Discovering the Berca Mud Volcanoes

During 10 years of traveling together, you are bound to run into something unusual or even unique. For us, that’s the Berca Mud Volcanoes, located in southeast Romania.

But first of all, what are mud volcanoes? Wikipedia defines them as

small volcano-shaped structures typically a few metres high caused by the eruption of mud and natural gases.

And more in detail:

As the gases erupt from 3000 metres deep towards the surface, through the underground layers of clay and water, they push up underground salty water and mud, so that they overflow through the mouths of the volcanoes, while the gas emerges as bubbles. The mud dries off at the surface, creating a relatively solid conical structure resembling a real volcano. The mud expelled by them is cold, as it comes from inside the Earth’s continental crust layers, and not from the mantle.

In Romania, you can only find mud volcanoes not far from Berca. Elsewhere in Europe, you can visit them in Ukraine, Russia, Italy, and especially in Azerbaijan.

How to get there? You will need a car, preferably with a GPS. Program it for Berca or, even better, Scortoasa. The latter is a small municipality, however; if it doesn’t show up on your GPS, put it on Berca anyway. From there, you will see roadsigns saying “Vulcanii Noroioși”. When you follow these, you will automatically arrive at the right spot.

As you can see on the pictures, there is no vegetation around the mud volcanoes. That is because the soil is too salty.

You need to pay a very small entrance fee.

What you also need to know:

  • You cannot visit the mud volcanoes during rainy weather.
  • Wear appropriate shoes! No flipflops!
  • Even when wearing the right shoes, do not walk in the mud itself. You will ruin your shoes beyond repair. Just ask Lars…

Looking for accomodation? The nearest town is Buzau. It’s the easiest option. In some of the surrounding villages, however, you can find some really picturesque hotels as well.

This weekend, I will publish another part of the Lockdown Diary. Changes are finally coming! Next week, we will take you to other corners of Europe!


In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Bonus 3: Fortress Oratea

Welcome to the third and last bonus episode of our journey through Romania, in the footsteps of Vlad Tepes. Unfortunately, not so much is known about our location of today. Moreover, it’s quite difficult to reach and to photograph it unless you have a drone. Nevertheless, let’s introduce you to Fortress Oratea.

Little is known about the history of the fortress. Researchers think that building started between the 12th and the 14th century and it’s unknown by whom. On the other hand, the oldest archeological finds found in and near the ruins date from the 14th – 15th centuries. Quite a mysterious place, to say the least…

What you want to know is, of course, the link between this place and Vlad the Impaler. It is a historical fact that Matthias Corvinus (son of John Hunyadi) captured and imprisoned Vlad Tepes around 1462, after a disagreement between the two rulers. Legend has it that he spent some time as a prisoner in Fortress Oratea. For how long? Nobody knows. By the way, after Vlad’s release, Corvinus married him off to his cousin, Justina Szilágyi.

As I told you before, it’s not easy to find the fortress. But the Arges county, where it is located, has some breathtaking landscapes!

According to Wikipedia, this is the exact location of the ruins of the fortress:

Oratea Fortress (in some documents is called Oratia ) was built on “Dealul Sasului”, 1.5 km north of Podu Dâmboviței village, Argeș county , about 300 m east of Câmpulung – Brașov road ( DN73 ), 6 km north of Rucăr and 2 km from the Dâmbovița river . (translated from Romanian, by Google)

Driving on the DN73, Lars and I did find the viewpoint that you can also see on the map.

And then you need to descend a very high and incredibly steep hill to reach the ruins. I decided to use my 200mm lens instead.

Unfortunately, this is all I can tell and show you about this destination. And this is also the end of our Vlad Tepes adventure in Romania! On Wednesday, we will take you to a small village in the Czech Republic and on Friday, we will do some urban exploration in Belgium!

In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Bonus 2: The Tihuta Pass

Our post of today has nothing to do with Vlad himself, but rather with his literary counterpart, Dracula. Have a look at these quotes from the novel by Bram Stoker…

At the Borgo Pass my carriage will await you and will bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land. –Your friend, Dracula.”


