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© Tom C. Marshall and © San Diego Beachlife Magazine®


I flew from San Diego, California to Budapest, Hungary and was met by two friends who lived with me.
These young ladies were two of my finest surfing students.


On July 20th of 2006 fate gave me the chance to help three students from Eastern Europe. Helping these three students by allowing them to share my home and life for two months turned out to be a great act of kindness… An act of kindness intended for them that became an act of kindness for myself. I was the real beneficiary. I offered my home and hospitality they offered friendship. I gained far more that I gave or could have given I gained their friendship. Friendship is a Great and Wonderful Gift. At first I envisioned myself as the benefactor but as time passed it became clear to me that I was beneficiary.






It was a Thursday afternoon and I had gotten off work a little latter than usual but after getting home followed my normal routine of hopping on the bicycle and riding the 5 blocks to the end of Newport Ave. in Ocean Beach. There I stood at the seawall and stared out at the surf. The ocean has since my early childhood had a calming effect on me and today was no different. As soon as I rolled up to the seawall, a peaceful feeling surged over me like a wave that washed care and problems away.





I stood staring at the surf when a young woman appearing to be little more than a girl offered her camera and asked if I would take her photo. Noticing her accent I asked where she was from, “Romania, do you know where that is?” Yes, it’s between Bulgaria and The Ukraine. I was amazed that she was from Romania and she was surprised that I knew where Romania was. What part of Romania I asked? “ The north central part” she replied. OK near Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains. “You know about Carpathian Mountains?”






I was dressed very casually with a full beard, longish hair and no shoes. Perhaps she had taken me for a street derelict or even worse. We spoke at length about Romania and how some Americans thought that Rome was the capital and that all Romanians were gypsies. Then finally she mentioned that finding a place to live was difficult, that no one wanted to rent for such a short stay of two months. So after a few questions I invited her and her two friends to stay at my house for a while.






I’ll have to admit that this was not an altogether unselfish offer. Living alone I was in disparate need of housekeeping services.  Great two young ladies to clean the house and maybe cook and a young man to help with the neglected yard work. This could be a good thing.

For two months our days were filled with surfing lessons, skin diving, shopping, dinner parties and a road trip to Las Vegas and then Yosemite. It was a great two months for all of us.






In late September it was time for the three Romanians to return to their University studies. They left, fall came then winter with cold days and colder nights. Once in a while I would hear from one of them by email and figured that as time wore on the contacts would grow less and less frequent. They had just entered their early twenties and I was facing my 60th birthday. Time, age, distance and lack of contact are the enemies of friendships.   There were emails and even phone calls from Raluca (one of the girls) and yes before they left they had said “You have to come to Romania and visit us”. But I never expected to see them again, and I was at peace with that.






In late winter of 2007 I began getting emails saying “When are you coming to Romania?” They were serious. When they asked me at dinner one night while still here in San Diego, I had dismissed it as a polite gesture. A polite but impossible gesture. I had placed it well in the back of my mind and let it lay dormant.






But now they were asking in earnest, they were serious. “Come to Romania, we’ll pick you up at airport in Budapest and drive across Hungary to Transylvania. We’ll take care of everything. We’ll take a road trip and see the Carpathian Mountains and Dracula’s Castle. You can stay at my parents apartment in Baia Mare.”




So in August of 2007 I left my home and pets in the care of Ioana Radu, a friend of their's that came to stay for the summer of 2007, packed my camera and a few cloths and off to Romania I went.


It was fun, the flight over that is. I told people when asked that I was from the “Southern California Bigfoot Research Institute” and I was going to Romania to search for Vampires and Werewolves. “Really” they would ask. Yes, I would reply. Romania is full of Vampires and Werewolves. Have you never heard of Lon Chaney Jr. I would ask. Everyone would shy away after that exchange. It amused me. My job in San Diego was crumbling and somehow flying off to Romania was going to make everything right again. And it did.






The plane landed in Budapest and customs was a breeze. I left the baggage area and began looking for Raluca and Adela. It took all of about one minute for them to find me. I was searching the room at my eye level and they stepped from behind another person my height, looked straight up and said “Hello Tom”.


This was the beginning of the best week of my life.



