where the towering, silhouetted walls of poenari castle. The mannequins impaled on stakes beside the castle startled us and we weren’t expecting them. We climbed up the castle ruin to the top on to a wall where we perched ourselves with a perfect bird’s eye view of everything below including the two police or security vehicles parked at the bottom. We kept expecting the possibility of a police officer to emerge at any moment and at times we thought we could hear footsteps on the other side of the wall but whenever we looked there was nothing there.

After an hour on top of the castle we started to relax and figured that we were probably safe now and we began to relax and drink our beers and explore the castle. The walls were all open since the ceilings had long ago collapsed leaving only a fesurviving archways and a dungeaun looking chamber that was at the bottom of a 40′ pit.

We returned to our perch and watched as the vehicles were still parked with their headlights on. It seemed they were possibly waiting for us and would ambush us once we exited the pathway. Out of paranoia, we didn’t sleep in the castle and instead we remained wide awake sitting on top of our sleeping bags to stay warm in the bitterly cold wind. We decided to try and sneak out of the castle before sunrise to avoid being seen and sometime around 4am, long after the vehicles departed below, we decided to make our escape from the castle, and we fled over the fence of the Dracula campground and returned to our guesthouse where we managed to get a few hours of sleep.

We came to Dracula’s Castle to experience something supernatural, but we ended up being terrorized by the living instead of the dead. But to this day none of us can explain what the creature was that charged us in the woods.

Jimmie, Frank and I in the castle

Jimmie, Frank and I in the castle

Frank and Jimmie

The next morning after we emerged from our guesthouse in daylight, we explored Transfagarasan Highway in our rental car and caught our first view of Poenari castle and we could see the wall where we spent the night perched.

Poenari Castle

Transfagarasan Highway

The next day we drove up the Transfagarasan Highway to some of the higher elevations, where we visited the damn built during communist times and a stunning high alpine lake and some small medieval rural Transylvanian villages where horse buggies are still a common sight. Afterwards, we drove back to Bucharest, an adventure in itself. Things had changed a lot in Romania since my first visit. The new two-lane highway from Bucharest, which now made most of the trip to Curtea de Agres a lot faster was convenient but hectic to drive on. There is one fast lane and one slow lane and the disparity in speeds between the two lanes was staggering.  Cars would drive 100mph easily in the fast lane and it was common for a Porche or some mafiaso style of luxury muscle car to appear out of nowhere suddenly riding my tail blinking their headlight at me to move over. As soon as I switched to the slow lane, I might have to drastically slow down to get behind a horse cart or an old sputtering Dacia from the communist era that is going 20 mph. After a few hours on the highway of constantly speeding up and drastically slowing down between the slow and fast lane I was exhausted and ready for an easy night in Bucharest before flying home the next morning.

Alpine Lake

Communist Era Vidraru Damn

Communist Era Statue commermerating the conquest of man over nature by building the damn

Village House

Graveyard

Family on horsecart

13 + 15 =

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