Vampires

A Birthday Surprise For Bram

Tuesday November 8 is Bram Stoker’s birthday. To celebrate, I have done a guest post over at Cordelia’s Mom Still. Cordelia’s blog is an eclectic mix of personal anecdotes, photos and other interesting things! Feel free to pop by and have a read 🙂 You can also pop round to Not Cordelia’s Mom if you want to see the world from a very different perspective!!

If you’re looking for a recipe, here’s last year’s birthday one for Bram – Irish Coffee Dessert.

 

Three of Goblets

 

I Never Drink … Wine

When Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi first uttered those immortal words in Tod Browning’s 1931 movie Dracula, he didn’t realise he would be giving birth to one of the most famous lines in vampire folklore. These words never appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel. They were unique to the film which is loosely based on the 1924 stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. It was this play that introduced us to an urbane, tuxedo wearing Count Dracula, much different to Stoker’s quite repulsive vampire. The romantic, cape wearing Count would become one of the most popular versions of the mercurial vampire in literature and cinema. His popularity does not appearing to be waning.

To celebrate Bela’s upcoming 134th birthday on Thursday October 20, I thought I would drink some wine in his honour 🙂 Sangria, a chilled Spanish red wine drink, is supposedly named after the Spanish word for blood – sangre – which reflects its dark red colour. I have chosen to meld a chilled Spanish sangria with a warm mulled wine. After all, if Dracula did drink wine he most certainly would want it served warm – like blood!

Hot Blooded Sangria

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Ingredients
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
750ml bottle of red wine
1/3 cup brandy
1 blood orange, cut into pieces

Method
Place the juice and sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Stir until combined.
Add the cloves and cinnamon sticks. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 – 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy.
Add the wine and brandy. Cover and simmer, without boiling, for 5 minutes.
Add the blood orange pieces to a heatproof jug.
Pour wine over the blood orange pieces.
Drink while warm.
Refrigerate any leftover wine and enjoy cold over ice.

Spanish Rioja is traditional but you can use any red wine you like. I used a Vampire Merlot from Transylvania 🙂
You can use any variety of oranges when blood oranges are out of season.

Pancakes for Bram

Wednesday the 20th of April is the 104th Deathiversary of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula.

Every year I commemorate his birthday and death day.
Last year I went to the newly resurrected pancake restaurant appropriately named Stokers.
This year I decided to make my own pancakes in honour of Bram.

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Pancakes are filled with mythological and folkloric meanings. They are most commonly associated with Shrove Tuesday and Lent. Their circular shape associates them with the sun and they are often eaten at the end of winter to welcome the coming spring. They are symbols of the beginning and the end of life. I remember eating pancakes at funerals and I remember new mothers being given pancakes after childbirth. With their links to life, death and the sun, pancakes are the perfect food to honour an author whose greatest character was deeply connected to life, death and the sun.

The pancakes below are unusual as they are leavened with yeast. Yeasted pancakes are common in Eastern Europe, especially in Transylvania! They can be eaten with savoury or sweet fillings. I have chosen a classic combination of strawberry jam and cream, not only because I love the flavours, but because the colour combination has a vampiric feel for me – perfect for Mr Stoker.

Yeasted Pancakes

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Ingredients
2 cups flour
2 cups lukewarm milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried yeast
extra olive oil for frying

for serving
strawberry jam
cream

Instructions
Add the flour to a large bowl.
Slowly stir in the milk.
Add the egg, butter and oil and mix until they form a smooth pancake batter.
Add the salt and yeast and stir until combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 1-3 hours or until doubled in size.
Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
Pour in approximately 1/4 cup of batter.
Cook for 3-4 minutes or until it starts to form bubbles.
Flip and cook for a further 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with jam and cream.

Cheers Mr Stoker!

Dracula author Bram Stoker was born on the 8th of November 168 years ago. I love remembering the birthday of a man who achieved symbolic immortality by creating an unforgettable immortal being – Count Dracula.

I wanted to create a recipe in his honour. Normally I would go for something more gothic, but I found myself wanting to pay tribute to his Irish heritage. I thought Irish Stew or Irish Soda Bread (or both!) would be great but it’s nearly summer here so hot stews and breads are a bit heavy. Maybe I will make them for his Deathiversary in April – hopefully it will cool down by then.

Thinking of the long, hot days ahead made me think of drinks and as a big coffee fan I thought of Irish Coffee. Early versions of Irish Coffee were simply hot black coffee with Irish whiskey and brown sugar stirred through, topped with thick cream. Later versions added a slug of Irish cream liqueur – yum! Naturally I wanted to add a twist. I played around with a dessert version of the classic drink and decided to make an Irish cream liqueur panna cotta, dotted with cubes of coffee jelly and topped with a whiskey cream.

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An Irish Coffee I ordered in Chengdu, China. 🙂

Working with gelatine is an adventure in itself. I use the leaves as sometimes the powder is difficult to combine and can become grainy. Leaves are great but they come in different strengths and you’re not always sure what strength they are. For jelly I usually follow the recommendations on the packet for the water/gelatine ratios. For panna cotta, I often use a bit less gelatine as I sometimes like my panna cotta creamier and less set. The panna cotta below is soft set so it contrasts well with the jelly. If you like your panna cotta set more firmly, just use more gelatine.

