Castles and Fortresses in Transylvania, Romania

There are quite a bit of castles in Transylvania but probably the one that everyone thinks of Dracula’s Castle even though its real name is Bran Castle. Most people think of Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) as a haunted place but it’s not even close. Even the area of Transylvania that was designated as the home location for vampires and Dracula are all entirely false. To me, it’s just purely a marketing ploy to sell the vampire stereotype. It’s all due to the myths and stories created to help design Transylvania as a mythical and strange place out to the rest of the world which is somewhat working. Film producers even filmed a movie (Brad Stoker’s Dracula) at so-called Dracula’s Castle despite the castle’s incredible small size. Luckily the magic of Hollywood was able to make it bigger than it seems.

castle marketing dracual vlad impaler movie romania

Built on a hill, Bran Castle aka Dracula Castle is actually quite small for a castle. I have to say that it was kind of disappointing for such “marketing.”

innercourt bran dracula castle

Even the innercourt of Bran Castle is quite small. Not much space for anything really.

If you still want to go to Dracula’s Castle, by all means, take a trip but note that it’s not called that. The actual name is Bran Castle. Despite the name, there’s no connection to Brad Stoker’s Dracula. The book was more connected with Vlad the Impaler, even though the man probably never set foot in Bran Castle. I think the character and Bran Castle were great inspirations for the book and eventual movie as colloquial references to each other in addition to Romania’s attempt to open up the tourist marketing to the rest of the world. The castle is more of a museum than actual castle.

If you want to go to an actual castle, then the better selection would be Peles Castle. This castle was intended to be the summer estate for the Romanian royal family so there was a lot of elaborate construction to make it lavish and grand. I’m assuming that the royals also used it to entertain guests who would visit them there so they also created to impress visitors. Now it’s a popular tourist attraction as the castle is now a museum as the Romanian royal family has been banished by the Romanian Communist Party and after the communist era’s end, there was no big push to bring back the royal family so that was that.

peles castle green forest bushes lawn

That is the view of Peles Castle as you walk up the road. The Romanian royal family picked a great spot for it stick out well.

peles castle on a hill romanian royal family residence museum

And when you finally walk up closer and look at it, that’s what it looks like.

fountain front entry peles castle

It seems like as you get closer, Peles Castle becomes more and more better looking. Here they installed a fountain so imagine all the guests that came and were wowed at the sight of this place.

inside peles castle

Even the inside of Peles Castle is well decorated and heavily detailed to make a great impression on visitors.

food dinner table room Peles

And if you happen to be lucky to dine with the Royal Family, imagine what would be served here.

And right nearby Peles Castle is Pelisor Castle. Some even consider the two castles to be part of the same area complex. The castle was intended to be a private residence for the Romanian royal family so it’s not readily accessible for the general public to make visits although you never know…

pelisor residence

Another well designed castle/building – Pelisor Castle.

If you want to go a real castle, a fortress, then it would be best to go to Rasnov Citadel. This fortress was built on top of mountain which oversaw the valley so it could maintain defense against invading armies en-route to Brasov. I could see that the locals were concerned that the Ottoman Empire could send troops without warning so this place was a way to observe and stop any intrusions farther inland.

rasnov fortress

Rasnov Citadel was built on a hill overseeing the pass to ensure enemy troop movements were detected and slowed by this fortress.

strategic view point rasnov castle citadel

You can get some great views from this place. I can see why people back then chose such a spot.

Another interesting fortress is the one in Fagaras, about a 40-50 minute drive from Brasov. It’s very close to the impressive Fagaras Cathedral which is an Orthodox church.

Fagaras Cathedral church orthodox gold white Romanian Romania

Fagaras Cathedral which was built in the town’s center area that you cannot miss it especially with the golden tops.

This fortress, called Fagaras Citadel, is how most people would imagine a castle, actually has a moat around it! There are no alligators in it despite that some people might imagine a moat having them. Instead, the water is meant to be a barrier so troops cannot just run up with ladders and overrun the fortress. Water in this case is utilized as another form of protection, making it harder for enemies to overcome.

Fagaras Citadel Romanian castle fort fortress protection

Fagaras Citadel is quite big and they offer tours for a small price.

