Adventures

Lake Ak-Kol in Kyrgyzstan (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

I’ve never told this crazy, camping, Kyrgyzstan story before. It still gives me the creeps. When friends and family ask what happened, I tell them they’ll have to read about it in the future. My adventure was just published in Perceptive Travel magazine, in the USA. I hope Dan Brown and John Grisham like it (that’s a joke – you’ll see after reading on Perceptive Travel). Buckle up for a wild ride: The Mountain Men Who Don’t Exist in Kyrgyzstan.

 

 

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Dracula's Castle, Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania (Photo by Horia Matei and Christopher Campbell)


FINISHED – see 2017 – The Dracula Expedition: Transylvania, Romania – Oct. 28 to Nov. 2, 2016. We have Dracula’s birth chamber reserved for our dinner party for 2017. Stay tuned for prices, dates, and itinerary for 2017 – we’re just waiting for Bran Castle to set their date for the party so we can set ours.

This tour is the most fantastic Halloween invitation I’ve sent out yet, and I hope you can join us. Our six-day (small group) Romanian adventure includes dining on Halloween night in the house where the real-life Dracula, Vlad Drăculea (known as Vlad the Impaler), was born in 1431. And we’ll also be guests at a party inside Dracula’s castle (built circa 1377) which was owned by Vlad’s grandfather (Mircea the Old) and was attacked by Vlad in 1460.

Night falls at the cemetery in Sighisoara, Romania (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
We’ll spend Halloween night in the medieval town Sighisoara (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and will dine in the house where real-life Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, was born. (Photo: at Sighisoara cemetery – by Christopher Campbell)

Our Transylvanian guide and expert (with whom I explored Romania with extensively), has designed a journey that will take us to his favourite local haunts: medieval castles with gruesome history, torture chambers, moody cemeteries, all contrasted with one of the most beautiful times of year to visit Romania which will be glowing in autumn colours. And Christopher Campbell, professional photographer (Chatelaine, Food Network, Harper Collins), will be guiding you during our escapades to capture photos of a lifetime, whether you’re using a mobile device, point & shoot, or a DSLR with multiple lenses. Plus he’ll be providing you (throughout the expedition and when you get back home) with digital images of your adventures.

Our guide will take us to his favourite local haunts and moody cemeteries (Writers' Expeditions)
Our guide will take us to his favourite local haunts and moody cemeteries (Writers’ Expeditions)
Vlad Dracula’s wife jumped to her death from the 100 storey high cliffs at Poenari to avoid capture by invading Turks. (Photo by Horia Matei)

Oh, and BYOC (“C” stands for costume) – the rest is included: all meals (you can go on a diet when you get home), accommodation, and transportation while on this phenomenal tour.

Kirsten Koza
Adventure Travel Writer
Writers’ Expeditions Host: info@kirstenkoza.com

 (2016 itinerary, prices and early bird specials below. Save $400 US for a single or $800 US on a double when you sign-up now. Our expedition of eight participants sold out last year. We respond quickly to emails, and you should hear back within 24 hours –  you can also contact us on Facebook at the Writers’ Expeditions page or message Kirsten at: kirstenkoza@gmail.com)

DRACULA EXPEDITION 2016 ITINERARY AND PRICES:

Day 1, Friday, October 28th: 

- Pickup at Bucharest airport. – Next door to our hotel are the ruins of the Princely Palace, the castle that Dracula built in celebration of his own greatness or evilness. In the evening we’ll explore the historic pedways of the old town of Bucharest which was first settled in 70 BC and by the 1400’s was the wealthiest city in Eastern Europe. Then we’ll dine at The Beer Chariot, a spectacular 19th century restaurant which is always packed with locals and boasts an extensive menu of tasty Romanian dishes. – Overnight at Europa Royale Bucharest Hotel.

The Beer Chariot, palinca (overproof plum brandy), and night photography on the historic pedways of Bucharest. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
The Beer Chariot, palinca (overproof plum brandy), and night photography on the historic pedways of Bucharest. (Photos by Kirsten Koza)

Day 2, Saturday, October 29th (drinks are on Dracula tonight):

After a hot buffet breakfast at the hotel, we’ll visit the Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (after the Pentagon), and a legacy of a more recent “Dracula,” the communist dictator Ceausescu (executed in 1989). Then we’ll leave Bucharest for Snagov Monastery. In 1476 Prince Vlad Dracula was assassinated, and the monks of Snagov recovered his headless body and buried it on an island inside their church. Our driver will then take us across the Carpathian mountains to our lodge at Horia’s family farm where we can change into our costumes for the party at Dracula’s castle. You’ll soon see why Bram Stoker was inspired to create Dracula. This special event is the only time the castle doors open at night.

