This past week, 13 young Americans from across the U.S.A. and myself competed at the Youth/Junior World Championships in Cheile Gradistei, Romania. We stayed in a newly developed resort nestled in the heart of the Transylvanian Alps. Being less than 10 kilometers from Castle Bran, also known as Dracula’s Castle, and within walking distance of the racing venue allowed us to have the perfect proximal balance of culture and racing.
Romania, a former member of the Eastern Bloc, was under varying degrees of Soviet influence until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Now, Romania is an democratic Eastern European country. It is a member of the European Union, but is not currently on the Euro. Instead, it’s currency is called the Romanian “lei”. About 1 American dollar is worth 4 lei. Travel tip: find a currency exchange in the airport upon your arrival to your destination country!
Based on my experience in Belarus last year and this year in Romania, Eastern European food is similar across the board. Every meal consisted of some form of potatoes: cubed, whole, mashed, baked, roasted, etc.. Other than potatoes, meat cutlets and soup were frequent occurrences at mealtime. At the resort where we stayed, they also offered croissants and traditional dessert cakes from other Eastern European countries such as Lithuania. These cakes were not as sweet as the cakes we eat for birthday celebrations in the U.S.. For example, the Lithuanian cake was made of white batter and a cheese filling with raisins. On occasion the resort staff would make pizza and ice cream which was always a big hit among the Americans!
The castle itself is now a museum. Most of the rooms were preserved and open for us to tour. Nearly every room had a beautifully constructed fireplace lined with blue and white tiles. Crowns, staffs, armor, and clothing was also on display. One of the most interesting rooms, however, was the torture chamber. In this room, there was a large chair with what looked like pointy wooden dowels on every inch of it’s surface. Apparently, Dracula would weigh women on a scale compared to a bundle of rocks. If the woman weighed less than the random assortment of rocks, Dracula deemed that the devil lived inside of her and she should be punished.
In general, the accommodations and people at the resort made this trip very enjoyable for us. Every morning, I woke up to the sun rising over beautiful mountains, similar looking to the Colorado Rockies. Although it was above freezing nearly every day, the race organizers did an excellent job of preserving the race track for us. Not to mention, this was the most successful Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships the United States has ever had! We had one World Championship victory, three podiums, six top tens, and seven top twenties! There are only good memories left from my experience in Romania.