Tip: Be wary of all those Dracula’s items that the restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and street peddlers try to sell you such as Dracula’s lemonade, Dracula’s soup, Dracula’s candy, Dracula this, Dracula that, Dracula etc…. It’s all just a marketing ploy. A few Dracula items for purchase shouldn’t kill you in the wallet department but remember it’s all just marketing in making you the sale where your hard-earned money flows from your pockets and into theirs.

Categories: Europe | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Brasov in Transylvania, Romania

Romania has a lot to offer due to the country being basically the legacy of what used to be part of the last vestiges of the Eastern Roman Empire as it slowly became cut up from intrusions from all directions. Even the Romanian language was derived from Latin and is one of the Romance languages despite some inclusion of Slavic words and verbs. But that was to be expected when the country is surrounded by Slavic-speaking countries such as Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, and at one time, the Soviet Union (when Moldova and Ukraine were both part of it). There is quite a bit of history in Romania but don’t just consider Bucharest, the capital, as the only destination to go to. Instead, a lot of the cities and the countryside outside of Bucharest have far more to offer. That’s why Brasov, also known as Kronstadt, should be one destination.

medieval gate old Brasov

This is known as Catherine’s Gate which is one of Brasov’s oldest and only remaining gate from the medieval-Brasov.

hollywood sign copy for Brasov town

If you look closely, you can see the Brasov sign up in the forested mountain in an attempt to emulate the famous Hollywood sign.

Compared to the urban jungle of Bucharest where the capital city of Romania is nothing but streets and cars and more streets and more cars, Brasov is neither too small nor too big and rather well located in central north Romania, a great starting point to actually start the Romanian journey. If you’re into the winter sports of skiing and snowboarding then Brasov is pretty well-accommodating to tourists since the locals are also used to the summer traveling tourist hordes (or more like smaller groups moving about in the country). The locals in this part of the country are quite friendly in the sense that their country had suffered greatly under the Soviet iron curtain so any way to advertise the country’s offerings to foreigners is a great thing for them. That’s why the Romanians are looking to invest vast sums into their own infrastructure and their tourism in order to improve the country into the next century so as to not fall behind.

Brasov has quite a bit of neat looking buildings that contain quite a bit of history. The city itself was actually known as Kronstadt which the city and the area of Transylvania was actually part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. It was after World War I when Austria-Hungary disintegrated when Transylvania proclaimed its union with Romania which it is now part of today. However, there is still Austrian, German, Hungarian historical influences, however, scant that might be.

Romanian fortress old white protecting Brasov Translyvania

Nestled between mountain ranges and forests, Brasov was established in a nice valley area where it was important to construct some kind of fortification to protect the city and the roads.

Biserica Neagră Lutheran church Kirche

One of the biggest attractions in Brasov has to be the famous Black Church. Built back in the 1300s, it was originally a Roman-Catholic church but now it’s a Lutheran church for not just the city but for this part of Transylvania. Tourists now flock there to see it.

black church up close Romanian religion religious site tourist attraction

Looking up close to it, you can see that it’s quite old and has had extensive repairs over the years. The church is quite amazing at night.

Tip: Most Romanians cannot speak English. Some of the younger generation people in the cities can speak some English but you might benefit even more from knowing French, Spanish, and/or Italian since some of the words are similar due to the Latin foundation. Some Romanians might even know another Romance language because they might have lived and worked there. I met an older lady working in a restaurant who could not speak English but spoke Spanish so we communicated in that language instead.

Tip: Stay away from the panhandling gypsies. I’ve encountered them before in Spain and I usually just walk away from them but there are far more gypsy beggars in Romania, probably a higher concentration of them in Romania (and Bulgaria) than in other parts of Europe since the living standards are lower in this part of the world or they have setup some kind of foundation for themselves there such as a farm. Gypsies for the most part are nothing but trouble and they WILL rob you if you are not careful so heed extreme attention to where you are at and where are your belongings are. That includes your stuff in your vehicles if you rent an automobile. They will be sly by trying to avoid physical one-on-one brute encounters with you and will instead take your stuff when you are not looking unlike the street urchins in Lima, Peru, where they’ll come out to ambush-pummel you.

