When Vlad the Impaler died in Romania in 1476, he could hardly have known that he would inspire a cottage industry of vampires and vampire lovers. The Wallachian prince was the inspiration for Dracula, as many travelers know. They also know they can travel to Romania to visit "Dracula's Castle" in Brasov, whose real name is Bran Castle and whose actual connections with the real Vlad are somewhat tenuous.
I visited Bran and spent about a week riding horses through the Transylvanian mountains and exploring the Dracula legend. For my blood money the best place to evoke Vlad and by association, Prince Dracul, is Snagov Island.
Snagov is the island where Vlad was buried. It's a short drive from central Bucharest but a million miles back in time. My guide, the redoubtable Eduard Popescu of MedievalTours, took me to the island on a gray and atmospheric day just right for meeting the ghost of the great Romanian prince. We parked our car in the 21st century and were rowed into Vlad's word by a ferryman--a real ferryman folks, just like the one that takes you to the world of the dead--who, in true Romanian fashion kissed my hand as I stepped onto his ancient skiff. Silence, the sound of water lapping and a few crane cries were the only noises of the outside world. I felt enveloped by mist, otherworldliness and a tinge of fear as we landed on Snagov to be met by a small person in a cloak (yes a cloak) carrying a lantern in one hand (yes, that's right, a lantern). She was the island caretaker. There was no one else in sight.
Eduard and I were guided into the island monastery chapel where the gravesite remains. I remember a crack in the stone. The guide laughed and said in Romanian that there was some doubt as to Vlad's presence in the grave as he was popularly known to have risen supernaturally long ago.
Although Vlad is known as "The Impaler" and he was clearly no Mahatma Gandhi, what struck me as I visited his grave at Snagov and traveled throughout Romania was the respect he garnered from the locals. As a teen prince he had been captured and ransomed to the Turks. But Vlad was a survivor and ultimately returned to his homeland to defend it "against all enemies of Christ," as the dialogue in Francis Ford Coppolla film, Bram Stoker's Dracula goes. Romanians still respect this ancient prince and in the silent crypt-chapel of Snagov it was hard not to agree with them.