2008 Tour Report

by Kathryn "Beth" Miceli
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Day One
     At last, the day had finally arrived! After 25 years of a singular obsession with all things Romanian, and eleven years of, vigilantly following the Tours of Terror-Halloween To Romania Tour, I was actually going to be a member of DracPack 2008! But realizing this life-long dream would be an all-out fight to the very end!
     I signed up for the tour at the last possible moment, which meant a deluge of manic activity, in order to be ready in time.....
     After already making the trek from Murray, Kentucky, I was sure on the move!
     While finally at JFK, I happened to notice a hole in the bag I was carrying, and the ONLY things that seemed to have fallen out were my PASSPORT, and my PLANE TICKET! Luckily, I had already located a few members of the tour group at the airport, and Steve kindly helped me find them, before panic set in!
     At last, we boarded the flight to Frankfort, Germany. The anticipation and excitement within the group was building. There was quite a wide range of different personalities in our little motley crew, but there emerged one prevailing mindset.....
     We all appeared to be voracious for the historical aspects of Romanian culture, as well as our shared interest in the "Vampire Theme" which often made for a highly intellectual and stimulating meeting of the minds. Our individual passions seemed to sync, and even augment the interests of the other group members.
     It was more than I could have ever hoped for, as my number one priority was to discover all that I could about Romanian culture; past and present, from the people who lived in, and loved their country (in other words Radu and Razvan!).
     We boarded our flight to Bucharest, on Lufthansa airlines. This was one behemoth of a plane...I had never seen anything like it! We touched down in the land of our dreams, and as excited as we all were, we were equally as shredded! Though we knew what a monumental moment this was for everyone, no one would have ever guessed it by looking at us. We were wiped out!
     Luckily, we were met by our awesome tour guides, Radu and Razvan. They led us to two luxury, Mercedes Benz tour buses, and we all fell exhausted into the welcoming seats. Dumbfounded by the reality of it all...We drove into the dark, Romanian night.
     On the way to The Rin Grand Hotel, where we were to spend our first night, Radu gave us information about Romania, the tour schedule, and what to expect during our time there, including adjusting to the six hour time difference.
     The hotel was quite nice, but honestly, I doubt many of us noticed, as we all checked in, and moved in glazed-eyed, zombie-fashion toward our rooms, and waiting beds, to pass out! But there was no denying it, we made it to Romania!

Day Two
     After rising from the sleep of the dead (is that the working title of George Romero's next film), we ate a hearty breakfast, and headed out to our first destination: Snagov Monastery, which houses the tomb of Vlad Tepes. We all boarded the boat that would carry us across the lake, to Snagov Island, where the distant past awaited us.
     The monastery is not very large, but it is incredibly beautiful inside. Built in 1519, it is now owned by a quiet, yet eccentric monk, who naturally speaks no English. Radu had to go ahead of the group, to discuss permission to enter the monastery. Then; as if in a dream, we all enter the monastery, and there it was. The image that we all had seen so many times, in our research, right in front of our eyes:
      THE TOMB OF VLAD TEPES!
     This was one of the many absolutely surreal moments on this tour, and it took my breath away!
     We all quietly walked around, exploring and taking photos, with a reverence that I had not expected, but was relieved to see from everyone. There was a tremendous respect shown for the Holy ground, the Monastery, and the Tomb. We were all awe-struck, and there was a prevailing sense of disbelief that we were really here, on this island, at this moment. It is hard to explain, but we all seemed to feel it, and were deeply affected.
     Sitting on the boat, on the return trip, watching Snagov island fade into the distance, I once again felt I was dwelling in a photograph, or a history book. It was all so unreal for me; for all of us, that this was actually happening. We had all done so much research, and gazed at so many images of this country, over the years. My mind just could not seem to process the reality of the situation....it was SUBLIME!

Day Three


     After a full breakfast, we headed for the Hotel Capital, in Bra?ov, where we were to tour Bran Castle. This is the Castle that most people consider to be "Dracula's Castle," but that is simply not the case. Vlad was imprisoned at Bran for six months, by the King of Hungary. That is the only incident that ties Vlad Tepes with Bran Castle.
     When we arrive, Bran is actually about to close, but the fabulous Radu worked his magic, and we were permitted to take our time, "make pictures," and explore the entire castle. Radu took us into the cell that housed Vlad during his imprisonment (no wonder he had such a bad attitude - it was so narrow and claustrophobic).
     Once we closed down the castle, we headed to the hotel, anticipating the free evening to roam and explore Bra?ov After Dark!
     Some of us went out to dinner, and then went in search of a night club, for some wine and dancing. As it turns out, we managed to find, possibly the only "Gentleman's Club" in Bra?ov! (WHOOPS!) Well, we made the best of the situation. There was one lone dancer that night, so a male member of our clan jumped up on the pole, and rocked the house! He managed to coax most of the ladies in our group to get up on the stage, and dance (demurely, of course - all consciences are clear!).