Tip: Romania has two peak seasons: winter and summer. Winter brings in all the snowboarders and skiers while summer brings in all the warm-weather folks. Since Romania is still relatively undiscovered by the tourist masses as a big-time tourist destination, I would have to say the summer time is a great time to go. You’ll still encounter tourists all over the country regardless of the season but you be prepared for some weird weather at times so bring an umbrella. You just never know when it will RAIN!

Categories: Europe | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Predator Fishing in England – can I catch a big fish (over 10 or 20 pounds) for once?

It’s time to go after that hard to catch Pike or Zander during the late Spring, early Summer time frame while fishing in the UK. I figured with the weather conditions warming up, the predator fish should be more active especially Zander as they finally emerge from the cold deep depths of the water and feed near the surface or in the shallows at least. Never mind the “or” in the first sentence I wrote. I want BOTH! And they better be big ones too! I demand big fish this time around since I’ve been working to fish successfully!

After doing that Red Snapper fishing in Madeira, I think I’m ready to go after the big lumps of fish flesh, freshwater-style again! I was actually hoping for a Carp after returning back to the UK since I’ve caught a ton of them in the Czech Republic and tried for them in the Grand Union Canal, but I suppose it was not meant to be. With the wind and weather doing weird things as this was supposed to be summertime, it was back to the basics of fishing: try hard, cast as many times as possible, and hope for the best.

The first day was quite difficult due to the weather doing some weird things being cold and extremely windy. This is not winter nor spring! It should be breezy, sunny, and somewhat warm, but instead, the climate conditions have been quite odd in summer. The constant changes make the fish a little antsy as they don’t like the continuously edits to their environment particularly when it comes to feeding cycles since some of the fish are used to certain cues as to what types of food to feed on: flying insects, bug hatches, underwater hatches, etc.

net a jumper jumping rainbow trout

Sometimes luck is key during a hard day of fishing. This rainbow trout jumped 4 times trying to spit the hook out. Fortunately, I was able to net it.

weather changing fishing

One of the few fish that I caught that day. This 2 pound rainbow trout was probably my best for that day. Weird, hard days of fishing due to the constant changes in the weather.

So instead of catching a lot of fish, I caught quite a bit of empty reel ins on the first day. I did catch a few jumpers especially this one rainbow trout doing the aerial acrobatics, doing 4 airborne jumps trying to do its best Steelhead impression.

fly fishing on boat reservoir fish stocked

Casting in futile… that’s what I thought at times. And then I get a bite! And then it gets away! Damn fish!

Unfortunately, I hooked up a 5-6 pound rainbow trout but that fish eventually came off with a Houdini escape! I was not happy about that especially after getting the hookup via dry fly on a large reservoir. I dwelled and mulled on that fish for quite some time, but, there would always be tomorrow…. and tomorrow was difficult as well, but as you know, if you want something, then you have to force yourself into doing the hard work of casting and re-casting, over and over and over again. Multiple times, striking out many times before I get a good chance to hit a home run. And of course, after working extra hard and some may argue, being extra stupid, there was nothing. Just one bite and it was a small perch that somehow got away.

casting spinning rod hook in the sun and clouds

This day was a huge change from the previous day’s windy, wacky, cloudy weather. This day was less wind, some cloud, and some sun. Fish generally don’t like that kind of changes as it affects their feeding patterns as well.

Of course, after hours of casting and moving and more casting, the self-doubt starts to kick in slowly but surely. It’s like a rationalization fly: should I land on the poop or should I land on people? But in this case, it was: should have I done something else instead of going on this trip to England to fish? As time went on, the self-pity thoughts kicked in but before they could go full blast, I had a great hookup on my fishing rod – I had a fish on! And it was bigger than the usual! Yessssssss!

I was very excited to fight a decent-sized fish and after netting it, I went to full-celebration mode! Yay! All that pain and worry went right out of the window and into the vortex. This 6-7 pound pike saved me from additional mental anguish!

spinning rod for predator fish england UK reservoir waters

After many hours and casts and retrieves, I finally get a good hookup of a bite and land this 7 pound pike! It’s not as big as the previous ones but it’ll do! Especially on a hard day of fishing. This was caught on a crankbait lure with a spinning rod.

fish dentist pike lure crankbait hook deep

My guide, the fish dentist, to the fish’s rescue of pulling the lure out of its throat. You have to be delicate as these fish like to thrash around and make people bleed.

