The comfortable road ends as I approach the Carpathian mountains. It’s mid October and although the weeks before have been exceptionally warm in Bucharest, damp fog descends over the mountains today. I am told that Transylvania is a picturesque place full of sun drenched meadows, hiking routes and villages that look like time stopped there in the middle ages.
But today wooden houses by the road are dipped in hazy dimmed light and look sinister, as if they were a set from a Grimm Brothers tale. It was raining earlier and the buildings took on the earthy colour of wet wood. We arrive at Peles Sinaia castle and when I get out of the car, the damp fog seeps behind my collar and into my shoes, and chills me to the bone. The castle is a palatial villa built in neo-Renaissance style. On a different day, I would love the Disney-like castle, the stuff of fairy tales.
I travel down empty roads. As I go deeper into the Carpathian mountains the clouds hang heavy and the sky seems so low. Mountains are looming over me.
Bran castle, better known as Dracula castle, looks almost cartoonish from afar, white and tall and oddly proportioned with whitewashed walls and small windows, perched atop the hill. At its foot there are stalls selling tat, mainly Dracula inspired paraphernalia for tourists. But walk past it and you enter the sinister world of Bram Stoker. Dracula’s castle (officially Bran castle) was in reality a Romanian royal family’s residence. Theirs was a world of austere elegance, with sparse polished wooden furniture and oak floors. There is no gilded mirror in sight – and the place looks all the better for it.
It’s already twilight when I climb back into the Carpathian wilderness. I have a feeling that my story will unfold tonight and I will be watching from the sidelines how it veers out of a safe route and perhaps out of control. Deep in the mountains my phone loses its signal. There is nothing and no-one around me, and the fog now travels thick somewhere between the mountains, as if it fell half way down from the tops. It’s surreal. I think of Stoker’s words “Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings.” There is something out there that I am looking for and it’s still beyond my reach. I am grappling for it in the darkness, the dim light of desolate villages twinkling in the night.