Finally, we hit an actual motorway and it was lovely – long, straight, smooth and completely empty! Romania had, at that time, just 176 miles of motorway in the whole country. We were extremely happy to be on that small section of it. Will was beaming. We drove 117 kilometres to the town of Sibiu and had another delicious, and cheap, meal in a restaurant on the town square surrounded by gothic, medieval and renaissance architecture. A stunning backdrop for another great meal. This was the only time in our lives we sat in a restaurant without having checked the menu and prices first. We also slept that night in a corporate motel, and it was on the drive there in the early evening dusk, as I saw a bat lazily flap away from us, that the actual realisation hit me: I am in Transylvania and it is night-time.
Slept well. No weird dreams. I knew I would be safe though because I packed my wooden stake (I’m not even joking – I have one that I keep by the bed. Will made it for me). Here in Romania, I was fulfilling a lifelong fascination/ obsession/fear with vampires. I was ‘into’ vampires before it was trendy; I cannot even remember the film I must have seen to trigger it, probably a Hammer House of Horror masterpiece that was on one Saturday night in the ’70s, but from a ridiculously young age, I have always slept with the duvet up to my chin and the windows shut no matter what the temperature. I can just about have the window open now as a rational adult because I reason that when (not if) they do come in, hopefully, they will get Will first. Mosquitos always do so why not vampires? He obviously has much tastier blood than me. You only have to say the name Danny Glick and that’s it, I will not sleep that night. I like my vampires properly gothic, old school and bloodthirsty, none of these newfangled, out-in-daylight, seem-quite-human excuses for the undead. Romania had ‘real’ vampires in the shape of Vlad Tepes, and we visited his lifetime haunts, Poenari Fortress and Bran Castle. I touched walls that Vlad may have brushed against as he rushed to fight off the Turks.
And then there was the fictional Dracula. On a dark and stormy night, we drove up the Borga Pass through the town of Bistrita where Jonathan Harker spent the night before travelling on to Castle Dracula. It was renamed Bistritz in the novel. By the time we were approaching the castle it was dark; the road was lonely – it wound through mountains and forests – and there was an actual electric storm going on that was so atmospheric we wondered if it was a special effect put on by the hotel to freak their guests out. I was wondering it, not sure if anyone else was that gullible.
Hotel Castle Dracula is a modern-looking hotel with gothic overtones built on the exact spot where Bram Stoker wrote it as being. We knew it was the right place because it said it in blood-red lighting on the side (gulp). Lightning flashed across the sky and illuminated our way across the car park to an enormous studded wooden door (double gulp).
We had to open it ourselves, no hunchbacked manservant did it for us. Inside, the reception area was decorated with stuffed animals and low-hanging candelabras of exactly the kind Peter Cushing would have swung on to tear down the curtains and transform Christopher Lee to dust (huge gulp).
Meredith went straight to bed as she was already feeling unwell, even before the night of expected bloodletting. Will, Walt, Doris and I went to the half-empty, enormous dining room with a lot of windows (so many points of entry!) and ate a meal of meat and onions and peppers impaled on swords. It was brilliant, food and a weapon in one. A foot and a half high, one sword between two. A superb feast, perfectly suited to the setting. And then it was bedtime. Now we were going to have to try and sleep in this place. We accompanied Walt down the corridor to the room he was sharing with Meredith. For some reason he was slightly unwilling to go there alone. Meredith was in there, sleeping peacefully, with the windows fully open and the long, white curtains fluttering into the room on a gentle breeze. Meredith’s beautiful, dark red hair was spread out on the white pillow, framing her pale face. She did not stir when we entered. Sleeping so deeply, you could barely see her breathing. On her perfectly white nightie, a single drop of blood made a stain on the collar.
I’m kidding! There was no blood – she was just sleeping – and she’s always pale. We said goodnight to Walt and left him to close those windows and get into bed. It had been a long, hot day and we were all exhausted.
I did not sleep a wink. Partly because it was so hot and especially so with the duvet tucked under my chin for protection. After a few hours of this, I reasoned that a duvet was not much protection and that the sleeping form of Will closest to the window was probably my best chance of surviving the night. And my stake under the pillow of course. I am not completely mad, but I do have a vivid imagination, and vampires have been under my skin and in my brain for too long now to be dislodged by reason or maturity. What I was really worried about was that it may be gimmick put on by the hotel, to scare their guests to death in the night. Although that probably would not get you great reviews on Tripadvisor. I just did not want to hear any scratching on the window. That’s all.
I must have slept a little despite all the crazy in my head because I remember opening my eyes to sunshine and breathing a sigh of relief that day had dawned. On flinging open the curtains I saw how I had slept so peacefully. On the hillside opposite was an enormous crucifix. I am a devout atheist but, in that moment, I would believe anything you want me to.
That hotel was without a doubt the best hotel we have ever stayed in. Generous-sized rooms, comfortable beds, clean, efficient showers in luxury bathrooms and great food. Two rooms, dinner for four and breakfast for five cost less than a hundred pounds.
Extracted from Juliet Greenwood’s new book, We Can Drive There.