Moldova – a tiny country in Eastern Europe, tucked in between Ukraine and Romania. Once Moldova supplied wine to entire Soviet Union. Today it exports wine worldwide.Cricova, found in the 1950s, is only 15 kilometres away from the nation’s capital Chisinau. Local legend says that many years ago, there was a monastery on the grounds of Cricova that was destroyed in a brutal invasion.As I step into the underground kingdom of wine that holds these monks’ legacies I wonder what stories are hidden within these stone walls.Cricova is not your usual underground wine cellar, it is not a secret facility, it is an entire underground wine town with 120 kilometres of labyrinthine roads that lies 100 metres below the ground.Monks were told to stop producing wine as a dry law took place. Nowadays it is hard to imagine dry law as governments of different countries own their private wine collections here. Government leaders are often having meetings and dinners in beautifully decorated conference rooms with imitated windows.As our guide continues her storytelling, I found out that monks didn’t obey the dry law and hid in caves of Cricova to keep producing wine. They were found and killed, however according to the legend you can still hear a ghost of one monk screaming sometimes. Cric means scream after all.As our driver hits the gas pedal and our tourist cart is moving deeper and deeper underground, I feel how chilly it gets. I try not to think about the monastery ghost, instead focusing on the 1.3 million rare bottles that are held underneath the earth. My favourite sparkling spirit Cricova Rosé boast a rich, velvety texture.The heart of the wine collection is Israel`s “Jerusalem of Easter” vintage 1902. Other impressive exhibits are the 1902 liqueur “Jan Becher” of Czech Republic and the 1938 Burgundy dry wine. I wonder if anyone will ever open them and what would they taste like.Unique production of red and white wine based here allows for a constant 12 C temperature – wine likes it cold. Shift workers are manually turning bottles not to disturb the buzz but to create a special sparkling bubbles. Where else in the world would you see such gentle care?Wine – drink of gods and emperors. For some wine is a symbol of civilization, and for others – sign of love, friendship and hospitality.
Only God knows what I am ready to go through for travel…
I’m ready to take days long car rides, fly with crazy long layovers, go through family fights and suffer from a jet lag just to GET THERE, to stare at passport stamps later on, to check mark my bucket list, to catch that rare moment of happiness when you realize all over the sudden that you are making your dream come true and you are doing it right now.
And dreams don’t come true if you don’t work hard for it.
I talked my parent into having a road trip to Romania. I booked hotels, dad filled up gas and mom made sandwiches and next thing you know we were on our way to mysterious Romania.
It took us full day of driving from my native city of Chernivtsy, Bukovina, Ukraine to Bran, Transylvania, Romania.
Sheep were everywhere, not only on Romanian fields but also in the middle of the town crossing train rails. They were extra cute though.
I was lying on the back seat of a car and was watching bright stars in the night sky through the window. Moon was really skinny and was changing colors from orange to red. I had never saw moon so low in my entire life. As we were spinning on serpentine roads while going up on a mountain ridge, mist was covering the surface as a soft blanket. I felt like someone made this extra fog on purpose just to make it scary like in movies. However fog was real and was forming in shape of clouds in front of the car…I was scared that we will get lost and will end up in Stephen King`s Rock and Roll Heaven town.
Dad turned on Europa FM and all mystery suddenly fade away…
We stopped at the restaurant by the road to eat bean soup with smoked bacon and hunter sausages along with cheese plate. Staff was very friendly. Overall Romanian people left very nice impression on my family. I don’t know why they often get associated with gypsies in Europe. I bet they don’t like this association. However some gypsies and magicians are from Romania. There is even a special term for Carpathian magician – Molfar. There is also no doubt that there is something particularity magical about Carpathian Mountains. Count Dracula and even dragons are believed to be from dark forests of ancient Carpathian Mountains.
We arrived to our hotel in Bran almost at midnight and it was too dark to see the full picture of mountains sight. Entire sky was divided into a half. It was half foggy and half in stars.
Hello Transylvania! Hello mysterious land! I’m here, I’m yours for the night…
Romania joined European Union in 2007 however their currency is still Romanian leu (RON). I could still see their Soviet past in some communistic buildings we were driving by. Luck of architectural style can be seen also on some Soviet “box looking“ apartment buildings. I know all those buildings because I saw them in Ukraine and in Cuba.
Our first sightseeing was in city of Bran.
To get to Dracula’s castle you have to go through an outdoor market where you can buy all kinds of Dracula souvenirs and wool clothes thanks to the sheep we saw earlier on the field. Here you can also get good goulash soup, kebab and hot wine, cheeses and sausages for any taste.
Pay admission fee and walk up to the castle. The castle itself is gorgeous and is located on the top of the hill with breathtaking view of Carpathian Mountains and roads that lie underneath the hill. I have been to number of castles in my life but I have never seen anything like this one. This 640 years old castle has way too many levels and floors to be count, secret stair case, game room, torture room, well, inner courtyard and the list goes on. It also has tourists from all over the world and it is late windy fall, just imagine what`s happening here in summer.
Did you know that Count Dracula, a fictional character in the Bram Stoker`s novel, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who was the ruler of Walachia at various times including from 1456-1462. Vlad Tepes adopted the method of impaling criminals and enemies and raising them aloft in the town square for all to see. Almost any crime, from lying and stealing to killing, could be punished by impalement.
Did you know that Bram Stoker has never been to Romania? He did the extensive research in libraries.
Disney tried to buy this castle and turn it into amusement park but Romanians are too proud of their heritage to let this happen.
Are vampires real? We will never know the answer to that questions. However Vlad Dracula was real ruler.
Welcome to Saghisoara next.
Beautiful citadel, medieval walls and churches, narrow streets, museums and brick roads streets – all this is in one complex on the top of the hill in 14th century town of Sighisoara which is in couple hours of driving from Bran.
This is a native town of Vlad where you can visit the house in which he was born, now hosting a restaurant with dishes names that often include words bloody, red etc.
Vlad Dracula was born in 1431 in Sighisoara and resided here until he was 4 years old.
It is a 3 story house that contains restaurant and Draculas bedroom. In his room there are mostly pictures and also coffin with someone jumping out of it to scare you to death! We got there at 7 pm, restaurant was open until 8 pm however this interesting room was closed already. We were told by our waiter that “coffin person“ works only until 6 pm and that’s why bedroom is closed already.
It was upsetting but what can you do, vampires have schedules too.
Our second hotel was booked in Salina Turda which is a real museum of salt mining in Transylvania. I usually book small family style hotels with the local spirit.
Salina Turda has nothing to do with Dracula and has everything to do with salt.
This centuries-old salt mine is 100 meters deep and 75 meter wide with shape of a bell. It is an extremely interesting place. Pay your admission fee and you can spend there as many hours as you want.
Do you feel like you on another planet there? Yes, you do!
You have to go 13 floors down in the small 7 person elevator to see it as a whole. There is entire civilization down there: From fitness center to billiard tables, soccer field, bowling, fair will, mini golf and souvenirs kiosk, and even amphitheater for the events.
After being amazed you go into smaller 4 person elevator and go down 13 more floors to discover the salt lake. Rent a boat for 20 minutes and have the saltiest ride of your life. Look up but don’t freak out: You are just 100 meters below the ground. Drop a coin to return.
Salt mine is no longer active. Now it is a place for many asthmatics and just curious folks like me visit it to breathe the salt as it makes your lungs and immune system healthier.
After all it is a therapy I am writing about.