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Ingrid's Obituary


On the Dracula Trail

Ingrid spends a night in the Borgo Pass and pays Vlad the Impaler a home visit in the house in which he was born in Sighisoara.
Brasov

View from the balcony at Brasov.

Ok, you can stand down now. Forget practising your forelock tugging and curtsying. The Count, or at least his professed representative in Transylvania, Nicholae Paduraru, blew me out. The promise of a Baroness-ship or at least a Vice Presidency in the House of Dracula was not fulfilled. Rejection is an ugly thing.So it’s back to Bermans with the rented tiara and crinoline and no more walking on serfs I guess.

Let me state up front that Romania must be one of the most beautiful countries in the world. For sure in Europe. It has everything from glorious forests and mountains to picturesque peasants working in the field. It is also one of the few countries in Europe that stood up to the Nazi demands to intern the Jewish population. They pretended to go along with their montruous neighbour, rounded up the Jews, put them in trucks and under the cruel eye of their overlords, watched them driven away. But the trucks inexplicably got lost and never seemed to be able to find their destinations. Once the Nazis lost interest the trucks brought their passengers back and they disappeared into friendly safe havens.What more do you want.........? Well!

The first face I saw when I bulldozed my four suitcases of not to be used gear through the customs hall was that of my guide for the duration of my stay in Transylvania, Magdalena. I didn’t realise that this was the last smiling face I was to see until I returned to the airport two weeks later. Bucharest is about twenty minutes ride from the airport. I was looking forward to getting to the hotel, changing into something casually elegant and having a quick shufti at the shops. Still smiling, Magda, as she liked to be called, told me that we were heading, not for the capital but for the ‘second’ capital city - Brasov - a reputed two and a half hours away. This actually turned into four hours. My first impression of the country? Dramatically beautiful and picturesque. As we leapt from pot hole to pot hole in the roads of the flat country around the city I was taken by the little horse-drawn carts, loaded to the gunwales with produce and the number of prowling dogs dodging in and out of the slow moving but unbelievably sparse traffic.. The countryside was impressively green and lush. In the fields bowed old biddies reaped and sowed, ploughed and mowed in the time honoured fashion not often encountered in other countries nowadays. I came over all romantic and imagined Jonathan Harker of Dracula fame speeding through the countryside a hundred years ago and witnessing the same sort of scenery. It’s all right. I know Harker was a figment of Bram Stoker’s imagination but after experiencing the schizoid attitude to Dracula and Vlad the Impaler for the last fortnight I’m finding it hard to sort out thikkie from tha.The holes in what was left of the tarmac got increasingly impressive as the city was left behind and the car began the climb along the tortuous mountain roads . Magda tried her best to divert attention away from the perilous drop into the river below as I fought valiantly to control my luggage, which persistently tried to hammer me to pulp as I was hurled from one side to the other in the rudimentarily sprung car.. The smile on my face was getting a bit strained at this point but I assured myself that the wild country and exciting driving was worth the small discomfort. I was particularly impressed by the way the driver overtook slow-moving trucks and peasants on blind corners.Grand Prix drivers could learn a thing or three from him about getting around back markers. The sweatfulness of the situation was confirmed when we started the final part of the journey up a switchback road and finished nearly six thousand feet above you air breathing mortals. The hotel perched precariously on the side of the mountain was The Alpin. Magda wanted to give me the guided tour. I wanted food and bed. My suite was beautiful with a view that would be hard to beat in Valhalla. It commanded a view across the valley to the distant, snow covered mountains. But I didn’t know this until I went out on the veranda the following morning. You’ve heard that expression - ‘it took my breath away’? It really did.

