VampFest

Why you can’t afford to miss a trip to Transylvania

One of the duo behind the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival, Craig Hooper, tells of his first trip to Transylvania and explains how easy it was to get there…

Yes, it really is a real place. It wasn’t made up by Bram Stoker – Transylvania is part of modern-day Romania. And it’s everything you’d ever imagine it to be – spectacular, mysterious, epic and yes, sometimes quite scary.

I travelled there with my wife and two children for a holiday. We like going to interesting places and ever since I first read Dracula I’ve always wanted to go there. I was worried it might not live up to expectations – but it didn’t disappoint.

We started our journey flying from London to Bucharest (from £72 return if you book now for Vampfest) and spent the first two days in the capital. We stayed in the spectacular Orhideea Residence and Spa in a stunning two-bed apartment with amazing views, breakfast and a brand spanking new swimming pool and luxurious spa (at the time of writing, a suite for two here including spa access and breakfast is just £63, which is quite expensive for Romania but a bargain if you’re coming from western Europe or America).

A stopover in Bucharest is well worth the visit. The old city is beautiful and crammed with great shops, bars and restaurants. Look out for the bust of Vlad Dracula at the entrance to the castle (now a museum). The surrounding newer city built by Nicolae Ceaușescu also has monolithic grandeur, with wide boulevards and extravagant fountains.

We drove from Bucharest through the flatlands of Wallachia (Vlad was a Prince of Wallachia), stopping off where the mountains begin at Sinaia. Here you can take the cable car to the top of the mountain for amazing views and visit the stunning Peles Castle. It has nothing to do with Dracula but it’s well worth the visit (you can even stay in the luxury hotel in the castle grounds – Complex La Tunuri – in the week leading up to Vampfest for as little as £48).

A few miles on and we were finally in Transylvania itself. Brasov is the regional capital and the real Dracula made it one of his main areas of operation in his struggle against the marauding Turks. Now it’s a big, sprawling, modern city – but just ignore that and make your way to the perfectly preserved old town, built around the mountain. There’s loads to see and do with a huge range of cafes, bars, bakeries, restaurants and hotels built around the immaculate main square and restored castle.

From Brasov, it’s just a short road trip along winding mountain roads to the one place I’d really been looking forward to – Bran Castle, otherwise known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’. It’s an imposing monolith built on a crag overlooking the village of Bran and as the sun dips you can easily imagine Stoker’s vampire crawling down the walls to get his breakfast. Inside its twisting passages you can almost picture Harker desperately trying to find a way out (as you might be after a visit to the rather gruesome torture chamber…).

But don’t look too closely into the history as you won’t find the real Vlad anywhere near it. He may have visited it once or twice at best but it he never made it his castle. The reason it’s so closely attached to the legend is because Bram Stoker reputedly saw an evocative line-drawn picture of the castle in a book in the London Library and used that as the lair for his vampire lord.

The road to our eventual destination (and your destination for the Vampire Festival) winds through spectacular mountains, past dozens of castles and equally impressive fortified churches to the jewel in the crown of Transylvania – Sighisoara. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the medieval citadel seems almost untouched by time. The impressive walls circle a hill, which is itself capped by another hill within the citadel, crowned by a church and graveyard.

Besides it’s breath-taking setting, Sighisoara’s main claim to fame is that it’s where the ‘real’ Vlad Dracula was born. And it feels like very little has changed since his day. A stroll around the maze of cobbled streets soon allows you to build up a thirst and although there’s nowhere selling blood (at least, not as far as my mortal eyes could see), good local beer and wine is in ample supply (a pint of beer is around 80p).

It was as the sun set on the main square here that the idea of the Vampire Festival came to me. Sighisoara is the perfect location – a direct link to Dracula, well catered for in terms of hotels, bars and restaurants and completely self-contained by the ancient walls. And after dark it really does get a bit scary… a stroll through the graveyard after midnight is only possible if you have no imagination…

There are so many other places to visit in Transylvania and the surrounding area, especially if you’re hunting down the true story and legends of Dracula. I’d particularly recommend Fagaras Castle and Corvins Castle (which looks so spectacular it feels more like a set for Game of Thrones), both with strong links to Dracula, and the picturesque town of Sibiu. All are well worth taking the time to visit.

We hired a car and drove. The main roads are good but watch out for potholes on the back roads! It’s easier and more luxurious to take the train – it goes from Bucharest, through Sinaia and Brasov to Sighisoara and a first class ticket is just £12!

Transylvania is not just a setting for a story. It’s a great place to visit – it’s easy to get to; the food, beer and wine are excellent and you get great value for money when you get there. Add to that the world’s first International Vampire Film and Arts Festival and you’ve got a truly memorable holiday – so get booking now!

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Let’s stake all sparkly vampires

By Chloe Bennett

Vampires were once blood-sucking monsters who scared your pants off. Now, all too often, they’re reduced to a love interest who want to get into your pants (but only after a long heartfelt conversation about about feelings and getting married).

