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For two years, Andy Trincia will be writing about his days as a Peace Corps Volunteer for
Peace Corps Writers.

Andy Trincia

Read other short pieces about PCV experiences

Andy's previous articles:

Teaching high schoolers free-market economics

Looking for Ben Franklin in Timisoara

Partying with Peasants and A Letter to America

Customer Service?

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by Andy Trincia (Romania 2002–  )

Romania Themepark Mania

Pennsylvania has Hersheypark in the namesake chocolate city. Southern California has Knott’sPrinter friendly version Berry Farm where fruit was harvested before freeways existed. Houston, home of the space program, boasts famous roller coasters at AstroWorld. And Disney, after years of success in California and Florida, built theme parks in France and Japan.
So how about “Dracula Park” in Romania?
     This is no joke, but first, a short history lesson about the legendary, blood-sucking vampire. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, was set in the real Transylvania, a beautiful and mountainous region in central Romania, but the Irish author never bothered to visit. And the “real” Dracula on whom the character is based was Vlad Tepes, cousin of Stephen the Great and a 15th-century prince of Wallachia, part of present-day Romania. Vlad’s father was Vlad Dracul (Dracul means “the devil” in Romanian). Like his dad, he was a tough guy indeed, known as “Vlad the Impaler” — but no vampire. He remains a national hero to Romanians for fighting off — and impaling on stakes — thousands of Turks during the Ottoman Empire’s northward expansion. Wallachia united with another Romanian-speaking territory, Moldovia, in 1859 and the state was named Romania in 1862. Austro-Hungary occupied Transylvania until 1918, when it too joined Romania.

A beautiful Sighisoara corner
     Tepes was born in 1431 in Sighisoara, a jewel of town that is now a tourist draw for the Transylvania region of Romania. Sighisoara, settled by Saxons in the 12th century, is one of only a handful of United Nations-designated World Heritage Sites in Romania. It is a gorgeous example of medieval architecture, has a preserved old town, and is surrounded by the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.
    I had the pleasure of visiting it last fall, as well as Bran Castle — a couple hours to the east — popularly known as the “Dracula Castle,” though it really has nothing to do with Dracula or even Vlad Tepes. The castle was built to protect the area from invading Turks and legend has it that Vlad Tepes may have spent a couple nights there.

     Sighisoara, though its cobblestone core is relatively unspoiled, already is seeing early stages of touristy kitsch, including a Dracula restaurant in the house were Tepes was born (a Bela Lugosi-looking cut-out greets you outside), a similarly themed bar nearby and stores selling bottles of blood-red Vampire wine, which is available throughout the country.
     Until earlier this year, land just outside Sighisoara was the proposed site of Dracula Park, an ambitious dream pursued by Romania’s Tourism department and its gung-ho chief, who seems to be in the news all the time, from peddling Dracula to importing expensive palm trees on the Black Sea beaches in time for the summer rush. I say Sighisoara “was” destined for Dracula Park because after a swirling storm of criticism, including protests from international environmentalists, historians and preservationists, including Britain’s Prince Charles, who visited the area and denounced the project, the plan was scrapped and moved 175 miles away to Snagov, a small town near the capital, Bucharest, and its international airport. Snagov is a country-lake-and-picnic place, a weekend retreat for Bucharest residents, and it’s supposedly where Vlad Tepes is buried, underneath a church.
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