The Princely Court of Târgoviște and the Sunset Tower

IMG_9026Leaving Transylvania and northern Wallachia we entered into Romania’s lowlands.

From the mountainous terrain of the Carpathians to the south the land quickly turns flat. As in, Midwest Chicago-style flat. One minute you are looking at an autumn panoply of steep hills and the next you are barreling down a highway dodging horse carts (oh yes, just being on a highway doesn’t mean you don’t see horses on the road there) with a carefully laid out grid of square farmland in every direction.

Before the Wallachian court was moved to București (something that we can actually thank Vlad Ţepeș himself for – Vlad was always uncomfortable with Târgoviște’s poor strategic location) the princely court was in the town of Târgoviște (pronounced TAR-go-veesh-teh).

The old court in Târgoviște lies in a central palace complex hosting the Chindia Tower – also known as the Sunset Tower – built by Vlad Ţepeș’ father Vlad Dracul, the remains of Vlad Ţepeș’ palace and several other, mostly post-Vlad buildings, most impressively an old church with some remarkable wall paintings.




The Sunset Tower sat on one end of the complex, mobbed morning and evening with magpies taking their due from the spread of green surrounding the tower and otherwise acting like the true lords of Târgoviște. The tower itself is now a museum to, predictably, Vlad Ţepeș, with a number of documents signed by him as well as a fair number of interesting maps and contemporary paintings.

Târgoviște is, first and foremost, a town that knows what it is famous for.

An idyllic park and – no joke – “Vlad Tepes Beerhouse” – is studded with busts of the various princes of Wallachia, but even there, Vlad Ţepeș gets top billing with a half-statue of him, sword drawn, sitting in the middle of the park.


After the death of his hated brother Radu the Handsome in 1476, Vlad made his third bid for power in Wallachia with Hungarian support. Vlad succeeded, seizing power and for the third and final time claiming the voivodeship of Wallachia.

Unlike Vlad’s second reign, his third reign would prove to be short – barely more than two months – before his death.

Appropriately for such a posthumously famous individual, Vlad’s death was as mysterious as his legacy. Innumerable stories exist for how he died – in battle, betrayed by his own men, assassinated – the details are myriad and contradictory.

What is firmly documented is that his head was sent to the Ottoman Court in Edirne, so that Mehmed II, Conqueror of Constantinople, might finally know that his lifelong enemy was, at last, dead.


Târgoviște is a sleepy town for its size, so two days after our arrival we took off for Snagov Monastery, built by Vlad’s predecessor and by folklore the site of Vlad’s burial, though modern Romanian scholars are highly skeptical of this, preferring the site of Cormana Monastery instead, though even that is speculative given that Cormana was leveled and rebuilt in the intervening years.

Next Article: Istanbul, the Pearl of the Ottoman Empire. Also, the City of Cats.

The Werewolf Pack of Poenari


Just over twenty-four hours after we had arrived, the Vlad Țepeș World Tour expedition left Sighișoara from said town’s solitary train station for Sibiu.

Ironically, the only reason we were slated to go to Sibiu was because we were unable to find an appropriate car rental agency in Sighișoara, and the next closest were Sibiu or Brașov, but since Sibiu was a slightly closer hop to the expedition’s next target, Sibiu it was.

This was ironic because, as it turned out, the subject of our quarry, Vlad Țepeș, had both taken refuge in Sibiu at one time and later had harsh words with the denizens for supporting one of his two rival claimants at the time; as one can easily imagine, Vlad was not the type to be forgiving to those seeking to displace the authority he had paid so much to gain.

IMG_8805We arrived in Sibiu a few hours after we had departed, with no few stops and considerable confusion later, confusion somewhat ameliorated by commiseration with a young German woman who had about a similar command of Romanian as did I and was about as confused as we were by the Sighișoara to Sibiu trainline which featured the amazing rubberbanding train (don’t ask).