  The lady above was singing the most wonderful Hungarian Folksongs. She has the voice of an angel that gave everything a surreal effect. Back in San Diego the streets are full of “illegal aliens and street drunks run-amuck”, yet here on this Hungarian bridge spanning the legendary Danube River I was among relaxed people enjoying each other’s company and the voice of this angel.  

Here I was in Budapest with two friends and we off for a brief tour of “Buda” (on the west bank of the Danube river) and to meet two of their friends that had made the seven hour drive from the middle of Romania with them. We had an early supper on one of the bridges that span the Danube. It had been closed to traffic so they could have a small festival. Not sure if that is a permanent arrangement or not but it was great fun. It was growing dark, so I put the camera away and settled back for the drive to Romania.






The drive from Budapest to the Romanian border spanned almost the width of Hungary. I felt in someway as if I were traveling back not in time but to my youth. The farmland of central Hungary looked in many ways the same as I remembered central and eastern North Carolina being. There were soft rolling hills with haystacks and farm houses and barns. Even though it was early August the warmth of afternoon had passed to an almost winter chill. The road was almost completely without curves, just the rise and fall over the rolling hills. Finally at about an hour before midnight we reached the border where eastern Hungary transcends into Romania. After having my passport reviewed and stamped we entered Romania and stopped just past the border station. There on the side of the road was a large sign that announced “ROMANIA” in large reflective letters. Although the sign had warnings of speed limits, it felt not at all like a “warning” but a welcome. I felt lighter and relaxed. Not tired at all from my 24-hour flight. I was now in Romania, I had just reached someplace I had always been meant to be. This “warning sign” felt like a Welcome Home sign. I felt more complete here. Quickly I pointed to something slowly running by the fence of a nearby house and asked “is that a dog or a varcolak (werewolf). A howl could be heard, Vlad stepped next to me and leaning closer “when you hear a dog howl, a varcolak is near by. Perhaps it was a werewolf I had just seen. After all, I was in Romania.  



  We arrived in Baia Mare well after midnight and began driving with purpose to some rendezvous. Raluca was driving and she gave me the impression she knew where she was going and even pointed out the “old town” section. I was completely lost. Many of the buildings were at least 300-years old and some older. If some of the buildings weren’t 500-years old at least the architecture and building materials and techniques were of that period. Then we drove over to a newer part of town with communist era apartment buildings with a dull gray finish that gave a muted reflection of the full moon. A full moon at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, I was in Werewolf country, After all, I was in Romania.We had slowly dropped off members of the party Vlad, Adela, Bobo. Andrei, Carmen and Raluca took me to fourth floor flat and made our selves ready for my first day in Romania.The sun bolted me from sleep and several roosters crowing all urged me to accept the new day. I opened the windows and moved the curtains back and leaned as far out as I could. It was sunny and warm but the mountains a few hundred yards away were covered in mist. The air was clean and fresh and I could hear soft sweet voices but could not locate their source. Was I hearing things? I could hear the clop of a shoeless horse moving down the street. I leaned out and saw the horse. I didn’t image it. But the soft sweet voices, where were they coming from. I opened my door and looked in the other room. Adela, Raluca and Carmen were sitting on the couch. The voices were theirs. They were all fresh and nicely dressed ready to show me everything. I commented on how beautiful they all looked. Raluca looked and me and said “you will see many beautiful women now, you are in Romania.”  

Lacul Bodi - Lake Bodi
  After bathing and dressing I was ready to join everyone for what the day would hold. Andrei and I, with the company three beautiful young ladies ventured out into Romania. We drove around the city some and then off to an amazing lake front villa for coffee. Mogosa, the lake has a peaceful villa with a large veranda where coffee and meals are served. In some ways the lake reminded me of the lake in Eldridge Park in Elmira, New York and the “Cliffs of the Neuse State Park” near Seven Springs, North Carolina, very peaceful, very relaxing and magical. This spot would be where beauty of this country really began to capture me. It would also be where I would visit on my last day of this trip  
  Coffee in Europe is a very social event. Not once did I “grab a coffee and go” as I had so often done in California. We relaxed and discussed what we were to have. I let the girls order for me. “They knew exactly what I would like and announced that I would have an espresso with cream (actual cream – we have real cream, the best cream here in Romania) and sugar”. I’ve always found it easy to indulge beautiful young women and acquiescing to their care was an easy pleasure.  
The Villa at Mogosa is in the background.
"Statiunea Mogosa"

Lake Bodi (Lacul Bodi) at "Cabana Mogosa"


Relaxing with friends and coffee.