The reason for the visit to Poiana Brasov was the Second World Dracula Congress. I put aside my witty double entendre about us being there to witness Dracula having it off with anyone who crossed his path for the second time and tried to look refined and intelligent. It strained my acting talent to the full but I was determined not to be out-weighed by the tonnage of professors who were scheduled to say their piece before I got a chance to spout.I was down to ‘deliver a paper’ on Researching and Bringing Erzebet Bathory to the Silver Screen. A pretentious title I had thought up in haste and was beginning to repent at leisure. The Congress was to be held in what I believe was the local night spot called Favorit - all tatty decoration, smelly loos and fifties kitsch. Magda led me down the mountain in wonderful sunshine. I wanted to stretch out on the grass and expose the aging bod to the high altitude sun and air, (or son and heir if one was available) but Magda would have none of that. I had a few moments to meet my fellow lecturers and finally come fang to fang with the man who claims to be in constant commune with Count Dracula - Nicholae Paduraru. First on the menu was Professor Elizabeth Miller from the University of Newfoundland and revelling in the title of Baroness of the House of Dracula. She set the tone for the next fortnight. Her dissertation was on the amount of inaccuracy that has crept into the pure tale of blood and necromancy of the original Dracula. Things like the belief that the Bloody Count was dispatched with a stake through the heart. “Rubbish” yelled the Baroness - “ he was finished off with a Bowie knife and a dagger”. Another thing that got her riled was the claim that the Dracula was based on the Transylvanian voivode, Vlad Tepes. Not so, says the Prof. It is doubtful if the author even knew about Tepes until he changed the character’s name from Count Wampyr to Dracula. Elizabeth has written a book debunking all the spurious claims to Dracula scholarship called DRACULA - SENSE AND NONSENSE. I’ve read it and it should be top reading for anyone interested in the ‘true’ story of Dracula and the realm of the undead which sprang from his dalliance with Mina and Lucy.

Next up was a spunky Professor of English from Mexico University called Victoria Amador. The bee in her bonnet was about the two Dracula films made simultaneously in 1931. The English version by Tod Browning with Bela Lugosi and the Spanish stab at the same story by George Melford featuring Carlos Villarias in the lead. Both films were made back to back on the same set. Victoria claimed that the Spanish version was far superior. I haven’t seen it so was unable to comment but I did manage to put her right about the costume Dracula wears about the castle. Victoria attributed it to Bela. I wasn’t having that. The costume that we have all grown to fear was, in fact, created by Raymond Huntley for the stage. Especially the high collared cape. Where Max Schreck in Nosferatu was all crumpled, badly fitting black gear, Huntley blossomed forth in the sort of outfit that could have been worn in a dance routine with Fred Astaire without raising a revenant. Minus cape of course. The cape and collar were a dramatic stage device to highlight Dracula’s white face and boiled shirt front. I felt very smug about being able to put her right on that little misconception and marked one up for the Brits.

I’d had enough for the moment so in an appropriate lull in the waffle I eased out with the intention of giving the shops a whirl. The sun was great, the view orgasmic, the shops non-existent. I put the lack of places to get rid of a few million lei (29,000 to the pound) down to the fact that I was in a ski resort and the end of May was late to be on the piste and early for exposing the ruder parts of the bod to the high altitude sun. I decided that I would take the ski lift up to the top of the mountain opposite the hotel. Problem! The lift refuses to shift unless at least ten souls are gathered in its presence. I hung around for a while but as no one else seemed keen on braving the flimsy cable the gondola thing was swaying from I went back to the hotel and stretched out on the balcony. And, of course, across the valley I could see the cable car climbing up the other mountain. It always happens to me. It’s always the other queue that moves first.

Borgo Pass

View from the bedroom window of Castle Dracula of the Borgo Pass.

I picked ‘n’ mixed the rest of the lectures. Professor Jean Marigny from the University of Grenoble (if you are wondering why I keep name dropping it is just to impress so don’t worry about it) put forward the idea that Satan was all-powerful and that God was far from being the Superior Being deserving of our hosannas. Alan Murdie, a late substitute and a barrister to boot, told a poignant tale of the systematic murder of young street kids in Columbia by jolly middle class Satanists. An interesting side bar to the general oral theme of the conference was provided by artist Roman Vasseur , a painter and lecturer. He had already been to the Borgo Pass and to prove it he had dug up a cubic metre of soil from beside Castle Dracula and was transporting it back to England for exhibition in The Austrian Cultural Institute gallery at Rutland Gate. It was in an impressively heavy wooden box and presumably represented one of the fictional cases that Dracula took with him to Carfax. It seemed a good wheeze and I found myself a container to bring home a similar but lesser trophy. After more photographs around the box it was my turn to strut my stuff on the speaker’s platform..

I had prepared and rehearsed my speech for days, all dramatic pauses and punchy one liners. I was intent on sticking it to the academics. Then I got carried away and went into overdrive and completely forgot what I was supposed to be lecturing on and did a comedy act about the trials and tribulations I had encountered making my vampire movies. I got so carried away that I even forgot to field a question and answer session. I must have done something right, though. Everyone came up and congratulated me on my ‘interesting’ talk. The showing of Countess Dracula, immediately after was equally ‘interesting’. It was projected on to a full size screen by a home movie projector. But no one seemed to mind. I really must find someone to define ‘interesting’.

