Explorer in Residence: Mark Terry Gets Bitten In Transylvania
Have you been bitten by the travel bug? If your destination of choice is Transylvania, you may want to check to see what really bit you! While not your typical vacation spot, this untouched region of Romania is a paradise for those looking for trips off the beaten path. I arranged this trip when I was married for my wife who had a penchant for the traditional Dracula. We began our Romania tour with an overnight stay in the capital, Bucharest. Having just opened its borders to Western tourism relatively recently, we were given the royal treatment. Beautiful hotels, crystal chandeliers and lavishly prepared and abundant meals followed us everywhere. The city was big with ominous buildings and wide streets, but seemingly lacking in population. Staircases to the main library were as long as a city block and as steep as the steps leading to Montmartre in Paris. Our bus took us to several stops throughout the country along the Carpathian Mountains. Each place heralded some aspect of Dracula’s life: his school, his church, his castles and even where the villagers hid from him. Oh yes, I should point out that Dracula is not a fictional character. He was actually the Prince of Wallachia, a region that included Transylvania. His actual name was Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler for his habit of impaling his victims in his rose garden. His father, the former ruler of Wallachia, was called “Dracul” – or the “Devil” – since he introduced taxation to his people. His son, therefore, was called Dracula – the “son of” the Devil. One of our first stops was Brasov, the capital city of Brasov County, about 166 km north of Bucharest. It is surrounded by the Southern Carpathian Mountains and is part of the Transylvania region. Here, we were entertained by gypsy musicians and opera singers. We also visited Dracula’s first school and had lunch inside a hill in the Black Forest – a place called the Outlaw’s Hideaway. This is where villagers hid to avoid Dracula’s wrath. About 16 km southwest of here is the small town of Bran, most famous for Bran Castle, known to everyone else as Dracula’s Castle. This was where he ruled from and the gothic architecture is both beautiful and eerie at the same time. It is immaculately preserved and definitely worth the trip to visit. About 80 km northeast of here is the medieval town of Sighisoura (pronounced “Zhiggy-swora”). This was where Dracula was born and raised and the town is a step back in time. All buildings have doors far too small for the average person of today’s height to enter without bending and locals still prefer to travel by ox cart. Cobble-stone streets and local artists add to the village’s vintage charm. Nearby is the town of Sibiu – the capital of Transylvania - where you’ll find the Brukenthal National Museum. What impressed me most about this museum was the size of the paintings. Local artists created incredible renderings of lifelike images of wolves and battles the size of our highway billboards! While here, don’t forget to visit the Lutheran Cathedral, home to one of Eastern Europe’s largest organ – boasting an ear-shattering 6,000 pipes! Sibiu is soon to become a World Heritage Site for its amazing ability to maintain its buildings, architecture and culture since the 1200s! Forbes Magazine called it “Europe's 8th most idyllic place to live". But the one place everyone wants to visit on a trip to Transylvania is Dracula’s Castle (he had many of them) in Fagaras (pronounced “Fa-ga-razh”). On Hallowe’en night, the locals throw an incredible bash in the castle’s dungeon, including a 12-course meal and a different bottle of local wine with each course. Don’t worry about getting drunk or too full – the dinner is spread out over six hours! And if vampires aren’t your scene, you’ll want to tour Transylvania’s many natural springs, sulphur baths and health spas. The healing waters here are visited by Europeans year-round and you won’t find a more affordable spa anywhere in the world. I had a massage that cost me only 10 cents!
Mark Terry, Explorer in Residence
Mark Terry is a Fellow International member of The Explorers Club and recipient of the Canadian chapter’s highest honor, the Stefansson Medal for his international field work “documenting our natural world”. As well as a Community Leader for the David Suzuki Foundation, Mark is also this year’s winner of the Gemini Humanitarian Award, presented by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television in recognition of his work with the United Nations with his documentaries. Working closely with the world’s scientific community in Antarctica and the Arctic earned him the recognition of the United Nations Environment Programme in 2008. His last two films – The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning and The Polar Explorer – were made in partnership with the UNEP and both premiered at the Climate Change Conferences in Copenhagen and Cancun. Together, both films have won 20 international film awards for excellence. As a member of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Canadian Council for Geographic Education, the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the University of Alberta's Northern Research Network, Mark lectures and speaks regularly about the environmental issues affecting the fragile eco-systems of the polar regions and, by extension, the world.