FOCUS - NOVEMBER 2018 63 of Romania was officially formed. It flourished until 1947, when King Michael abdicated. During World War II, Romania fought with the Nazis against the Russians, a for- midable neighbour who wanted control of the region. The country was transformed into a Socialist Republic, a regime which lasted until 1989. It was ruled by Nicolae Ceaușescu, a not-so-nice dicta- tor, from 1965 until 1989, when a revolution created a democratic country, at a cost of thousands of lives. I learned the truth about the legend of Dracula, created by Bram Stoker, who had never set foot in Romania. He interviewed travellers and loosely based his story on Vlad Tepes, the son of Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon). When Vlad came to power he had the task of uniting Romania, which he did. In fact, anyone who opposed him was impaled, caus- ing people to be somewhat afraid of him. This led to his nickname, the Devil. When Bram Stoker set out to write Dracula he presumed that Dracul, Vlad’s family name, meant devil and decided to add an ‘a’ at the end. A legend was born. Borgo Pass is where Stoker’s set his novel, but there is only countryside. Bran Castle, however, located about 4 hours away, and is generally referred to as Vlad the Impaler’s castle, is the one associated with Dracula. Another myth was that of the gyp- sies of Romania. First of all, gypsies prefer to be called zigeuners. They are referred to as Romas, not because they come from Romania, but because their origins date back to Roman times. This frustrates the Romanian people to no end, as the world identifies gypsies with Romania. I expected to see gypsies with violins, singing and dancing around a wagon, but instead saw a few, living in houses, just like everyone else. Their origins, by the way, are from Northern India and the women still wear sari-style dresses, while the men wear black hats. They tend to be craftsman, selling their wares along the streets. Many zigeuners have left Romania and the Balkans, and have headed to western European countries. The most picturesque part of Transylvania is the Carpathian Mountains. I drove through them several times, but at one point stopped at the top of a ridge and, as I looked below, saw a lengthy rib- bon of road that I had just travelled. It was spectacular. One of the most remarkable sights are the ‘Painted Monasteries’ near Bucovina (north east Roma- nia), now occupied by nuns. Their painted exterior walls are decorated with elaborate 15th and 16th cen- tury frescoes featuring portraits of saints and prophets, scenes from the life of Jesus, images of angels and demons, and heaven and hell. Deemed masterpieces of Byzan- tine art, these churches are one-of- a-kind architectural sites in Europe. Far from being merely wall decorations, the murals represent complete cycles of religious events. The purpose of the frescoes was to make the story of the Bible and the lives of the most important Orthodox saints known to villagers by the use of images. Their outstanding composition, elegant outline and harmonious colours blend perfectly with the surrounding landscape. A great and surprising site I came upon was the Merry Cemetery, in the far north, near the Ukrainian border. It is famous for the very colourful tomb- stones depicting the life and careers of the people buried there. Some of the Downtown Bucharest (Romania’s capital) is transforming into a modern city after years of socialistic oppression. One of the beautiful painted monestaries of Burcovina. The road is like a ribbon below, while crossing the Carpathian Mountains. ...................... Please turn to page 64