In Romania trees are for sitting under with friends.




After coffee we walked over to the “ski lift” that ran intermittently that afternoon. We waited a few minutes for the minimum number of customers to assemble and then up the mountain we went. I was taken at how “ancient and old growth” the forest seemed. A Shepard tending his flock of sheep and goats moved beneath the trees and cleared the underbrush as they fed with the clank of bells hung under their necks and the quite watchfulness of the Shepard’s dogs. The relaxed and purposeful quite of the dogs gave me cause to think of the relaxed yet purposeful mountain we were ascending. And my purpose was to relax and I did. At tree top level we continue up the mountain and then again the notion hit me and I leaned back in the ski lift chair and smiled,  “I was in Romania”.





The Hotea Family and Friends


When we left Mogosa we headed straight for the house of Adela’s Grandmother. The house was “in the countryside”, It was almost a small village with a number of houses with a church and a school. But no shops. I was surprised to find Adela’s extended family, her parents, her sister, an Uncle and a neighbor and the gentleman next to me on the right who had walked with his son for five miles just to see an American. He kept holding up his right index finger and saying something in Romanian. Adela’s sister Lumei acted as translator for me and said “You are the first American he has seen, the very first”. I felt somewhat proud even though all I’d had to do was show up.





Professor Vasile Hotea & daughter Lumi (Adela's Sister)


Romania is lacking in many of the material wealth trappings of The U.S.A. as a result of communism’s planned economy. But Romanians as a whole are an educated and sophisticated society. Adela is now (as of this writing) working on her Master’s degree, her older sister Lumi has her Masters degree and has traveled throughout Europe and the United States, her Father is a Professor of Engineering at the University in Baia Mare. Adela’s Mother is a University graduate and highly respected educator. All are multi-lingual, well read and knowledgeable of world affairs.



After drinking water at the well (I would like to state here that Romania has the best tasting water on Earth – This is no exaggeration, its just the best, its like truly tasting water for the first time) Adela showed me the family cow and chickens, then we went inside for supper. This was a stunning presentation. I was having trouble accepting that all of the preparation had been done in my honor. Had I really been nice enough while they were in San Diego to deserve something this good. The food was all fresh and homemade. The main course was “Pie”… Romanian “Pie” is like a small pizza without the sauce and toppings, but with the cheese (Romanian Cascaval) baked in the bread and then you top it with “sour cream”. Remember the cow Adela showed me? OK, well this was homemade “sour cream” from the family cow. With water from the well and “Tuica” (strong plum whiskey) from Aunt Jenny a few houses up the street. Its strange, you don’t realize you’re hungry until you taste something wonderful. I ate three of the “Pies” that Adela’s Grandmother had made just before we arrived and then I was presented with homemade chicken soup; remember the chickens? All of the food had been prepared fresh with ingrediance from the family farm.


  Adela’s Grandmothers live about 50 meters apart, on the same street that runs through the country-side enclave that was smaller than a village. No stores, no hospital, no post office or municipal buildings; just a small school that served the surrounding rural area. Family ties are close and Adela’s adores her.  

In this small “country side” village family and history are strong. While we walked down the street from Adela’s Grandmother to her other Grandmother’s house all of the interesting things were pointed out to me. The barn doors above were made by Adela’s Grandfather many years ago and appear to be straight, plumb and in perfect working order. Adela has great pride in her Grandfather’s work as well she should. It was obvious that time, master craftsmanship and love of his work were used in equal parts are still there for all to see long after he has died. This is a part of Romania I didn’t expect – that Romanians take great pride in their work, and it shows. Something with as simple a function as a barn door becomes a work of art – In Romania.




"Strada Principala" or the Main/Principal Street of
"Curtuiusu Mare" where "The Grandmothers" Live.


