May 7th - 15th: You’ve got a friend in Transylvania, Hungary and Romania:
After several days of traveling hell, we arrived sleepless and penniless in Budapest. When we heard our old friend Ri-otch scream “Housewrecker!” across the halls of the train station we were overjoyed. Ri-otch is a former professional wrestler who now films NFL games for the Philadelphia Eagles and has an unstoppable predilection for pissing on national monuments. He fit in perfectly. He promptly bought us lunch and gave us money and we didn’t even have to sleep with him.
We spent the day wondering around Budapest. We crossed the Danube river to the old city and we explored an ancient underground labyrinth with oil lamps and immediately got really lost.
We only had about fifteen minutes until the entrance was locked so we were racing around with oil lamps in a completely dark underground cavern trying to beat the clock.
Remember the computer game Doom? Unfortunately, we found an exit. Not before Ri-otch peed on two thousand year old well.
We did the Budapest café scene, partied that night at some swanky Euro-trash youth hostel, and the next day we attempted to leave the country.
On our third attempt to get train tickets we decided to just get wasted and wait for the train. We went to small bar on the outskirts of town (we were at the wrong station) and met three fifty year old Hungarian drunks and they bought us tequila shots and we all banged our heads to the Hungarian glam-rock group “Hobo Blues Band” which we played repeatedly on the jukebox. We got on the train, bribed the conductor not to ask us for a ticket and decided to try to head to Deva, Romania. Deva is a small town in Transylvania that happened to be home to the Romanian Olympic gymnastics school.
We arrived in Deva and immediately caught a bus to Hunedora. It was here that we saw the spectacular fairy tale Corvin castle which has been around since the 12th century. As Pennsylvania boys, Riotch and Joey were fairly amazed that they don’t have anything like this in Pennsylvania. We had a small picnic in a public park where we watched a homeless derelict scream at us and then an old man dressed like Andy Capp walked over and beat the living piss out of him. We watched and ate some cheese sandwiches while the conqueror then walked circles around the beaten man’s mangled body and flexed his muscles at us and complimented himself in Romanian. Damn, that was a good sandwich. Afterwards we returned to Deva and when attempting to check into a hotel, we were elated to find out that the ENTIRE town of Deva had no running water for “maybe 1 or two day”.
In Deva we discovered a basement bar which was everything Transylvania should be. A 15th Century arched brick former wine cellar converted into a bar. It smelled of ancient must and gypsy perfume. We made a friend named Andrei who mixed us drinks of fire (figuratively AND literally) and we played a 150 yr old grand piano. At 3 AM, in the dark Transylvanian wine cellar, we learned about the history of Vlad Tepes - Dracula and stories of lost Transylvanian gold. Joey kept whispering to Ri-otch, “Dude this is how all the Indiana Jones movies start”. We were inspired to become adventurers.
We knew of the existence of a “real” Dracula’s castle in Northern Wallachia, guarding the entrance to Transylvania. It is not the touristy Bran castle near Brasov that ignoramuses and wealthy western tourists call Dracula’s castle. Those people aren’t worthy to be flogged by the whips of Mistress Intelligence. The castle where Vlad Tepes -aka the only non-fictional Transylvanian to ever have the moniker Dracula- actually lived in is in a little known nameless section of Wallachia near Curtea de Arges. Many of the locals don't even know about this castle and no public transportation goes there.
After an all night freezing cold unheated train ride to get as close as possible to the correct area, we paid a cab (damn rich Americans) to drive us (often swerving trying to HIT chickens but to MISS the cows) to where we thought it should be. We arrived around 6:30 AM and we looked up and saw ruins on the top of a mountain. There we spent our morning climbing EXACTLY 1480 steps up the side of the mountain to the castle. The castle was perched on a rocky cliff and the misty Transylvanian Alps surrounded us; there was not a person in site and we had an enormous field of view. This serene historical bucolic setting was the perfect scene for… Riotch to pee on his second national monument of the week. After we climbed back down the mountain, Joey was writing in his journal and realized that it was Friday the 13th. On Friday the 13th we climbed a Transylvanian mountain and had a picnic in the actual Dracula’s castle. Sometimes life is too cool, how will I ever go back to a day job?
We caught a ride to the town of Sibiu with an Israeli couple and then made our way back to Deva again. In Deva we met some lovely women from the Romanian Olympic gymnastics team. After being told in numerous countries that he looked homeless because of his beat up Converse Chuck Taylors, Joey was happy that Olympic caliber ladies appreciated fine footwear.
Another night at our favorite bar and Ri-otch and Joey get the brilliant 3 AM idea to go sneak around in a Transylvanian cemetery. Next time you’re watching a low-grade horror movie and you think “No one is that dumb, no one would do that” please think again. Now an important back-story is that Romania has an overabundance of stray wild dogs. Google “Romania stray dogs” and you’ll see that it is an internationally known problem and not just our imaginations. So there we were on a Transylvanian side street trying to get through the gates into an unlit cemetery when guard dogs came after us. We went down a narrower and even darker street to try to sneak past the dogs and get into a side entrance and that is when it happened…
Now, Romanian gypsies can be pretty bad-assed dudes, and as a result most strays are inherently afraid to come near people but rather prefer to bark from a distance. After being relatively accustomed to Romanian strays “all bark no bite” mentality we were surprised and shocked (ok, we were pissing our pants) to see that we were in a dark empty alley at 3 AM and two timber-wolf looking Romanian strays were not only barking but were charging at us down the street at full speed. This out-of-character display of white fangs heeding the call of the wild (yeah Jack London’s cool) scared us more than a bit and we found ourselves with more adrenaline than when our raft capsized in Thailand. (Side Note: Did you read about the catfish they just caught?)
To sum up this story, we dove for broken bricks, yelled, waved our hands and stomped our feet and charged back at the dogs. When this actually worked and scared the dogs we tip-toed safely away…to find we were at a dead end with fences and building on all sides. We stocked up with bricks and again went through the dog’s turf, terrified and ready to fight as if 3rd world country rabies shots depended on it. More brick-waving, screaming and stomping and we made it out of the street. As soon as Joey and Ri-otch were safe away from the dogs, as with all men immediately after being scared to death, they immediately began high-fiving, talking about how NOT afraid they were, and how they could each individually fight an entire army of Transylvanian werewolves.
After a few more Transylvanian misadventures including lots of medieval cities, 5 AM nights of absinthe and Romanian gymnasts; our heroes decided it was time to head to Czech Republic because Ri-otch had to catch a flight back to the US from Prague…