We finished the day in style in the Hunters Stag in Brasov. First a wine tasting. A selection of five fine wines from the area and a platter of really ‘interesting’ finger food. Then we were ushered upstairs for dinner and some undrinkable liquid that I was assured was wine. I think ‘wine’ also needs to be defined. Distraction was provided by a score of bouncing boys and girls in authentic peasant apparel, design stolen from Hollywood films of the thirties, who bounded energetically up and down for an hour and left a miasma of BO that seemed authentic enough. By now I had got over the initial wonder at the food. I like rice - but.... Still it was bound to be better out on the road.

Our first day on the road sounded exciting. There was a huge turn out of press from all over the world plus a few TV companies. Discovery were everywhere as were a Korean film unit. A couple of others turned up for the first few days but then left. It was marvellous. I spent the first half of the tour primping and posing and commenting gravely on our surroundings and what they meant in the greater scheme of things and Dracula in particular. I had been booked by the BBC to do a series of interviews with one of their reporters. It was the same group of people that had covered my trip to Argentina at the beginning of last year. The interviewer turned out to be Eleanor Garland, one of the most English of English roses and a good mate to boot. Our first night’s destination was the Monastery Durau. This is sort of Disney’s take on the monastic system without the expertise and fun. The monastery is in the state most Spanish hotels are in when the first package tour arrives. It’s nice to see that Romania is following in the dysfunctional plumbing of other, more experienced resorts. By this time I had become accustomed to having a cheery ‘good morning’ castrated by a stony stare but the monks and nuns of the order had not only had the charisma bye-pass but have raised hostile insouciance to an art form. But it was a great opportunity to get together with the rest of the Mysterious Travellers in a good grumble. There’s nothing like it to accelerate a little social bonding.

Next morning started as, appropriately in view of our destination, it meant to go on. Wet and misty. On board was Robert Lima, a cross between Grizzly Adams and Carl Marx, in looks that is, from the Penn State University. He is an expert on religious art and wanted to see the famed ‘Painted Monastery’ at Voronet. Didn’t do a good job of concealing my groan. Just goes to show that you never can tell. The rain was still hissing down and I was tempted to stay in the bus. I ventured out with bad grace and followed the rest through the guards, nuns wearing the habit and an habitual scowl, and shuffled into a small darkened room. At the other end was an open door. The room beyond was lit by warm candlelight. As I neared it a choir started to sing. It was so beautiful that the hair on my neck stood on end. I dodged passed a hatchet face monk and looked inside. There was a group of singers in every-day clothes giving it their all. I stood there like a prize wally and started to weep. Once the tears started I couldn’t stop them. I still don’t know why I was so affected by the sound. I was told afterwards that they were just a choir from a nearby village. But they certainly touched something I didn’t know was there. Eleanor was wonderful. She gave me a sympathetic cuddle and then told me to buck up, she wanted to do a piece with Robert and me. It was just what I needed. Robert did a learned bit about the murals and why they were done on the outside of the building, which went straight over my head. I then had to ask him what I hoped were intelligent questions but my mind wasn’t on it. By the time we had finished the rest of the party had gone back to the bus. I didn’t care. I went back into the monastery but the choir had gone back to their village. But, as Count Dracula would doubtless have noticed, they had left a little of the magic they had brought with them. As we struggled onto the coach that was to follow the Jonathan Harker course through the Borgo Pass to Castle Dracula, watched balefully by the monks and nuns who had obviously taken a vow not to help anybody, I couldn’t get that magical experience out of my head.