The Sibiu train station was unremarkable, and after haggling in horribly broken English and Romanian we procured a taxi to the airport where we picked up a rental car and one of my two companions, Kristina, found herself elected as the driver, being the only one of us who could drive manual – that being all that was available. (Hey, don’t judge; seriously, when was the last time you saw a manual transmission that wasn’t a truck, bus or your own car, for those who are aficionados of such?)


Sibiu is a fairly well-known tourist destination in Romania; it is certainly larger than Sighișoara. We wandered around some of its historical sites – most notably the awesomely nicknamed “Gate of Corpses” at the Haller Bastion where plague victims had been pushed through holes drilled in the walls during an unfortunate siege.


This is, too, where we encountered one of our first Romanian-isms: the word “cafe” in Romanian does not actually imply food. Nor, in fact, does the word “restaurant”. Seriously.

IMG_8825Oh, yeah – we also hid from dinosaurs. True story.

Once we had satisfied ourselves that we had properly absorbed any lingering necromantic energies from said Gate of Corpses we took to the road, making a dusk trek from the heart of Transylvania and through the Carpathians into Wallachia.

Our target? Poenari Castle.

Poenari Castle was arguably Vlad Țepeș’ most important fortified redoubt, perched high in the Carpathian Mountains and serving variously as prison, refuge, treasury and watchtower. Vlad didn’t build it; he did, however, rehabilitate it and considerably expand upon it, efforts continued by his brother Radu when Radu pushed Vlad out of power.

IMG_8994We made our way through winding country roads that reminded me of nothing so much as the Santa Cruz Mountains of home, save with a lot more stray dogs and regular incidents of the road being obstructed by horse-drawn carts. Despite this and an occasional disconcerting absence of street names, we found ourselves in a well-appointed pension (basically, a bed and breakfast) named the Pension Irina (the road to it is a bit harrowing, but it is very high quality at a surprisingly reasonable price).

The next morning we made our way up the road towards Poenari Castle itself. And its 1480 steps. I did mention that, right? Yeah, one climbs a stupid number of steps to get to (eventually) a gatehouse manned by a single watchkeeper for the site, and then the “castle” itself.


I use the term “castle” advisedly; Poenari is tiny and functional. Perched on the top of the ridge it is on, it commands an imposing view of the river valley below and would have been absurdly difficult to take. In truth, its standard garrison was five or six men, not surprising given that aside from its walls and battlements, the actual main keep consisted of a single tower, maybe twenty feet on a side, going up three or four levels depending on the era (in Vlad’s time, I believe it was just the three levels).

Poenari is also the site of two great stories:

[Vlad’s] first major act of revenge was aimed at the boyars of Tirgoviste for for not being loyal to his father.

On Easter Sunday he invited all the boyar families who had participated at the princely feast. He asked them how many princes had ruled in their lifetimes. They said they had lived through many reigns.

Shouting that this was their fault because of their plotting, Vlad the Impaler had them all arrested on the spot. He impaled the older ones on stakes while forcing the others to march from the capital to the town of Poenari.

This fifty-mile trek was quite grueling and no one was permitted to rest until they reached destination. Vlad the Impaler then ordered boyars to build him a fortress on the ruins of an older outpost overlooking the Arges River.

Many died in the process, and therefore Vlad the Impaler succeeded in creating a new nobility and obtaining a fortress for future emergencies. What is left today of the building is identified as Poenari Fortress (Cetatea Poenari).

Vlad the Impaler

And, later:

It’s said that [Vlad’s] first wife, Jusztina Szilagyi of Moldavia [whom he met and eloped with in Budapest], flung herself from the towers of Poenari during a siege by Vlad’s muslim brother, Radu Bey [Radu converted to Islam during his and Vlad’s mutual captivity as teenage hostages to their father’s good behavior many years before].

Before flinging herself into the Arges River below, she exclaimed she would rather rot and be eaten by the fish than to be a captive of the Turks.

