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Posts Tagged ‘castle’

So, I’m illiterate and in the last month I haven’t figured out how to spell the name of this city in English. I can do it in Hungarian and Polish, and since it’s in Poland, you get Polish. We went to Kraków a couple weeks ago and had a lot of fun. We went for 5 days, which is by far the longest we’ve stayed in any city on a trip since we moved here, and Kraków pretty well filled all 5 days.

We spent 3 days in Kraków itself and one day each in Auschwitz/Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. I’ll blog on Auschwitz/Birkenau another time, and Ivan’s going to take the Salt Mines, since he was pretty excited about them.

The first day we wandered up to Wawel castle. There’s the castle and inside the castle grounds is a palace and a cathedral. The whole area was really pretty and the cathedral has this really cool um, pointy(?) appearance from the outside. It’s like 6 different buildings, some with domes, some with towers, others with slanty roofs all thrown together into a single building. Even the building materials are a hodge podge with gold tops, grey ones and the copper green kind.
The castle and cathedral are free to visit and wander around. There are some fun ruins in the grassy areas between buildings that show where foundations of other buildings used to be. There are some museums that you can see as well, but we skipped them. Museum + toddler + four year old = the opposite of enjoyment. The palace courtyard is pretty and there are some exhibits inside the palace. One in particular, the armaments and weapons exhibit, Ivan really wanted to see, but unfortunately the sell a limited number of tickets per day, so if you’re planning on going to Kraków and want to see the exhibits in the palace, go early.

After Wawel castle we wandered through the old town to the Main Market Square, which is huge. In the middle is the cloth hall where you can buy souvenirs.

Other corners have a tiny church, a monument, a fountain and the Church of St. Mary. The Church of St. Mary was interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is its appearance. The two front spires don’t really match and the back area extends to a really long oval shape that isn’t really that unusual, but was interesting all the same. It was also built before the Main Market Square was made into the Main Market Square so it doesn’t really sit square to the market area.

The interior was beautiful. You have to pay a small fee to get in (and a bigger one for photo permission) but the windows inside were gorgeous with lots of strong colors and the entire interior was painted in all these lovely colors and designs. Apparently, if you know what you’re looking for, you can find examples of various different movements inside (gothic, art nouveau, and a few others) and that makes it interesting for those kinds of educated people. I think I didn’t pay enough attention in humanities class. It just looked pretty to me.

From one of the towers of the Church of St. Mary a bugler plays a song every hour. Now it is members of the local fire department that play the song, but it has been a tradition there since the 1300s for someone to bugle every hour as an “all-clear.”

While on the topic of churches, Kraków had them about every block. Often you could see two or more of them at the same time, and definitely more if you count spires visible over the rooftops of the rest of the city. Here are a couple examples.

This was a Dominican church on one block of the old town. We stuck our heads in on a Sunday, but right about then mass let out and we were stuck to the side while everyone filed out. Feeling a little intrusive, we decided to see if we could find another. Pretty much on the same block (in fact I think I took these pictured from  the same spot, just facing opposite directions) was this church

which was also just about ready to let everyone out after mass. I thought the “crown” on this one was really interesting, and we saw it on a couple of other churches. Anyway, the churches were interesting and abundant.

The kids’ favorite part of Kraków was this cute little candy factory/store about two blocks from the Main Market Square. Ciuciu was the name  and every hour they had a candy making demonstration you could watch. It was pretty much a kid’s dream: watching candy being made, free samples, and then parents buying lollipops, and candy sticks. Ivan and I liked it too, and we all had such a good time we came back and did it all again two days later.

Kraków has a ton of World War II history. It was one of the first places invaded by the Nazis and Auschwitz is only a little over an hour’s drive from Kraków. Schindler’s factory of the famous movie Schindler’s List is located in Kraków and a few years ago it was turned into a museum about Kraków in the era just before during and between the two World Wars. It was an interesting museum and I would recommend it. It’s fairly long, though, and the kids were pretty restless by the end.