By now our guide and mentor had told us enough about the local attitude to Dracula and Vlad Tepes that it seemed churlish to even mention the fact that while they were including Vlad the Pole-vaulter with Drac the Unshriven in everything they did they were strenuously denying that one had anything to do with the other. The only notable incident on the long journey was when we stopped for a ‘comfort break’. I could have done without the euphemism - all I wanted was a pee and tea. But the bogs were unisex and singular and the tea milkless. Across the road stood a classier joint called Casa Elenas. I led the rebels across the road and pigged out on tea with milk and a loo with comfort. Elena turned out to be a stunning blonde with legs that went on forever and a reasonable grip on the English language. It was at this point that I fear I blew my chances of ennoblement. When Nicholae herded everyone he could find back on the bus he found himself half a dozen short. At last he traced us down to Elenas’ but by now we had ordered some grub and were on our second cup of tea. He wasn’t amused.
In the late afternoon we hit the Borgo Pass. Magnificent. But not at all what I had expected. I had visualised a rocky chasm with a decaying castle perched on an out crop. The Pass turned out to be a wide horse shoe shape valley with a back drop of majestic mountains. And the castle was a modern building with a strip of tarmacked road leading to the front door. To be fair it was built against the wishes of the Ceausescu government in 1983. New plans have been drawn up which are more in line with the architecture offered by Universal - a drawbridge up to a baronial door and inside a sweeping staircase down which Dracula can mince and do the ‘children of the night’ speech. Well, it would get you in the mood. Which is more than the cramped little entrance and minuscule steps up to the reception hall provide. Standing in the corner were a couple of Romanian blokes selling Dracula postcards which they stamped and franked with Castle Dracula Post Office. I had a load to send out so wriggled my way to the front and bought practically all they had left. They weren’t very inspiring but what can you do? As I was about to put them in the post box the Czechoslovakian correspondent for the Guardian, Kate Connolly, suggested that I just threw them in the trash can. They had as much chance of reaching their destination that way as any other. I decided that prudence should prevail and brought the cards back to post in England.

Ingrid talks to some of the descendents of the rescuers of Vlad when the Turks were coming to get him.

A Masked Ball was scheduled for the evening. I hadn’t been told about it and in spite of my four suitcases full of clothes had brought neither an appropriate ball gown nor a mask. I needn’t have bothered. Instead of a grand feast it turned out to be a finger-food freebee. Our party was also briefly united with a Goths group from Britain who were also doing the Drac Trac. They did have a sit down meal. And some pretty spectacular costumes. One good thing though. I had my fortune told by the resident witch. I pulled four sevens and a bundle of aces. Marina the witch got overly excited and assured me that in a very short time I would be making scuds of filthy lucre and would be loved passionately for the rest of my life. I wish I’d thought to ask for a look at the rest of the pack. Unfortunately she was giving no guarantees but I believed every word of it. It must be next week’s lottery I’m destined to win because it didn’t come up this week. By now the press pack had been enlarged and I had a ready excuse to escape anything I didn’t fancy by claiming that I was wanted elsewhere for an interview. The suite that I had been given was at the top of the Castle with wonderful views over the Borgo Pass. Discovery wanted to interview me in the sitting room and after taking off sundry doors and rearranging the furniture we got down to it. Various other journalists, including Jane (The Rebel) Bussman from the Mail on Sunday) decided to join us and very soon we had a party going. It was generally acknowledged that the Vampire wine at 40p a bottle was pretty tasty, the Bran Castle Vodka at 60p could very easily make you legless and Alacard Brandy at £1.50 was worth a good staking. I also met a renegade Englishman called Julian Ross who had been made redundant and moved to Castle Dracula where he takes tourists on sight-seeing tours in his horse and buggy. We all stayed up far into the night . I guess we were just frightened of going to bed in case we were molested by the guy with the fiery eyes and the bear’s breath. But then too much liquor has that effect on everyone. Somewhere along the line things got silly and the Discovery director, Bob Wise , suggested we all went down to the vault where a coffin was kept. Sounded good at the time. So everyone gathered up their bits and pieces and we trooped en mass down to the cellar. Bob wanted some footage of me in the coffin. I was up for anything by this time. It wasn’t easy getting in - it was to prove even harder getting out. I assumed various poses as ordered by the photographers. Then some bright spark suggested that we closed the coffin lid. I wasn’t so keen on that but was finally persuaded. After about ten minutes in the dark, on the verge of dropping off to sleep, I suddenly wondered what I was doing there. I couldn’t hear a thing so tried to push open the lid. The bloody thing wouldn’t budge. At last I managed to force it open to find everyone had left. To say I was severely pissed off is an understatement. I did get my own back a couple of days later when we visited yet another monastery. Bob, his crew and some of the journalists were in one of the vaults. The double doors were secured by a wooden bar. So I secured it. I’m told they didn’t get out for two hours. Ahhhh! Next morning, after my incarceration in Dracula’s coffin, I dragged myself out into the brilliant mountain sunshine wondering if I had been got at in the night and joined the ranks of the undead. The journalist’s seemed more used to late nights than I am and were bouncing around giving cheery ‘good mornings’ to all and sundry. Carol Beggy of the Boston Post was one of the worst offenders. I sank into my seat on the coach and tried to lapse into unconsciousness but she leaned over the back of the seat and babbled on about I know not what until I wrapped my hands around her throat and choked the life out of her. At least that was what I did as I drifted off to sleep. She was still at it when I woke up a couple of hours later with a splitting headache and a mouth that felt as if it had been exposed to a sandstorm in the Sahara Desert.

