Romania: Travel Broadens The Mind 

Romania: Travel Broadens The Mind 

A blog post by Greg

I didn’t realise how little I knew about Romania until one morning, early in 2020 (before we knew what chaos the pandemic would cause to the year), when, in the shower (source of many of my greatest ideas, for reasons unknown), I suddenly came up with the idea that we could choose Romania as the destination for our next travel adventure.

I know that Felicity has already written about some of the story of our decision to go from her point of view, but I wanted to share a little of my ignorance at the time when I suggested it.

We had been hoping that we would be headed somewhere else for our first travel adventure video of the year, and had started putting plans in place for that trip until we found a company who suggested that they may be interested in sponsoring our video there another year. So we put a hold on that, and began looking for somewhere else to visit.

The idea that we could travel Romania to search for ‘Dracula’s Castle’ came to me as I knew that one of Felicity’s favourite book series by Karen Chance featured the historical figures of Vlad Dracula III and his family as major characters. I suggested it, and within hours we had our flights booked and were busily investigating places to visit and film.

Bran Castle, Romania

This is where my ‘confession of ignorance’ has to come in. Before we decided to travel around Romania for our video, I knew next to nothing about the country. I vaguely remembered that Michael Palin had been there on his travel series ‘Europe’, but the closest I could get to an image of Romania in my mind was probably a very stereotypical ’Hammer Horror’ image of Victorian carriages pulled along mountain roads in the middle of the night! I didn’t really know much of the history of Romania, and I knew nothing of the beauty and majesty that awaited us there.

That is one of the reasons I like to travel. There are places (Mexico springs to mind, especially La Paz) where I could easily see Felicity and I returning to year after year as a ‘holiday’, but we choose not to. We usually look at the time we have available and choose to travel somewhere new, to learn about a new place, to have a new adventure! This doesn’t mean we won’t return to Mexico or Italy, for example, just that when it comes down to it I think we would both choose a new travel destination over a regular ‘holiday’ destination. This is at its very best at times like our Romania travel adventure, where we started our planning with very few preconceptions, and everything that we found in our research filled us with excitement and wonder until I couldn’t believe we had not heard of most of the places we visited before we began our research.

The first thing I learned, given that we were going to be ‘Seeking Dracula’s Castle’ in the video, was that there really is no shortage of stunning castles and fortresses in Romania. It seemed we kept finding them – even after we thought we had finished planning, and even had to reject a few beautiful castles and palaces as we couldn’t make them fit (even very loosely) the definition of ‘Dracula’s Castle’, I stumbled across an image of Corvin Castle.

Corvin Castle, Romania

This ‘fairytale’ castle is one of the most visually stunning I have seen, so when we discovered that Vlad Dracula was likely held in dungeons beneath the castle we immediately added it to our list, and we are so glad now that we did. 

When we visited Corvin Castle, having gained permission to use our drone there, we got some stunning shots for the video. We discovered a ‘Hogwarts’ style magical castle, complete with the sound of a lute being played by a musician which filled the air and added to the magic – almost as much as the snowfall which filled the air next. 

Eight months ago I had never heard of Corvin Castle, yet now that castle holds a very special place in my memories. I know some of its history, I know the stories of the well inside and some of the people who lived (or were imprisoned) within its walls. As we were leaving the owner of one of the souvenir shops around the site told us about the coins and some of the symbols of Vlad Dracul (Dracula’s father), and we learned even more history of the country beyond the castle.

This was true for nearly every part of our time in Romania. I had not expected the large bustling city of Bucharest with its Natural Geology Museum filled with fossils and all laid out in quite a Victorian/Edwardian style which suited us perfectly and we both really enjoyed, despite not being ‘city’ people. Nor had I expected the roads to be as good as they were, and so scenic. From driving up towards Bran, to a perilous feeling mountain road through the snow near Bucegi, to passing castles on hilltops as we made our way towards Poenari, the entire journey was filled with incredible views.

In January 2020, had you mentioned Romania to me, I would only really have been able to tell you that Vlad Dracula lived there, and pointed to ideas of Romania gleaned from the pages of Bram Stoker’s book (written by a man who had never visited the country!). Now despite making Vlad the focus of ‘Seeking Dracula’s Castle’, our Romania Travel Adventure has left me with a much better feel for the country and its people, and we have come away having learned enough about the country to fill our travel adventure documentary and a number of blog posts!

Travel certainly does broaden the mind and that is why we will continue to find new places to travel to and new things to see!

Thank you for reading, and please take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other!

Greg

P.S. You can see our short follow up to our Romania video, ‘Seeking Dracula in Whitby’, here:

Race Across Space

Race Across Space

A Blog Post By Greg

Let’s be honest with ourselves – there have been a fair few surprises this year. As a few people who have seen my ‘Non-Psychic ‘Psychic’ Show’ have said, perhaps I should have seen it coming, but in the real world we all find ourselves doing things we hadn’t expected.

In August and early September I had expected to be out performing shows for the whole month – the Isle of Wight Steam Show, Bekonskot Model Village and the Legendary Llangollen Fairy Festival were just some of the events at which I had been expecting to perform over the summer. What I had not expected was to spend most of my time in the latter half of August and the first half of September writing, filming, and creating computer generated animations for a short science-fiction film set around a team of pilots racing across space. Especially with the spacecraft pilots including marionettes, eggs, and Dodos!

