I was spending my homestay night in Bucharest alone; an Australian backpacker entrusted with a stranger’s home.
I hadn’t walked far from the train station when I returned and immediately bought another train ticket for Brasov, 160km away, in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains.
I had an instant dislike for the seedy feel of Romania’s capital city (just five years after the people overthrew their dictator Nicolae Ceausescu) and opted for a quick exit. It was one of those gut feelings.
“Where are you from,” asked the elderly man, sitting opposite me in the train compartment.
We conversed in English, while he enquired where I was going, what I was doing and where I’d been.
“I’m Greek,” he said.
“Oh - so am I!” I responded in our mother tongue.
He told me he'd lived in Romania for 20 years, working as a geologist, and was revisiting after a long absence.
During that three-hour journey to Brasov, my compatriot gave me a geological tour of Romania, with travel tips and suggestions for my visit.
In my hasty retreat from Bucharest, I arrived in Brasov without accommodation for the night.
This dilemma was solved by a young man holding a placard offering lodgings to tourists. I normally wouldn’t have taken up such an impromptu proposal - during those early days of solo adventures I travelled on a comprehensively-planned itinerary.
As I inspected the room, however, I felt a sudden uneasiness – warning bells were clanging in my head.
“Thanks, but I’ll stay at the hotel,” I told the bewildered young man. Despite his protests and the excessive hotel charge, I felt safer with this second option.
The next morning I arranged a homestay through the town’s official tourist office; my guide book recommended this as the best – and cheapest – way to stay while travelling in Romania.
At $US15 a night, I was billeted with a local family for five days: a father who spoke no English, a mother who had half a dozen words in her vocabulary and their university-aged son who spoke English reasonably well.
The mother ensured I was adequately fed, the father smiled a lot, and their son taught me key Romanian phrases for buying a train ticket for my day trip to Bran, in search of a Transylvanian legend.
I had taken the detour to Brasov on a friend’s recommendation that I visit Count Dracula’s castle.
Vlad Tepes (aka Vlad the Impaler) was the son of Vlad Dracul, a Knight of the Order of the Dragon.
Vlad Jnr was considered a hero for opposing the Ottoman Empire during the 1400s. As Prince of Wallachia he enforced the law using the death penalty and impaled everyone he considered an enemy: robbers, priests, treacherous noblemen, beggars and Saxons.
Apparently, Vlad used to sign with his father’s name, Dracul, meaning the devil.
Lured by this blood-curdling Transylvanian myth, I followed the tourist trail to Bran Castle, which once housed an alleged vampire.
However, the modest looking castle shattered my heightened expectations: there were no blood-splattered walls, impaled heads or fake vampires lunging out of nooks or secret chambers.
Last night in Bucharest
I returned to the capital looking for a one night homestay before continuing my train journey to Bulgaria the following day.
The Romanian woman, who trusted me with her home, gave me a brief tour of the kitchen and bathroom before leaving with her boyfriend.
“I see you tomorrow,” she said, walking out the front door.
Would you open up your home to an itinerant backpacker?