“It was on the dark side of twilight when we got to Bistritz, which is a very interesting old place. Being practically on the frontier–for the Borgo Pass leads from it into Bukovina–it has had a very stormy existence, and it certainly shows marks of it. Fifty years ago a series of great fires took place, which made terrible havoc on five separate occasions. At the very beginning of the seventeenth century it underwent a siege of three weeks and lost 13,000 people, the casualties of war proper being assisted by famine and disease.”

This Borgo Pass is actually a real place and is nowadays known as the Tihuta Pass. Although Bram Stoker had never traveled to Romania, he must have seen it being mentioned on a map…

And yes, Lars and I explored the Tihatu Pass. Dracula is one of my favorite novels ever and driving on the pass that features in that same book was exciting, to say the least.

The biggest attraction in this pass – apart from the breathtaking scenery – is the hotel called Castel Dracula.

Not Vlad Tepes, but… Bram Stoker!

Built in the 1970s, the hotel is known for its kitschy interior and the Dracula coffin experience. When I did research about it, I noticed that the website of the hotel gave an error message. So, I checked it on TripAdvisor though and it looks like the hotel is still open.

A big thanks to the hotel owner in Cluj for pointing this out to us!

One more bonus episode and then our Vlad Tepes adventure is over! Afterward, we will take you a tiny place in the Czech Republic where Lars and I experienced something really exceptional. Oh, and this weekend I will publish the 3rd part of our Lockdown Diary.

In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Bonus 1: Dealu Monastery

Today, I present to you the first of 3 bonus posts – as I have promised you before, which concern locations that are indirectly linked to either Vlad Tepes or Dracula.

Let’s have a look at the first one. Not so far from Târgoviște, you can visit one of Romania’s oldest monasteries, Dealu Monastery, which dates from the 15th century.

Maybe it doesn’t look magnificent at the outside, but wait until you are inside…

By the way, the only other European country that we think has more imposing and more beautiful religious buildings than Romania does is Poland!

Now, what is the link between this location and Vlad the Impaler? It contains the last resting place of his father and of one of his brothers, and other notable leaders/voivodes, princes and clergymen. There are even some legends claiming that Vlad III is buried here somewhere as well, but when it concerns his last resting place, have a look at this post.

You can easily combine a morning visit to the Princely Court in Târgoviste and then the afternoon in this place. Or vice versa, of course. Anyway, you can visit the monastery from 10am to 6pm. And it’s free.

When we stayed in Cluj – our first stop in Romania – and mentioned to one of the hotel owners that we were interested in Vlad Tepes, he actually referred us to a location that we will discuss in detail on Friday. Keep on following us!

In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Comana Monastery

Vlad the Impaler didn’t die in bed, surrounded by his loved ones. As it befits a famous leader and warrior, he died on the battlefield. By the way, if you have seen the episode of Ghost Adventures in Romania, which I mentioned in this post, you are aware that the crew found the exact location where Vlad III was defeated and decapitated. To be honest, Lars and I didn’t visit it, but that was due to lack of time. The question arises now: where was our hero buried?

Local legend has it that Vlad III was laid to rest in Snagov Monastery.

Although the place looks really idyllic – it was even one of the favorite holiday retreats of the Ceaușescu’s! – this is NOT the location where Vlad III was buried… Yes, there is a tomb in the monastery with his name on it, but when scientists opened it in the 1930s, they found… nothing. The tomb was empty!

But… We actually followed in the footsteps of the crew of Ghost Adventures and visited Comana Monastery instead, which is likely to be Vlad the Impaler’s last resting place.

Why could this be the place where Vlad Tepes is buried instead? The first reason is actually very simple: it’s very close to the battlefield where his enemies killed him.

Moreover, there is a direct link between Vlad Tepes and the monastery: he founded and constructed it in 1461. However, the building you can visit right now is not the original one: that fell into ruins after the rule of Vlad III. This monastery, on the other hand, dates from the 16th century.

Further restorations took place in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

Last but not least, in the 1970s, historians discovered a headless body on the grounds of the monastery, which they believe belongs to… Vlad Tepes!