A couple blocks from the museum is the site where the Kraków ghetto was. The center of the ghetto is now called “Heroes of the Ghetto Square” and has an interesting monument. Several rows of these chairs are lined up across the square. When the Jews were sent to the ghetto they were allowed to take their belongings, mostly to keep them calm and convince them that life would be kind of normal, just in another place. Once they got to the ghetto, though, they were crammed multiple families in an apartment and their belongings were thrown into this square to be stolen or destroyed. The monument is based on someone’s memory of the belongings (including chairs) thrown into the square.

Eventually the ghetto was bricked in and no one was allowed in or out and finally it was liquidated. Many of the jews went to Auschwitz, some were just killed. There was an interesting story about a pharmacy in the ghetto though. There was a pharmacy allowed in the ghetto to try and keep diseases down and the pharmacy staff were the only non-Jews allowed into and out of the ghetto. Therefore the pharmacy became a place to sneak things and news into and out of the ghetto. There’s a museum there, but we didn’t go into it either. The kids were pretty museumed out at that point.

Kraków is kind of interesting because it used to be two cities: a completely Jewish section that was apparently pretty well completely autonomous, and Kraków. The interesting part is that the Jewish section was completely separate from the rest of Kraków by choice. The Jews of the time were very independent and wanted their own space.

The area that used to be the Jewish city is now called (surprise!) the Jewish Qaurter and you can see a lot of old synagogues there. This one is the Old Synagogue. We also saw the High Synagogue and Isaac Synagogue. Some of the synagogues survived Nazi occupation better than others. This one was renovated a few decades after the Nazis left.

The Jewish Quarter was interesting because it felt more like casual Eastern Europe to me with outdoor cafés and open air markets. We even found a self service sewing machine café with the old school cast iron foot pump kind of sewing machines.

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Wednesday a friend drove us up to Visegrád, a castle north of Budapest on the Dunakanyar (Danube Bend). It’s known as Fellegvár, the Cloud Castle, because it sits on the top of a mountain with a commanding view of the Danube. You can see Szentendre island with its Roman ruins, and the town of Nagymaros on the opposite bank, and of course a tactically significant portion of the Danube. Unfortunately for us the air was quite smoggy and so the view wasn’t as nice as might be hoped. Even had it been clear though, I think I would have preferred the view of the castle from the Danube. The observant reader will recall that we already posted this picture taken on our trip back from Esztergom.

Visegrad castle from the Danube

Visegrad castle from the Danube

The castle itself has been reconstructed and has a few exhibits: one is about weapons of the time and the other covers the hunt and how important it was. I particularly liked the hunting exhibit and the coats of arms. Someday I will have someone talented design a coat of arms for me, but I don’t know what would appear on it.Coats of Arms

Avery loved running around the ruins but her favorite part, and Evelyn’s too, was the crow’s cage. Unfotunately, they didn’t have a way to lift it off the ground or we would have gotten the full effect. I couldn’t stop thinking “Ma-a-a-a-d-ma-a-a-artigan” to myself. I should get one for the kids. It would be a great place to send them for time out.

Evelyn and Avery in the cage
Dad and girls in the Crow's cage

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Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle is the childhood dream I never had. As a child I couldn’t get enough of castles and knights and dragons and wizards. Every time I saw a picture of a castle in England or France I wanted to visit. But for some reason I was never overly attracted to Neuschwanstein castle. Perhaps it was too fairytale-esque. Or maybe I just didn’t believe that it really could look like the pictures. I don’t really know, but having visited, allow me to tell all the children out there who like castles that this is definitely worth seeing. I still want to see a castle or two in the middle of a Scottish loch, but visiting Neuschwanstein should be one of your dreams.

Neuschwanstein through the snow

Neuschwanstein from the trailhead.

