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Transylvania Travelogue: Bran Castle and Zarnesti Bear Sanctuary

 ·   ·  β˜• 5 min read  ·  ✍️ Sathyajith Bhat · πŸ‘€... views

For the first day of our tour, our plan was to head over to Brasov. From Brasov, Florin, our tour guide would pick us up and drive us over to Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Zarnesti. From there, we’d head over to Bran castle, explore the castle and then to Sibiu, where we would stay for the rest of the trip.

Libearty Bear Sanctuary has guided tour of the sanctuary which occurs at limited time slots, and to be there in time, Florin had asked to take the first train from Bucharest to Brasov. We’ve taken the train from Bucharest to Brasov and Sinaia a few times previously, so this was not an unknown route, but we’d never taken the first train out.

The first train to Brasov from Bucharest via CFR was at 6 am. To be at the train station in time, we were wondering whether to take the Metro or an Uber. Ultimately, we weren’t sure if we’d be up and ready to take the metro in time, so took an Uber. We reached the train station in time, grabbed some food, and then boarded our train.

At the Bucharest Railway Station Gara de Nord

There’s plenty of trains from Bucharest to Brasov at fairly regular intervals and even though the distance is quite low (about 120 km), the trains on this route go slow because of mountain terrain. As we passed by Sinaia, we noticed that there was still a fair bit of snow up near the mountains.

The snow still hadn't melted

We reached Brasov in time, just as Florin arrived there as well (though in all fairness, he was there some 10-15 mins earlier and told us he’d take the time to get some coffee). Introductions done, we put our bags in his car (a nice Volkswagen Caravelle minibus - I was expecting a sedan) and set off towards Zarnesti. We reached there in just over an hour. The roads leading there were pretty great, albeit the last part, which was understandable since the sanctuary’s not quite in the middle of town.

Bucegi Mountains provide the backgrop as we wait for the sanctuary to open
Bucegi Mountains provide the backgrop as we wait for the sanctuary to open

Libearty Bear Sanctuary is now the home of over a hundred bears that were rescued from captivity. The bears were kept in tiny cages near restaurants, hotels, and other places as tourist attractions.

Bears were freed from trapped in tiny cages like these

We learnt that most of the bears have been in captivity for far too long that they can’t be set free in the jungle, as they lack any survival skills. Some bears even have a psychological barrier set in their mind around the cages they were in, and that even with over a large open space available for them in the sanctuary, they end up going in circles in the same tiny cramped space that they were jailed in. The guided tour takes us through different open spaces that the bears have right now and takes about an hour. The sanctuary has cameras that are live streaming that you can view.

Some of the bears at Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Zarnesti

From there, we set off for Bran Castle. Bran Castle was about 10 kms away, and we reached there in about 15 mins. Bran Castle is more famously known as known as Dracula Castle and is the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula series of moves/movies. I knew Dracula was fiction but was surprised to know that the castle has nothing to do with Vlad “Tepes” Dracul, the inspiration for Dracula. Vlad Tepes had possibly not set foot at Bran at all. Bran Castle was the fortress on the Transylvanian side of the Transylvania-Wallachia border. In modern times, it was a residence and now, a museum of Queen Maria, the last Queen of Romania’s art and furniture collection.

Spectacular views from Bran Castle
Spectacular views from Bran Castle
Narrow staircases such as these are quite common
Some of the bears at Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Zarnesti
View of Princess Ileana's House from Bran Castle

Bran has spectacular views from everywhere and the castle is maintained well. Since Bran is so popular, it can get very crowded, especially if couple of tour buses arrive. The pathways and staircases inside the castle are quite narrow, leading to more crowd issues. We thankfully didn’t run into big crowds as we reached early and were visiting on a weekday. The overload of Dracula-related merchandise and myth is a big turnoff, however.

We wrapped up our castle tour and were quite hungry, grabbed lunch at Hanul Bran. Post lunch, we headed towards Sibiu. We had booked an Airbnb that would be our accommodation for the tour. The distance from Bran to Sibiu is about 115 km, and it took us about 2 hours to cover this distance.

During the day, we had lots of interesting, varied and lively conversations with Florin, a trend that continued for the rest of the trip. The next day we were to head towards the Fagaras mountains and Florin suggested we grab some sunglasses, waterproof shoes (I had mine, Jo did not) else it’d be difficult. After dropping us off at the Airbnb, we checked in, relaxed for a bit and then went to Decathlon to pick up the sunglasses and the shoes. Once back to the Airbnb, we called it a night for some sleep.

Day stats

Distance covered: 342 km(158 km by train, 184 km by car)

Expenses:

  • Train tickets from Bucharest to Brasov: 48,6 RON per person (Second class/AC “chair car” for those familiar with Indian Railways)
  • Entrance Fee for Libearty Bear Sanctuary: 60 RON per person
  • Entrance Fee for Bran Castle: 45 RON per person
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Sathyajith Bhat
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Sathyajith Bhat
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