Comana Monastery is only open on Thursdays and Fridays, during which you can visit it for the whole day. And even if you are not interested in its connection with Vlad the Impaler, this monastery is such a picturesque and peaceful place. By the way, the monks are very friendly, especially when you show interest in Vlad Tepes and can speak some Romanian (like Lars). Hence, during our visit, one of them pointed out to us the foundations of the original monastery. And he even gave us a beautiful booklet about its history and (connection with) Vlad the Impaler.

And now we answer the final question: what is the exact link between Vlad Tepes (the historical person) and Dracula (the fictional character)? Let’s have a look first at the origins of the name of Dracula itself.

Vlad was part of the Order of the Dragon, founded by the King of Hungary in 1408 to bestow on nobleman fighting to defend Christianity. The order’s symbol was a dragon with the word dracul meaning dragon or the devil in Romanian at the time. Vlad’s father was also a member of the order with the name Vlad Dracul, which meant his son required a slight variation – and so he become known as Vlad Dracula. Historical documents show that he would sign himself simply as Drakwlya. (Source:

I think we can agree that the link between history and fiction is very clear in this case! And last but not least: was Vlad Tepes indeed the inspiration for Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula?

According to various sources, the author of the famous novel on Count Dracula and his castle read a book in the 1890s about Wallachia’s history in the Middle Ages. The book mentioned a Wallachian ruling prince known simply as Dracula renowned for his cruelty and daredevil reputation. Lacking concrete evidence, the idea that Vlad the Impaler aka Vlad Dracula, with his romanticised reputation and renowned cruelty, served as inspiration for Count Dracula is commonly accepted thanks to its Dracula name association. (Source:

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed our special series about Vlad the Impaler and the locations (in Romania) directly connected to him. I made a map where you can see all of them:

Some advice if you intend to visit these places! Do not underestimate the distances between all of these locations. Moreover, there are very few motorways in Romania and some of the roads can be in a poor condition! Lars and I drove hundreds of kilometers for this project and it took a lot of time – weeks, to be honest, especially because there is a lot more to visit. We recommend at least 10 days – 2 weeks.

We also made a video about this series.

Coming up on our website this week: extra episodes about locations (also in Romania) with an indirect connection to Vlad the Impaler! Afterward, we take you to the Czech Republic!

In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Hunedoara Castle

Another castle, you might say… However, not only is Hunedoara Castle one of the largest ones in Europe, but this fortress is also one of the most magnificent locations in Romania. If you don’t have enough time or don’t want to see the castles of Bran, Poienari, and Hunedoara, let it be this one!

First, a word of clarification: there are other names for Hunedoara Castle, namely Corvin or Corvinus Castle and Hunyadi Castle. In order to understand where these come from, we need to have a look at its history.

Construction of the castle started in the 15th century and continued in different phases until the 19th century. One of its most important occupants was John Hunyadi (Corvinus in Latin), Voivode (leader) of Transylvania, whereas Vlad himself was the leader of Wallachia. Moreover, the two men are linked to one another. Hunyadi, who was also the regent-governor of Hungary, had clashed with Vlad’s family before. When the former invaded Wallachia in 1447, he was responsible for the murder of Vlad’s father and his eldest brother. Yet, later the two men would enter into a political alliance.

Built in a Renaissance-Gothic style, the castle has three parts: the Knight’s Hall, the Diet Hall, and the circular stairway. And according to, there are also

an impressive drawbridge, high buttresses, inner courtyards, a chapel and some 50 rooms resplendent with medieval art.

There are various legends surrounding the castle. One of them is connected to a well of about 30 meters deep, near the chapel.

According to the legend, this fountain was dug by 3 Turkish prisoners to whom liberty was promised if they reached water. After 15 years they completed the well, but their captors did not keep their promise. It is said that the inscription on a wall of the well means “you have water, but not soul”. Specialists, however, have translated the inscription as “he who wrote this inscription is Hasan, who lives as slave of the giaours, in the fortress near the church”. (Source: Wikipedia)

And another legend concerns Vlad Tepes himself, who was apparently a prisoner here and went insane during that time. Or is it more than a legend? In the last two years, some historians have become convinced that Vlad indeed spent some time in a prison deep underground in the castle, although it is unclear for how long. Whether or not he also became mad is another matter.