This is "Aunt Jenny's" TUICA distillery.
Aunt Jenny is renowned throughout Transylvania
for her "Tuica" which is 100 proof Plum Brandy.
She also makes a strong but smooth corn "Tuica"

This is the lady herself , the Master Distiller "Aunt Jenny" with her "Tuica" stills.

  While in the countryside village of “The Grandmothers” I noticed chickens running everywhere. In everyone’s yard, crossing the road to greet each other, scratch in the dirt and then quickly run back. I asked Adela; “How do you keep the chickens from getting mixed up?” Standing close she looked up and explained as if I’d lost my mind; “The chickens know where they live”. Some things are just not that complicated – In Romania.  

Here in San Diego, I have two cats. They were stays that had been abandoned and came to my house to be fed. I never did get around to naming them. I’ve just numbered them in the order of their arrival. Cats 1 & 2 stay at my house, Cat 3 lives across the street and Cat 4 is three house up the block. One summer morning while we were all here in San Diego, Adela stood almost toe to toe with me, look up and voiced her concern, a concern she’d had for a while and was now bursting forth. “Why haven’t you feed your cats for four days?” she questioned in a demanding manner.

Well, every time I go to feed them I notice that someone else already has. “Yes, I feed the cats…. I have cats in Romania. I know how to take care of cats”. Fine I replied, from now on feeding the cats is your job. Adela, Raluca and Andrei all enjoyed having the cats here and enjoyed taking care of them. Adela would often tell me how wonderful her cat back in Romania was.

When we arrived at the second of her two Grandmothers house, Adela rushed over and beaming with pride “Look Tom, here is my Cat 1”. Then she showed me the daughter and Granddaughter of Cat 1.

I don’t really consider myself a “Cat Person”, but I do pride myself on being kind to animals. Adela handed me Cat 1 and I felt a closer kinship with Adela. This made me feel more at home
– In Romania.

L-R.... Raluca, Mrs. Cristina Hotea, Adela, Carmen..
In Adela's room in the countryside.


As a child growing up, Adela and her sister Lumi would leave the city “Baia Mare” and go to the Countryside to stay with their Grandmothers. Lumi would stay with the Grandmother that served “Pie” and Adela would stay with the Grandmother above. This is “Adela’s Room” and still has her dolls from childhood. The girls visit their Grandmothers often and the Grandmothers are always happy to see them. This closeness of families is the rule and everyone benefits from this closeness.


The Girls riding "Witch's Brooms
Andrei with "The Grim Reapers" scythe.


Tom Marshall with "The Grim Reapers" scythe.

  Above is a photograph of Carmen taken by Andrei using my camera, she is a wonderful example of how extremely beautiful Romanian women can be.  



The Next few photographs are of the communist prison camp at
The distant building in the photograph below is in
The Ukraine
Cimitirual Vesel - Sapanta, Romania
(Happy Graveyard)
Barsana Monastery
Barsana, Maramures, Romania

The VAMPIRES In Maramures Romania

We had driven most of the day stopping at various sites and enjoying the views of the countryside in Maramures County. It had been a long day and we were all tired we ate “Fried Cascaval” (a local Romanian cheese) at a local almost deserted tavern. We returned to our hosts home and after discussing who would sleep where we all went to our respective sleeping quarters.

My room was up two stair landings down a hall of raptors with full wings spread and the heads of stags mount on the walls. Inside the room there were more birds and stags head mounted almost to the ceiling and at one end of the room a large dining table with chairs covered with a large intricately woven tablecloth. At the other end was a double bed. There was a chill in the air but nothing worse than a fall’s late evening in Southern California. I undressed and got in bed and lay on my left side and gazed out the window at a large full moon. It was perhaps 10:00PM and the night outside was devoid of stray light save for one distant street lamp and the full moon. The distant street light was no longer in focus, its image blurred by the advance of sleep. Far off I could here the bark of a dog and the howl of another. Or was the howl a “Varkolac” or Werewolf. I know now that sleep is a beautiful woman. I could tell by her soft touch as she gently closed my eyes and held me soundly in her embrace. Sleep covered me like a soft warm quilt.

