Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Day 291 – The grave of Vlad Dracul. (Romania)

We hoped to squeeze in a visit to the town of Snagov on our way to Bucharest, then in Bucharest the plan was to visit the Peasant Museum and the Village Museum before meeting our Couch Surfing host in the evening. Snagov is the town about 40km north of Bucharest where Dracula was laid to rest in a monastery on a small island in the middle of Lake Snagov. Unfortunately the way the road network is laid out, even though we were approaching Bucharest from the north we had to drive almost all the way into the city and back out to reach the small town, adding about 70km to our trip. But putting it in context of the fact that we’d already driven about 50,000km and seeing it was a beautiful, crisp frosty day, we thought it would probably be worth it.

As we arrived in the town we realised that finding the island and the grave wasn’t going to be all that straight forward though, and we ended up driving around all the streets in the small town, attempting to find our way down to the lake. Every road seemed to disintegrate before it reached the lake, turn around and lead back the way we’d come from, or simply come to a dead end at a property. After a while of this frustrating circle-driving though we found ourselves at the edge of the lake, which to our delight was completely frozen over. Considering the temperate and how long it had been so far below 0°C for we should have realised that the lake would be frozen, but we hadn’t really considered it, so much to our embarrassment we were excitedly surprised. Disappointingly though, as far as we could see there was no bridge across this section of the lake. We did consider for a brief moment (well I considered, the others of course would never consider something so horrendously stupid) driving the car across the frozen lake, but for obvious reasons that idea was quickly dismissed.

The late afternoon sun (it was only about 1pm actually, but the sun was low as if it was late afternoon) was beating down on the snow-covered frozen lake, turning the trees and shrubs around us into nothing but dark shadows, contrasting against the shimmering crystal of the lake. It was difficult to see through the glare of the sun reflecting on the snow-covered everything, but families, groups of teenagers, couples with dogs, cyclists, and all sorts of other people were using the perfectly flat snow-covered lake as the ideal surface for any number of fun activities. We ourselves had a bit of a running and skidding tournament, resulting thankfully in no injuries, but unfortunately we had to keep moving if we wanted to find this grave and get to Bucharest in time to meet our host. We were gradually coming to the realisation that we probably weren’t going to be making it to either of the museums that we were intending to visit.

We got back in the car and decided to drive further around the lake, out of the town of Snagov itself, and around to the other side where we hoped to find a bridge, and maybe even some indication as to where we might find the grave that we had dedicated this day to finding. All we had to go by was some vague directions we’d gleaned from various websites, but none of the directions were really making sense until we stumbled upon a sort of nature reserve which seemed to be closed for winter. One of us had definitely read something about something like a nature reserve, so we turned onto the frozen mud track and drove in. Whilst trying to find someone to ask, Ben made friends with a family of dogs, but other than that the nature reserve was a bum steer and we continued our circumnavigation of Lake Snagov.

We continued on to the next town where we wound our way around some narrow residential streets to lead us down towards lake once again. When we spotted a sign which clearly pointed us towards our destination we heaved a sigh of relief, hoping that we may actually find this grave after all. We reached a small track that lead to a pedestrian bridge across the iced-over Lake Snagov, so we parked the car and were immediately accosted by a group of what we can only assume to be gypsies, who claimed to want to “protect our car”. Apparently the spot we’d chosen to park in “wasn’t safe” and we were given a very suspicious spiel about the positioning of security cameras and told we should move across the street. The security of our vehicle (aside from our personal well-being I suppose) being the most important aspect in terms of the quality of our trip, we were in the habit of taking every precaution within our capabilities to protect it, and we were pretty uncomfortable leaving the security of it in the hands of these men. We’d noticed them following us for a few hundred metres before we stopped and gave them the opportunity to approach us, and they seemed far too worried about our security. We actually hadn’t been in the least bit concerned until this group made it into such a big deal, so with them all hovering around waiting for us to leave our car and all our possessions, we decided to visit the island in twos, taking it in turn to hang out with the car. As soon as they realised this is what we were doing they quickly dispersed, clearly realising they were wasting their time on us. It’s very disappointing that in this case our observations support the stereo-types surrounding the antics of gypsies, but unfortunately we couldn’t really find any other way to read this situation.

A couple of the same guys made their way to the bridge, intercepting Denner and Dee as they made the crossing and asking for a toll for the bridge, which they were of course refused, and then an entrance fee to the island, which they were again refused, and then the monastery itself, which they were obviously once again refused. Hoping to avoid the accosting, Ben and I walked over the ice instead of the bridge, as the island was much closer to the mainland on this side. It was oddly silent in this little section of the lake, sandwiched between the monastery on the island, and the backs of houses on the mainland. Huge ruptures streaked across the ice, as if there had been an earthquake, and along the edges a few brave plants had pushed their way through the frozen surface. The ice became very thin in places, and we could see the swirling water just beneath the surface, hearing a few creaks as it shifted around the bridge. We wondered how long the lake had been frozen for, and when it would eventually melt.

The island was home only to an old farmhouse with a very barky dog, and the small understated monastery in which we believed Dracula’s grave lay. There wasn’t a single signpost and other than the barking dog and the gypsy standing on the bridge, we couldn’t spot any discernible signs of life. Because of the hovering gypsies making us feel so uncomfortable, we unfortunately didn’t go inside the monastery, but although we never set eyes on the grave itself we were pretty chuffed that we’d at least found the location, and regardless of anything else it was a beautiful little island.

Needless to say we arrived at the Village Museum and the Peasant Museum shortly after their closing times, so hoping we’d get a chance to visit them during our few days in Bucharest we continued on to our meeting with our host.

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