I’m going to venture a guess that there is no such thing as the Romanians with Disabilities Act. Or if there is, its enforcers need to host a fund raiser tout de suite. I draw this conclusion based on the fact that getting onto a Romanian train is about as easy as climbing a tree. With no branches. And with one hand tied behind your back. While being attacked by bees. And climbing onto a Romanian train with 40 pounds of luggage strapped on your ailing shoulders borders on impossible. And I say this as someone relatively youthful and in pretty good shape.
In the same vein, I don’t know why, but I’ve been found out. Throughout my travels I have blended in remarkably well. I am often mistaken for German or Italian or French, and more than one American has said that I “don’t look American,” whatever that means. Regardless, it seems I have something of a “generic European” face that somehow always looks local…except in Romania. The Romanians are quite dark, and blond hair is a relative rarity. Thus, for the first time, I am attracting scads of attention, which manifests in young men sitting all around me on the trains, engaging in a wide variety of antics in order to gain my interest.
The antics involve staring, shrieking, singing, clapping, hissing, raucous talking and laughter, more staring (standing up to stare over the seats even), drumming on the windows, and – during one unforgettably surreal hour – blaring Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” from a cell phone over and over and over. Yesterday, I tried changing seats (in an empty car, they will always sit next to and behind me), but they move too. It’s not a problem per se. I don’t feel threatened, just annoyed.
To be frank, I don’t understand the motivation. I suppose my obvious foreignness is fascinating somehow. They don’t speak English, so it’s a pointless effort, but what can you do?
I am going through some of this right now on the train from Sighisoara back to Brasov. Today it’s seven guys in their early twenties, and they are playing what I can only imagine is some local “rock’ music. It sounds an awful lot like a mix of polka and the background music at Indian restaurants…which I suppose, geographically speaking, it about right. One of the guys is wearing a red nylon jacket with a dozen Vodaphone, Bridgestone, and Shell gas patches sewn on it. I don’t know if this is an attempt to look like a heavily endorsed Nascar driver or what. I would hope if Shell and Bridgestone were paying his way, they’d at least put him on the bus. Meanwhile, they’re clapping and foot-stomping and staring at me, but that seems to be par for the course.
Otherwise, I’m hopeful of getting off at the right stop the first time around, and getting a day off from the trains. Riding the Romanian rails is rough. The heat is cranked up incredibly high, cigarette smoking is allowed, and there is no ventilation whatsoever. Plus, the seats are hard as a rock. After a few hours of it, you feel like a piece of beef jerky. I got to my guest house yesterday with a seriously sore butt and stinking like a pub.
I am staying the next couple nights in Brasov, Romania in the heart of Transylvania. The whole area is a strange mix of an over the top “Dracula” tourist trap and the Kazakhstan of Borat. The ‘real’ Dracula (or as close as it gets) was born in Sighisoara, where I stayed last night. Actually, he was born in what is now the “Casa Vlad Dracu” restaurant, where I ate my not-very-good but quite overpriced dinner. I was given a 50% off ‘coupon’ (something written on a scrap of paper) by my guest house and options were extremely scarce, so I figured why not. If you ever have the opportunity, may I suggest not.
Meanwhile, let me catch you up on little Transylvanian history: Vlad Tepes, a local governer in the area in the mid-1400s is the man known has Dracula. His father was called Vlad Dracul (dragon) for his membership in the “Order of the Dragon” (or devil. Apparently the word is interchangeable). As a young man, Vlad Tepes was sent by his father to the Ottoman Empire as a hostage. There he learned the art of impalement (inserting a large wooden stake into someone, intentionally avoiding the vital organs, so that they suffered a slow agonizing death), which he brought home with him. During his rule, Dracula (known as Vlad the Impaler) killed murderers, thieves, political rivals, the destitute, and the crippled this way. In short, he wasn’t immortal, he never sucked anyone’s blood, and he probably couldn’t turn into a bat, but he was still a bad dude.
Why Bram Stoker decided to write about a real guy, but change it up such is a mystery. Similarly, Bran Castle (apparently denoted as Dracula’s home in the novel) is outside Brasov, but the only thing Vlad the Impaler had to do with it, is that his grandfather had lived there and ‘Dracula’ himself was once imprisoned in the basement by the Hungarian king. Nonetheless, I may take the bus out to castle and the Rasnov fortress tomorrow, in large part because there really isn’t that much to do. The day after is the dreaded, all-day train ride to Sofia. If only they provided plugs or my computer battery lasted more than 2.5 hours. I might not be considering buying coloring books or Sudoku puzzles or whatever sad entertainment is available to me.
On the other hand, no need to focus on that just yet. I still have a full day in Transylvania ahead of me, and who knows what kind of wonders await!?