I started to wake and stretched before opening my eyes to the just after midnight darkness of the room. The moon came in through a windows on the far wall and formed an aura around two people sitting at the table. I leaned up onto my left elbow to look more closely at the two sitting on either side of the table. It was Carmen and Raluca. But I had locked the bedroom door and only one window was open. I was upstairs high above the ground outside and even with a locked door somehow Carmen and Raluca had gotten in and were quietly sitting at the table. Then it came to me, Raluca had not come on this trip. She was back in Baia Mare almost in Transylvania and we were within a few short miles of the Ukrainian border deep in the Carpathian mountains. How did she get here, why was she here with Carmen.

As if reading my mind she turned and looked at the open windows and the full moon, then over to the far wall and a full length gimbaled mirror in a heavy wooden frame. Tilting her head to the right and with a small smile she walked over to the mirror and faced her reflection. Then she spoke “I am what I see in the mirror, the mirror is a reflection of me as I truly am”. She was then joined as Carmen stood by her side, looked into the mirror and as she in turn spoke “I am what I see in the mirror, the mirror is a reflection of me as I truly am”.

The two of them walked over to my bedside. I think they walked. They came to me without the motion or movement of walking. They each took a hand of mine and guided me out of bed. Bondar Carmen spoke and this surprised me Bondar was a name Adela, Raluca and Andrei called me behind my back. How did Carmen know to call me “Bondar”?

Bondar, come and look into the mirror. Raluca and I have our true reflections, we are not Vampires as you suspect. Come and look into the mirror and let us see if your reflection is who you really are or are you the Vampire among us?

You have become accustomed since your early childhood to expect and see a reflection when you look into a mirror. Do you remember the first time your Mother showed you a mirror? They spoke together using the same words and same vocal cadence. Their voices remaining separate yet somehow forming one distinct voice. Do you remember your Grandmother, “Elizabeth Carroll’s” mirror being held by your Mother? The heavy glass oval mirror in the ivory frame and handle? Recall what you saw when you first looked at the mirror. You saw nothing, not even your face.

I could not believe what I was hearing. I’d never thought of this before and have never spoken to anyone about it. It never occurred to me to me to talk about it or think about it. I thought the mirror was at the wrong angle, that’s all.

We neared the mirror and all three of us looked into its depth. At first I looked at the reflected eyes of Raluca and then Carmen and then my reflection. But something didn’t seem right about my reflection. I wasn’t comfortable with it.

Bondar, do you see your reflection? Is that reflection who you really are? A Vampire cannot see it’s reflection in a mirror. Do you really see YOUR reflection in the mirror? Is that really a reflection of you? We know who you are; that image in the mirror is not you. Tom, now it was only Raluca speaking my name and just as her lips finished my name the room was filled with everyone I had met on the trip, everyone I knew in Romania and they all spoke, they spoke in Romanian but I understood. “Tom, know who you are, discover who you are, you don’t see your true reflection, you are the Vampir (Romanian spelling). Become whole again. Become Tom.

The room cleared and I found myself in bed. The beautiful woman that is sleep kissed me and kept me warm until my hosts rooster urged the sun to begin it’s rise.

We had agreed with our host that we would be up and gone by 6:00AM yet it was already 6:30 no one had come to waken me. I quickly dress then headed downstairs to wash my face and brush my teeth. I washed my eyes thoroughly, dried my face and hands and pulled my collar up to cover the small bruised area around the bite marks on each side of my neck and walked outside to meet Ioan, Andrei and Carmen. Just before stepping out of the door, I pulled on my wide brimmed hat to protect me from the direct sunlight of the Romanian summer and further into the Carpathian Mountains we drove.
Vampires in Cluj Napoca, Romania
A Classic Varcolac or Werewolf of Transilvania
(Romanian Spelling Transylvania)
The Castle at Hunedoara ?
Castle Bran - Vlad Tepes "Dracula" Castle
More Photos to Come and Writing too...
I will soon be adding photographs by the brilliant young photographer, Andrei Mone.

All Photographs, Writings and Other Content Copyright 
© Tom C. Marshall and © San Diego Beachlife Magazine®

Tom C. Marshall
PO. Box 70053
San Diego, CA 92167
(619) 222-5489