In Romania, things can get pretty scary. Even though it’s the home of Vlad the Impaler – and more vampire-related tat than you can shake a stake at – I’m not talking about Dracula. The scariest thing is being in a taxi that’s overtaking into oncoming traffic on twisting Transylvanian A-roads at 100 km an hour.
Why travel by cab? Well, our driver is a neighbour of my husband’s relatives, and they’ve asked him to take our small family in search of the legend of Count Dracula. This is the kind of eccentric generosity you can expect in Romania. He’s a very accomplished driver, fearless in the face of slow moving lorries, and regards seat belts as optional. He’s also got a great playlist including the Beatles, the Buzzcocks and bizarrely, ‘Gordon is a Moron’ by Jilted John. And he loves to overtake – a LOT.
Hot on the heels of our driver, Romania itself is emerging from its many years of Communist rule at the hands of Nicolae Ceausescu, and is getting up to speed. Even the Roma gypsies chatter on their mobiles while they forage in the woods for mushrooms to sell at the side of the road. Clapped out Dacia 1300 cars were once ubiquitous, (the story went that if you lost your key you could ask your neighbour for theirs, because all the locks were the same). Now they’ve been given a flashy Volkswagen makeover, and thanks to a government trade-in deal, most Romanians have better cars than the British.
The cars may have changed, but out on the road, the old ways are in full effect. There are no motorways in this part of the country, so if you’re stuck behind one of many trucks, you need to flirt with disaster to get past. There are also no fences between the roads and the fields, so don’t be surprised if you have to swerve to avoid a stray dog with a death wish, or a wobbly country cyclist heading directly towards you.
But although driving in Romania is somewhat invigorating, shall we say, it’s still the best way to get a sense of this diverse, beautiful and occasionally bonkers country. And our trip to Bran Castle, the source of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, takes in some of the most sweeping forests and awesome mountain sunsets you will ever see.