As this recipe is assembled on serving, you can add as much or as little coffee jelly and whiskey cream as you like. You can also choose whether you want the panna cottas to serve two, four or more people.

Irish Coffee Dessert

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Ingredients

for the panna cotta
4g of gelatine leaves
1 + 1/2 cups double cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Irish cream liqueur

for the coffee jelly
6g of gelatine leaves
1 cup freshly brewed coffee
1/4 cup sugar

for the whiskey cream
1 cup double cream
2 teaspoons icing sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Method
To make the panna cotta:
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes to soften.
While gelatine is soaking heat the cream and sugar together in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat.
Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove any excess water then add them to the cream mixture. Whisk until the gelatine has dissolved. Stir in the Irish cream.
Pour panna cotta into a heatproof jug. Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring regularly with a whisk. Give a final stir then pour evenly into glasses or bowls. Leave some room on the top for the jelly and cream.
Cover and refrigerate overnight or until set.

To make the coffee jelly:
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes to soften.
While gelatine is soaking heat the coffee and sugar together in a saucepan over medium-low heat until warm and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
Squeeze out any extra water from the gelatine leaves then add to the warm coffee. Whisk until the gelatine has dissolved.
Pour jelly into a square or rectangle container.
Allow to cool before covering and refrigerating until set. Cut into rough squares for serving.

To make the whiskey cream:
Using a wire whisk, beat together the cream and sugar until soft peaks form. Whisk in the whiskey until combined. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

To serve, dot the panna cottas with coffee jelly cubes and pipe or dollop on the whiskey cream.

A Bloody Birthday Drink

October 20th is Bela Lugosi’s birthday. He would be 133 years old if he lived. Considering he is one of the most famous actors who played Dracula, he may still be living – or undead!

As I continue to explore the five taste sensations through drinks, I couldn’t resist creating a Bloody Virgin Mary. Not only is it a drink most appropriate for a vampire, it is also a celebration of umami flavours. Umami is a Japanese word and is used to describe the unique flavour of savoury. Best examples of umami flavours can be found in aged foods such as cheese, cured foods, fermented foods, meats, sauces, seaweed and stocks.

Bloody Virgin Mary
A heady combination of savoury and salty flavours.

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Ingredients
1 + 1/2 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup beef stock
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Method
Place the tomato juice, beef stock, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce and spring onions in a blender. Blend until combined. Pour into a jug. The mixture will be frothy so chill in the refrigerator until settled before serving.

We’ll Always Have Stokers

While I presume Stokers isn’t named after my beloved Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, I still can’t help enjoying this quaint little eatery. Dark wood trestle-like tables and bench seating are complemented by dim lighting and eerie old time music. An ancient piano adds to the scenery as does the open fire in the centre of the room. In winter, this lit open fire warms both body and soul as staff gently stoke the fire; hence the name Stokers?

The food is delicious. Soup, salad and ice cream sundaes are on offer but the stars are the crepes. Two rolled and filled crepes are presented on a piping hot plate. Savoury fillings include bolognese, camembert with cranberry sauce and chicken mornay. Sweet fillings include traditional lemon and sugar, passionfruit and chocolate peach. A bevy of hot and cold drinks, including steaming hot Bonox, completes the menu. 

In fact, you can pop in just for a drink. I know I have spent many a long summer night in Stokers, escaping from oppressive 40 degree temperatures by sipping on their refreshing and cooling pineapple crush. And as the night wears on I find I can’t resist a crepe or two.

I wrote this review in 2006 for a food writing course. Stokers had become one of my favourite places to eat since first walking in there in the late 1980s. The name reeled me in and the fact it only opened at night stoked my vampiric fires. The decor and atmosphere were more old world than gothic but the freaky clock on the wall blew me away. When you first looked at it you knew something was wrong and then it would click – it was running anti-clockwise. After a late night of studying, indulging in crepes and drinking, that clock could do strange things to your mind.

It wasn’t until I trained as a Wiccan – or as I like to say – went to “Witch School” – that I learned that clocks went clockwise because they were modelled on Northern Hemisphere sundials and therefore travelled sunwise. If clocks were modelled on Southern Hemisphere sundials they would turn anticlockwise which for us is sunwise 🙂

Sadly Stokers closed a few years ago and my partner and I were devastated. Stokers was one of the first places we went to as a couple. Every year we would try and celebrate Bram Stoker’s Birthday and Deathiversary and Northern and Southern Hemisphere Halloween there. But like a vampire in a horror film, Stokers has risen again!!