Given that the castle was conceived and built in the late 1800’s and served as the inspiration for Disneyland’s castle, it certainly can be criticized as being a fairytale castle. Unlike a “real” castle, it was never under siege or captured with the help of traitors, never saw the torture of political prisoners, or the return of it’s lord from a hunting expedition–in fact it was never even finished. It had running water, a telephone (of sorts), an excessively ornate canopy, and was turned into a museum within weeks of crazy king Ludwig’s death. So it is undoubtedly a fairytale castle. Unfortunately for the purist in me, Ludwig’s vision of a beautiful location and romantic architecture are spot on. Le Mont Saint-Michel and Chenonceau are the only “castles” I’ve seen that compare, and they are even less castle-y. I guess when it comes right down to it nostalgia is always better than the real thing.

The tour of the interior was the only part of the trip that disappointed. Because only 15 of the 200 interior rooms were finished it was short. There were several attractions however: the ornate canopy, a fake cave, a secret lavatory, a swan humidifier, and a crown chandelier. Of course Rachel liked the huge oven in the kitchen, and I decided that I wouldn’t mind sleeping in the servants quarters with the handmade furniture. Nevertheless, the interior just can’t compare with, say, the recently visited Schönbrunn (which is a palace not a castle, but still).

Hohenschwangau Castle in the snow

Ludwig spent summers in Hohenschwangau Castle built to replace Schwanstein Castle.

If that’s not enough to satisfy the medievalist in you, then you should know that there is another, older, castle less than a mile away (as the crow flies). We didn’t have time to tour Hohenschwangau castle (probably spent too long in the gift shop trying to justify purchasing everything there), but it’s nice to know that it’s there. Some friends that we met there stayed in a hotel at the top of the hill, so they had plenty of time to see everything. I don’t know how much it cost, but it might be worth it next time.

Marienbrücke in the snow

Marienbrücke (Mary's bridge) is older then the castle.

The problem with most of the pictures that you see everywhere is that they are taken from the mountains instead of facing the mountains. I love mountains, and those on the back side (or perhaps it’s the front) of Neuschwanstein are gorgeous, at least if they are covered in snow. There is a bridge (Marienbrücke) between 2 nearby mountains that makes me think of Rivendell. Unfortunately, like so many large places, photos simply cannot convey how pretty the mountains are.

Rachel snowed upon

This is Rachel on our way down the mountain

As I mentioned, the mountains were covered in snow. What I didn’t mention is that it was snowing the whole time we were there. Big, fat, wet flakes. The kind that make you wish you weren’t pushing a stroller through them. Especially when you get to the top of the steep hill and they tell you that you can’t take strollers on the tour anyway! I think the snowfall made the castle prettier, and it also gave us an opportunity to prove that we’re hard core: we made it up in 30 minutes whereas the guide says that it’s a 40 minute walk, or 45 with a stroller. That’s right we made it up the hill faster, while hauling an infant on my front and a toddler on Rachel’s back, walking, or in the stroller. All the while getting snowed on, taking pictures, and moving to make way for the snow plow and horse carts.

Do not mess with clan Andrus.

On our way back to Munich, the train we were on stopped and made everyone get out and transfer to another train (after waiting half an hour). We overheard some people talking who may have understood the announcement and it might have been due to a fire somewhere. But while we were waiting Avery didn’t whine about how cold she was like another little girl who was also waiting. Instead she played hard-to-get with some Malaysian teens. We raise them hard core from the beginning.

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We went to Eger this week. Ivan has been before and posted about it last Fall, but I had never been, so he was nice and went back with me. It was something of an adventure.

Somehow we got the wrong train schedule. I think we must have gotten a weekend schedule or something because we thought there were trains every half hour. Turns out they were every hour, which meant we had to wait for a full hour when we missed the 8:00 train. grrr. But that was okay. We made it, Avery was only a little cranky, and Evelyn was just happy to be in her wrap and somewhere new.
Ivan and Avery on the train
Unfortunately the later train meant we just missed the organ concert at the cathedral. We were a little bummed, but came back and took a peak inside the church a little later. It was pretty.