Day Four
     The next morning, a bit hung over, but no worse for wear; we headed out for some sightseeing in Bra?ov. We visited "The Black Church," so named for the catastrophic fire in 1689, that scorched the entire Church, leaving it blackened for many years. The architecture, history, and sheer beauty were magnificent, as reverence and peace permeated the enormous interior.
     UNTIL....
     As we were seated in the Church, that scoundrel Radu had us turning purple, trying to stifle the hysterics, when; while pointing out the different points of interest, inside the church, he made the crack: "To the left, to the left...Like Beyonce"! We were DYING!
     After the Black Church, we headed toward Sighi?oara; where Vlad Tepes was born in 1431. Sighi?oara became a town in 1407, and is considered the most authentic medieval town in all of Europe.


     It was just like stepping back in time… from the ominous, ancient city gates, to the stunning, ORIGINAL dwellings, to the ancient Clock Tower, it seemed as if we were transported to Vlad's time, and we were all in awe!
     We visited The Storey House at Museum Square 6 -- the building where Vlad was born. The house is now a restaurant, but it was not highly recommended for its cuisine. We took a few photos of the building, then we had a couple of hours to eat and explore. Joe, Nicole and I took off together, and had an AMAZING lunch of authentic Romanian fare (ghoulash...paprikash...polenta, oh my!). We also took photos at the Bram Stoker statue around the corner.


     Then, we were off to visit the enormous "haunted" cemetery, sitting serenely atop the town. To get to the cemetery grounds, you have to first climb the dark, "Soul-Stealing Stairs." This covered stairway consists of 175 steps, and according to legend, if you pause, once you begin your ascent, the staircase will steal your soul! To which, upon hearing this little tidbit, most of the group cried in unison, "Too Late!!!" (I did not stop, by the way....I may need my soul eventually....Why take chances?!). I have NEVER seen such a beautiful cemetery in my life. I photographed some of the most enchanting, ivy covered gravestones, that went on and on, down the lush, rolling hills that overlook the entire town. It was simply amazing!
     There were two paranormal investigators on the tour; myself, and Joe. As we discovered later, he and I had the same idea. It turns out that we both ran way ahead of the group, one in each direction, and did some EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) work, while all was quiet. I have yet to analyze the audio, but if we managed to capture anything, I will post it right away.
     By the time we left the cemetery, they had closed the bathrooms, and it was time to get back to the buses! I, and many of our group, thought we would DIE! So we stopped at a convenience store on the way to our next destination, for a much needed bathroom break, and to stock up on snacks.
     We went on to the Golden Crown Hotel, in Bistri?a, where we were to spend the night.
     We dined on Jonathan Harker's famous meal, "Robber Steak" at the Golden Crown Restaurant, in keeping with the Bram Stoker tradition. The wait-staff did an awesome job, setting up the accouterments in the dining room, and we had one INCREDIBLE party. Lots of "Blood Brandy" and "Vampire Wine" was had by all, as we danced the night away!

Day Five
     Today, we are headed to Piatra Fântânele, The Hotel Castel Dracula. The castle was built in 1983, based on the mythical Castle Dracula's location, according to Bram Stoker's novel. This is where the Masquerade Ball will be held tonight.
     After check-in, we all headed out to shop in the open-air, gypsy bazaar, at the base of the castle, for some unique Romanian souvenirs! Then, a group of us gathered, for a fantastic photography walk, as some of the most amazing photo-ops were to be had.
     The sunset, over the Carpathian Mountains, towering above the Borgo Pass, and a quiet Monastery and Abbey, where the most humbling, and proudest moment of the tour, took place for me. An amazing member of our tour group (Hello, John!), spent several hours of his time; on this once in a lifetime tour, at the Abbey, chopping wood for the sisters who live there!!! It seemed to me, a real testament to the true nature of the "Crazy American Freaks" (as we may have seemed to locals) on this tour, and I was so proud of John, and honored that he was representative of our group.
     We returned to the castle at dusk, to prepare our costumes for the Masquerade Ball. The group reconvened at 7:30pm, to witness a 'surprise' wedding ceremony. Of course, the radiant bride wore black.


     Then it was off to the front of the castle where members of the Romanian press, as well as many curious locals, eagerly awaited the spectacle that is "The American Vampire Clan!"


     We were photographed and interviewed by the press, as the local children stared and smiled at us, with the raw curiosity and delight that only children possess (so, we all got our fifteen minutes of fame!).