We were in the mediaeval town of Bistritz. Doomed to lunch in the Golden Krone where we were exposed to the same food as Harker had when he stopped there on his way to Castle Dracula. I guess he came from the opposite direction. There I was introduced to the man who built Castle Dracula, a geriatric smoothie who smarmed under the name of Baron Nicholae al Casei Dracula. He invited me to inspect the suite of rooms that Ceausescu had installed for visiting gentry. I was feeling like death warmed over but agreed to take a look. I half hoped that he might come over all amorous so that I could nut him and apply the boot in a place guaranteed to make his eyes water. But he didn’t and I had to suffer in silence.

This was where Dracula and Vlad Tepes part company. Up until now, through the flower pot, as my dotty old aunt used to say, the line between the two was pretty tenuous. Now we were deep in Vlad country and the natives could turn nasty if you weren’t nice about their favourite despot. Vlad was a tender being, of immaculate lineage, wise and chivalrous to all. Except to those who upset him. Then he was prone to shoving a pointed pole up the wotsit and watch his victim slide noisily down. But he never ever did it to anyone who didn’t deserve it and never, never dipped his croissant in their blood for added flavour. And to prove it we headed for Vlad’s birthplace, Sighisoara. Sighisoara is an old, old town. Ankle breaking cobbled streets and colourful but crumbling buildings. Vlad’s place has just been turned into a restaurant - but only just. When we arrived it hadn’t been completed and it was suggested that we returned the following day. Luckily, a hundred yards up the road, a witch trial was in progress. Some poor girl was accused of something which made the local executioner, a bully in a sexy leather jerkin and pink ski-mask, shout a lot and beat at her with a knotted rope. Another bloke in a fur hat and baggy tights also did a lot of shouting. He was the accuser and seemed to think she had something to do with his not getting his oats or milk or something. Personally I thought it was the baggy tights. I stood there and yelled “Burn the witch” at the top of my voice and for a moment there I thought I was on the winning side. Then some nerd in a poncy embroidered waistcoat offered to marry the witch and baggy tights slung his hat on the ground and stormed off. Very disappointing denouement . I would definitely have gone for the bonfire ending. We could have all danced around it afterwards. No realism these days. Witch presumably happily married off, I looked forward to the Dracula Hotel, our night stop, and getting my head down.

It wasn’t to be. These international journalists are not to be trusted. They heard that I had been again given a suite of rooms with a well stocked bar and forced me to entertain them. And they ain’t quiet. Next morning I had to apologise to everyone on the coach for the row that came from my room deep into the night. It wasn’t me, guv, honest. A swift visit to Vlad’s birth-place, now fully painted and ready for the hordes of visiting tourists about to descend on Sighisoara, took most of the morning. There was a small souvenir shop there. The first I had seen in Romania so I stocked up on trashy trivia while others checked out Vlad’s place. Which didn’t take long as it has been completely refurbished and none of the original dross of Tepes’s life was there to wax nostalgic about.

Targoviste Children

The kids in Targoviste.