Atlas Obscura


The river (you can see it mostly dried up at this time of year in the accompanying photo) is now sometimes called “Lady’s River” or “Maiden’s River” in recognition of Jusztina’s voluntary tumble from Poenari’s battlements.

But the way up the steps to Poenari Castle was itself not without incident. We were accosted from the base by probably the most pathetic example of canine doggy-ness I have had the misfortune to see.

(I actually maintain my suspicions that it was at least in part a cultivated act for tourists – the rest of his pack appeared later up the steps, and he wasn’t actually that ill-fed for all the remoteness of the location and his masterful act of beggery. As distinct from buggery. There was no buggery. Just to be clear.)

IMG_8897He followed us up all the way to the top, soon joined by the rest of his pack. Naturally, we rewarded the castle’s resident werewolf pack with a healthy percentage of the sausages and bread we had brought up for ourselves for lunch at the top.

With the amount of slobbering, I am fairly certain at least one of us, if not all, walked away with either lycanthropy or rabies. Possibly both.

Upon our descent, we made our way down towards the town of Curtea de Argeș, also the site of “The Royal Church”, Biserica Domnească, which is itself the site of a great piece of folklore:

Master Manole, the best mason of those times, had a dream in which he was told that, in order to build the most beautiful monastery, he had to wall in someone very beloved by him or by his masons. He told his masons about it and they agreed that the first wife who came there on the following morning should be the victim.

Manole’s wife, Ana (who was pregnant) came first and she was told that they wanted to play a little game, building walls around her. She accepted and soon realized that it wasn’t a game and implored Manole to let her go, but he kept his promise.



The monastery itself is a beautiful piece of workmanship, featuring the bizarrely twisted towers that you sometimes see in Romania and that remind me of nothing so much as a paean of homage to Cthulhu. In other words, I really, really approved of the aesthetic.


Poenari is not a vast fortress, but as one of the three primary sites I wanted to see on this trip, I was not disappointed. It is a haunting and lonely place, yet with the unbridled beauty of the Carpathians in autumn spread out beneath it like a picnic basket it is a sight that is difficult to purge from the memory.

Next Article: The Princely Court of Târgoviște and the Sunset Tower

The Train of Terror to Transylvania

IMG_8375No, the title doesn’t mean what you think it does.

After witnessing first hand the horror that is the mass confusion of the Budapest train system, little did I know that my train experience was about to get worse. Much, much worse. Being the canny, paranoid world travelers that I and one of my two traveling companions aspire to be (my other friend who came along doesn’t count as paranoid, so I am leaving her out of this), we thought ourselves clever when we ordered from Rail Europe nice, comfy sleeper train seats on a night train out of Budapest into Romania.

Tickets in hand, we locate the correct train, wait patiently for the departure time, file on, and pick out a nice sleeper cabin. Well, actually kind of crappy, but I wasn’t inclined to be too picky, hell, I was actually on a night train to Transylvania, which has to be worth some world traveler points, right?

At last, the train grumbles to a start with me carefully following along on GPS to make sure we did, in fact, get on the right train, or at least were going in the right direction. Train Conductor #1 arrives, takes our tickets, looks confused. Turns tickets one way, then another. Finally, he tells us we need to move up three cars, so we grab our packs and move up three cars.

This last part actually deserves a sidebar:

Up until now we’d been in Hungary, and for those of you unfamiliar with the language, Hungarian is kind of a special snowflake in terms of European languages – it isn’t really related to anything, and trust me, it shows. Someone speaks German to me, for example, and I can usually pick out a few words and garner a meaning from it.

Hungarian? Not a chance.

In this case, I actually did understand, but ironically it wasn’t until about an hour later (and hearing a couple of others of the crew speak) that I realized they were speaking Romanian. (I had taken a couple of months or so of Romanian before leaving – not enough to hold a real conversation, but at least enough to stumble through certain basic communications).

So an hour or so later a little light bulb lit up and I realized why I could understand a little of what he was saying.

