I’ll admit it. I’ve been playing for the past several months. Hiking through Massachusetts and Vermont, climbing a few of the highest peaks in Colorado, plenty of city stops in between.
Now, it’s time to get back to work.
Monica is quick to remind me that the job I signed up for is “Househusband,” and while I’m absolutely THRILLED to get another crack at those dirty dishes, we both know the real reason we’re living abroad in Romania…
I’m going to find a vampire.
You might be thinking: “Gabe, if you really want to meet a vampire, why don’t you just go to Louisiana? I’m sure some of the vampires that HBO hired for “True Blood” are still hanging around.”
You’re probably right. My search would be far easier if I were to fly to Bon Temps and wait at a bar for someone to order a bottle of True Blood. But, in the same way True Blood is not as satisfying to vampires as the real thing, any celebrity vampires I stumble across would leave me wondering if I was missing out on the real thing. Probably like spending the night at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas when I really want to experience the crumbling majesty of the Colosseum in Rome.
So. Here I am, back in Romania, ready to pick up the hunt where we left off. Already checked off the usual suspects: Castle Bran (the source of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and a popular tourist attraction), the little island on Lake Snagov (rumored to be the final resting place for Vlad the Impaler, a nobleman that satisfied his voracious appetite for torture and violence in vampiresque fashion long before it was cool), and countless old cemeteries. No vampires. Not a total loss though. We did pick up a creepy coffee mug.
Like most great discoveries, I eventually realized that I would have to look where no one else was looking. I also began to question my assumptions. Was I carrying around prejudices that prevented me from finding my future fanged friends? Maybe vampires could safely spend time in the sun, but just preferred to avoid the risk of melanoma. Maybe the “thirst for blood” was nothing more than an ability to tolerate poorly cooked foods. Maybe vampires were simply misunderstood introverts persecuted by angry mobs armed with wooden stakes and holy water.
It’s time to set aside these prejudices and search with an open mind. And an open heart (but not too “open,” I wouldn’t want to present myself as an easy snack, just in case the blood-sucking is really a thing.)
The capital of Romania, Bucharest is an unlikely hideout for vampires. Since this is where our dirty dishes are, it’s where we started looking.
Bucharest is unapologetically unwelcoming. Imagine all the architects and city planners with rejected designs for Detroit came here in the 80’s to practice. Lots of tightly packed and uniform concrete buildings that look like they are deteriorating before construction is complete. An aerial view of the streets resembles a haphazardly thrown and half-boiled pile of grey spaghetti noodles. When city planners realized that the same streets kept weaving in and out of each other like DNA strands, they hid their mistake by constantly changing the name of the street (Pasajul Lujerului becomes Soseaua Virtutii after crossing Bulevardul Luliu Maniu which becomes Strada Comertului, etc). As a result, navigating between 2 points requires advanced degrees in cartography and cryptography (as well as expertise in that old Atari game “Frogger”).
But this makes the bright spots even more charming. There are lightly forested parks like Parcul Titan peopled with quiet retirees and playful families. And the Old Center retains an historic air with its cobblestone paths. Quaint restaurants like Crama Domneasca welcome guests to delicious traditional Romanian cuisine while surrounded by suits of armor and weaponry.
Once the sun goes down, the Old Center gets rowdy. Nearby clubs fill beyond capacity with sweaty writhing bodies moving to the beat of a thriving DJ culture. Despite the energy and chaos, we never saw any violence. The beautiful people surrounding us were just interested in connecting and having a good time.
I became convinced that if a vampire thrived in Bucuresti, this would be the place. I spent as much time in the clubs as this introvert could endure. However, after waking up to residual strobing lights behind closed eyes, ringing ears that warned my hearing was not an invulnerable sense, and hangovers that forced me to revisit lessons I thought I learned in college, I had to admit I was too old to keep looking for vampires in clubs. Besides, I’d probably get along better with the more “mature” vampire group.
It’s time to check out a few other cities.
Romania is peppered with cities, each with a distinct feeling. Newly redeveloped cities like Cluj (the capital of Transylvania), with its wide straight boulevards, majestic fountains, and marble facades. People smiling. Doing stuff, but not in a big hurry to get there. A tasteful billboard is likely to advertise a French or Italian play at Lucian Blaga National Theatre. While this is a must-visit city for the world traveler hoping to get a feel for Romania without giving up first-world comforts, it’s probably not a vampire-friendly hangout.
Timisoara, another cultural hub, lies in the Northwest, near the border with Hungary. Brightly decorated domes and steeples of Eastern Orthodox churches poke up here and there between malls promising the latest from Prada and Calvin Klein. (Monica tells me this is the good stuff). Gorgeous parks draw people out for leisurely strolls on otherwise damp and chilly days. Because so many of Timisoara’s residents are multilingual, when my American accent (and limited Romanian vocabulary) made conversation awkward, the switch to English is seamless. Within a few hours of exploring, I could imagine this city as a future home. I had to keep reminding myself we weren’t here as tourists, or potential homebuyers. This was supposed to be work. We were looking for vampires.
I’m disappointed (but not defeated). I abandoned my prejudices (after all- vampires have feelings too). I plunged headfirst into situations that were WAY outside my comfort zone. But returned with a series of hangovers and possible hearing loss. And no vampire siting.
If there are vampires in Romanian cities, I haven’t found them (yet). There are a few cities, particularly Timisoara, that will require further exploration (and maybe a property purchase). But it’s time to leave the Romanian cities behind.Romanian cities - not just for vampire huntersClick To Tweet
Next up, we’ll be heading for the Romanian countryside. Untamed mountain ranges, and remote villages. Plenty of solitude and nature. But also the opportunity to visit genuine “locals” who have maintained a simple existence that is relatively unchanged for centuries.
Sounds like prime vampire country. Hope to see you there!