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Trevor, one of my best friends, gave me a book of vouchers to use as he was going on holiday. Ironically, one of the places he will be visiting is Whitby – the place where Dracula  lands in England. I was supposed to be going on that trip for my 50th birthday but sadly that wasn’t to be. But all is not lost, not only has Trevor bought me a birthday present from Whitby, his book of vouchers has reunited me with a lost love. As I scanned the food vouchers there was one for Stokers Cafe! Stokers has relocated!! Was this Bram Stoker’s way of letting me know “his” cafe was resurrected? Was this a birthday present from Bram to me from beyond the grave? Probably not – but a vamp girl can dream 🙂

Have I gone to Stokers and used my voucher? Yes! It was with great excitement and happiness that Paul and I went out for dinner at the new Stokers. We weren’t sure what to expect but happily we weren’t disappointed. The new owners have kept some of the old world charm of the original Stokers but sadly the anticlockwise clock didn’t make it. There is a fireplace which will be warm and cosy in winter and the lighting is just dark enough to echo the original.

The menu changes were also intriguing. Some of the old favourites were there but the menu has been “revamped” to fit in with its new inner city location. They now have burgers and cold drip coffee. They also have Pancake Chips which are deep fried pieces of pancakes served with a dipping sauce. Naturally we had to try them. I couldn’t decide which sauce to choose. Wasabi Mayonnaise sounded great and so did the Black Pepper Mayonnaise and The Garlic Parsley Mayonnaise. In the end I couldn’t resist choosing the Vegemite Mayonnaise. I’m glad I did 🙂

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For dessert Paul chose the Pancake Suzette which was set alight on our table.

I chose the Hot Jam Donut Pancakes which lived up to their name. They even cut little holes in the pancakes to mimic donuts. Luckily they served the holes with the pancakes!

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By the end of the evening I was so happily full, I couldn’t fit in a coffee. Luckily they sell the cold drip coffee in little bottles that you can take home. I had mine the next day my favourite way – equal parts cold coffee and cold cream.

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I can’t wait to return to Stokers – maybe I’ll unwrap my present from Whitby over hot crepes and cold drip coffee. 🙂

Invitation To A Funeral

Dracula author Bram Stoker died 103 years ago on May 20th. Twice a year, on Bram’s birthday and death day, I think about the author and his infamous vampire creation Count Dracula; two of the greatest influences on my life. This deathiversary got me thinking about death and cookies, two other great influences on my life 🙂

Stoker lived most of his life in the Victorian era. One of the most obvious themes in the novel Dracula is the exploration of the strict and repressive Victorian attitudes toward sexuality. But Dracula is also an exploration of Victorian attitudes to death and mourning. After all, Queen Victoria is as famous for her strict codes of morality as for her role as the “widow of Windsor”.

After the death of her beloved husband, Queen Victoria wore nothing but black for the rest of her life. Mourning jewellery became fashionable, and jewellery containing the hair of dead loved ones was popular. Queen Victoria particularly favoured jewellery made from Whitby jet for her mourning dress. Is it a coincidence that Dracula first lands in Whitby when he travels to England or is it a nod to the Victorian Queen’s favourite mourning gemstone? I don’t know. What I do know is that during Queen Victoria’s reign, mourning became an art in itself. And that brings us to cookies!

Funeral cookies have a long history and are part of the customs related to eating food for the dead. Funeral cookies were essentially edible offerings that were handed out at funerals. They could be eaten at the funeral to honour the dead, eaten as snacks on the way home from the funeral or given as treats to those who couldn’t attend the funeral. They could also be kept as mementoes of the day.

In Victorian times, homemade cookies were replaced by bakeries who offered made to order products on short notice. The evolution of printing technology allowed bakers the opportunity to package cookies in creative ways. Cookies could be wrapped in ornate wrappings containing printed information such as the funeral notice for the deceased, biblical quotes or poems. The Funeral cookies could then be used as funeral invitations with all the funeral details printed on the wrapper. If you were particularly peckish, you could even snack on them on the way to the funeral!

I loved the quaint idea of a cookie wrapped in a funeral invitation so much that I decided to make my own version of traditional funeral cookies. My version is a shortbread style cookie flavoured with caraway seeds, which are a traditional spice in old-style cookies. I have added rosemary as it symbolises remembrance and is therefore associated with remembering and honouring the dead. I have also used a cookie stamp to give them an ornate appearance.

Funeral Cookies

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Ingredients
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
180g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
extra cornflour for dusting biscuit stamp

Instructions
Mix together the flour, cornflour, salt and caraway seeds.
In a separate bowl cream together the butter, icing sugar and rosemary until smooth.
Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.
Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Roll dough mixture into balls.
Press into biscuit stamp lightly dusted with cornflour.
Place on prepared trays.
Continue until all mixture is used.
Place trays in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 150C / 300F
Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Allow to cool briefly before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

Happy Birthday Mr Stoker

Born – November 8, 1847
Died – April 20, 1912
167 Today!

In honour of Bram Stoker’s birthday I offer a review of Dracula Untold, the latest movie which draws on characters created by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula. Like the novel, the film turns the historical figure of Vlad Dracula into a vampire.

Spoiler Alert
The following discussion gives away key points in the film.

Dracula Untold – The Man

The film tells the story of how Vlad Dracula becomes a vampire to save his country from Ottoman forces. Narrated through the eyes of his son, the film is a confused melding of historical fact and fiction. Sadly the Vlad Dracula in Dracula Untold is less a formidable warrior and more a passive negotiator.