But back to our story. We move to another car. A little while later, Train Conductor #2 comes along. Rinse and repeat the earlier performance, and we start to wonder if we’re going to even make it to our destination on train or if backpacking on foot is going to come into this. Grabbing our packs, again we move cars, this time to the cut rate seats which are basically one step above metro seats. But at least we’re going to get there, right?


Train Conductor #3 comes along. I honestly felt sorry for her; we realized at that point that the other conductors had simply passed the buck, and when #3 came along, she was left between a rock and a hard place with three Americans whose collective command of Romanian rated disfavorably with an average three year old child from Romania. After a certain amount of agonizing, she just asked us for what I assume to be the equivalent fare for the train car we were in. I still have no idea if she was supposed to do this; I suspect not.

End of the tale? Oh no. See, remember the part about it being an international night train? That meant crew shift changes at a couple of different stations. Friendly Train Conductor #3 got off, leaving us with a receipt, and Train Conductor #4 and company got on. Our collective linguistic capabilities again failed us, and after another fifteen minutes or so #4 rewards our diligence with the universal expression for, “Screw it, I don’t get paid enough for this,” throwing up his hands and letting us stay on the train.

Then came a stop near the border, and Hungarian border police came on board, checked our credentials and stamped our passports. Time passed (the train was agonizingly slow) and my reliable GPS indicated we had crossed the Hungarian-Romanian border. Cautious optimism that was about to get brutally trampled underfoot rose in me. Could it be, perhaps we were going to make it without further incident after all?

Another stop, and this time Romanian border police hopped on board, checked my friends’ credentials, then came to me. The poor guy took my passport, opened it. Looked at the picture. Frowned. Glanced surreptitiously up at me. Looked back at the picture. Called his partner over.

Then followed the most awkward half an hour of my adult life as the Romanian border police tried to determine if I was who I said I was.

Let me back up a couple of years and explain why I was, actually, a little sympathetic to the Romanian border police at this point in time.

A few years back my passport was expired and I was heading up to Canada, so arranged a photo to be taken on the following Monday. That weekend, however, I was hanging out with a couple of female acquaintances (no, nothing like that, trust me) who after one too many drinks managed to convince me to shave my sacred goatee of some seventeen years off. Just to see if I indeed might look better without it (I didn’t).

So, back to the Romanian border in 2013: They’re looking at a passport photo of me with a two-day growth of beard, maybe fifteen pounds heavier and, oh, did I mention I had LASIK/PRK on my eyes about a year ago? Yeah, so the photo also had me in glasses. I really did sympathize with their efforts, especially given the almost tragicomic expressions on the poor guy’s face.

Finally, he asks me for supplementary ID. I hand over my California driver’s license, suddenly glad I had decided to bring it. He glances at the signature, and then gives me a slip of paper to sign my name.

Thank you, Dad, for displacing the traditional physician’s inscrutable scrawl one generation from yourself to me. Because of my absolutely indecipherable, unmistakable signature, the Romanian border police gave a giant sigh of conclusion, handing said paper back to me (it’s still in my wallet) and stamped my passport.

That, then, is the story of how I almost got thrown off a train and detained by the Romanian border police in the middle of the night on the remote edges of Transylvania.

IMG_8634With that, we had only a few more hours to wait in pitch darkness for our train to arrive in Sighișoara (pronounced: sih-gee-sho-ah-ra), birthplace of Vlad Ţepeș, the subject of this entire illustrious expedition. Arrive the train did, about fifteen minutes after dawn crashed over the mountainous terrain of Transylvania, drenching the desolate rural landscape in pinks and reds.

As we inched closer to our first destination in Romania (I did mention this train was agonizingly slow, right?) I started to wonder if, perhaps, I had made a mistake in coming to Sighișoara – the terrain was unforgiving, and the train tracks were bordered by brutally depressing industrial works. Had I, perchance, led our beleaguered party to the Romanian equivalent of Bakersfield, California?