There is actually a prison cell and a torture chamber right at the entrance of the castle…

By the way, now that we have established that neither Bran Castle nor Poienari Castle probably served as the inspiration for Dracula’s abode in the novel by Bram Stoker, what about this one? The answer is negative. First of all, Stoker wasn’t aware of the connection between Vlad Tepes and Hunyadi. Moreover, he didn’t know anything about the castle itself.

Juicy detail: Hunedoara Castle – just like the Poienari Fortress, for that matter – is supposedly haunted! One of America’s most popular paranormal shows, Ghost Adventures, spent some time here more than 10 years ago. Have a look!

My favorite part of this episode actually takes place in this castle! Look at the reactions of the crew when the female guide talks about the bear pit… Anyway, we didn’t experience anything paranormal in Hunedoara castle. In the Hoia Baciu forest, however, things were a bit different… But that is for another post.

Fancy a visit yourself? You can find practical information about Hunedoara Castle such as opening hours here.

And… we are nearing the end of the life of Romania’s biggest hero. For our next post, we will take you to the deep south of the country. And if you can’t get enough of Vlad the Impaler, we still have a couple of bonus posts.

In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Poienari Castle

Although some touristic organizations still see Bran Castle as the main residence of Vlad III, others are convinced that Poienari Castle (also called Poienari Fortress) deserves that title. Let’s face it: a national leader, a man with a lot of enemies, needed to live in a building that is difficult to conquer, let alone approach. And since this fortress is located on a cliff of 800 meters high, it fits the description a lot better than Bran Castle.

Let’s have a look at the location. Poienari is the name of the castle, but the place itself is called Arefu.

The construction of this castle started at the beginning of the 13th century and there is indeed historical proof that Vlad the Impaler – and other leaders of Wallachia for that matter – lived here! Unfortunately, the castle was abandoned many times and finally fell into ruins. In the 20th century, landslides and earthquakes moreover caused further damage.

A couple of interesting (juicy) historical details!

It’s said that his first wife, Jusztina Szilagyi of Moldavia, flung herself from the towers of Poenari during a siege by Vlad’s muslim brother, Radu Bey. Before flinging herself into the Arges River below, she exclaimed she would rather rot and be eaten by the fish than to be a captive of the Turks. (Atlas Obscura)

With “his”, we do indeed refer to Vlad Tepes.

One of the stories of the castle actually says that Vlad impaled some of the boyars nearby Targoviste, boyars considered to be guilty for the death of his brother Mircea and ordered the remaining to work at the castle. The chronicles of that time note that they worked so hard at the castle that their clothes got torn to pieces and many of them died of exhaustion. (

Whilst there are various tellings of this story and some with conflicting endings, it is sometimes believed that Vlad has these workers killed or impaled in the valley once the castle was completed. (

By the way, you might think by now that Vlad Tepes was a cruel, sadistic leader. But consider this: these were different times when torture was quite common. Besides, historians have pointed out that Vlad wanted to set an example to his enemies and criminals in general by choosing one of the cruelest methods of execution. And that happens to be impalement…

Back to Poienari Fortress. Along the road near Arefu, at a certain point, you will see this…

This is the entrance of the fortress. Unfortunately, more than 1400 (!) steps await you to go to the castle itself. Lars and I did not make it; we are not that young anymore! Or should we be honest and admit that our physical condition is not the best? Anyway, we could only take a couple of pictures…

By the way, this is one of the very few times that Lars and I were unable to reach our destination.

A couple of words of advice… The castle is sometimes closed due to… bear attacks! Contact a tourist information office before you go there. Moreover, when we were there and looked longingly at the entrance, we were suddenly surrounded by stray dogs. Keep calm, let them have a sniff and they will eventually leave you alone.

