A flippant Minnesotan in Romania

I thought that Minneapolis juggler and travel writer (Lonely Planets) Leif Pettersen’s style was too jaunty and too sarcastic in Backpacking with Dracula. Pettersen details the military successes of Vlad III/Vlad Dracula, “the Impaler,” who was voivode (ruling prince) of Wallachia three times between 1448 and his death in January of 1477. Vlad III in resisted (and scared) Ottoman, Transylvanian Saxon, and Hungarian invaders. Vlad III remains a national hero in Romania (which encompasses Wallachia) and Pettersen writes about surviving sites, most notably Poeianari Castle.



)Poenari Castle ruins, photographed by Nicubunu)

Bram Stoker, who never traveled to Romania, borrowed (from German polemics) a horrorshow view of a vampire he named Dracula in his 1897 novel that I don’t think has ever been out of print in English—or in print in Romania.

Pettersen also writes jauntily of the rebellion that led to the shooting of the Ceausescus 1989 for genocide and destroying the Romanian economy. The communist dictator was also from Wallachia (between the Danube and the Carpathian mountains).

Between reporting history that is gratingly insensitive to the suffering inflicted by Wallachian rulers and others in the 15th and 20th centuries, Pettersen includes travel-guide accounts of various places.

There is no evidence that he backpacked during any of his Lonely Planet assignments of researching Romania. His travel seems to have been entirely by rental car, and the first work of the title seems to me false advertising, though the subtitle “On the Trail of Vlad the Impaler and the Vampire He Inspired” is quite accurate.

The book is probably somewhat useful to travelers to Romania (though I’m pretty sure that it is less so than the Lonely Planet guidebooks to which he contributed) and is entertaining for those with a Monty Pythonish sense of humor extending to breeziness about torture and starvation. Not that Pettersen condones the conduct of Vlad Dracula, writing that “even in an era when human life was unbelievably cheap, onein which witnessing death was a regular occurrence for most people, these gory, slow-motion spectacles must have been appalling.”


©2017, Stephen O. Murray


The print is very large (18 point, I think) which makes it easy to read even with dim light and stretches the book to 265 pages.


One thought on “A flippant Minnesotan in Romania”

  1. I appreciate Leif Pettersen’s work and the fact that he is one of the few authors focused on Romania, but I must concur with what you say. The whole Dracula – Vlad Tepes subject seemed a little superficial.

    Liked by 1 person

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