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Hallowe'en in Transylvania

This Hallowe'en, I will be sleeping in a castle nestled in the Carpathian Mountains in an area that used to be known as Transylvania. Yes, I'm talking Romania. Let this be a cautionary tale to every wife who thinks her husband is not listening. Mine was.

We love Hallowe'en and celebrate it come drought or high water. A few years ago, we literally drove North to within 10 degrees of the Arctic circle in order to participate in a ham radio contest that extended from the end of October to early November. On October 31st, our lonely trailer in the wilderness was decorated with battery-operated jack-o'-lanterns, plump plastic bats hanging from threads, and full-sized cut-out vampires that blew off the outside doors in a hail storm. Who cared if only the bears could see our pumpkins' flicker in the window?

About May of this year, my husband asked, "What do you want to do on Hallowe'en?" And I told him. I'd heard of a trip that started at Bucharest (Romania) and proceeded to trace the route Jonathan Harker took in the first chapters of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula." The journey led that unsuspecting solicitor to the doorstep of the prototypical vampire who invited him into his castle with the words, "Enter freely and of your own will." At every step of retracing that famous journey, there would be an accompanying historian to explain the culture, history and significance of sites and of the events surrounding them.

The seven-day adventure featured wonderful stop-offs. For example, on October 29th, guests stay in Sighisoara – the best-preserved 15th century walled city in Europe (most of the ones in Poland were bombed out of existence, I presume). This is the birthplace of the historical figure Vlad Dracula (1431) upon whom many believe the Stoker book is based. There, a witch-trial will be re-enacted by 20 local actors, just one example of thousands of trials held across Europe between the 15th and the 18th centuries.

[Note to self: downplay how much you enjoy vampire movies. Remember that many Romanians consider Vlad to be a national hero who held back the Turks and, so, they resent the trivialization/commercialization of him as a vampire. Rather like Americans might resent Hungarians visiting D.C. to celebrate the werewolf George Washington.]

The next overnight stop is Bistritz – a 12th century town in northern-central Transylvania which used to be on the main rail line from Vienna and Budapest, the route to doom that Harker takes in "Dracula." Like Harker, modern guests dine at the Golden Crown Hotel on a dish of "robber's steak," which Stoker described as "bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper and strung on sticks, and roasted over the fire." The wine served will be Golden Mediasch. Robber's steak: the imagination runs wild with images of dastardly men huddled around a campfire that is the only brightness in many miles, as they recall a hard days' work of looting the unwary who were travelling through the Carpathian passes.

The culmination of the trip? At sunset, guests arrive at the majestic and wild-forested Pass of Borgo, where Count Dracula met the carriage in which Harker rode. There houses are so rare that each one has a private cemetery and, as Harker commented, "The old centuries had, and have, powers of their own, that mere u2018modernity' cannot kill." From here, modern guests proceed to castle Dracula or, at least, to a castle that is as close (in proximity) to the one described by Stoker. But, unlike Harker, modern guests get to attend a Hallowe'en party, complete with actors who circulate as vampires during the evening.

All this and more I told my husband in innocence, never suspecting that he would immediately book reservations and pay in advance so I could not back out. Why would I back out? Duh. Let me correct my opening line. “This Hallowe'en, I will NOT be sleeping in a castle nestled in the Carpathian Mountains in an area that used to be known as Transylvania." I will be wide-awake, repeating to myself, "I do not believe in vampires!" Moreover, I will be waking my husband every five minutes, if necessary to have him join in the mantra.

Among my many reactions: what should I pack? The question came up specifically in relation to the Hallowe'en Party for which we were urged to bring costumes. There is no way I would tote an extra and bulky suitcase around Europe in order to dress up for four hours. On the other hand, we were going to wear astounding costumes that would put the vampires in their place.

The solution evolved. First of all, I envisioned costumes that consisted largely of clothing we could use as everyday wear and, so, not "waste" luggage space. This translated into black Reeboks, black slacks, black sweaters. (And, yes, we decided to more or less match.) With a black background to work with – so to speak – I wanted to find two masks to "carry" the costume so that all you really focused on were the masks themselves. If they were artistic enough, then they could also do double duty as artwork to hang on our wall as a constant reminder of a wonderful time.

We found a craftswoman who sculpts subdued but beautiful leather masks of animals. To view our choices, click here and scroll down to the Bobcat (mine) and the White and Brown Wolf (Brad's).

Once I started envisioning the costumes, however, they seemed too plain. I wanted a bit of flash and flare. So a girlfriend and I scoured our rural county for the perfect material from which to make capes. We found it. The material is similar to nylon in feel – the sort of fabric from which less expensive lingerie is sometimes made. Slippery like satin, with almost no weight, impossible to wrinkle, and a marked tendency to billows out behind as you walk. The cloth is black on one side, with a rather nice pattern of silver spiders on the other. Each of our capes comes down to our calves, with the black side being "out" and the spiders being "in" to resemble a lining. When folded, the two capes fit into a large Ziploc bag. Costumes accomplished!

And, so, now we sit with packed bags and worried dogs, who just know a kennel-visit awaits them. Soon we'll be flying out on Malev Hungarian Airlines to adventure in Transylvania. Chills, thrills, and wonderful food is in our future.

Do I "forgive" my husband for actually listening to what I was saying? Well, let's say the score will be settled over coffee on November 1st, when I take my first sip and ask the man in my best bored voice, "So, what are you planning for me next year?"

October 31, 2004