Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

A Visit to Dracula’s Tomb

A Visit to Dracula’s Tomb
Vlad Tepes – the original Dracula

Romania is a beautiful country. I had plenty of time to admire it since it takes forever to get anywhere in that country. In the land of Dracula, it’s not vampires that one should dread but the slow transportation system. Communism’s lazy hand still lingers over the land when it comes to public transportation. In much poorer countries like Egypt you can always get something from bus, minivan, to camel to get you just about anywhere.

Enterprising Romanians are making efforts, however, to make mass public transportation more effective (note: this was in 2003). Mini-van taxis called “Maxi-Taxis” are springing up in many areas providing short-distance travel for locals and intrepid independent travelers. Still for those short on time, it might be best to go on a tour where the transportation is reliable and guaranteed.


Count Dracula – Romania’s cash cow that sucks up the tourist dollars

I just wanted to go a simple 38 kilometers from Bucharest to see the tomb of Dracula, Vlad Tepes, the notorious fifteenth century ruler of Romania. Only a few buses go there a day and they only run every two or three hours. By the time we finally reached the small village of Snagov where Vlad Tepes is buried, it was late afternoon. Our guidebook neglected to mention that the tomb and the bus stop are a few kilometers apart. We were forced to walk two or three kilometers with our heavy backpacks. I was in my usual spirits at times like this; i.e. complaining up a storm about inefficient Romanian public transportation and the laziness of travel book writers who probably never go anywhere that they write about but just read encyclopedias and make up the rest of the stuff.

Vlad Tepes’ tomb is inside a small monastery located on an island in the middle of a lake. I had to rent a boat in order to reach it. The boat rental place was closed because it was an off day, so I had to pay inflated prices – about $15 as opposed to the usual $3 – to rent a boat. What I got was a disgrace to nautical engineering. Our boat was more bathtub than boat. At least we were given proper oars and not the planks of rotten wood they had originally planned to give us.


Snagov Monastery – the resting(?) place of Dracula

I let my long-term traveling companion, Deirdre, handle the oars of our little rowboat-bathtub first as she has stronger arms than me (a fact she rarely ever brings up). I took over once we were out of sight of shore and the possible ridicule of my boating skills that might have followed had anyone seen me. After going around in three circles, I got us back on track to the island.

On the island we were met by a man whom we thought was a priest. He greeted us warmly with the grace of God then asked us for $6 photo charge. Since we had already taken pictures of the outside before he arrived, we politely declined.


Dee with one of the small children of the night

Our religious faith was further stretched when the priest then asked us for 10 Euros to enter the monastery. After making sure he meant 10 European dollars and not 10 European people, I took a good look at the monastery to see if it were worth such a price. Only slightly larger than a breadbox with an inside covered in scaffolding, I decided that 10 Euros for the monastery was a wee bit too high of price to pay especially considering how the normal price was less than one Euro.

I was besides myself in anger and despair. I had really wanted to come here and was willing to make any sacrifice necessary to do so. Prior to coming to Romania, I became obsessed with Dracula. I wanted to visit all of the places associated with the historical Dracula – Vlad Tepes – and Snagov being reputedly his final resting place was naturally on my list.


Dee, Drac, and Dave

Despite the lack of transportation to Snagov, I had been willing to submit to an inconvenient bus schedule. I really had no plans on how to leave Snagov either save hitchhiking. I had dragged Deirdre along with me who could have cared less about an old dusty tomb then I marched us both to the shore with our heavy packs. I let myself get ripped off on the bathtub boat which I rowed with less ease then I’d like to admit. Now near the end of a trying day with my goal in sight I had a crooked priest trying to rip me off.

I numbly handed over 5 Euro note but I hesitated on pulling out the rest. I didn’t have much cash on me and I still had to get us out of Snagov somehow and find a hotel for the night. Deirdre pulled the note from the greedy priest’s hand and gave it back to me. Suddenly I realized that despite all the hardships it took to get here, somehow it wasn’t worth it. A slight inflation of the price I might have accepted or even been willing to offer but this priest pushed too far and even my Dracula obsession couldn’t overcome my indignation and my overall cheapness.

The priest understood our spiritual plight and told us in the most polite way to get off the island. He had some flunky with him who spoke a little English but he didn’t speak very much except to make sexist comments about Deirdre and laugh at us like one of those villainous sidekicks that aren’t too bright and just laugh at whatever their bosses say even if it isn’t funny.

Taking our boat back into the water resulted in a comedy of errors. I was so angry at the priest and the cackling village idiot that I couldn’t control that stupid bathtub of a boat we were in. The boat kept going around and around in circles as Deirdre traded insults with the two gentlemen. I became so angry at one point that I stood up in the boat and told the two quite loudly that they should engage in Biblical relations with themselves. A wicked enraged thought passed quickly through my mind that I should moon the pair. I have no idea know why this particular desperate, depraved action came to mind. I hadn’t mooned anyone since junior high.

