Sep 7, 2010

Steve Unger - Guest Blog and Contest

Today PVN welcomes Steven Unger author of the new book In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide which he describes as perfect "for the armchair traveler with pictures and descriptions, in memoir form, of every site in England and Romania that is closely related to either Bram Stoker's fictional Count Dracula or his historical counterpart, Prince Vlad Dracula the Impaler...



By Steven P. Unger

My obsession to travel to every site related to either the fictional Count Dracula or his real historical counterpart, Prince Vlad Dracula the Impaler, grew out of a visit to Whitby, England, where part of the novel Dracula takes place.  I stood on the cemetery hill where, in Bram Stoker's Dracula, Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray spent hour after hour sitting on their "favourite seat" (a bench placed over a suicide's grave near the edge of the cliff), gazing out toward the "headland called Kettleness" and the open North Sea beyond—while Count Dracula slept just beneath them.

In my mind's eye, I could see the un-dead Count Dracula rising at night from the flattened slab of the suicide's gravestone to greedily drink the blood of the living.
The graveyard where Count Dracula spent his days sleeping in the sepulcher of a suicide looks the part that it plays, with its weathered limestone tombstones blackened by centuries of the ever-present North Sea winds.

That graveyard made the novel more visible, more visceral, to me, and I wondered if the sites in Transylvania and in the remote mountains of southern Romania would evoke the same feelings. As I was to discover—they did.

Old Parish Church Cemetery—Whitby, England

At that moment I decided to visit and photograph every site in England and Romania that is closely related to either Bram Stoker's fictional Count Dracula or his historical counterpart, Prince Vlad Dracula the Impaler—to literally walk in their footsteps and to write a book about my experiences.

Goth Girls Adorning Whitby's Bram Stoker Memorial Seat

Eventually I traveled along the Dracula Trail alone, using only public transportation, to some places that I'd seen before and to others I had only dreamed of, trying my best to systematically strip away the layers of myth about Count Dracula and Prince Vlad the Impaler to find the reality within.  I discovered in broken stones and parchments signed in blood why Prince Vlad's monstrous deeds in life would brand him forever with the name of Vlad Ţepeş (pronounced Tzeh·pish), Romanian for Vlad the Impaler, soon after his death.

In my research and travels I discovered two fascinating coincidences that link the historical and the literary Draculas.  First and foremost is that Bram Stoker chose to name his villain "Dracula," based on the translation of the Romanian word "dracul" into "devil," never knowing that the historical Voivode (Prince) Dracula he had read about was also Vlad Ţepeş, with a horrific and compelling biography of his own.

Vlad the Impaler Surrounded by his Victims

Bram Stoker's Transylvania was the pipe dream of an armchair traveler with a genius for writing:  real enough for the 19th Century reader, but bearing little resemblance to any Romania that ever existed.  For example, Stoker wrote of "hay-ricks [haystacks] in the trees" based on illustrations of Transylvanian haystacks built around stakes, with the ends of the stakes poking out like branches.  Thus, generations of Dracula readers assumed that Transylvanians put their haystacks up in trees.

  Haystacks on Transylvania's Borgo Pass

    The second coincidence is the uncanny resemblance of the real Castle of Dracula—Vlad Ţepeş' fortress at Poenari, which Stoker had no knowledge of—to Count Dracula's fictional castle in Transylvania.  Perched on a remote peak near a glacial moraine in the Făgarăş Mountains of southern Romania and mirroring Count Dracula's fictional castle at the top of the Borgo Pass almost stone for stone,Poenari remains pristine and almost inaccessible.

The Fortress Ruins at Poenari

One of my favorite places on the Dracula Trail is Sighişoara, in Transylvania, the birthplace of Vlad Ţepeş.  I was enchanted the moment I entered Sighişoara's Upper Town.

All at once I was in the middle of a perfect storybook medieval village enclosed by thick fortress walls, with cobblestone streets and Easter-egg-colored houses leaning every which way.  Guarding the town square was a spire-roofed and turreted 14th Century clock tower replete with carved wooden figures that circle a track to mark the passage of time.  In one window, a drummer plays to signal the hours; below the drummer, the angel of the night replaces the angel of the day at the final stroke of midnight.  In another window, gods and goddesses appear, changing for each day of the week.

 Piaţa Cetăţii—Sighişoara

But let's get back to Poenari, the real Castle of Dracula.  I had traveled to other remote, forbidding places before entering the almost lightless forest of Poenari.  Near Albania's southern border, I hiked the Vikos Gorge, a dozen miles from the nearest stone-housed village.  I baked beneath the unrelenting sun of the Timna Valley close to the Red Sea, where 120º in the shade is considered picnic weather.  But never before or since have I felt the apprehension and isolation I did while climbing to Vlad Ţepeş' mountaintop fortress at Poenari.  The forest was as quiet as a tomb; I can't recall hearing the song of even a single bird.