Evidently, before Vlad became universally loved, he had to subdue his noblemen, the Boyars, who all wanted a bigger piece of the action than Vlad was willing to concede. Tired of the eternal bitching he sent out runners inviting the disgruntled barons to a feast. A feast that would resolve their differences once and for all. They should have known better. Vlad was a great prankster. Once when some foreign dignitaries refuse to remove their hats in his presense with the excuse that their religion forbid it, he playfully had a retainer nail the hats to their heads so that they were in no danger of forgetting their religious observances at a later date. He also got rid of the beggars that infested the countryside by inviting them to a feast then burning down the barn while they were roistering inside. Unfortunately for the Boyars they hadn’t read the brief on Vlad sense of humour. Vlad laid on a feast that knocked out their senses. They soon woke up to reality when Vlad’s men rounded them up in the morning and marched them to a rocky mountain top above the Arges River and forced them to build him an impregnable fortress at a place called Poienari. Years later Vlad was in retreat from his brother Radu who, with the backing of the Turkish Army, was trying to take his kingdom. The fortress might have been impregnable but you can die of impregnable. Vlad’s wife couldn’t take the stress of either falling into the hands of the Turks or starving to death. One moonlit night she threw herself from the wall of the fortress and plunged 2000 feet to her death. Vlad was thinking of following suit when he got word from loyal villagers in Aref, about ten miles away, that they were coming to get him. He escaped through a tunnel and was guided away by the villagers. He was so chuffed at his narrow escape that he gave his rescuers 23 mountains as a reward. I’m not sure what you are supposed to do with your own personal mountain but I suppose it is a good conversation piece. The Aref villagers still own 16 of the mountains. Our journey to an adjacent hill up a narrow strip of tarmac with a couple of thousand foot drop to a stream far below is a memory that will keep me in nightmares through the long winter nights. The following morning a straw poll decided that the 1456 steps up to the fortress should be tackled so that we could get a look at what Vlad had given up. I looked at the climb and decided it wasn’t me. I gave my camera to one David Drakula now residing in New York, and asked him to corrupt some emulsion. I thought that was pretty smooth. A modern Dracula exposing the secrets of the old. It also inspired me to write a whole new beginning for the forthcoming Dracula Who....? movie.

Descendants of Vlad’s loyal villagers still lived in Aref and we were invited to be part of a typical evening. Ho hum! Up an axle-breaking road in the foothills we found a typical mountain community - it says here. Everybody, spruced up and looking in their prime, turned out to greet the bus-load of weird tourist who preferred to brave the rocky road instead of staying snugly at home and watching Coronation Street. Again I considered staying in the bus but lost my nerve and shuffled into the utilitarian, concrete and galvanised iron village hall. Boy, was it worth it. Once we were settled down about 40 kids of all ages came in and entertained us with songs and dances which, we were assured, were exactly the same as those that Vlad the lad had enjoyed 500 years ago. I was completely captivated and when the children started dragging us out of the audience I was there living it up with the best of them. My partner turned out to be a handsome 14 year old, Adrian, who spoke perfect English and swore he had seen all of my films. When I asked him which ones, sad to relate, the only one he could remember was Countess Dracula - and that was only after prompting by his elder sister. I prefer to think it was just the translation of the titles that foxed him.

Again the night in my hotel suite was made hideous by the carousing journalists followed next morning by an equally hideous headache. This isn’t for me, I muttered and resolved that I would slink off early to bed that night and let the press pack take care of themselves. I was still trying to focus my eyes when we pulled up by the side of a rusty iron gate and were told that this was Vlad’s stop-over palace on his way to the Danube. Again the logistics of that statement are a little vague. Not to the old ruffian himself, I’m sure, only to me. Reasons became a little clearer once we had breeched the gate. The ruins were quite spectacular and presided over by a high, round tower - the Chindia Tower. This was where, we were told, Vlad used to stand and watch the forest of the impaled grow all around him on the wide lawns. When all his staked guests were in place he would descend to where a table had been laid for him and dine amidst the festooned bodies. Why don’t I believe this crap? It’s the headache I guess. Everyone else seemed to be lapping it up. The thoughts of this might be a little mind addling but what happened when we went to lunch in Targoviste (translated as ‘forest of the impaled’ I am unreliably informed) amounted to real but surrealistic horror. I was feeling more humanoid now, not human by a long stretch but better. Jane Mitchell, sitting opposite was about to retard my recovery. With a little scream she pushed her chair back and pointed at her plate. I hadn’t thought the food that bad but I guess she had a point. Marianated in French sauce, curled up on a lettuce leaf, was one of the biggest cock roaches I had ever seen. I called for the head man and explained that we didn’t go in much for that sort of thing in England. He examined it and looked faintly surprised that I was making a fuss. “In Morocco they are considered a delicacy, Madame.” he said, bowed and walked away. I was so astounded that I just sat there open mouthed. I still can’t believe I let him get away with it. I can’t remember much else about the day. I vaguely remember being approached by a couple of little beggar boys. They were quite cute and I took pictures of them and did the unforgiveable and gave them a few thousand lei. Suddenly a huge Nazi of a man in uniform rushed up and thrashed out at the kids. They were expecting it and darted off through the traffic before he could lay a finger on them. When I tried to get back on the bus I was handed a huge packet of antiseptic-wipes(don’t ask) and requested to give myself a good going over with them. My fellow passengers claimed that I had kissed the two raggamuffins and they didn’t want the contagion to spread. They pretended they were only joking but.......