We'll be staying at our guide's family's lodge in Moeciu, just 15 minutes from Dracula's castle.
We’ll be staying at our guide’s family’s lodge in Moeciu, just 15 minutes from Dracula’s castle.
Bran Castle, "Dracula's Castle," (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
We’ll be going to a Halloween Party at Dracula’s Castle. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)

Day 3, Sunday, October 30th: After a hearty breakfast at the farm we’ll drive to Brasov where we’ll conquer the medieval ramparts, watchtowers, and Saxon churches (if they don’t conquer us). But best of all, this walled city boasts one of the narrowest streets in Europe. From Brasov it’s to Rasnov: where we’ll explore the 13th century, mountaintop fortress  built by Teutonic Knights, and then we’ll return to Moeciu for another Romanian feast, a bonfire, hot wine and ghost stories, before heading to the cemetery for a ghoulish nighttime photography session.

We'll be eating a harvest of Romanian food. (Photos of savories by Kirsten Koza and dessert by Horia Matei)
We’ll be eating a harvest of Romanian food. (Writers’ Expeditions)
Brasov, Romania (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Brasov, Romania (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Day 4, Monday, October 31st, Halloween (tonight we dine in the house where Prince Dracula was born):

Today we drive a couple of scenic hours to Sighisoara which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We’ll be spending the night inside this preserved walled town, in a medieval hotel, across the street from the house where Vlad Dracula was born in 1431, which is where we’ll be dining this Hallows’ Eve.

Medieval covered staircase in Sighisoara. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
Medieval covered staircase in Sighisoara. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)

Day 5, Tuesday, November 1st:

Before crossing the mountains from Transylvania into Wallachia, we’ll stop in Sibiu, a town steeped in legend and named by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 most idyllic places to live in Europe. Then we’ll head further south through the scenic Olt valley and will spend the night in the little town of Curtea de Arges, a few miles from the spectacular ruins of Dracula’s fortress-castle Poenari.
Crossing the Carpathians on the Transfagarasan Highway. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
Crossing the Carpathians on the Transfagarasan Highway. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
A beautiful cathedral with a dark secret, at the monastery of Curtea de Arges. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
A beautiful cathedral with a dark secret, at the monastery of Curtea de Arges. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Day 6, Wednesday, November 2nd (Dracula’s fortress):

The ruins of Poenari Castle are perched high on a rugged crag above the Arges river gorge. There are 1,480 stairs to Dracula’s “vulture nest.” One of last year’s participants worked it out to being 100 storeys. Now, if you really think you can’t make the climb–there’s a lovely lodge and restaurant down the road from the first step.

The Ottoman army returned to Constantinople when they encountered 20,000 impaled corpses outside Vlad's home, Targoviste.
The Ottoman army returned to Constantinople when they encountered 20,000 impaled corpses outside Vlad’s home, Targoviste.

In 1462 Prince Vlad Dracula was sieged at Poenari by the Turks. He sent a message to the village of Arefu for help but his wife, terrified of capture, threw herself into the river far below before the rescuers arrived. The villagers came at night and smuggled the Prince across the mountains to safety and in return he gave them 16 mountains of pastureland, a reward the inhabitants of Arefu still celebrate more than 500 years later.

Our next stop is Targoviste which was the capital city of Wallachia until 1459. The townsfolk of Targoviste were blamed by Vlad for their involvement in the assassination of his brother by the Turks. Vlad moved the capital to Bucharest, killed nobles, and enslaved the town to build Poenari.

- Drive back to Bucharest.

This amuses us. Police patrolling on Segways. Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell).
This amuses us. Police patrolling on Segways. Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell).

The tour ends in Bucharest at about 6 PM.

PRICES AND INCLUSIONS AND HOST BIOS:

If you book now the price is $1490 USD per person for a double (the single room supplement is just $165 USD for the entire trip). Regular tour price is $1890 USD. We can get some good deals if we book your trip now and are passing the savings directlly to you. Rates go up closer to peak season. Normally I encourage solo travelers to have their own snore and burp space, but on this tour, if you think your imagination might play games at night, you may want a roommate. – A $250.00 deposit reserves your spot. Please contact us first at: info@kirstenkoza.com

Inclusions:

  • All accommodation (the delightful inns are small and unique – three star)
  • All meals (don’t blame us if you gain weight – the food in Romania is fabulous, and you’re the one ordering what you want from the menus)
  • Some alcohol (see itinerary)
  • Photography sessions for those who wish
  • Professional photographs of your journey
  • Writing tips for any who wish
  • All transfers and transportation on tours
  • English speaking guide
  • Our own driver and private vehicle
  • All entrance fees to castles and museums

Exclusions:

  • Airfare
  • Alcohol (unless listed on the itinerary)
  • Visa (not something for North Americans or Europeans to worry about)

Christopher Campbell (Writers' Expeditions - photography host)Kirsten describes the hosts:

Christopher Campbell: once again I’ve invited one of my favourite photographers (and one of the best travel companions you’ll ever meet) to lead our photographic adventures and share a lifetime of tips, tricks & technique. You have probably seen his images displayed on TV’s Food Network cooking shows or in publications as varied as ChatelaineSpa Magazine, or Harper Collins cookbooks–and most definitely in ads–he’s the one you can blame for making you crave Absolut Vodka, Kahlua, that dew dripping glass of Gordon’s gin, Florida oranges, late night fast food at Wendy’s or McDonald’s (blame him for that), or test driving a Mercedes—that’s Christopher Campbell’s fault too.

Kirsten Koza (Writers' Expeditions)Kirsten Koza: I’m your host and expedition designer and am a professional adventure travel writer, author, humourist and journalist. I’m currently on the book tour for the Travelers’ Tales (USA) anthology I edited: Wake Up and Smell the Shit: Hilarious Travel Disasters, Monstrous Toilets, and a Demon Dildo. I ruthlessly pretest Writers’ Expeditions trips and find the best local guides, tour operators, and unique adventures, so you can have a great experience. 

I write on topics as varied as going inside the largest Syrian refugee camp, bullfighting, cannibalism, tornado chasing, mountain biking, dildos, dictators, Putin, gluten, and politics. My stories and photographs have been published in books, newspapers and magazines around the world, and I’ve even made the front page of Kyrgyzstan’s national newspaper. I’m the author of Lost in Moscow: A Brat in the USSR.

 

A nice light meal - Romanian style. (Photo by Horia Matei) The menu called the dish fourskins. You can imagine the jokes. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)Salad in Romania The castle courtyard during the Halloween party (Photo by Christopher Campbell)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out group from 2015 getting ready for the Halloween party at Horia's lodge.We met people at the costume party who looked like Hollywood special effects artists had worked on them. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)Our photography host photobombs strangers at Dracula's castle. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)Some people go all out and some buy their costumes at dollar stores. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)Bran Castle Halloween (Photo by Kirsten Koza)Nobody knew we were travelling with the Grim Reaper until Halloween night at the castle. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

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Aboard Dawn on the Amazon, Peru. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

TheBlot screen capture amazon storyI wrote an article (published in TheBlot magazine, Wall St., New York) about a boat cruise on Dawn on the Amazon, and I didn’t mention shrunken heads once in it, which was difficult because I thought about headhunters (not the ones who find you jobs but the other kind) every single night as I lay on the boat deck while everyone else was snoring. I snore too but not while I’m awake freaking myself out with scary thoughts. I did however mention pink dolphins and dolphin rape.

Click to read Adventure Aboard Dawn on the Amazon in TheBlot magazine.

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The Last Train Stop Before Machu Picchu - story by Kirsten Koza - screen capture from TheBlot magazineMummies, Mysteries and Thrills Along Peru’s Gringo Trail:

Part 2 (from my Peru series, published in TheBlot magazine, Wall St., New York) features skulls on a living room mantle, guinea pigs, a spectacular hotel in Ollantaytambo, people living as they did in Inca times, stone alleys, and conquistador incest. (read the full story and see the photos at TheBlot)

 

 

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Peru, mummified baby, in Nazca garden shed. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

the blot mummies mysteries and thrills story by Kirsten KozaMUMMIES, MYSTERIES AND THRILLS ALONG PERU’S GRINGO TRAIL: PART 1 (from my Peru series, published in TheBlot Magazine, Wall St. New York)

“Where’s the baby mummy?” I can’t find the infant Nazca mummy in the backyard garden shed where it is kept by a family at Paredones, Peru. The 2,000-year-old baby (that I’ve returned to Peru to see for a third time) is missing. I send Leo, our local tour guide, to interrogate a family member outside the woven grass shack. For once, our 68-year-old translator isn’t taking photographs of my friend Beth, which has become almost as disconcerting as the missing mummy.