The rest of the day was pretty much a wash, but I did get several more bites, one perch, and one big perch. The biggest of my life, but not the biggest one out there.

perch english european on a boat spinning reel

I can’t imagine how a little perch like that was trying to swallow down that little crankbait.

Despite my efforts for a really, really big fish, it was still a victory thanks to that 7 pound pike’s sacrifice to make it my day and also save the previous day’s big fish failure so I was good to go. That’s fishing – you never know what will happen. Good days and bad days will always be there. The monster fishing days such as my Thresher Shark and Sailfish with days where I just get skunked.

Categories: Europe, Hunting and Fishing | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Fishing for big red snappers in blue Madeira waters

There was a big reason why I went scuba diving the day prior and well as why I went fishing in both the Czech Republic and England before coming here. First, I did an underwater recon mission to see how the bottom was like as well as see what kind of fish were hanging out underwater and observe how they act. I did the same thing back in Azores when I scuba dived the morning and went fishing in the afternoon. The reasoning behind the fishing in the Czech Republic and in England was that I needed the fishing practice in case I hooked onto a massive big fish in the Atlantic Oceans waters around Madeira.

morning early rise fishing boat cruise

Gotta get up nice and early for this fishing trip because the bite was the best in the morning since the winds weren’t going to allow the usual spots to be fished.

And this time around unlike on the other Portuguese islands of Azores where it was just rock fishing, I had plans to go deep sea fishing where there can be some very massive fish prowling in these waters looking for bait fish and will often strike at baits and hooks due to their aggressive behavior. This meant that I would be spending an entire day fishing so it would just be one day committed to scuba diving and the next day committed to fishing. No combo days like in the Azores as it looked like I’ll need every minute out there on the Atlantic Ocean, especially in the morning when the bite was going to be the best. This wasn’t going to be like the fishing waters of La Paz, Mexico, where I knew that there were lots of willing to bite fish out there, not to mention the best fishing in the world. No, this was going to be different and difficult. It was going to be a challenge so better get my skills up-and-ready-to-go.

horizon of the sun fishing ocean

The sun makes its peek above the ocean horizon while I fish.

And it was challenge because it’s been awhile fighting bruising saltwater fish! In the first 30 seconds of my first cast into the water, bang! I had my first fish on! A red snapper with mean-looking front buck teeth. It took me about a minute to reel up from 130 meters (about 425 feet) of water but you have to keep the tension on at all times because otherwise, the fish can somehow spit that hook and bait out. And my first fish – a 10+ kg (22+ pounds) red snapper aka a Pargo.

quick strike no blanks no skunks

Within seconds of hitting the bottom, it was FISH ON!

first fish of the day madeira portugal

Landed my first fish in Madeira! Pargo aka red snapper. They look a little different compared to the ones in Mexico where they get a little bit more yellowish/red.

red snapper pargo fish portuguese fishing fish peces

My deckhand pulling out the first fish of the day! A fairly large sized Pargo aka Red Snapper.

And these Pargo kept coming and coming. My guide and the deckhand said that if the bite is on then they have to keep fishing fast because there are days where they go without any red snapper bits. Maybe one or two or three there. That’s it. This day was all about red snappers… and a few Mackerel that I managed to hook up as well.

watching the rod for a fish

You can see my rod bending. Unlike in fly fishing where I can feel the fish strike, the hooked bait and sinker are so deep down that you have to go by looking at the tip of the rod. A few times I could feel the strike.

reeling in bent rod ocean salt water fish

And now I see it – the tip slightly bends and bang bang! The fish is hooked so start reeling!

The thing about these fish is that they just tear up the live squid like nothing. I also used a live mackerel but absolutely nothing. It’s almost like a few seconds after putting the baited hook just above the bottom where I immediately get strikes!

muscling the fish hard to fight salt water fighters

Even the small Pargo can make a good run and bend that rod pretty good. Luckily, on a heavy rod and line, the Pargo won’t win.

prize fight landing fish catching for eating

There’s Andre, the deckhand, holding up the prize.