Indeed, Dodos have become a big part of our lives since April. What was once a term for extinct flightless birds has now become one of the most commonly used words around our house. Questions like ‘what colour beak should this Dodo have’ or ‘I think the Dodos will really enjoy this’ have become commonplace. For those of you who don’t know, my sister-in-law Jenny started crocheting Dodos at the start of lockdown and, after we created a magic trick build around them, ‘The Lavender Dodos’ was adopted by viewers of our online shows as the collective name for those who enjoyed the show. We have gone on to create the ‘Lavender Dodos Assemble’ Facebook group, introduced ‘Sparkles, King of the Dodos’ as a character in the shows, and Dodos have become a regular part of everyday life here.

While the whole country was in lockdown we began producing the ‘Greg Chapman (Almost) Live’ show, a fortnightly comedy and magic show going out online. Initially we did this with pre-recorded segments and ‘live’ links, and then due to technological issues we started putting them out every other Sunday with a pre-recorded first segment at 5, and a live improvised story at 6 (which we continue to do). However, as lockdown lifted we started to see a drop off in the number of people watching the pre-recorded show as it went out, and most people were watching it afterwards. So we began to look at ways to modify what we do so that some episodes are designed with the live feel in mind, while others are focused on people being able to watch at any time.

This culminated on Sunday 13th September with the release of ‘Race Across Space’, the first time we have pulled many of the characters from the ‘Greg Chapman (Almost) Live’ show into an extended ‘film’ format, working together and interacting as opposed to all being in their own segments through the shows. If you want to avoid potential spoilers, you can watch the full half-hour film here now:

Creating a half hour film crossing through different characters created a new set of challenges. We needed a single plot that would run through and which would be engaging enough to keep people watching, but simple enough that we could bounce around the various characters (and even throw in some surreal moments) without confusing people or derailing the main through road of action.

A race seemed the obvious solution for this first film. As we wanted the characters to interact with each other, but we also needed to work with many of the characters individually to film, the idea of a race across space seemed to fit best, with each set of characters within their own craft.

Once I had the script written, there were only a couple of minor problems left. We needed seven spacecraft, inside and outside, and we needed to be able to create whole worlds for them to race in.

For the outside shots I wanted to use computer animation to allow us to build the best race possible. I have some basic knowledge of CG animation, but am by no means an expert, and even for an expert the idea of building all of the spaceships and buildings we needed from scratch would be a huge ask, but luckily I got some help. A company named KitBash3D create and sell CG models to use within animations and they had a range of steampunk buildings and spaceships available – and even better, they were prepared to help us out with a special discount to support the show! I now had most of the models I needed to put together in the computer and create the worlds, and animate the races.

We had only one minor issue. My laptop, which Felicity bought for me last year as a powerful laptop to cope with all of our usual computer editing and effects on our travel videos, couldn’t cope with the level of computer animation we wanted. So I then had to become a laptop technician as I bought some more RAM memory online and, with the aid of YouTube videos, upgraded my computer! It still took almost a day to render out each minute of the animation, and we had to delay the release of the film for a week as a result, but we could make the film we wanted.

While I was busy learning to be a CG animator and computer technician, Felicity and Jenny were busy making ‘real world’ magic as they painted the physical sets for our puppets and Dodos. Painting is not my forte (as proved on the one day I tried to help them, and in about five minutes made such a mess of the painting that it took the two of them much of the following day to correct my mess). Once I had been banned from picking up a paintbrush the set design and painting went incredibly, and there was a wonderful moment the first time I saw Bonnie and Any, our marionettes, in front of their set through the camera view screen, and it looked wonderful!

Filming was great fun, every time we added new characters to their sets, and got to try out their scenes, it felt magical. Most of the time, for reasons of time, space and equipment, if we need a backdrop we have used a green screen and edit the background in afterwards on the computer. So to see all of our characters in these wonderful sets was beautiful.

From there it was just a ‘simple’ matter of editing all of the different elements together, and adding the sound effects and music to the video. It always amazes me how much the addition of sound and music completes a video. We find the same thing with our travel videos, and I always like to spend a lot of time choosing the right music for the different moments.

As well as finding the right music for this film, however, I spent a lot of time trying to find the right engine noises for each of the spaceships – using everything from engineered alien sound effects to Aston Martin and aeroplane engines. When they all came together and we had the final video, however, I was incredibly pleased with how the whole film came together!

Just before I wrap up this little insight into the video, I feel I ought to offer up some thanks to all of those who helped make the film, and are responsible for it being as good as it is. Thanks to Felicity, of course, for putting up with my stresses over the computer problems, taking a starring role, helping create the sets, and everything else she does. Thanks to Jenny for painting the incredible sets, and making the Dodos! Also a special thank you to all of those people who provided video or character voices throughout – Robby Measday, The Captain of the Lost Waves, Steve Wardhaugh, Rob Norris, Pete Dodo and Amber Dodo. Thanks to Czech Marionettes who introduced us to our marionette co-stars, and Kitbash3D for helping us get the 3D models!

Finally, thanks to all of you who read the blog, and watch and share the videos which we create to help new people find them.

Thank you for reading, and please take unbelievably good care of yourselves and of each other.

Greg

P.S. While we wait to be able to do live shows again, our videos are the only way we make money, and we do this through the support of people buying us a ‘virtual coffee’ at www.ko-fi.com/greg.