Suddenly, the terrain changed, the softened morning light shafting off of picturesque churches and tiny villages, and I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps my traveling companions would indeed lynch me during (or after) this expedition, but that day would not be today.

IMG_8639The train rolled into Sighișoara’s tiny train station, and bleary-eyed we hopped off, packs on our backs, to hike through the early morning streets to our hotel. Which I was pretty sure was in walking distance. Mostly sure. (It was). At that hour we couldn’t check in, naturally, but they would hold our packs, so we dropped off said packs and made our way first to the tin-roofed Leper’s Church (a rather mean title, since said lepers weren’t actually allowed inside the church, but were preached to from a platform outside the church) and then to Sighișoara Citadel, a medieval walled guild town built by Saxon Germans supported by Hungary.

I am just going to throw it out there: Sighișoara Citadel is awesome. While it may be out of the way, for the average person without my peculiar Vlad Ţepeș obsession (for me, Poenari Castle, which I’ll talk about in a later post when the account reaches Wallachia, was as good), it was easily the best part of the trip in Romania.


Not only are the fortifications mostly intact, but the town inside is still inhabited with a great collection of outdoor cafes, a cacophony of magpies (which still look funny to me, so used to all-black crows and ravens as I am, but they make some fantastic vocalizations), an old hillside church graveyard and, best of all, the (very significantly rebuilt) house where Vlad Ţepeș was born.

History sidebar time: Despite Vlad Ţepeș’ popular association with Transylvania, he and his family were actually associated with neighboring Wallachia, not Transylvania. So what was Vlad Ţepeș doing being born in a Saxon German guild down in Transylvania, anyways?


In 1431, the year Vlad Ţepeș was born, his father, Vlad Dracul (“The Dragon”, so named to honor his inauguration into the Kingdom of Hungary‘s anti-Ottoman Order of the Dragon) had been appointed Governor of Transylvania by the Hungarians with the goal of stemming territorial encroachments from Vlad Dracul’s brother, Alexandru, current voivode (prince) of Wallachia, to which Vlad Dracul also very much had a claim.

Vlad Ţepeș was born, and a handful of years later his uncle died suddenly, and the Hungarians told Vlad Dracul, “Go,” to which Vlad Dracul without a moment’s delay grabbed every fighting man he could get his hands on and marched into neighboring Wallachia to claim the voivodeship of the principality.

IMG_8745The house that Vlad Ţepeș was born in is a pastel yellow thing sitting next to the neat councilmen’s tower near the old main gates of the fortified town. Naturally, the house Vlad Ţepeș was born in has been transformed…into a restaurant. With a cardboard cutout of Dracula (not Vlad Ţepeș, note) sitting on the walk outside. Featuring a menu full of vampire-themed drinks and food offerings.

To say I was dying inside would be an understatement, though I was somewhat buffered in this by the fact that I had heard rumors about this even before getting on the plane way back in San Francisco. My traveling companions were positively gleeful at my discomfort.

So much for historical dignity.


The food was decent, the bar upstairs cute. Then my companions decided they really wanted to pay the 5 Lei to see “the room Vlad Ţepeș was born in”.

Now, keep in mind my earlier comment about the house having been heavily rebuilt since the 15th century, so I was immediately suspicious, but nobody ever called me a quitter, so I steeled myself and prepared for the worst. After a short delay, the restaurant proprietor took us upstairs to a room bedecked in red and black curtains. And an open coffin. With a wax vampire in it.

IMG_8793Then (naturally) the “wax” vampire jumped up with a loud, “Boo!”, and I discovered that, yes, indeed, it is always possible for any particular situation to decay further.


But, really, Sighișoara was still great. Even if the photos of me with my jaw dropped will probably follow me for the rest of my life.

Next Article: The Werewolf Pack of Poenari

Imprisonment and a Tale of Two Wives

IMG_8545Twenty years of consideration, a year of preparation and one trans-atlantic flight from San Francisco to Budapest by way of Frankfurt led to this, a walk through the haunts and steps of Vlad III, self-styled Dragwlya (“Son of the Dragon”) also known as Ţepeș (“The Impaler”) to the Romanians and Kazıklı Bey (“Impaler Prince”) to the Ottomans, and best of all known as Dracula, or rather, the historical basis for the namesake of Brad Stoker‘s most famous novel.

Geographical realities and logistical practicalities being what they were, my two traveling companions and I made the deliberate decision to not retrace Vlad’s path chronologically. As well, there were a few legs (notably, Moldavia, Brașov and Giugiu) that we skipped as well, though I am considering a second trip in a few years to hit those as well.

This meant that the first leg of the expedition began in Budapest, Hungary.

IMG_8354After getting into the city in the afternoon local time, we grabbed a taxi to the hotel in a rather dingy part of town, dumped our gear and immediately headed out to check out Budapest first-hand, specifically Pest, where we wound up in the circus. That is, watching a circus complete with a fascinating act where a woman walked upside down with no visible means of self-preservation other than a conspicuous lack of wires or hooked shoes, leading to some speculation of perhaps electromagnets, though that sounds crazy now that I’ve typed it out like that.

Budapest, see, is actually an unholy amalgamation of two separate cities, Buda on the west side of the Danube, Pest on the east side, a situation that was, in fact, very much the case when Vlad Ţepeș arrived. Both times.

Both times? Yep, he was there twice, once as a refugee, a second time as a prisoner.

The first time, Vlad Ţepeș was around twenty years old; his first short reign over the Romanian principality of Wallachia with the support of the Ottomans had ended spectacularly when the Kingdom of Hungary, then playing a deadly cold-and-hot war with the Ottoman Empire, took grave exception to Vlad Ţepeș’ assumption of the throne of Wallachia in the borderlands between the two great powers.

Vlad Ţepeș’ finely-tuned sense of self-preservation was such that he knew a losing situation when he saw it and he bolted, first for Edirne, then the site of the Ottoman court that had supported his bid for power, but soon after in Moldavia where he took refuge with relatives of his mother, specifically his cousin Stephen III, who would himself eventually become Stephen the Great.

Stephen and Vlad became close friends, each, throughout their lives, supporting the other’s respective bids for power with troops and diplomacy. Both were in precarious political positions, and it doesn’t take any particular historical insight to understand what each saw in the other. That precariousness of political positions soon forced Vlad and Stephen to flee Moldavia in favor of the German merchant town of Brașov in Transylvania, a principality adjacent to Vlad’s Wallachia that was generally dominated by Hungarian politics.

The Hungarians soon discovered that Vlad was in Brașov and demanded to the city that he be turned over. Vlad, knowing which side of the bread Brașov’s butter was on, decided to bolt again. Fortune favored Vlad this time, however, and the current voievod (sometimes translated as “prince”, but originally more accurately an appointed warlord, and eventually governor) of Wallachia began making bedroom eyes at the Ottoman Empire. This, naturally, ticked off the Hungarians, particularly since the Hungarians were probably his original ticket to his position in the first place.


A truce was brokered between Vlad and the Hungarian John Hunyadi, Regent-Governor of the Kingdom of Hungary, and Vlad (and I believe Stephen as well) found themselves being entertained in Buda in the Hungarian court. In Buda, Vlad eventually met – and eloped with – a cousin of Matthias Corvinus by the name of Jusztina Szilágyi, reputed by folklore to be the namesake of “The Lady’s River” below Poenari Castle who threw herself into said river rather than being captured by the Ottoman forces sieging the remote castle.

Much later, around the time Vlad was thirty or so, Vlad managed to become very politically inconvenient to Matthias Corvinus. Vlad went to Corvinus to ask for military aid from the Hungarians and was instead captured, put up on forged charges of treason, and put first in prison, and then later under house arrest for some twelve years.