After spending part of his childhood with the Sultan as a ransom, Vlad returns to rule his Transylvanian homeland bearing physical and psychological scars. Vlad is portrayed as a peaceful and benevolent ruler, a doting father to his son Ingeras and a loving and romantic husband to his wife Mirena. The only thing they fear is the encroaching Ottoman Army. Vlad dutifully pays the Sultan his tributes and hopes that as he obeys the law the Sultan won’t try and conquer Transylvania. Nonetheless he is constantly on the lookout for any signs of invading Turks.

Early in the story representatives from the Sultan gatecrash dinner at Vlad’s. They have come for their monetary tribute and to tell Vlad the price has gone up – the Sultan now wants young boys for his army. When the time comes for Vlad to give Ingeras to the Turks, he meekly complies until, bullied by his wife, he finally decides to fight. And that is when we see the first glimpse of who and what Vlad Dracula is – a brilliant and deadly fighter!

Sadly, that’s the only glimpse we get. Fearful of the Sultan’s retaliation Vlad becomes a vampire so he can fight the Ottoman Army. Using his newfound powers he single handedly takes on the Ottoman Army. After a few battles, Vlad finally wins the war but at the cost of his wife. Having secured the safety of his son, Vlad gives up his vampiric life, dies but is resurrected by a mysterious stranger. Ingeras is installed as the new Transylvanian leader. Ingeras talks about the legacy of his father, saying that people think he was a monster but that he knows the truth –  his father died a hero.

A major issue with this filmic Vlad Dracula is that he is so disconnected from his warrior past. When Vlad has to don his Dragon warrior suit of armour he is reluctant. Rather than being proud of his Dragon history he says it is something he wished he never had to do again! The historical Vlad Dracula was proud of his family heritage, the role he and his family played in protecting Wallachia from Ottoman rule and their ordination into the Order of the Dragon. The real Vlad Dracula never shirked away from battle. He was a master strategist and a fierce warrior. He fought until the end. Yet his skill and pride in being a warrior is not portrayed in the film. Vlad seems more a shambling desperado than a ruthless and strategic leader who foiled and bewildered the Ottomans time and time again.

Vlad also appears to have no standing army and no way to defend himself from the Turks. The first battle he has after becoming a vampire is fought on his own. Vlad strides into enemy forces wielding his vampiric skills, but where are his Transylvanian soldiers? After the battle is won Vlad returns home where a few of his men are holding swords. Vlad eventually has to turn them into vampires so they can beat the Turks. This is not the army the historical Vlad led. The historical Vlad’s army was vasty outnumbered by the Turks but still managed to best them multiple times.

Vlad’s role as a husband and father is also problematic. Vlad seems to be led more by his wife and his need to protect his son, than by his desire to protect his people and his land. One thing we know about the historical Vlad is that he put his country first and desperately fought against the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire into Wallachia. Little is known of his role as a husband and father but, for the small amount that is known it is probably a good guess to say he wasn’t going to be winning any husband or father of the year awards! For those of us with some knowledge of the historical Vlad Dracula, watching this cinematic version waltz around as a love-sick pacifist is deeply disturbing.

But the main issue with Dracula Untold is that one of history’s greatest and most feared warriors is successful, not through his own skills, but by becoming a vampire and gaining supernatural powers. The real truth is the historical Vlad Dracula didn’t need magical powers to beat the Ottoman Army – he was just that good!

Dracula Untold – The Vampire

So how did Vlad become a vampire in this filmic version?

On one of his scouting missions Vlad finds a Turkish helmet in the river. Vlad thinks the Turks are holed up in a cave in Broken Tooth Mountain. When Vlad and his team investigate they find not just the dead Turks, but a monster who kills Vlad’s men and nearly Vlad himself. Vlad drags himself into the sunlight and saves himself – but not for long.

After killing the Turkish soldiers, Vlad returns to the vampire’s cave to make a deal. He wants vampire powers so he can take on the Ottoman Army. The ancient vampire makes a deal with Vlad and allows him to drink his blood. Vlad will have all the powers and all the restrictions that come with being a vampire for three days. If he can control his raging bloodlust for that time he will revert to being a human again. If he gives in to his bloodlust then he is doomed to remain a vampire. Vlad sets about conquering the Ottoman incursion in three days.

Throughout his three days Vlad is able to curb his bloodlust even when tested by a stranger who tries to lure him into drinking his blood. On the final day of Vlad’s vampirism, Ingeras is taken by the Turks and Mirena falls to her death. As she lays dying in Vlad’s arms she forces him to drink her blood to become a vampire permanently so he will have the time and strength to save Ingeras. Most of Vlad’s subjects have been killed by the Turks so Vlad transforms the survivors into vampires. With his vampiric army Vlad is finally able to conquer the Turks and rescue his son. As he stands there with Ingeras, Vlad’s vampire army surrounds him and demands that he kill the human child for them. But Vlad has used his power to cloud over the rising sun and, to save Ingeras, he dismisses the clouds, letting the sun burn away his army and himself. Ingeras is taken away to safety by a priest. Shortly afterward, the stranger who tested Vlad returns and feeds Vlad his blood. Vlad is resurrected.