The ascent was exhausting.  At last I arrived at the lone approach to the fortress, a wooden footbridge (see top left of photo).  Of all the places I explored that are associated with Vlad Ţepeş, only at Poenari did I feel that he was somehow still keeping watch.  Thousands of boyars and their families had been force-marched there from Tărgovişte to die rebuilding the castle for Prince Vlad; it was here that his treacherous brother Radu stormed the fortress with cannons, reducing the once courtly residence into broken turrets and formless rubble.  And it was here that Prince Dracula's wife cast herself from the highest window of the eastern tower, choosing a swift death over the torture of the stake.

Walk along the top of the thick fortress walls of Poenari, look northward, and you can see part of the Transfăgarăşan Road, leading to a glacial moraine and one of the deepest lakes in the world.  (According to local legend, a dragon sleeps at the bottom of the lake, and the villagers nearby will caution you not to throw stones in the water lest the dragon awake.)  The view south from the fortress is straight down, to the Arges River far in the distance, and even farther, the road to Curtea de Arges.

 Footbridge to Poenari Fortress

 The Transfăgarăşan Road, as seen from Poenari

Parts of this article have previously appeared in Romar Traveler.

In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide, is published and distributed by World Audience Publishers

Upcoming signings will be held on:

Saturday, October 16th, 2010 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Borders, 2765 E. Bidwell St., Folsom CA 95630 (916) 984-5900

Sunday, October 17th, 2010 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Copperfield's Books Petaluma, 140 Kentucky St., Petaluma, CA 95404 (707) 762-0563

Saturday, October 30th, 2010 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Borders, 2339 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95825 (916) 564-0168


Steve is offering two lucky readers a copy of  In the Footsteps of Dracula.
Winners may choose paperback or pdf copy.
To enter: Name your favorite Dracula site (city, country, etc) for ONE chance to enter.

Be sure I have access to your email address.

Contest is open world wide and ends Sept. 14.


madwoman-doing-cartwheels said...

OMG maybe I'm the first--that can't be a good thing. My favorite fiction Dracula stomping ground would be foggy London.

Thanks for the chance to win--would love a paperback copy.

bookcat1010 at gmail dot com

buddyt said...

I guess I am just into castle but my favorite is the real Castle of Dracula—Vlad Ţepeş' fortress at Poenari.

Thanks for the giveaway and for opening it to worldwide entries.

Much appreciated.

I would like a paperback copy if I get lucky

Carol T

buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

debbie said...

What an amazing story. It must have been really incredible to go to those places. My favorite site would be the fortress ruins, the birthplace of vlad. I would love to have a printed copy of this book.

SandyG265 said...

My favorite Dracula location is Whitby. Thanks for the giveaway. Would love to read this.

sgiden At

Aik said...

I'd love to visit the Poienari Castle in Romania one day.

aikychien at yahoo dot com

Dirgesinger said...

My favourite Dracula site would be (though hard to choose!) the house where He was born in 1431 in Segesvar (Hungarian name for Sighisoara). maybe its my favouirte because I have already been there once.

Thank You for the possibility to win!

Tony-Paul said...

This sounds like a great book and one I'd like to have in my research library. I envy you that journey! I think I'd like to see Vlad's birthplace in Sighisoara, which I understand is now a nightclub...Casa Vlad.

Julie said...

I think London is a pretty cool site for Dracula's haunts.


Tore said...

My favorite vampire site would be Forks Washington where the story of Twilight took place. Please enter me in contest. I love vampire books.

Sandy Jay said...

My favorite site would be the Poenari Fortress.

I'd love a paperback copy of this book. Thanks for the giveaway.

forwhlz at gmail dot com

Sandy Rainey said...

Poenari is the place that most captures my imagination, as well. This book sounds like a must-read!

rrainey at columbus dot rr dot com

katsrus said...

Dracula's castle(Vlad the Impaler)is my favorite. Thank you for the giveaway. Your book sounds very interesting. I would love to win a paperback book.
Sue B

avalonne83 said...

Great giveaway! I'd love to be entered.

I'd like the Poienari Castle in Romania.

Please count me in. Thanks.

avalonne83 [at] yahoo [dot] it

Vickie said...

I'd say Whitby since it's where it seems most of the action takes place in the book.
I get to listen to DRACULA in October, I'm saving for my haunted books month of reading.

What a fab research trip that was. Thank you for sharing it.

VWinship at aol dot com

winterbabe98 said...

I agree, about Whitby, England----my favorite place, too!

paperback book is my choice, please, if I win!

barbs562 at gmail dot com