Then it was on to the Lyceum. Apparently the bishop of Eger at one point wanted to build a University in Eger, but the people in charge in Vienna wouldn’t let him. So instead he built a big Lyceum where he trained teachers and stocked it with a nice big library and the best astronomical equipment he could find (so there, Hapsburgs…) We only went to the library, as the astronomical museum was on the fifth floor and we had a stroller and a baby. The library was pretty neat. It’s a big room with two levels. A balcony allows access to the upper level. The tops of the book shelves are arched and they’ve arranged the books so carefully that the books under the arch are done each a little bigger than the last and then a little smaller than the last so they fit the arched contour of the shelf. It was kind of funny. There were some pretty massive books there too. Apparently most of their books are in latin, but they had books in some 30 something languages total and they had an atlas, an anatomy book and some others out for display.

The library had a really cool painted ceiling as well. You’d swear it was 10 or 20 feet high because it’s painted as if it was arched, but apparently it’s really only about a meter.

Then on Dobo Istvan Ter and the castle. Dobo Istvan Ter is named after Istvan Dobo (Hungarians post last names first like the Chinese and Japanese) who was a hero in the battle at Eger that repelled the Turks in spite of ridiculous odds of about 2 to 1. Apparently even the women helped out by pouring hot tar over the castle walls. On the right of Istvan Dobo is a woman with a kettle of tar.

Statue at Dobo Istvan Ter
The castle is just up the hill from Dobo Ter and was interesting. Of course there were cannons and rock walls. There were some ruins of an old church with some graves and high walls to look off of. The view was really pretty spectacular. Eger is a pretty place. I thought the holes in the walls of the castle that they shot cannons out of were cool because it showed you how thick the walls were, but the whole thing was pretty cool.
View from the wall of Eger Castle

Inside there was a wax museum. This is Evelyn and I standing next to Istvan Dobo:
Dobo Istvan in Wax

We also saw the grave of Geza Gardonyi, who wrote the famous book Eclipse of the Crescent Moon which tells the story of the battle in which Eger is saved from the Turks (unfortunately a little later the Turks came back and they were less successful).

Then we went and saw the Minaret that Ivan blogged about last Fall. It’s the most Northern in Europe. I wanted to climb it, but the line was really long and Evelyn was asleep in her wrap, so we decided to go to the Marzipan museum instead.

Can I just say that I hadn’t even heard of marzipan until I was 16 and that I had no idea it was an artistic medium until this year? I was apparently missing out. This museum was kind of mind blowing. It’s not really huge, but it’s ridiculous that everything in there is made out of marzipan (it’s a sugar and almond paste that you make candy out of if you didn’t know…).

There was an entire Baroque style room all made out of marzipan – even the floor panels.
Marzipan Baroque Room

Some Russian style nesting dolls. There were a whole row of them, but the one shows you better detail.

Marzipan Russian Dolls
There was a grandfather style clock that was taller than me, some pillows, recreations of Van Gogh’s sunflower painting and a Picasso painting, a series of comics, shoes, Easter eggs, a record player. The pieces that really got me were the ones with wood. Kosci (the artist) put a grain in the wood that was so realistic, Ivan didn’t believe the first wood piece was marzipan. He thought the museum hadn’t started yet.

After the marzipan museum we went to Palacsintavar, a pancake restaurant near Dobo Ter. It was fabulous. I have to explain here that Hungarians take pancakes very seriously. Their pancakes are more like crepes and they put all sorts of delicious things in them. We had a chicken curry pancake for dinner and a peach and vanilla cream pancake for desert. This is the peach and vanilla cream version:

Peach filled pancakes
Now for the traumatic part of our trip. Because we had the wrong train schedule and because of some general confusion with our ticket (we couldn’t figure out if we’d bought a round trip ticket or just a really expensive one way) we missed the last train out of Eger and found ourselves stranded at the train station with two babies. We were a little stressed. We finally found someone to talk to and she told us that we had indeed bought round trip tickets, and they would be good the next day, so that was a little bit of a relief, but we had to go find somewhere to stay. All the hotels were in Eger proper, a pretty good hike from the station. There was a motel in the same building as the train station. We were really afraid it would be super expensive because it was right there, but we decided to call anyway. It turned out it was actually really cheap – about $15 per person. So we spent about $35 to stay in this pretty nice room with a double and twin bed. The only drawback was that it had community toilets down the hall, but I didn’t really mind. We had a shower and a sink in our room, so we were fine. No towels, though. We had to drip dry.