Anyway, due to its isolated location and the difficult accessibility, Poienari Castle isn’t as popular as Bran. Maybe – or probably – that is the reason that tourist organizations keep on promoting the latter. However, if you have the possibility and the physical stamina, visit it! You will be able to take pictures such as these. By the way, the castle is located at one of the most famous roads in the world: the Transfăgărășan!

Final question: did this fortress inspire Bram Stoker when he described Dracula’s castle? That is highly debatable. First of all, the action in the novel takes place in a different region of Romania. Moreover, at that time, Poienari Castle was relatively unknown and to a certain extent, it still is. And, as I said in my former post, Stoker could have taken an English castle as an example.

Now, I am excited to announce that our next location is very special indeed! Not only because it is one of the most beautiful Romanian locations, but it is only recently that historians have proven a connection between Vlad Tepes and this place! So, keep on following us…

In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Bran’s Castle

Bran. If you have ever been to Romania, you must have heard about this place… Or maybe you have even been there. With its more than half a million visitors every year, Bran’s castle – also known as Dracula’s castle – is one of Romania’s most popular touristic destinations. But did Vlad the Impaler really live here?

Bran is located in Transylvania, in the Carpathians, not far from Brasov, another illustrious city, which we will explore in another post.

Bran would have been really picturesque if it were not for all the publicity for its castle in hotels, hostels, bars, restaurants, bars, shops, etc. This town is all about Vlad the Impaler/Dracula and unfortunately, you pay for it. If you are looking for a nice and cheap place to stay and to eat, better go to nearby Brasov! Another piece of advice: don’t visit Bran and its castle in summer, when most of the tourists come. We were there in May 2015 and could visit everything at ease.

Let’s have a look at history. First, the Teutons built a wooden fortress on a steep cliff in Bran in the 13th century and more than 100 years later, the Hungarian king Louis the Great granted the people of Brasov the privilege of constructing a castle at the same location.

The secret staircase

The construction of the castle was complete in 1388.

Is there a link between this castle and Vlad the Impaler? Indeed, there is! This is what the official website of Bran’s castle has to say about it…

Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes) was allied with Bran and Brasov during his first reign (1448) and through the start of his next reign, after the Princes of Transylvania requested that he handle the anti-Ottoman resistance at the border. During his second reign (1456 – 1462), however, his army passed through Bran in early 1459 to attack Brasov, in order to settle a conflict between the Wallachia Voivode and the Saxons, who requested higher customs taxes and supported his opponent for the throne. Vlad the Impaler burned the city’s suburbs and murdered hundreds of Saxons from Transylvania, provoking the Saxon community to seek revenge by later mentioning in reports that the Voivode were a tyrant and extremely ruthless.

And, moreover…

However, in the fall of 1462, after the army of the Hungarian king, Matei Corvin, captured Vlad Tepes nearby the fortress of Podul Dambovitei, near Rucar, it appears that Vlad was taken to Bran Castle and locked up there for two months.

It’s hard to deny historical facts. So, we can be very sure that Vlad the Impaler spent at least some time here. Historians, however, are quite certain that another building is more entitled to the moniker of Dracula’s castle, but more about that in our next post!

Then there is another question that deserves an answer. Is there a link between Bran’s castle and Dracula, the work of fiction? What you need to know about the author, Bram Stoker, is that he never visited Romania… When it comes to Dracula, he was inspired by historical works (again, more about this in another post). And when it comes to the castle, he might indeed have been influenced by accounts of travelers. Literarian historians, however, point out that the description of Dracula’s castle comes very close to some British castles as well.

Finally: is Bran’s castle worth a visit? Yes, and there are two reasons. First, there is an undeniable link between the castle and Vlad Tepes and maybe even the fictional character of Dracula. And, last but not least, this is indeed a very beautiful and well-restored place. Again, avoid this in summer, because of the crowds. Check out the official website for more information.

By the way, the lockdown in Spain will now last until 11 April. Not the news we had been hoping for, but it doesn’t come as a surprise. We still have a lot of travel stories to tell, however! And…Stay Safe! Stay at home!

In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Târgoviste

If the name Târgoviste sounds familiar, it’s probably because this town played an important role in recent history. This is the location of the trial and execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu (25 December 1989). Don’t bother looking for the exact place; it still exists but it’s closed off for the general public.

