Touring Romania on a BMW Motorcycle | On the Trail of Dracula

Touring Romania With Vlad On the Mind

By Peter Starr, Photography by Peter Starr, Zed Zawada

Our first experience of Brasov, where Vlad was said to have led raids against the Saxons merchants, was a visit to an artisan motorcycle builder called “Basty,” short for Sebastian. He has a very eclectic collection of his work on display and is quick to show you his “Polski Zaklad Lotnicze” (Polish Aircraft Works) radial aircraft engine. Imagine that in a chopper frame! Basty built our guide’s bike, and it was here where Gabriel left us to return to Bucharest. Zed and I were now on our own.

Old Brasov, founded by Teutonic Knights in 1211, sits protected in a valley about 110 miles north of Bucharest and is the most visited city in Transylvania. In its beginning, Brasov was located at the intersection of the trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe. The old city is well preserved and can be seen almost in its entirety by taking the cable car to the top of Tampa Mountain. For us, drinking a local beer in the town square after a full day of riding in the heat was a delight. As the sun disappeared, the sidewalk cafés blossomed to the sound of universally identifiable music. And the summer antics of the “young at heart” filled the cooling air.

After a night’s rest at the Villa Prato boutique hotel, a walking tour of the “old town” and still no empirical evidence of Dracula’s presence, we took to the winding roads in the direction of Sighisoara. Once out of town, the roads were free of traffic on this weekday, allowing us to enjoy the long sweeping bends as motorcyclists often do. But there is one caveat. Never assume that there is not a tailback around a blind corner, as my friend Zed found to his chagrin. Several trucks and cars were backed up trying to get around a horse and cart. That’s why they call it adventure touring!

I was excited at the prospect of spending the night in the citadel at Sighisoara, not the least reason being that it is the birthplace of Vlad Dracula. But first we took a 5-mile detour down a narrow and mainly unpaved road to Viscri. It was a challenging road, but given that Britain’s Prince Charles has bought and restored two 18th-century houses in this Saxon village, I felt the effort was worth it. The central attraction, however, was the fortified church built in 1100 AD. There were three or four other motorcycle tourists there when we arrived including a family with an Africa Twin with sidecar, which made for some good stories. Many people in Romania speak English, making communication easy for us monolinguists. With more miles to go we headed north, dodging the sheep and other farm animals meandering across and along the dirt road, and set our sights on Sighisoara.

Sighisoara is a fine example of a small, fortified medieval town that sits on the banks of the Târnava Mare River and has been inhabited since the 6th century BC. It is also the birthplace of the object of our quest, Vlad Dracula III. Finally some hard evidence! At the city center on a hill is the walled citadel, or the old fortress town. We entered through a portcullised gate, and it was as if 21st-century people had suddenly descended on a 12th-century community replete with spired towers, cobblestones and central drainage. Walking through here is like stepping back in time, and only a little imagination is required to visualize the mystical days of yore. When Vlad III was born, Sighisoara, Transylvania, was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary. There is much to see here from the ancient graveyard that is adjacent to the almost equally ancient church at the top of the hill to the 175 steps in the wooden covered stairway that leads from the town to the church.

By Peter Starr
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