That night the noise coming from my rooms was even more disturbing. More people had heard about our nightly orgies and had muscled in. It was the feeling that soon our tribulations would be over that brought on the gaiety. Tomorrow we would be free.

Vlad Tepes Birthplace Sighisoara

Hanging around the house where Vlad was born in Sighisoara.

Finally we were on the last lap of the journey. Bucharest was little more than a drive and a five iron away. But before we got there we had to suffer the ordeal by Sinaia, the royal summer resort of successive rulers. The palace grounds were fine. But I could have done without the over ornate interior. And it wasn’t even Romanian. It was German. Designed by Prince Ferdinand whose main contribution to history seems to be that he worked standing up at his desk and for the rest of the time stood around with his hand on his hip. Carol Beggy instantly tagged the decorations as ‘homosexual baroque’. I only quote. I have no idea what she meant. By this time I was flagging. And I wasn’t alone. The only thing that kept us going was the following day would be the end of our trials.

The church of Snagov might be the site of Vlad’s burial. It might not be. To get to Snagov it was necessary to take a boat trip. A wonderful alternative to the claustrophobic bus. In 1931 an architect, Din Rosette, found the grave of a nobleman there and for want of something better to call it, claimed it as Vlad’s tomb. Why nobody had claimed it before is better left unpondered. Anyway since then it has been generally thought that at any moment conclusive evidence of Vlad interment there would be found and it would become a shrine. They are still looking and hoping. By now everyone just wanted to get it over with so only the hardy followed the guide while he explained what the monastery was all about. I gave it the once over and then retired to the boat with most of the others and did a bit of sun bathing.

The run into Bucharest should have taken no more than an hour but that would have been too easy. First we had to have a look at the massive building Ceausescu had torn down part of the town to build. It’s huge and impressive and in a few years time will probably be proudly claimed as a tourist attraction. At the moment, with the memories of the Ceausescus still fresh, it is treated with scorn. Vlad Tepes is another matter. On the day before I left there was a run on the bank which resulted in them being closed. Deprived depositors took to the streets with placards saying, ‘Bring back Vlad Tepes’ and “Save us Vlad”. He’s been turned into companion of KIng Arthur or Sir Francis Drake who will return whenever their country is threatened.

At last I made my hotel room. Vast with an Evita type balcony. I tried to stretch out on the bed but a telephone call told me that we were all off to the Dracula Club for a last night get together. I couldn’t refuse. It turned out to be quite a good restaurant. I thought the owner had taste. He had two of my pictures on the wall. I revised my opinion of him later when he appeared in ghastly make -up, complete with fangs and cape and proceeded to declaim long tracts from Stoker’s Dracula. He then made a bee-line for me and tried to get his fangs in my neck. I wasn’t having that. If there is any fanging to do I’ll do it. He got the idea after a while.

By this time everyone was very maudlin and exchanging e-mail and telephone numbers and vowing eternal friendship. I even got so carried away that I invited all and sundry up to my room for a farewell drink. Which meant I didn’t get rid of them until well after three. I had to be up and at the airport by 8a.m. I got the second smile of the tour from a native as I went through passport control.

Would I do it again? At this moment I don’t know. The country is beautiful but I’m too old to relish the less savoury side of life. A hole and two foot prints is not a toilet. Rice and boiled cabbage is not dinner - or breakfast - or lunch or.... And the beds.... But there is something about the place that is very appealing. Perhaps our party tried to do too much. You can’t ride in a coach, however luxurious, from 9am til nine or ten o’clock at night for seven days on the trot and still enjoy it. If we had only done half as much as we did and stayed longer in each place it could have been magic. The companionship was wonderful. Everyone developed the Dunkirk Spirit and were able to get fun out of the problems that we encountered. This is my instant, travel weary, reaction. In a month or so’s time I’ll probably only remember the good things and then......

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt