January 16, 2008 GMT
No.5 Audience with Dracula.

Romania....and Transylvania.

This was going to be the stuff of real adventures. Dark, impenetrable pine forests...mountains shrouded in mist...medieval villages suspiciously devoid of people...murderous looking men and their murderous looking dogs...

I'd grown up with images of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing grappling with wooden stakes, garlic and each other in the Hammer film of 1958, 'Dracula' and I was now crossing into the film set. I pulled up my collar and eased the bike into first gear...

Yes. It was all here - together with communist architecture and pollution. Over the next few days, I steered my way around horses and carts, wild dogs, pot holed roads, ancient cars and trucks belching out diesel fumes - enough to drive a man to drink. It did.

I crossed the Fagaras mountains in thick fog and after a long forested descent I rode into sight of Dracula's castle......

click here to see the full story

Dracula. Gypsy folklore or fact? Click on MORE below to to read some chilling tales.....stories that will make the blood drain from your neck - and other parts.

So, who was Dracula? Fact or Fiction? Had he existed or was he merely a figment of Bram Stoker's vivid imagination? Thumbing through my 'Rough Guide' (Highly Recommended) one dark and stormy night my attention was drawn to the section entitled ' Dracula and Vampires'. I read on...

The early 1800s. Now that was when REAL travelers were journeying to the darkest corners of Europe. Incidents of Vampirism were rife at that time and lurid accounts abounded. Apparently, the first 'respectable' piece on the theme was Goethe's 'The Bride of Corinth' (1797). Polidori wrote 'The Vampyre' while holidaying at Lake Geneva, Switzerland and on the same trip, Mary Shelley had penned 'Frankenstein'. Obviously something in the water....

Later that century, Bram Stoker, an Anglo-Irish civil servant(!), was inspired to write his classic novel 'Count Dracula'.

Perhaps influenced by stories of Vlad the Impaler (1431-76) a successful but cruel ruler who's victims once bound spreadeagled had a wooden stake hammered into their rectum before being hoisted aloft to die painfully. Brought tears to their eyes - it did mine.

The most horrific tale was in 1462 when Vlad's armies defeated a Turkish army and had over 20,000 Turkish and Bulgarian captives impaled. I suspect Tourism was down in 1463.

In 2005, I saw no examples of impaling on my travels and the people I met were genuinely friendly and helpful. Admittedly I didn't meet many as I was still on 'Stop? No, ride on' frame of mind. I will come back to this fascinating country again and explore it more slowly. Meanwhile 'on' ...to Bulgaria.

'Hey, Si. What about the last frame of the comic strip?!'

All will be revealed in the next exciting episode!

Posted by Simon Roberts at January 16, 2008 10:25 PM GMT

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