The Bewitching Time Warp of Transylvania, Romania

It’s a bright August morning, and I’ve just begun driving around this achingly scenic part of central Romania, where the green hills are dotted with giant conical haystacks. As I make my way from one hamlet to another, occasionally stopping to peek inside magnificent 13th-century churches that once doubled as citadels, the welcome is not exactly warm. Pretty much everyone I pass—farmers weeding their fields by hand, groups of kids playing by the roadside, stooped women in head scarves carrying bags of tomatoes—sizes me up with a severe, wary look that seems to be some kind of Transylvanian Death Stare. Granted, whenever I pause to speak with anyone, the stern facade crumbles quickly; one young guy in a tracksuit cheerfully shows me how to scale a stone wall so that I can look around an abandoned medieval rectory. But in the next village, the intense glowers begin anew.

Courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler.

Sarajevo City Guide: Were to Eat, Drink, Shop and Stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Capital

This previously war-torn city suffered the longest siege in modern history during the 1990s conflict, but today there’s much more to Sarajevo than battle scars. Nearly 25 years on, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina is undergoing a radical transformation and boasts modern glass shopping centres, boutique hotels and a magical old town that feels like you’ve travelled through time.

Courtesy of The Independent.

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.