The final scenes are set in the present day. Mirena, now named Mina, has been reborn and Vlad has come to claim her. The two walk off together, unaware that they are being followed by the ancient vampire from Broken Tooth Mountain. The ancient vampire says “Let the games begin”. And so the film ends.

The vampire part of the film is the most interesting. Having a three day clause where you can have all the powers of the vampire and then give them back is an interesting idea. Of course you can’t drink blood in those three days. It is this aspect that is slightly problematic as much of Vlad’s vampiric time is spent trying not to succumb to his blood lust. We are therefore denied scenes of him drinking the blood of his enemies – although that does eventually happen! The main focus of Vlad’s vampiric power is his ability to use bats as an army. Vlad can summon a swarm of bats and aim them at the Ottoman troops. While they are busy protecting themselves from the bat swarm, Vlad, who can also turn himself into a flock of bats, wades in and kills them.

The final battle is between Vlad and his Turkish nemesis Mehmed. It is a classic grudge match. Vlad and Mehmed were as close as brothers when Vlad was a “guest” of the Sultan. But now Mehmed has waged war on Vlad, killed his wife and taken his son. When Vlad confronts Mehmed in his tent he finds sliver coins strewn everywhere. In this film, vampires are allergic to silver. What is interesting is that the coins are Transylvanian – they are the tribute Vlad has just paid to the Sultan. When Mehmed throws coins into Vlad’s face he is symbolically “rubbing Vlad’s face” in his powerlessness. Weakened by the coins Vlad falls and Mehmed tries to stake him, remarking on the irony of the Impaler dying by being impaled. But Vlad uses his bat power to morph and ends up staking Mehmed. He then bites Mehmed and drinks his blood proving that Vlad is no longer a victim but the victor.

One of the interesting issues with Vlad as vampire is that he, like his human self, lacks strategic knowledge. Once Vlad becomes a vampire he can use his strength to best the Ottomans but not his military know-how. It seems that every step that Vlad takes, the Ottoman Army is one step ahead – they find his monastery sanctuary and, while Vlad is engaged in battle, kidnap his son and kill his wife. By weakening Vlad as a man they have weakened him as a vampire. Vlad’s seeming ineptitude is so different to not only the historical Vlad but also to Stoker’s vampire Vlad. What makes Dracula so hard to find in England is his military background and strategic nous. Dracula plans his move from Transylvania to England with military precision. He buys property around the country for his hiding places. He employs multiple companies to do his transactions so that no one company or person knows all his plans. Fundamentally it is Count Dracula’s life as Vlad Dracula that makes him so hard to find and kill. He is ultimately caught, but only because the vampire hunters employ the same strategic skills as Dracula in their quest.

A Confusion Of Draculas

The problem with combining the historical Vlad Dracula with the literary Count Dracula is that Vlad Dracula does not need Dracula. Prince Dracula is an incredible figure with a history that doesn’t need to be attached to vampire mythology. The real question is “Did the literary Dracula need Vlad Dracula”? Would Stoker’s vampire have been so powerful without the name Dracula? Would he have been so captivating without his Transylvanian history? It is a question that can never be answered, however I suspect he did.

The beauty of Bram Stoker’s creation of the vampire Count Dracula is that he alludes to the history of Vlad Dracula but never actually makes anything really clear about the warrior Prince. We know that the vampire Count Dracula is the once human Vlad Dracula aka Vlad The Impaler/Tepes. There are some historical inaccuracies, but overall, Stoker remains faithful to the spirit of the historical Vlad Dracula.

Similarly it is never made clear in the novel when, how or why Dracula becomes a vampire. Was Vlad a vampire during his years of battle with the Ottoman Empire? Did he become a vampire after his death? We also don’t know how he became a vampire. There is talk of him attending The Scholomance – the Devil’s School. Did he learn the art of vampiric transformation there? And why did he become a vampire? Did he turn willingly or unwillingly? Was it for power or for love? Again there are no answers in the novel. The reader is left with many questions and the power of their own imaginations! By not letting us know when, how or why Dracula became a vampire, Stoker cleverly leaves the historical Prince Dracula the dignity of his human history as a warrior and a Prince. If only this movie could have given Vlad Dracula the same respect.

Ace of Stakes Dracula Painting

In the Footsteps of Jonathan Harker

Jonathan Harker’s adventure in Transylvania takes up the first four chapters out of twenty seven in the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Yet this small part of the novel contains some of the most memorable scenes and lines from the book. When I went to Romania in 2005 I couldn’t wait to retrace Jonathan Harker’s journey from Bistrita to Castle Dracula. This was written shortly after I returned 🙂

In the footsteps of Jonathan Harker

Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

A hotel recommended by Dracula himself was definitely a place I wanted to visit. Luckily for me The Hotel Coroana de Aur, (The Golden Crown Hotel), which did not exist in Stoker’s time, has since been built in Bistrita to capitalise on the burgeoning popularity of Dracula tourism.Nine of Coins

As I arrive at The Hotel Coroana de Aur, I cannot help but feel that I am stepping into gothic literary history. At first the foyer of the hotel seems like any other until I spy the Dracula and Bram Stoker postcards, the hotel stationary which features Bram Stoker’s face and the store selling a variety of vampire paraphernalia. There is also a Jonathan Harker Salon.