I brought down my zipper and was about to execute an about-face to unbutton my pants and release their cargo when suddenly I realized such an action would probably capsize the boat. I would have rather drowned than be rescued by those jerks so I sat back down and tried to row again. Eventually I got us away.


Me and Vlad

Overall the experience was a Pyrrhic Victory. The scheming duo didn’t get any money from us and we got our pictures but we didn’t see the tomb. They, in turn, got to laugh at something for a while and thereby were able to relieve themselves for a few moments of the tedious boredom they must apparently suffer from. So we were both winners and losers in this sad affair though I still relish the idea of tipping the scales in my favor by slipping back to that island one day and burning down their houses.

The irony of the situation is that these two tried to rip us off in seeing the tomb of a man who was known for his fierce policy of honesty. With long, sharp, pointy sticks, Vlad Tepes used to treat the prostrate glands of dishonest merchants who had the cheek to cheat and overcharge their customers. Had Vlad been around today, that so-called priest and his flunky would have quickly gotten acquainted to splinters in the most embarrassing of places.

Vlad Tepes was a cruel man living in cruel times. The name Dracula was a title meaning “son of the Dragon” which was in reference to the fact that both he and his father belonged to an association of royal knights called the “Order of the Dragon.” In Romanian, Dracula has a double meaning which is “son of the Devil.” Enemies of Vlad Tepes began to use this meaning implying that he was the “son of the Devil” because as prince, Vlad was one mean son of a bitch. This double meaning is what inspired Bram Stoker to choose the name Dracula for his vampiric villain.

Vlad Tepes was a Prince of the Romanian province Wallachia and Lord of Transylvania. His realm was bedeviled by thieves, plotting nobles, corrupt merchants, and Turks – yet it was blissfully free of vampires. Vlad’s solution to the majority of these problems was impalement. Tepes was another title given to him (though probably never mentioned to his face) which means: “the Impaler.”

Vlad Tepes ruthlessly cleaned out the thieves and bandits of his territory to such an extent that according to legend, he was able to leave a golden cup outdoors in the center of his capital of Targoviste and none would dare steal it. Anyone caught stealing knew they would end up at the top of a long stake.


Vlad dines amongst the impaled

Impalement was an awful way to die in a time when there were many awful ways to die but dammit! I can’t think of nicer bunch of bastards who deserve it more.

I don’t think of these two as representative of Romanian people. Such experiences are not common place in Romania but, as with anywhere you go, there is bound to be some scheming fellows who will try to earn an extra buck or euro or bean or whatever the local currency is, off of the tourists. That they were Romanian has little to do with my dislike of them or my desire to set fire to their homes. That they were bastards trying to rip me off had everything to do with my dislike of them and my desire to set fire to their homes.

The rest of my time in Romania was great even with the slow transportation. Romania is incredible country filled with fascinating sites from crumbling Gothic castles to fortified churches and painted monasteries. I love traditional Romanian food and culture. As for the Romanians, they are quite friendly, honest, and very helpful, but it seems as with those two on the island that Vlad didn’t impale all the bad apples when he had the chance.


Vlad gets a kiss from Dee

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October 29, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, Dracula, halloween, Romania, Snagov, travel, vampire, Vlad Tepes

5 Comments »

  1. This story took place in 2003 so the problems I had with public transportation maybe a thing of the past now. I mainly only problem in Wallachia but not in Bucherest itself. Romania is a great country with or without Dracula.

    Comment by samuraidave | October 29, 2007 | Reply

  2. The thing I like about this story/my experience in retrospect is obsession and the worth of something. When I original planned the trip it was to be a 3 week trip starting in Germany with Oktoberfest and ending in Prague before heading back to frankfurt airport. I had plan to do a circle thru the countries from Munich to Prague and the idea occured to me to extend the circle to Romania for a bit of Dracula.

    It started to become an obsession. The original two days I slated for the journey in the end turned into 10-11 days which was longer than we spent anywhere else on the journey.

    The journey to the grave was when my obsession was at its highest. I was willing to drag us out there where we had to hike heavy bags and all for several kilometers. And then we were presented with that bathtub boat to row out there – which they horribly overcharged me for.

    A number of people would probably have given up long before that when they realize the transportation difficulties … but not me. I didn’t tell Dee but I didn’t really have an exit strategy on how we would even get out of there and where we would stay that night. All my energies were focused on getting to that damn tomb.

    Then when the priest asked for that absurd amount, I still was about to pay thinking about all the effort and grief it took to get there. But when Dee snatched the money from hands, I suddenly realized it just wasn’t worth it. The monastry at the time as I mentioned was under restoration in the interior so the photos would have been rather uninspiring.

    I was still mad as hell because I had come all that and then nearly got ripped off. And as some scholars have mentioned about the unlikeliness of Snagov being Vlad’s grave, I already knew there was doubt that Vlad was even buried there.