     After numerous group photos had been taken, we all gathered around a huge bonfire, where we proceeded to roast our own meat and onions, for our dinner, on long, metal stakes (thank you Dan, for braving the fire twice, to roast mine for me...eliminating the very likely chance of my setting my long, black veil ablaze!).
     The press began to interview several members of our group individually, and though I tried to keep a low profile, they turned their cameras on me as well (look Ma, I am a star!).


     They were very polite, and professional, and did not seem to see us as "crazy," or "scary." We were just an entertaining curiosity that they were seeking to better understand. We were all too happy to oblige!
     Soon, we bid farewell to the press, and the lingering townsfolk; took our "Steak on a Stake," and headed for the enormous dining hall. Here, the easy conversation, natural camaraderie, and nocturnal, flaming fun, flowed as freely as the abundant Vampire Wine, that we all freely indulged in! All around me, there was quite an eclectic mix of costumed revelers:
     Complex, and breathtaking Vampires (Matt and Rebecca - YOU ROCKED!)
     Sexy and psychotic Zombie Cowboys (all hail, Martin and Steve - You guys were AWESOME!)
     Elegant, Victorian Beauties, (bravo to the stunning, and apparently superhuman Natalie. (did you ever get ANY sleep, Girl?)
     Hilarious, side-splitting characters (Osama, and Dubya - guys, I laughed so hard, when I saw you, I thought I would DIE!)
     And THEE God of Black Metal...KING DIAMOND! (Joe, you CHANNELLED the King, Baby!)


     Of course, no Halloween would be complete without Da' Man - Satan himself, I.V. Toting, reanimated medics, and the melancholy Master of Halloweentown, Jack Skellington! (Danny - you can overhaul my holidays, anytime!)


     The revelry continued, as Halloween October 31, 2008 slipped into the wee hours of November 1st, with copious amounts of food, drink, and dancing had by all!
     Editor's note: After the tour, a vote was held and winners of the gala Halloween masquerade ball's costume contest have been announced. The Funniest were the "Nerd Couple" (Mike & Melissa); Scariest was a tie between Morbius and Colleen as "Lucy;" the Originality award was by "Bloody Crying Angel" Scarlett; Most Creative was unanimously granted to "Bloody Nurse" Kris; there was a three-way tie for Sexiest amongst horror hotties Amber, Rebecca and Beth (authoress of this tour report); and Best Overall was one hell of a make-up job -- Matt as the Devil!



Day Six
     We awoke this morning, hideously hung-over, and wickedly sleep deprived. Everyone shuffled sluggishly onto the bus, for the drive to Sibiu. We did make a short, pit stop back in Sighi?oara, to witness the recreation of a witch trial, in which the actors pulled Natalie out of our group, and tried to condemn her as a witch! (Way to go, Natalie - you were a good sport!).


     Our evening in Sibiu was dedicated to recovery! It would largely be a free night for leisure and rest. Sibiu is one of the cities where the children of Hamelin settled, after they were led from their homes by the Piper, according to legend.
     We visited the church where Vlad's son, Prince Mihnea The Bad was laid to rest, after he was murdered just outside of its walls. The church is actually a huge Evangelical Cathedral built in the 1520's. Inside the Cathedral, there are a number of grave vaults. The first vault we arrived at contained Mihnea's remains. There is a second vault of interest as well.....belonging to Valentini Frank, a Romanian physician in which Mary Shelley, in part, based her novel "Frankenstein" on. Supposedly, Valentini conducted many odd "experiments" in his home, so he was feared and looked on with suspicion in the eyes of others. Also, it is said that he and his wife had a mentally and physically handicapped son, who was quite large, deformed, and considered unsightly. According to the story, they kept him in chains, imprisoned in their home. Eventually, the child escaped and was seen by the locals, as he wandered the village (plenty of fodder for a great horror story, huh?!).


     The church was ready to close, but we managed, thanks to Radu, to spend more than enough time learning the history, and taking photos.
     After dark, I purchased a fantastic Romanian red wine (Cabernet Arbrusch), and we drank it in the Bat Park, adjacent to the hotel. Then we sat atop the ancient city wall that surrounds Sibiu, talked, and drank more wine! It was absolutely ENCHANTING!


     I think that Sibiu was, by far the best city that we visited on the tour. It was truly gorgeous; very romantic, and atmospheric. It was a night for lovers, and leisure. And I never wanted it to end!