Originally vampires stemmed from a paranormal world – although they appeared human, they clearly weren’t (sleeping in a coffin for days and avoiding sunlight isn’t exactly human behaviour, unless you’re a teenager). Their main purpose was to score blood so they could be immortal and shapeshift into bats or some kind of animal to stop being killed by a stake to the heart or an overdose of garlic. But all too often vampires in the 21st century have been watered down and loved up, resulting in the likes of Twilight’s Edward Cullen, a love struck teenager whose main interest is to save any humans he has the hots for. Wimpy Cullen even tries to avoid sucking human blood and goes for animals instead. He doesn’t even have fangs! Does he have to chew and chew at necks to get a drink (messy!) or does he need to organise a blood transfusion every time he’s peckish?

The result? Vampires are less frightening and, all too often, downright boring.

Sure, Edward Cullen fits the Dracula attraction scale – girls adore him, men fear him. But where Dracula has an overriding and menacing presence, Cullen fits more into the ‘cute’ category. Cullen just sticks with one person throughout the Twilight saga, and although Dracula clearly has a bit of a ‘thing’ for Mina, he has no qualms in getting stuck into Lucy too (not to mention his vampire harem back at Castle Drac).

Huge swathes of the Twilight saga sees the two hero sweethearts talking about their feelings, but Dracula gets down to business and munches on several victims, leading to a small band of jealous heroes hunting the fiend across Europe trying to kill him for good – now that’s a vampire story!

Gone too are some of the staples of the genre that have captured imaginations for centuries: Stephenie Meyer may have thought the shapeshifting into bats and rats was a bit too daft but it made vampires more alien and therefore more scary. And now, in Twilight, instead of bursting into flames if they walk in sunlight, they sparkle – need I say more?

It’s not just the Twilight Saga that makes vampires into romantically confused teenagers. The blurb for the hugely popular TV series ‘The Vampire diaries’ says: “A teenage girl is torn between two vampire brothers.” Again, it’s a standard romance story with a bit of added bite. The problem is, the writers are effectively de-fanging the vampire genre altogether: for every cute vampire, bloodsuckers around the world lose their fear factor.

There’s nothing wrong with stories of forbidden romance between humans and vampires but as a bottom line, a vampire story needs to be scary. That way, fans of ‘real’ vampires can also enjoy it, not just young teenage girls who think Edward Cullen is sooo dreamy.

The scariest thing about most of these sparkly vampire stories is not the villain but the fear that the original vampire concept is in danger of being staked through the heart. So if you’re planning on writing a new vampire story, feel free to give it a new twist but use Stoker, not Meyer, as your main point of reference.

After all, why do you think that most people still talk about Dracula rather than Edward Cullen?

Chloe Bennett is a student studying Journalism at the University of South Wales in Cardiff, UK.

IVFAF offers something for everyone

Dr Rebecca Williams is a lecturer in Communication, Cultural and Media Studies. She is one of the academics presenting her work at the IVFAF. Her research interests include audiences and fandom, cultural identity, stardom and celebrity, online research, Welsh media and culture, mainstream and middlebrow media, and issues of quality, canonicity and cultural value.

Why is it the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival so significant?

It’s the first festival to be held in the location of Sighisoara and to try to bring together academics with industry personnel and creative figures in that exciting location. It offers the chance to visit key locations and sites related to the vampire phenomenon and get involved in academic debate and discussion as well as an exciting social programme.

What are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to hearing papers from a range of disciplines all talking about and analysing the figure of the vampire. It’s always exciting to have interdisciplinary events where approaches from film, literature, music and other areas of study can come together and share their insights and approaches.

Why should academics get involved?

Because in addition to offering great opportunities to present on their work, scholars can interact with and make connections with other academics working on the Vampire as well as meeting those who produce and make vampire film, theatre and literature. It also offers a unique experience where attendees can get involved with parties, social events, and tours, offering a fascinating chance to experience opportunities for networking across a range of events, both inside and outside of the academic panels.

Stoker talks Sighisoara, the silver screen and uncle Bram

Dacre Stoker is the great grand nephew of legendary Irish author Bram Stoker.  He’s a regular visitor to Sighisoara and explains why story telling has stayed in the family.

Film is a lot about atmosphere and setting, part of Sighisoara is an incredible medieval citadel. It oozes charm during the day brought on by the colorful buildings and the cobble stone streets. However in the evening as the shadows elongate the town takes on a sinister hue, one can imagine the old days when the terror of an invading force is held back by the guild towers and high walls. There is even a torture chamber in a dungeon next to the clock tower.
Every time I go to Sighisoara to show people the sights and tell of the history, especially when the sun starts to go down, I can’t help but feel a little vulnerable; what a perfect setting for a horror film festival.

Dacre pix

Picture courtesy of Dacre Stoker

My great grand uncle Bram Stoker owes a lot of his literary success to the proliferation of his iconic story on the silver screen. I love attending film festivals and speaking of the motivations and inspirations as well as sharing some Stoker family secrets. Film lovers really seem to appreciate the story behind the story.

 

Vlad Dracula lll was born in Sighisoara. Bram is partially responsible for creating an identity crisis for one of Romanias revered heroes. Bram chose the name Dracula out of a book in the Whitby UK library, without really knowing much else about Vlad’s reputation.   Since the publication of the novel Dracula in 1897 other inspired novels, ensuing movies,  TV series etc. popular culture has essentially turned Vlad into a Vampire much to the disappointment of the Romanian people.