I was supposed to do a full day but the guide said that due to bad weather, we can only go to one spot where the fishing is only good during sunrise and sunset. Noon/afternoon fishing just plain sucks. But I had a blast fishing with these guys for those Red Snappers for the few good hours of fishing that I got in!

hook on pargo

These Pargo absolutely love live squid. Mackerel is okay but man, that live squid can make these Pargo really bite them hard and hook on. Amberjack do the same thing but sadly, no jacks for me on this day.

snapper 10 kg + 22 pounds

I think this was my best biggest fish of the day! Over 10 kg (22.2 pounds) for this lump of fish flesh.

Gotta love these waters in Madeira!


Categories: Europe, Hunting and Fishing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Scuba diving in Funchal, Portugal

One of the great things about being out this far out in the Atlantic Ocean is that you are completely surrounded by water. Sure, there might be a few islands, a few rocks, birds, fish, but you are far away from the mainland. Good thing we have advanced technology compared to what the people in the past used to have since the closest distance to civilization from Madeira would be the Canary Islands which are still quite far down to the south of Madeira. That makes Madeira a great place for scuba diving since there should be some great opportunities to see wildlife under the water.

There is a difference in the diving here compared to my diving experience in Canary Islands and in the Azores, wich is the weather and the diving conditions. They are far better since it’s closer to summer than it is to winter so I was able to get some better diving in this time around. Also, due to the waves and weather being more compliant for diving conditions, I was going to be out diving on a boat for the first dive. Finally! Instead of a shore dive which can take some work of carrying and hauling gear and then swimming/diving to the best dive spots – all gone! Just put the gear on the boat, hop on, strap the gear on, and out into the water!

And golly, the first dive was a great one. It required a boat ride of 10-15 minutes but bam! The dive boat was right on top of a sunken Portuguese wreck, a Portuguese Navy corvette vessel called the Afonso Cerqueira.

main cannon firing gun patrol surveillance intel vessel navy recon

Visibility was good but not super great, yet, still you can see the Afonso Cerqueira’s main gun in clear sight.

behind the view point sight

Here’s the view behind the gun.

wheel control bridge wreck

You can even go inside the Afonso Cerqueira! You can actually turn the wheel left and right, just a little bit. I’m not sure if that actually moves the rudder or not.

anti aircraft guns underwater wreck

A behind view of the one of the two AA guns on this vessel.

However, this wreck was intentional with scuba diving in mind because the vessel was stripped for easy access for scuba divers to go in/out of as well as provide the nearby wildlife a refuge, an artificial coral reef as a habitat for them.

fish finding food near madeira wreck

These bottom fish were rummaging around the bottom near the vessel hoping to find some food. This is a good sign that the marine wildlife is taking advantage of this artificial coral reef.

barracuda marine wildlife life artificial reef

Even the Barracuda were looking for easy prey around the wreck. I also spotted some Triggerfish around the ship’s tower but they appeared to be relaxed as they can become quite territorial.

The second dive was a shore dive. Imagine that… after I wrote about some of the pains of shore diving, but sometimes the good dive spots are really close so it makes sense not requiring a boat. It’s just there! And sure enough… it’s just there and a not bad one either. Someone had gone earlier in the day and said that they saw a stingray. I looked real hard down there for a living one but only found other types of marine life busily living away.

schools of fish ocean salt water

There were lot of schools of fish moving about which is a good sign which makes me wonder if they originated from the wreck at one point or benefited from the wreck?

sea urchin huge enormous big crab feeder

I spotted this huge black sea urchin and an arrow crab hanging behind a rock.

dead snail ocean sea

I’m not sure what happened to this snail because its foot is just wayyyyy out there. It looked like either a human or another animal did something to it.

ambush type fish

Got a picture of an ambushing fish swimming away. Usually these fish sit tight at the bottom looking to strike at easy prey. Kind of like a Lingcod but not as scary or ugly looking.


Categories: Europe, Extreme Sports | Tags: , | Leave a comment