Day Seven
     After bidding a melancholy adieu to Sibiu, we headed to the highlight of our tour:
    POIENARI CASTLE!
     On our way, we made an unscheduled stop, at Cozia Monastery. This is where the tomb of Vlad's grandfather is located, as well as the only known fresco of him remains.
     As this was All Souls Day, the Monks at the monastery were performing Mass. The local people were lighting candles for both the living and the dead. There was a sadness; a solemnity in the air that was palpable. There were tears, bowed heads, and prayers, as the Monk's chanted. It was enthralling, ominous, and yet incredibly beautiful.
     Though the monastery was very crowded, we all filed in to see the tomb, and a few of us managed to capture the frescoes image, with Radu's help.
     While touring the grounds, I kept getting these strange looks from the people, and even the clergy, but I was not sure why, as I was dressed casually, and not the least bit "Goth" at the time. Once I was back on the bus, it hit me....My former husband had passed away on May 25th.
     He and I had always dreamed of taking this tour, so when I discovered that I would finally be able to make that dream a reality, I purchased a sterling silver Urn Pendant, in which I placed his remains, and wore around my neck. It was the only way for us to realize this dream together.
     I believe the reason I received the looks that I did, is that the clergy may have recognized the Urn pendant for what it was. Since cremation is still frowned upon by so many religious doctrines, it makes sense that they might have been uncomfortable.
     After a quick bathroom and snack break at yet another convenience store, we were off to Poenari!
     The bus was virtually buzzing with anticipation on our scenic ride to the citadel. Finally, we emerged from a curve in the road..... and there it was!
     At our first glimpse of the fortress, perched majestically atop the mountain, the entire bus ERUPTED in wild cheers and applause!
     Radu warned us that there would be a sudden burst of competitive spirit, once those bus doors opened, and he was spot-on! The group took off at a dead run; everyone eager to be the first to reach the top (my congratulations go to the lightning quick Joe Updegrave! Yes, that's his real name. Well done....show off!).
     There are almost 1500 steps, leading up to the citadel, and I have to say… I practically CRAWLED the last several hundred steps! When I finally reached the top; as if on cue, a great storm broke over the castle. The wind was fierce, as leaves took flight, whipping throughout the castle grounds below, and the rain beat down on the citadel, soaking those of us crazy enough to stay atop the ruins. IT WAS ABSOLUTELY PERFECT!


     The weather completely suited our location; dark, cold, and ominous. The photographic opportunities were brilliant -- thick fog rolling down the mountain, the dark clouds threatening, the wind howling through the trees, and the rain drenching the ancient edifice.
     The few of us that decided to brave the storm crouched into an alcove, where we toasted to dreams realized, with the same red wine that I had discovered in Sibiu, which I had decided to bring to Poenari, to make the perfect moment...exquisite!
     It was just how I had always dreamed it would be.
     Something happened to me, in that moment; surrounded by the energy of that place, and fierceness of the elements. I was suddenly seized with a wild, manic energy, and I truly felt as if I could fly.
     So, I did!!!
     I took off at a tear, and....I swear to you, I RAN down every step on the citadel! The stairs were covered with a thick blanket of soft, wet leaves that cushioned, and steadied my footfalls, as I flew down the soaked citadel in a euphoric bliss! I have never felt so vibrantly ALIVE!
     When the last few of us finally made it back to the bus, we were thoroughly soaked, but more giddy than ever! We talked on and on about our personal experiences, and how we were each affected by Poenari. In the end, all of our thoughts were unanimous....
     AWESTRUCK!
     As if this wasn't beautiful enough, we were treated to a rare double rainbow above Poenari Castle.


     We returned to Bucharest, and the buses pulled up to Club Dracula, where we dined on some of the freakiest looking, but rather tasty dishes that I have ever seen (faux braised rat, anyone?). Actually, it was formed chicken with red sauce. It looked ghastly but tasted wonderful. The Count himself paid us a visit; and proceeded to lure a lovely young lady from our group, into his lair, where she became one of the undead! It was a bit kitschy, but a lot of fun!


     There was another impromptu side trip to the recently discovered palace of Vlad ?epe?, not far from the hotel. But alas, fatigue had finally overtaken me, and I had to bow out of the walking tour, or perish! But many people took photos, and relayed the information to me (thanks guys!).
     We returned to The Rin Grand Hotel, where we all decided to forgo sleep, and spend the last few precious hours together. We spent that final night exchanging information, and making plans for; among others events, a Salem reunion. It was a bittersweet Bon Voyage party, as we never wanted the trip to end.
     We did not want to say goodbye.
     Nor do I wish to now.
     So many amazing, and life-altering events took place on this tour, for all of us. Far more than I could EVER convey in this report. (It would look more like a copy of War and Peace!).
     We were forever changed in those eight days.
     We saw the development of so many wonderful, new friendships, some of which are destined to last a lifetime.
     We all have cherished memories that will bind us to one another, for the rest of our days.
     Our lives will never be the same!

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