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Transylvania - Bram Stoker's over-active imagination has twisted Transylvania into the equivalent of a Dracula theme park. But this former principality of the Austro-Hungarian Empire overflows with history, architecture and culture.
So much so, that one of Transylvania's main cities, Sibiu, has been anointed this year's cultural capital of Europe, along with Luxembourg.
Acclaimed by travel books as Romania's friendliest city, and resembling a mini-Prague, Sibiu is a great starting point for Transylvanian journeys.
This still-inhabited medieval Germanic citadel, almost 1000 years old, sits near the feet of the spectacular Carpathian mountain range.
The old town is full of cobblestoned streets and gothic and baroque stone structures that provide beautiful sights for those strolling on one of the many warm evenings in summer.
And when it rains, there are always the centuries-old cellar bars, where solace from the wet and cold can be found surrounded by beautiful stone walls, with a cup of coffee or a glass of tuica (pronounced tsu-eeka) the colourless spirit Romanian peasants distil from plums and other fruit.
One such establishment is among my favourite bars in the world: Sibiu's beloved Crama (meaning traditional restaurant) National.
Tucked in a stone cellar, furnished with wooden tables and dimly lit, this place serves the best hot tuica and mulled wine in Sibiu. Its home-made sandwiches, including bread spread with dripping, onions and paprika, are an ideal accompaniment to such beverages.
Crama National is usually filled with university students and professors, and is friendly, cheerful and cheap very few dollars will get you fed and merry.
But there are also plenty of upmarket clubs, pubs and cafes, where you can sip cognac in lush surrounds, with a little jazz or piano music, or groove to the latest hits into the early hours.
For those craving culture and history, the area in which Sibiu lies has had archaeological finds dating from the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages. A tribe called the Dacians lived there hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.
The Romans established a settlement called Cibinium (hence the name Sibiu), which was abandoned by their retreating legions about 270AD.
Saxons arrived at the site about 1150AD sent to Transylvania with Hungarians by Hungarian King Geysa II to clear the heavily forested land, in order to protect the borders of his empire. Trans in Latin means "the other side" and silva means forest.
The territory joined Romania in 1918, after it was annexed from the Austro-Hungarian Empire hence the Germanic or Hungarian character of its cities.
The Saxons called Sibiu Hermannstadt Herman's city a name its mainly Romanian residents still proudly use in recognition of its long heritage.
More recent history is also preserved, with some beautiful old homes still scarred by bullet holes from the revolution that overthrew communism in 1989.
Walking on the stone paths of the old town area, surrounded by the brightly painted Saxon houses and grand administration buildings (Prince Charles has had a role in renovating some of these) you breathe in fresh air from the surrounding mountains.
It's this air that I blame for my inability to resist the numerous street stands, which serve the likes of covrigi, a skinny version of the German pretzel. Gogosi Romanian doughnuts filled with vanilla cream, or chocolate or jam are great for something sweet and stodgy.
Sibiu's central meeting point is the Piata (pronounced "piazza") Mare, which means literally "big square". It hosts summer festivals and concerts, against a backdrop of historic towers.
For reasonably priced, yet authentic, Romanian food, visit a crama, because, apart from buildings and archaeological relics in the famous National Brukenthal Museum, most things German have gone.
Most of the Germans fled to Germany during the 1970s, and particularly after communism fell. Munich is full of Transylvanian Saxon families who are still reconciling themselves with a motherland that hasn't really been theirs for 900-odd years.
Back to the Romanian food, at a crama you'll find great portions of typical Romanian dishes such as cabbage rolls filled with pork.
There's also what Westerners might consider more exotic fare, such as ciorba de burta tripe soup. This is mild-flavoured and really tasty with sour cream an essential accompaniment to many Transylvanian soups.
Sibiu is full of well-stocked supermarkets that are open late, but for fresh produce, including incredibly delicious cheese, meat and sausages, displayed by the peasants who produce them, visit one of the markets on the fringes of the old town.
There, you'll also find plenty of small, organic fruit and vegetables, just as nature intended them, that will delight any gourmet.
For those curious about the Dracula story, Vlad the Dracul (meaning the dragon or devil), was a Wallachian (southern Romanian) prince who was most likely born in the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara.
Stoker based his character on Vlad because of the prince's fondness for impaling his enemies, such as invading Turks, on stakes.
Among Romanian peasants, Vlad is remembered as a prince who defended his people from foreign aggression.
In fact, vampires play no role in the local mythology.
Sibiu is also surrounded by beautiful (and often almost deserted) old Saxon villages.
Classical neighbouring cities, such as Cluj and Brasov, are also easy to access with trains and buses.
By Monique Bellamont - May 2014.
There are a plethora of other sub-cultures that now exist in North America. Emo. Vamps. Trench Coat Hosers. Steampunk. Cyberpunk. Gone is the late 90s / early 2000s heyday of goth when Marilyn Manson was still embedded in the social subconscious and in the minds of every parent who thought their teenager was wearing too much black and becoming too existential.
No, now parents have different worries - like "Is my kid trying to emulate Justin Bieber?" More than just the haircut that makes him look like k.d. lang, parents now have many other worries and goth teenagers is not a top priority any more.
What has happened since the decline of goth culture has not been a removal of it. Goths are still out there. The goth shops in Toronto are all - or almost all - gone. Instead the businesses have moved online and many goths are now older, wiser, and have credit cards, a mortgage and rising / falling debt. The point is they have money - and they can spend it online and order clothing and other goth accessories online as they see fit.
Although I admit, I much prefer being in an actual store where one can browse. Especially when it comes to corsets and boots. It helps to be able to try things on physically.
However there are sometimes one or two teens in a school who choose to go the goth route. Emo and other sub-cultures are not for them. This has made goth even more rare - and arguably even more elitist, as goth attracts the most intellectual, non-conformist group of conformists (we all wear black...?) who ever dared to call themselves existentialists.
So is goth dead?
Non, mon cherie. Nous sommes plus ιlitiste que jamais. (No, my sweetheart. We are more elitist than ever.)
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