We spent a nice night there and caught the 8:30 train the next morning. We got home about 11:30 kind of smelly and a little hungry, but we were fine. We even had enough diapers for the munchkins. So if you ever get stuck in Eger, we recommend the Lokomotiv tourist motel. It’s right next to the back entrance of the train station.

Avery at the hotel in the morning. Love the hair :)

Avery's hair in the morning.

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The grave of Gárdonyi Géza

The grave of Gárdonyi Géza

Last Saturday I went with a few fellow CEU students to Eger, a city east north east of Budapest. One cannot visit Eger without getting to know the name of Dobó István (Stephen Dobo). He was the leader of the defenders of Eger castle against the Ottoman Turks in 1552. It was quite a story. About 2000 defenders held the castle against 80,000 soldiers. I’m not sure whether this is a testament to the tenacity of the peasants defending their homeland, the value of fortications, or the difficulty of waging a long-term foreign campaign, but it’s amazing nonetheless.
The seige was made famous by Gárdonyi Géza when he wrote Egri Csillagok the most famous Hungarian novel. He is buried inside the castle, and even the little children know the words on his headstone: „Csak a teste!” which means “Only his body” implying that his spirit is gone.

Cannon and related implements

Cannon and related implements


We took a tour of the castle with a Hungarian guide, but luckily one of my companions speaks Hungarian and was able to translate for us. This picture is one of the many cannons used in the defense. I apologize for the low quality but, as you can imagine, it was very dark inside. We were told that because of the great heat created in firing the cannons they had to be cooled (hence the barrel) and could only be fired every ten minutes. It really made me wonder how useful they were, but apparently they did the job.

The castle provides a good spot for viewing the rest of the city. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the castle from outside since my camera ran out of batteries before I could take any, but here are some photos taken from the castle walls including this lovely festive looking flag.

Hungarian flag

Hungarian flag

There is something I love about churches with statues on top. I wish I had been able to take a picture close up.

A church in Eger with neat statues on top

A church in Eger with neat statues on top

In front of this church is Dobó István Square

In front of this church is Dobó István Square

For some reason this seems extremely European. And very pretty as well.

Cute stream running through Eger

Cute stream running through Eger

Outside the castle is the northernmost Turkish minaret in the world. That’s right, the Turks returned 44 years later and conquered Eger and occupied it for 91 years. You’ll notice on the top is a crescent moon, and on top of that a cross. The cross was placed there after the Turks left, though why it wasn’t destroyed outright I don’t know.

Turkish Minaret from Eger Castle

Turkish Minaret from Eger Castle

Looking up at the minaret

Looking up at the minaret

You can also climb up the spiral staircase inside the tower. If I recall correctly, there are 97 stair. They are definitely not OSHA approved. They are very steep and extremely narrow. It’s quite cramped and if I puffed out my chest I could touch the center column and the side of the tower with my elbows. I think it would be very difficult to fall down the stairs for that reason (though I did not test this hypothesis).

What Turkish pigeons must see

What Turkish pigeons must see

What else? I ate some gulyas (GOO yash a.k.a. goulash) and ice cream; saw bees hanging out at a fountain (I’m not sure what they were doing there); rode a train; looked at some paintings, torture implements and artifacts; restrained myself from going to the weaponry museum where you get to try on a helmet because nobody else wanted to go and I can go with Rachel when she gets here; and pretty much had a grand old time.

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