As I step into my room I am disappointed to discover that they are standard hotel style, with barely a hint of the vampiric. But my disappointment is allayed the next day when I take breakfast in the Jonathan Harker Salon. Draped in the traditional vampire colours of black and red, and decorated with animal heads, flying bats and dripping candelabra the salon offers a feast for the eyes as well as the body. Devouring a sumptuous buffet breakfast, surrounded by such paraphernalia, is a real gothic treat. I am reluctant to leave the salon, but equally eager to continue my journey. Following in the footsteps of Jonathan Harker, my next destination is the famed Castle Dracula.

The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

The road from Bistrita to Piatra Fantanele is the same road described by Stoker over a century ago. The long journey takes in the Borgo Pass, the place where Jonathan meets the horse drawn carriage of Count Dracula. After a long and fearful journey, Jonathan reaches the dreaded Castle Dracula. But I enjoy a relaxing car trip, not to a haunted castle, but to a modern hotel.

The HotTowerel Castel Dracula is another hotel created to take advantage of Dracula tourism. Built where Dracula’s Castle is described in the novel, the hotel is a curious construction. The strangely greyish purplish building is both gothic and comically vampiric. There is even a cemetery on the grounds. A small market on the hotel grounds stocks local souvenirs and Vlad Ţepeş and Dracula memorabilia. The hotel lobby also stocks an assortment of Dracula gifts.

After freshening up, the staff offer me a guided tour of Dracula’s Dungeon. I’m excited as I slowly walk down the stairs into the candlelit room. There is a coffin in the corner and I move forward to take a closer look. The staff have a surprise for me which I won’t reveal, but I screamed, loud and hard, but not before swallowing a few Aussie curse words. The staff are ecstatic at my response and after I catch my breath, we leave the dungeon for the next unsuspecting guest.

After dinner I return to my room which boasts beautiful views of the famous Carpathian Mountains. I sit and drink champagne, watching as darkness creeps along the mountain tops. It’s not hard to picture wolves, and other creatures, roaming free in the mountains. Finally I retire to sleep contented on a bed whose bedhead features the dragon motif of the Dracula family. I have enjoyed following in the footsteps of Jonathan Harker, but tomorrow my journey takes a different turn.

Good-bye, all!

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

In the novel, Jonathan jumps out a window of Castle Dracula and is eventually found physically and mentally traumatised in a hospital in Budapest, Hungary. I, not surprisingly, chose a different way to end my journey.

Four of CoinsHeading for Bucharest, the capital city, I spend my final night in Romania at The Count Dracula Club, a gothic club that truly caters to the vampirically inclined. Themed rooms and a downstairs dungeon are some of the treats that await the diner. I am lucky enough to be there the night of a Dracula show when the Count himself makes an appearance. Quoting from the novel in both Romanian and English the dashing Count cavorts around the restaurant, swishing his black cape and menacing the willing patrons. The menu contains Dracula themed dishes and vampire inspired cocktails are sipped between courses. I finish the meal with a glass of ţuică, the traditional plum brandy. My Jonathan Harker journey is almost at an end. Thankfully it is not with madness and despair that I end my trip but with an evening of food, wine and entertainment.

Three of Goblets

Like me, Jonathan Harker has a great love for food and drink. There are a number of passages in the novel where Jonathan describes the food and drink he is enjoying in Transylvania. He even writes the names of some of the dishes so he can get Mina to cook them when he gets home! When I returned from Romania I also brought home a love of Romanian food and a deep desire to know more about this cuisine. Below is my version of the classic Romania breakfast dish that both Jonathan and I ate and loved in Romania.

I had for breakfast more paprika, 

and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was “mamaliga,”

Jonathan Harker – Dracula

Mamaliga

IMG_8572

 Romanian cornmeal porridge with honey and sesame baked feta.

Ingredients
for the feta
225g feta cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

for the cornmeal
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup cornmeal
30g unsalted butter

Method
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F
Drain feta and dry with paper towel.
Slice feta in half.
Pour half the oil in the bottom of a baking dish.
Place feta side by side in the dish.
Drizzle with remaining olive oil and honey.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the feta is soft but not melted.
While feta is baking bring the water and milk to a low boil in a saucepan.
Add the salt and stir through.
Pour the cornmeal in a slow stream then turn the heat to low.
Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 10-15 minutes.
Stir in the butter.
Place cornmeal in bowls and top with baked feta.

This makes two very generous serves.

Artwork for the Dracula Tarot by the wonderful Anna Gerraty

If you have any Romanian dishes you’d like to share with me please do 🙂

An Archetypal Homeland

A friend of mine told me she is going to Romania this November. I am so excited for her as I think she will love it. While talking to her, the memories of my own trip to Romania nine years ago flooded back. I thought I would share what I wrote about it all those years ago.

