gavin stamp’s orient express(4/5)
Architectural historian Gavin Stamp continues his journey across Europe along the route of the old Orient Express. It is a trek of 2,000 miles across ten countries, from London to Istanbul. This week, Gavin retraces Dracula’s steps in Transylvania, meets some Romanian gypsies, and samples the sights of Bucharest.
Leaving Bosnia and Serbia behind, Gavin crosses the border into Romania, where his first stop is the town of Sighisoara in the legendary region of Transylvania. The well-preserved medieval citadel at the heart of the town rests on a picturesque hillside. This charming site was the home of the bloodthirsty tyrant, Vlad the Impaler, upon whom the character of Dracula was based, but Gavin thinks the locals have gone overboard in turning the place into a Dracula theme park. He takes tea in Vlad’s house-turned-restaurant, which serves rare steaks with red wine, and ponders the dubious nature of a tourist industry that celebrates a man who liked to torture his victims by impaling them on stakes.
Escaping the Dracula tourist circus, Gavin explores a nearby village and sees the terrible poverty in which the gypsy community live. While there, he has his tarot cards read and a dark fate is revealed to him: they tell him about trouble with his tax return and offer some other equally worrying news. Keen to be on his way, Gavin boards a train and travels to Brasov, an old town founded by Teutonic Knights. There he takes a tour of the famous Black Church, decorated with Turkish rugs and boasting the largest organ in Romania. Gavin finds a moment to enjoy the locals giving their renditions of Bach.
After Brasov, Gavin stops off in Romania’s capital, Bucharest –a city devastated by the grand plans of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In a whistle-stop tour he visits a church that was moved on wheels during the development of the city, and sees the neoclassical Palace of the People, which Gavin flatteringly labels the “worst building in the world”.