When the plane touched down in Bucharest, I realized how surreal it is that this wasn’t my first time in Romania on the trail of Dracula.
You could say I’m something of an enthusiast of the vampire count as well as the Transylvanian hero Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula (“the Son of the Dragon”). In late 2013, I was in the country, developing a travel show that would explore locations and history revolving around both the fictional and factual characters. My pursuit led to me being inducted by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula as one of only three titled Knights of Count Dracula in the world.
And in late January, I returned to Romania to continue my pursuit of Vlad. As a member of a select group invited by Universal Pictures, I spent about a week traversing the country, exploring stories and locations mentioned in the film Dracula Untold, which arrives on home video today.
Starring Luke Evans, Dracula Untold is a modern reboot of the Universal Monsters franchise, with a twist. Instead of relying solely on Stoker’s 1897 Gothic novel, the film combines the vampire narrative with the tale of Vlad the Impaler -- the real-life 15th-century prince of Wallachia who fought against the Ottoman Empire. It recasts Dracula as a hero who takes on the vampire curse to protect his people. And although not the first to connect the Vlad Tepes story with Stoker’s count, the movie is unique for how much it includes the story of the Transylvanian ruler. This, in turn, gives an air of verisimilitude to the vampire component of the film.
And, like a Van Helsing who wishes to stake out facts rather than vampires, I set about asking questions about Vlad vs. Vlad. Join me over the next few days as I’ll be sharing some of my adventures in the land of Dracula, and also talk to the actor behind the latest incarnation of the iconic vampire, Luke Evans.
After a leisurely beginning to my trip, walking Bucharest (known as “Little Paris”) with my newfound friend and BeyondDracula.com guide, Traian, I joined my colleagues at Caru Cu Bere (the Beer Wagon). The 19th-century restaurant in the Old Town serves up traditional Romanian food, and beer, music and more food. I honestly cannot remember all the foods I ate there, but I’m a fan of Romanian fare -- and Romanian palinka, or fruit brandy.
The next day, our journeys began here at the Snagov Monastery, not far from Bucharest. Situated on a small island on a lake, which happened to be frozen, the monastery was built during the time of Vlad’s grandfather. While photos inside the the 14th-century church are not permitted, it and its surrounding grounds are a serene location for worship. It is also known as the burial site for Vlad Tepes, who died in 1477. Despite the location of a burial marker, many believe Vlad was actually buried at the Comana Monastery. As of last year, a new theory emerged that the Impaler was actually buried in Naples. Either way, one fun story is that Vlad’s head was removed from his body, preserved in honey and sent to Constantinople as a trophy.
Following a lunch at the Taverna Sarbului in the winter resort town of Sinaia, on the Prahova Valley, our journey continued to Castle Bran in the town of the same name. In Dracula tourism, Bran is a marquee player and is also known Dracula’s Castle. The castle was a defensive one against the Ottoman Empire, and then became a customs post as it sits on the border pass between Transylvania and Wallachia. Interestingly, Bran played little role in Vlad Tepes’ history. Though he did pass through the Bran Gorge many times, he never lived here. There is a popular theory, however, that he was imprisoned here for about 10 days. As for Stoker’s vampire, a castle resembling Bran appeared on the cover of the first edition of Dracula. And though Bram Stoker never visited Romania, it appears he did read about Castle Bran and may have used a description of it for his own imaginary castle.
Watch the video below to hear from Luke Evans, learn more about Castle Bran and even hear from the impaler himself, Vlad Tepes.