Let’s return to the life of our main man, Vlad the Impaler. His youth was a very turbulent and violent one. For political reasons, he and his younger brother, Radu, were hostages in the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, The Turks treated the two brothers in a very different way. They were kind towards Radu, who later even converted to the Muslim faith. But the Turks abused Vlad, who came to see his captivity as a big humiliation.

As an adult, Vlad became the ruler of Wallachia, a region in Romania, with Târgoviste as its capital.

During his reign, Vlad killed the boyars who had murdered his father and older brother. His favorite method of execution – for any criminal – was impalement, hence the origin of his name Tepes, which is Romanian for impaler. This act and his constant fight against his enemies – especially the Ottoman Empire – consolidated his fame both as a national leader and a cruel dictator.

The official seating place of Vlad the Impaler – and most of the Wallachian leaders – was the Princely Court in Târgoviste, dating from the 14th century. It’s quite a big complex that underwent lots of additions and extensions during at least 2 centuries and you can still visit it. These ruins are one of the main reasons tourists come to Târgoviste.

The Chapel Church is one of the first buildings you can visit.

Afterwards, walk around amongst the ruins of the castle and its fortifications…

Vlad Tepes added the Chindia Tower to the complex, which is now the symbol of the city. You can climb the tower by the way, but since we both suffer from vertigo, we didn’t do this…

In the course of the 17th century, when the Princely Court moved away from Târgoviste, the complex became neglected. Anyway, if you want to know more about this place, check out this website. You can easily spend the morning here and visit the nearby Dealu Monastery in the afternoon. But that location is for another post.

This weekend we will publish the first part of our “lockdown diary” and next week we first have a look at the most famous place associated with Vlad the Impaler. But the question that Lars and I ask is: does it really deserve that reputation?

In the Footsteps of Vlad the Impaler – Sighisoara

Welcome to a very special series about Vlad the Impaler (also known as Vlad III and Vlad Tepes), one of Romania’s greatest rulers and until this day, a national hero. Moreover, he served as the inspiration for one of literature’s most (in)famous characters, namely Dracula. We will guide you to the most important locations in Romania associated with this illustrious man.

Today, we will introduce you to one of Transylvania’s most beautiful towns, Sighisoara. It dates back from Roman times and has been the home of Transylvanian Saxons and Hungarians.

Moreover, this is the place where Vlad Tepes was born. Head to the Clock Tower and at the square, you will see a yellow house.

This is the house where Vlad III was born (1428/1431) and spent his infancy. Or, at least, that’s what most people claim… There are historians who believe that the building is from a more recent date; they do agree that this is the right location though. Anyway, nowadays, the ground floor of the house serves as a restaurant, whereas the first floor is home to a small weapons museum.

Lars and I decided to try out the restaurant. We were a bit reluctant at first since very touristic places can serve mediocre food at quite high prices. But our stomachs won the argument. The restaurant has a medieval theme and you can eat outside.

Our opinion? It’s not a tourist trap; the food was very good and the prices were more than reasonable. Very friendly staff as well, so we certainly recommend it. We didn’t visit the weapons museum however and wanted to explore the town itself, but a thunderstorm which seemed to last forever chased us away.

So, we came back!

With its about 28.000 inhabitants, this town is very colorful and picturesque. The old center, the remaining fortifications, and the churches are all worth a visit. Here are some pictures to whet your appetite.

The second picture features two of Romania’s favorite foods. The polenta is called mămăligă and the cabbage rolls, stuffed with pork and rice, are sarmale. Romanians consider the last one to be the country’s national dish. To be honest, sarmale are one of my favorite foreign dishes ever and I eat it whenever it’s on the menu.

Anyway, on our sister website, The Cosy Traveler, I will soon feature more pictures of Sighisoara. In our next post on this site however, I will talk about Vlad’s turbulent youth in another corner of Romania. Last but not least, at the weekend, I intend to write a special post about how we (The Viking and yours truly) experience the lockdown in our Spanish town.

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