When Vlad arrived this second time in Buda he was entertained not in the court, but rather put into the dungeons made out of cave network beneath Buda Castle briefly, then for a longer, more comfortable imprisonment in the Tower of Solomon, a part of the fortress of Visegrad upriver from the city, and later in a house in Buda proper. When Vlad left – converting to Roman Catholicism in an exercise of political expedience – he also left with his second wife, Ilona Szilágyi, the daughter of Hungarian nobleman (and cousin to the king), Michael Szilágyi.

Several of the aforementioned locations will come up again, but back in the original story – that’s the one about us treking through Eastern Europe – that’s how we found ourselves in Budapest.

Old palace remains.

Old palace remains.

So to summarize, the official targets:

  • Buda Castle (The Vas)
  • The Labyrinth under Buda Castle (complete with a creepy little makeshift black and white theater)
  • Visegrad
  • The Tower of Solomon




There were a lot of unofficial things as well – Budapest is a strange city, complete with the most bizarre toilet I have ever seen bisected with a shelf, presumably so one can securely admire one’s work before flushing said prized accomplishment down the drain.

Then, later, there was the Enchanted Forest, a pair of houses on the Pest side of the river that had been converted into a network of bars, hostels and very strange, very cool sets of rooms, not to mention a bartender who made the smoothest, meanest rum and coke I think I have had.

IMG_8453Visiting Visegrad required an incredibly confusing train ride (sorry, Budapest, but your train system is completely incomprehensible where none of the words on the ticket match any of the words on the train schedule – how again is someone supposed to figure this out?), a ferry trip across the Danube (mostly for the cars, but they allowed passengers as well), and then a hike up the Cavalry Trail up to Visegrad itself.

(We originally intended to bus it up, but what can I say – I thought I saw a trail, and somehow managed to convince my two traveling companions to join me. Then again, they probably were just as baffled by Visegrad’s bus schedule as I was. For a tiny little tourist town it had the most complicated bus timetable I think I have ever seen. I am still reasonably certain it included extensions to several out-of-the-way alternate dimensions and afterlifes of no fewer than three competing religions.)


From Visegrad, a very impressive fortress in a very impressive location, the lower wall originally went down to the Tower of Solomon, a separate, smaller fortress that has alternatively been used for storage, a prison, and myriad other uses. As we went down the path to the Tower of Solomon, I regretted again that our timing was a week after the tower was closed for the year.

But then, something awesome happened – a reenactment event was happening at the Tower of Solomon, and the tower was open for the use of the reenactment ceremonies.

IMG_8471So, naturally, we snuck in. It was unguarded and there weren’t any signs technically saying not to, so what could possibly go wrong?

Yeah. About that.

We made our way through the tower – itself in the midst of being rebuilt from the relative ruins it had been enjoying – then up, all the while getting a fascinating look at what it must have been like to live under those conditions (and, really, for the time, it was obviously pretty posh). After we reached the top, we went down, me a little ahead of my traveling companions.

To find the gate had been closed. Which is how I found myself, much like Vlad, imprisoned in the Tower of Solomon. For fifteen seconds before a security guard noticed and freed us. Excuse me. “Freed” us. And by adding those quotes, I am referring to the fact that as it turned out the gate hadn’t actually been locked yet, just closed at the base of the gate.

IMG_8598The next day we were off to the Vas, the high plateau to see the remains of the old Hungarian court, complete with the recently reopened caverns of the Labyrinth which had been rather oddly converted into a wax museum.

Like you do. Apparently.

It was a strange and twisting little network that had been abruptly – and roughly – closed under still unexplained circumstances several years ago. We had arrived to the Vas with the latest information indicating it was still, unfortunately closed. Except, of course, that it had been reopened as an aforementioned wax museum.


The day ended eventually, as days have a bad habit of doing, and we found ourselves on a night train out of Budapest for Romania. But that, as they say, is a tale for another time. Meaning next time.

Next Article: The Train of Terror!