Bar/fly: Bucharest, Romania

By Kevin Pilley

Even bloodthirsty Count Dracula likes a sundowner now and then, learns Kevin Pilley.

I eavesdropped on the Dracula bores around me. One in particular. The bar was full of day trippers and people batty about vampires. Illustration / Rod Emmerson
I eavesdropped on the Dracula bores around me. One in particular. The bar was full of day trippers and people batty about vampires. Illustration / Rod Emmerson

Our coffin was booked for 6 o'clock but we were late. Eight hours northeast of Bucharest, we took a right towards Transylvania and got caught in a horse-drawn hay-cart jam in the Carpathian mountains.

But eventually we reached the Borgo Pass and arrived at the four-star Castle Dracula Hotel at Piatra Fantanele.

There was no welcoming fork of lightning. Although Visa cards were welcome. A sign by the door read: "Come freely and leave some of the happiness you bring."

No discounts were offered for folkloric beings.

We checked in and were given our keys. I assumed garlic bulbs and crucifixes were available round-the-clock from room service.

The receptionist apologised. There were problems with the plumbing. There was no running water! When they worked, the bath taps ran red. Thunder cracked overhead. Although it may have been the workmen.

The receptionist did not enthral us for very long. Her beauty was far from hypnotic. No virgins being about, we went up to the "Skyroom Bar" to wash the benzine out of our mouths.

As we looked through the turrets over the Bargaului mountains, a suitably pallid barman approached our coffin-shaped table.

He smiled, revealing the impressively overlarge canines that had landed him the job. He wore black and his eyes were dark and sunken. He was obviously overworked. Or, just undead.

He bowed. "May I offer you one of my best Full Moons?"

I expected him to start unbuckling his trousers but instead he poured me out a glass of local riesling wine. He showed me the label.

"Endorsed by the count and grown in his own vineyards beside the cemetery."

It bore a ghoulish appellation.

The carpets were red and I had a feeling of being watched by skulls and stuffed wolves. I eavesdropped on the Dracula bores around me. One in particular. The bar was full of day trippers and people batty about vampires.

"Bram Stoker never visited Transylvania. The story was originally set in Styria, which was suggested to him as a location by a Hungarian scholar. He never went there either. When he wrote the book Transylvania didn't even exist. It became part of Romania only in 1918."

The people you meet when you haven't got a sharp stake handy ...

He told us all that the castle described in the novel is probably one in Scotland.

"The landscape is probably based on Zermatt in Switzerland where Stoker once holidayed. The count's appearance is probably a composite of that of the poet Walt Whitman, the composer Franz Liszt and the actor Henry Irving, for whom Stoker worked as a secretary. Jonathan Harker, the solicitor who travels to Dracula's castle on a timeshare deal, derived his name from a designer working at London's Lyceum Theatre."

A shadow fell across my table.

"If you are dining, may I suggest you start with pork a la Dracula, perhaps with a little maize mush?"

The waiter shrugged as if his high collar was irritating him.

"Sadly, we have no robber's steak as offered to Mr Harker on his famous visit here."

His tongue lapped his lips.

"Goulash cooked with the very best catmeat."

The barman gave me a Half Moon on the house. I let the merlot dribble from my mouth as the bore on the next table continued his lecture. His audience looked like corpses.

"This is one of three Dracula castles. The others are Bran and Poenari. The latter has connection with Vlad the Impaler."

His tone seemed to imply that the owners were blood suckers.

The Castle Dracula Hotel opened in 1983. It has a dungeon and a tomb. The architectural style is classic communist kitsch. As website reviewers have noticed, it lacks mad coachmen. I noticed my bathroom mirror gave forth a reflection. The only fangs I came across were in the mattress.

I asked the waiter if the icon of all evil would be joining us. His laugh echoed around the castle.

Glancing through the window at the darkening day, he showed me his teeth again.

"Very probably. The count likes a livener. He likes a sundowner."


Getting there: Cathay Pacific offers airfares to Bucharest in conjunction with partner airlines. For details, call 09 379 0861.

- NZ Herald

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