    What made the story though was the irony of the situation. As I mentioned in the story, Vlad was famous or rather infamous for his stern policies on theft and honesty and here were two gents scheming to get more money out me to see his grave! Vlad would have had them up top an impalement stake in a heartbeat.

    In the past, I’ve had comments before from self-righteous holier-than-thou types harping on about this story being racist against Romanians clearly and utterly missed the point of the story either delibrately or stupidly that the two gents’ nationality in the story really was immaterial. Had this been some other site, the incident wouldn’t have been so poignant and ironic. As I stated before because this happened at the grave of a man who impaled such cheating merchants in his day that made the whole thing worthy of story in itself and gave me a chance to divulge a bit of Vlad’s history to the reader. And it just adds to whole thing that he might not even be buried there to begin with!

    Comment by samuraidave | November 1, 2007 | Reply

  3. I read a notice once of a supposed to be tomb Vlad Tepes that got snow JUST in the area of the tomb, that was about 7 years ago, maybe more.

    By the way, did the name “Vladimir Des Draculae” mean anything to you?

    Comment by VladSouldReincarnated | March 5, 2008 | Reply

  4. It seems that you may have seen his tomb after all, I have read that he was buried under a large stone that you pass in the doorway to the monastary. It’s said that he was buried there so that everybody who entered would walk over him. An exumation (if I remember correctly) in later years revealed that there was nothing there but a peice of red material, some animal bones, and an Order of the Dragon (the semi-religious order that he belonged to) buckle of some description. So if you even got past the doorway you would have passed over it. God knows where his body was moved to though.

    Gav :)

    Comment by Gav | October 12, 2010 | Reply

  5. Hi, Dave,

    I am an international (art) teacher with a Canadian teaching certification and with Romanian roots. I stumbled on your webpage when looking for a Romanian construction company (called Sakura of all names!) that built a residential compound in Snagov where I am planning to buy a house for my (Romanian) mother. It is funny, isn’t it? I couldn’t find Sakura this way, but I found your story about Snagov. I got immediately interested in how you (an experienced backpacker and a foreigner with knowledge about Vlad Tepes) viewed Snagov area and Romania in general. I wasn’t surprized about what happened to you — there are unskilled, naive crooks in Romania, who do not have a sense of how to rub and whom to rub !!! The priest was obviously a novice ;-)))) I find that the West is more skilled in that respect: Western crooks either fire at you or they rub you with a smile, without you realizing what they are doing…you call it a legal rip off only in hindsight. ;-)

    Sarcasm aside, I did not get any sense of you being “racist” against Romanians, you were very clear about that in your story. But I do not think you realize the many aspects of the historical and cultural context in South-Eastern Europe and in villages around Bucharest, where post-Revolution Romanian crooks built their huge houses and vented their wealth in frot of poor locals who were left wondering how to get there themselves while sinking deeper into poverty and governmental neglect. The priest might have been a wannabe entrepreneur. Inside the church he might deal with matters of the soul, but outside it is business as usual. ;-))))

    The truth is, some people are either plain stupid or terribly ignorantand. In Romania, these people perpetuate, often unconsciously, older ideas inherited from Communist times: that “Westerners are priviledged”, that they have everything (a proper legal system, endless opportunities, material goods and freedom) while we, locals have nothing; that they, Westerners, deserted us after War World II — they sold us to the Russians– so now they have a moral obligation to help us; that traveling is a priviledge and “foreign travelers have money” while we, locals do not.

    There are few Romanians who think or act this way today. But sometimes the perpetual humble conditions one lives in, the lack of local support and of role-models can erode “the soul” and can deteriorate self-respect to such an extent that a priest becomes a mere crook. It is an odd and irresponsible choice by no means, but who else should be blamed? Not you, a young foreign backpacker who wanted so badly to see Dracula’s grave and couoldn’t pass that stupid shred of a priest. Local authorities are to blame, a history of neglect and generalized corruption, a circle of ignorance, unquestioned assumptions and a faulty judicial system. You should have been able to go to the local police and report this guy and have your action followed by sanction. You should have been able to take pictures of the two crooks and send them along with your story to a Romanian TV station or journal. I am glad that at least, you made it public on your blog. Unfortunately, on your blog, it is simply venting out a frustration (rightfully so), and for others, it is entertainment at best and bad publicity for Romania at its worse. But it is a drop in an ocean of needs for social change. I end with this remark and I might sound myself like a Romanian, incriminatig you, the foreigner, for not trying to take your action further, for not tryig to contribute to change…But the truth is, we are both beyond an “us”-”they” rethoric. You were looking at crooks who were incidentally Romanian, and I was trying to make you understand that they were crooks in a Romanian context, and that in the end, we are all responsible for how we put up with them. See? Dee was the one who took some action. She made a choice in the direction of social change. Her act of pulling the 5 E bill off the priest’s fingers might have had a more constructive feedback than your possibly pulling your pants off. Stick with Dee! She has muscle.
    Cheers and thanks for a great story,
    Diana

    Comment by LaMer | November 23, 2010 | Reply


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