I called my trip A Tale of Two Draculas. In case you don’t know who the two Draculas are, here is a quick rundown:

IMG_0002The first Dracula is the historical fifteenth century Prince and warrior Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula. While not a vampire himself, nor associated with any vampire mythos, Vlad Tepes is a colourful figure who has associations with many parts of Romania. His main haunting ground is the area of Romania called Wallachia. Six of Stakes

The second Dracula almost needs no introduction having been created by Irish author Bram Stoker in his nineteenth century literary masterpiece Dracula. Loosely based on the figure of Vlad Tepes, the famed vampire count has been a part of popular culture ever since. His main Romanian stalking ground is in the Transylvanian town of Bistriţa and the nearby Carpathian Mountains.

 

Below is Part One where I take you through the historical Vlad Tepes sites. In Part Two I’ll talk about my brief trip through what I call Stoker Land 🙂

An Archetypal Homeland

As an Australian-born child of Macedonian migrants it would be natural to assume that I have cultural ties to two countries; my ancestral land and my birth land. Yet even though my parents entertained me with tales of the “Old Country” I have never had much interest in visiting the land my ancestors called home. That is because at a young age I developed a kinship with another country. Fuelled on a steady diet of Count Dracula movies, the place I desperately wanted to visit was Transylvania – the land beyond the forest. After decades of studying the myths and legends of the vampire, my desire only grew so I decided to celebrate my fortieth birthday by travelling into the heart of Romania with my bemused partner.

Carpathian Mountains 2After a gruelling journey involving three planes and over thirty hours in non-stop transit I finally land in my beloved Romania. The excitement staves off the exhaustion as I eagerly rush to meet my first Romanian – the guy from the car hire firm. With guide books in hand and virtually no Romanian language skills, we jump in the car. Driving on the right hand side of the road, and the left hand side of the car, appears to be no major drawback for my partner, but the giant potholes, daredevil drivers and equally daredevil horse and cart riders are some harrowing terrors we face on the drive. It all adds to the mystery of the country which, having never been to Europe is almost overwhelming in its unfamiliarity.

tsel2 1As I relax into the drive I look out the window to observe a country that has haunted my dreams. The image of a gypsy careening at breakneck speed down the road in a horse drawn cart is so archetypal and so Romanian that I laugh out loud. Yet that image is strikingly juxtaposed with the sight of pristine green valleys vying with hideous concrete monstrosities for dominance over the landscape. The gypsies evoke the wild lands that Bram Stoker wrote about but the communist love of concrete and uniformity has certainly stained the land. In the process it has also tainted me.  By the time I reach my hotel room all I want to do is cry and go to sleep, but this is supposed to be a dream holiday, so I rally my spirits and step out into Romania.

No sooner do I step onto the pavement when I see a gorgeous stray dog holding a shrink wrapped sandwich in its mouth. It trots off to its lair, an ancient church in the middle of the suburbs. And that’s when I take a really good look around. Here, among the communist concrete blocks, history still survives. Like the dog nestling in the ruins, Romania’s true spirit has been buried, waiting for its time to re-emerge. For me, the dog becomes the key to understanding Romania. It shows me that behind the ugly communist façade, the spirit of the country and its people is alive and well. This is the reality of modern day Romania. It is a country haunted by a brutal past yet vibrant with future promise. It is also a land that retains a powerful link with its dark, vampiric heritage. How appropriate that the wolf’s closest ancestor, an animal with an intimate connection to the vampire, becomes my spiritual companion on this journey. With the Romanian dog as guide, I am happy to continue my journey through the land beyond the forest.

Targoviste - Vlad's Court 3 The first Vlad Tepes site we visit is The Princely Court in Targoviste. These are the first human-made ancient structures that I have ever seen. I am stunned at the constructions that have lasted over five hundred years. The archaic murals painted in the church are awe inspiring. I am so caught up in the magnificent history of the ruins that it takes me a while to comprehend that I am standing in one of Vlad’s ruling courts. The realisation that I am in a place where the real Prince Tepes once walked completely overwhelms me. His feet had once touched this earth, his hands had once touched these buildings. I am finally in the presence of the man who inspired Bram Stoker to name his infamous vampire after him. I am humbled.

 

Drac's Castle 4Our next stop is Citadel Poienari, the real Castle Dracula. This is the castle that Vlad Tepes actually lived in. To reach the top we must climb nearly 1500 steps, all of them uphill. For me, the climb is long and arduous. The only distraction is the surrounding forest. Ancient trees effortlessly climb the heights I seek, their tall gangly limbs swaying in the eerie breeze. Animals scurry in the bush and a field mouse runs across my path while a skink suns itself on a rock. This is the land Bram Stoker wrote about, wild, untamed and filled with life. I can almost hear the sombre howl of the wolves that still run free in these forests. After an eternity of huffing and puffing I finally come face to face with Vlad Tepes’ castle. Again I am awed by the sight. This is the castle that has haunted my dreams since childhood. I cannot believe that I am here. Once more I allow my imagination to run wild with images of Tepes ruling his kingdom from on high. Outstanding panoramic views of the countryside dominate the scene. Down below is the village of Arefu, where the proud descendants of Vlad Tepes’ minions still live. As I imagine talking to these descendants around a crisp bonfire, I realise that I have connected deeply with the Tepes siteDrac's Castle 6s but not with the Romanian people.

