Hoia Baciu: Inside the creepiest forest in Transylvania

We are in The Clearing. The trees stop in a uniform oval where nothing grows and where, since official records began, nothing has grown. “Once when I came here,” says Alex, our guide, “I found 60 people from Bucharest trying to open a gate into another dimension.”

I set a significant scene in Daughters of Shadow and Blood here.

Courtesy of The Independent.

A cycling tour of the Balkans: two wheels, three countries, four days

Rocking my bike from side to side, I crested the final rise and the landscape opened out before me. A high-altitude meadow freckled with cows rolled down into a shallow bowl surrounded by savagely contorted, parallel slabs of limestone sticking straight up from the earth. Beyond was 2,523-metre Bobotov Kuk, the highest point in Montenegro’s wondrous Unesco-listed Durmitor national park. Behind me were yet more staggering views, across glacial lakes to rows of mountain peaks, deep river gorges and pine forests populated by wild cats, bears and wolves.

Courtesy of The Guardian.

A Trip to Transylvania, Without the Bite

Romanian friends told us this area of medieval villages and fortified churches had little to do with the fiction of “Dracula,” yet the night was turning into a vampirish cliché. In his 1897 novel, the Irish writer Bram Stoker described the Carpathian pass as “an imaginative whirlpool” where every known superstition gathered. I saw how he might get that idea.

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

Mountain highs: trekking without borders in the Balkans

The views from Kosovo’s highest peak are incredible. Or so I’m told. It’s a tricky thing to confirm in blanket murk and howling winds. I’ve just leaned into a gale to reach the 2,656m summit of Mount Gjeravica, where a shabby concrete marker displays a defaced plaque commemorating Kosovo’s first and only Olympic medallist.

Courtesy of The Guardian.

A hike to the mysterious Accursed Mountains in the Balkans

This remote and mysterious mountain range, much of it accessible only by foot, offers more than beauty. It hosts shepherds and goatherds and ancient pastoral traditions that have yet to be destroyed by mechanisation. In its isolated villages, traces still survive of a centuries-old code of conduct that combines extremes of punishment and generosity.

I’ve always said the “Accursed Mountains” would be right at home on a map of Middle Earth. Courtesy of the Financial Times.

Traveling Through Transylvania With ‘Dracula’ as a Guide

Nighttime in Transylvania is as atmospherically spooky as you would hope it would be. During the winter, a thick, low-lying mist covers thick forests of pine trees and firs. Above the fog, you can see the silhouetted turrets and spires of ancient castles and fortified churches. Many of the old homes there still burn wood fires, adding to the smoky air, while the towns are filled with gothic and baroque buildings that were once beautiful, but are now marked by peeling paint and crumbling facades.

Courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

Travel Advice for the Caffeine Addict

My wife is addicted to caffeine, a fact to which she will readily admit. In the morning, she has two large latte mugs of coffee, and at various prescribed times throughout the day, she’ll have a Diet Coke. If she misses a dose, she gets…cranky, also a fact to which she will readily admit. One year during college, she declared that she would give up caffeine for Lent. By the end of the first week, people were anonymously leaving cases of Diet Coke outside the door to her dorm room. Things I cannot make up.

When we were traveling in and around London recently, we had several dicey moments because we were in a place where she couldn’t get a hit. I’m ashamed to say that we were saved several times by Starbucks. That’s when I hit upon a brilliant idea. If you’re a caffeine addict, just kick your habit before you travel. (Ha ha! I couldn’t even type that with a straight face.) No, seriously, the answer is chocolate-covered coffee beans. Much more portable than a double cappuccino. Just drop them in your purse, backpack, or other touristy carrying accessory, and when you feel the headache about to set in, pop a few in your mouth.

And if you think my wife’s dependency is bad, we have a friend who hit upon the diabolical idea of brewing coffee with caffeinated water. I seriously don’t think she’s slept since.

Perfect Moments

Big BenThis time last year, we had just returned from a week in London.  This is kind of embarassing to admit for a European history major, but it was the first time I had ever been to Europe.  I love British history, so the trip was really special for me.  One moment that I keep going back to happened on out first day in the city.  We had arrived the night before at around 10:00, and after having been in transit for about fifteen hours, we just collapsed in the hotel room, so bright an early that morning, we were ready for some exploring.  We took the Underground from our hotel to the Westminster station, and by dumb luck, I picked the right exit, because climbing the stairs up to the street, all I could see was the Clock Tower of Westminster Palace (a.k.a Big Ben) rising up in front of me.  It was a perfect moment, because it hit me all of a sudden that I was, in fact, in England, not just reading about it or thinking about it.  I was there, and for once, I was happy that I didn’t have to use my imagination anymore.