As I rifle (delicately) through skulls and boxes of dreadlocked remains (one of the ancient heads has six-foot long dreads and is called Bob Marley) I overhear the family member telling Leo that he doesn’t know what has happened to the baby mummy. Bullshit! You don’t just misplace a mummy.

If the mummy had gone to a museum, they’d just say that. I also don’t think anyone stole the mummy, regardless of the collection not being under lock or key, because there are too many dogs wandering the yard. Yes, there are dogs guarding bones.

2,000 year old Nazca skulls in Peruvian garden shed. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
2,000 year old Nazca skulls in Peruvian garden shed. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

I’m guessing the baby has been bundled overseas. Black market. Perhaps a tourist bought the baby mummy? Peruvian grave robbers are only interested in the gold and riches that the mummies were sent to the afterlife wearing. The afterlife was rebirth; the tendons of the dead were sliced so the bodies could be easily folded and then they were interred by the Nazca people in the fetal position. By the light of the full moon, the Peruvian thieves look for these mummies, which litter the arid landscape of the region. Suddenly, I think I find the child in a box of bones and human hair on a bottom shelf. I get Beth to hold the evaporated milk box open so I can take a photo.

Beth Mercer pokes a finger in the mummy's box so I can take a photo. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Beth Mercer pokes a finger in the mummy’s box so I can take a photo. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Leo seems satisfied that the disheveled skeletal remains and broken skull are the solution to the mystery, as does the man we paid our two dollars to, to see the secret collection. I’m not an expert, but when I compare the images, I’m pretty certain it’s not the baby I’d been seeking. Where’s “Bones” inspiration and crime writer/forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs when you need her?

I admit I’m jealous that someone might now own the baby mummy. I’d love to own a mummy, except Beth watched a documentary about a traveler who brought a piece of skeleton home as a souvenir and then got cancer. Leo says he doesn’t believe in such superstitions and nonsense as mummy curses. I don’t either, but cancer is a pretty big boogieman, and it’s enough to keep my fingers from filching a piece of skull with human hair from the desert. Of course, the thought of ending up in a Peruvian prison also keeps my hands in their pockets.

Nazca Lines — the hummingbird. Since I flew over the lines during the afternoon, I had to increase the shadows drastically in the photo. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Nazca Lines — the hummingbird. Since I flew over the lines during the afternoon, I had to increase the shadows drastically in the photo. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Nazca’s desert erupts with mysteries — from mummies below to one of the greatest archaeological mysteries on the planet which decorates the surface — the massive geoglyphs called the Nazca Lines, which include a hummingbird, a monkey and a person who looks a lot like an alien called “the astronaut.” There’s only one way to see these gigantic drawings properly, and that’s from above, in an airplane. Cessnas spiral over the lines from early morning until late afternoon.

The lines were estimated to have been made by the Paracas and Nazca people between 900 B.C. and 600 A.D. The most outlandish theory as to the purpose of the lines came from Erich von Däniken, who theorized that the lines were made for extraterrestrials in his book “Chariots of the Gods.” Of course, Leo will tell you that this is nonsense — but nonsense can still be a thrill.

Paracas, Peru is south of Lima and north of Nazca. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

THREE TRAVEL TIPS:

 1. On the beaten Gringo Trail: Most tourists visit the Chauchilla Cemetery 30 kilometers south of Nazca. The mummies are a couple thousand years old, and one lady mummy even has a very well-preserved nipple visible on her saggy mummy breast. Some of the mummies were recovered from tomb-raiders from the nearby village who were given amnesty (no jail time) if they returned the bodies. These same villagers are now guardians of the cemetery, according to Leo.

Paracas, Peru is south of Lima and north of Nazca. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Paracas, Peru is south of Lima and north of Nazca. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

2. Off the beaten Gringo Trail: if you want to visit the mummies in the garden shed, you’ll find them at a tiny private residence right by the entrance gates of Los Paredones ruins which are just a couple kilometers outside Nazca. You just shout over the gate to the dwelling’s occupants and ask to see the mummies. There is usually someone at home.

3. Flying over the Nazca Lines: if you want to take good photos, you need to do this flight in the morning, which is a lottery as they often delay flights at Nazca’s airport, or give preference to flights originating from Pisco’s airport. On the three occasions I’ve been there, this has happened. My morning flight ends up being in the afternoon when the sun washes out the landscape and winds blow sand obscuring the view of the lines. If you really want to see the lines, book a couple of days in Nazca in case of flight interruptions.

FOR MORE THRILLS: Read Part 2, “The Last Train Stop Before Machu Picchu” and Part 3, “Adventure Aboard Dawn on the Amazon.”

 

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