The next day I stop on my way to Sighisoara to pay homage to a statue of Vlad Tepes that guards the gateway to the village of Arefu. In the distance, towering above Vlad are the ruins of his mythic castle.

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As I turn to leave I slip and fall right in front of the bust of Vlad. I lie there looking up at him, knowing that I have badly twisted my ankle and scraped my knee. As my blood drips into the land in the shadow of that archetypal castle, I feel that I am paying due homage to the vampire prince. A scrape of flesh and a touch of blood will be left in the Romanian soil to form a blood tie with this ancient land. As my partner helps me hobble to our car I have plenty of time to ponder the severity of my injury.

The drive to Sighisoara is long and slow. We chose the Transfagarasan road where snow capped mountains and majestic forests compete with the sheer windy majesty of the concrete construction that is this road. My stress levels rise as the snow creeps closer to the car. It feels like a scene from The Shining. Just as we ponder whether to put chains on the tyres, the road stops, blocked by an avalanche of snow. This path to Sighisoara is cut-off. We have to turn around and try another route which will take us four to five hours to traverse. By now I am worried about my ankle and my enthusiasm to meet people is severely dampened. All I want is a good night’s sleep and a few painkillers.

But as we finally reach the fairytale spires and cobblestone streetclock 01s that is Sighisoara, my spirit is awakened. Leaning heavily on my partner and limping noticeably, I eagerly explore the craft market. Painted vampire masques and Dracula mementos vie with beautifully embroidered handicrafts and traditional souvenirs for table space. I stop and admire a delicate piece of embroidered lace, but before I can pick up the fabric, the black clad old woman running the stall waves her hands frantically, stopping me from touching the cloth. She gestures in sign language, pointing at my foot. I mime falling over and hurting my ankle. She laughs and pats my arm, gesturing for me to peruse her wares. As I wander away from the stall, I look back and see the woman pick up the only piece I had handled and make a complicated sign over it before placing it back. I recognise immediately what she is doing. She is warding off the evil eye. Even though my injury is only temporary, the old woman is taking no chances. If I am carrying a curse, she is prepared. It is a superstition I remember from my childhood.

As I take aSighisoara 2 good look at the villagers I see glimpses of my aunts and uncles, my grandparents and parents. I see a resemblance to my own Slavic relatives; a connection I did not feel till now. It is both physical and mythic. I see a tabby cat that looks just like the one down the road back home, complete with feline aristocratic attitude. SlowlySighisoara 1, unbelievably, I begin to feel at home. The bond I had so longed for is appropriately forged here. In the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, I finally connect to my ancestral roots. In the process I also connect with the Romanian people, so similar to my own family. It has taken a fall and an injury to bond with these people, but it is a price well worth paying. I enjoy a drink and a meal in the house Vlad Tepes was born in, secure in the knowledge that I too, have been reborn.

 

Fittingly our final stop in Romania is Snagov Monastery, the burial place of Vlad Tepes. The monastery is situated on an island and the only way to get there is by boat. As we are gently rowed to the island, I cannot help but feel that I am on the river Styx, about to enter the Underworld. As a blacSnagov 2k robed priest greets us at the door and welcomes us into his church I am transported to my own childhood. I remember the Orthodox churches of my youth with exquisitely painted interiors, framed saints and fragrant incense. It makes me yearn for a religion I no longer practice. But my reverie is broken by the sight of the altar. At its foot is a grave on which sits a plaque of Vlad Tepes. This is his final resting place. Vlad’s decapitated body supposedly lies beneath that slab of concrete. As I solemnly stand beside the grave, the priest stands next to me and, unbelievably, poses for a photo. I try not to laugh as his irreverent reverence so reminds me of the priests I grew up with. It is a deeply moving place to visit and the perfect way to end the Vlad Tepes leg of my journey.

I finally return home, butdoggy 2 not as the forty year old Countess Dracula I had hoped to be, but as Igor, the twisted servant of the vampire. I know I am deeply changed. Romania surpassed my dreams and the reality certainly lived up to the myth. Every time I look through my photo album I am stunned at the beauty of a harsh country that I nearly failed to see. The ancient ruins and archaic Dracula sites are breathtaking. But my favourite photo is of a small stray dog with matted fur. It brings back some of my most precious memories. Throughout the trip I had expected to see the stray dogs that so inspired and enchanted me being mistreated and shunned by the locals. But I was surprised at the tender way the Romanians treat their furry comrades. The images of school children sharing their lunches with the dogs, women bending to pat them in the streets and an armed and vigilant guard inevitably surrendering to the need to play with a stray puppy are unforgettable. These experiences bonded me to the people as I had always been bonded to the land, its turbulent history and gothic mythos.

Dracula brought me to this strange land, but its flora, fauna and people won my heart. I know that a part of me now lives in my archetypal homeland, and a part of my soul will always dwell in the land beyond the forest.