The World Championship of Living Statues, Arnhem, 2017 – Part 1

In this, last, post on this site (the designated space will expire while I upload the photos) I’m showing you some of my photos taken during this year’s competition.

Children’s works were not separated from those of adults, but most of them were presented close to each other in the new market place at the side of the cathedral and at the city hall, and that’s where I began too.P1140992P1140994P1150004P1150010P1150013This one may not have been performed by a young artist, but placing several performances right before the grey parapet surrounding the building area was definitely a strange and bad mistake. True, they got enough of the faint autumn sunshine, yet, it provided for strange effects.P1150017P1150019Fortunately, one could move on to sculptures better placed in the inner city. Here most performers were adults. P1150021P1150025P1150030P1150034P1150039P1150042P1150057P1150059P1150061

With this, my storage space is full. I’ll see you in my new blog with the second part of my rendition of this event. See you there soon.

by P.S.

Castles in the Netherlands 18 – Kasteel Valkenburg

Kasteel Valkenburg  from Cauberg / Image from Wikipedia

The Dutch Wikipedia article about Valkenburg calls this castle the only “hoogteburch” in the Netherlands, i.e., the only real castle on a sort of height or hill, the sort found so often elsewhere in Europe, but not in this land of plains.

The town itself is found near Maastricht in the far south of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburg, which is like a wedge between N-E Belgium and Germany, almost precisely between Genk and Aachen (or just as near Liège if you like). The main road from Maastricht takes a motorist in an almost straight line (over the famous Cauberg) to the town, which can also be approached from there by train.

As I first cycled from Valkenburg to Oude-Valkenburg to visit the castles there, I came back in the valley of the Geul and first saw Berkelpoort, a part of the old town walls:P1140085To the left of these gates, we can already see some of the castle itself, towering above the town,P1140084from where stone steps lead up the hill among nice marl rocks, which partly gave the material to the walls of the castle from the 11th to the 17th century. It is a beautiful path but not really worth climbing as the castle cannot be accessed through the little gate up there, only after climbing downstairs and turning right again, missing most of the town.P1140091P1140090Better walk through the busy Grotestraat from Berkelpoort (above),P1140095make some plans about what else to see later and then head towards Grendelpoort,P1140096from where, keeping left, it’s real easy to reach the entrance to the castle. There are enough steps to climb here, but there’s also a huge new lift to take up those needing it.

Above, one arrives on a nice plateau with a restaurant and lots of room for sitting outside, and this terrace also provides great views of the town, first over Grendelpoort of course:P1140098 From here the visitor has a wonderful view of the outside of the inner castle:P1140100It is only here that we have to pay an entrance fee to the inner castle as everything is free up to this point. Then a long walk takes us around in two directions, both leading to further steps inside.P1140101P1140102.JPGThere’s a very good view, complete with Belkerpoort, over the inner city towards the north from these walls:P1140103.JPGThen we can visit what has remained of the former palace buildings after the French blew it up in the Dutch War in 1762: the chapel, the knights’ hall and some more.P1140107P1140112.JPGP1140108.JPGP1140109.JPGIn a corner of the knights’ hall, we can wonder why there are two such a huge piles of raw column basalt in the corner. But we can understand soon …P1140113.JPGFirst we may circle the area to have further views, for example towards the quarries and the Wilhelminatoren, which can be reached by cablecar as well as on foot.P1140116.JPGP1140114.JPGThen on towards the southern side of the palace remains:P1140117.JPGP1140120.JPGAnd it’s here that we can understand the huge columns of basalt:P1140122.JPGthat is, they were used for strengthening the inside of that walls as the outer surfaces of marl may not be strong enough to withstand attacks. They were now used for reconstructing some of the old walls of course.

From here we can look around the area towards the Casino on top of the Cauberg:

then we can head back into the palace to look around once again

before heading back to town. Enjoy your stay in Valkenburg!P1140123.JPGIf you are cycling, you can climb Cauberg instead of staying – but be prepared for a real steep climb. Afterwards, however, it’s real fast downhill to Maastricht, almost directly to the station to catch your train.P1140124.JPG

by P.S.

 

Castles in the Netherlands 17 – Kasteel Schaloen and Genhoes

P1140045This little castle (seen here only above the roof of its outhouse from the main road) stands just outside the little village of Oud Valkenburg near Valkenburg, a nice little town in Brabant, a short drive from Maastricht, in the Netherlands. While it can’t be visited inside, the building is beautiful enough for us to give it a look on a day out when the weather is good. It can easily be reached by bike as well, and it’s a good walk from Valkenburg as well near/across some nice forest. The creek the Kleine Geul also provides a nice background along the way.P1140074Along the back road and following path, there are a few other places to be used or visited: tennis courts, a football field, another old building complex houses and old people’s home, then, above on the hill, there is also a nice old house called De Kluis. I didn’t have enough time to walk up there, so I went on around the castle.P1140051P1140052Of course it is more impressive from the south, the direction of the entrance across from the moat. The buildings to the left contain the holiday homes.P1140055P1140056P1140057A little walk across the gatehouse, which is not a nice brasserie, takes us to the castle to the right and the old outhouses to the left, where one can stay the night.P1140059P1140061P1140062Unfortunately, one can’t join the people lunching on the entrance terrace of the castle, nor visit, but sitting down for a bear or meal outside the brasserie in this neighbourhood still is a nice programme.P1140064

I have also made a little video around there, you can see it here or below.

Those a bit more nosey could also look at another old castle from the corner of the path around the former: Kasteel Genhoes.P1140053The old name means “The House”. Unfortunately, this can only be seen from the outside too and can’t be walked around, even though it has a moat around too, but the area is completely private. It can be approached to the left of the path connecting the Schaloen to the main road and then taking the first to the left again.P1140067P1140071P1140070No entry! But we can peek. Somebody has some nice big space there.P1140069

by P.S.

Madurodam

One of the most famous fun parks in the Netherlands is Madurodam in The Hague. Its main theme is to let people see outstanding buildings from around the country in miniature. To some extent, this is comparable to LEGOLAND in Denmark, where objects are built, naturally, out of Lego pieces. Here, the building materials are undefined, probably clay and wood, often interspersed with metals and plastic, all nicely painted, so all surfaces correspond to the originals.

Near the entrance, visitors find themselves in the waterworld of the Netherlands, with all sorts of ships, bridges, dams and dykes.P1130661P1130664P1130681Of course, the windmills cannot be far away, as they have always served water management at least as much as the milling of grain.P1130662This area serves as a major attraction for little children, not only because of the thrill of watching – or waiting to watch – various trains flip by, criss-crossing the area, but because they can cooperate with each other on putting out a fire on a tanker, float wooden containers down rivers and channels or load and unload containers in a harbour.P1130665Further inside the park, the area is more or less arranged by cities. Here we can visit the inner cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague and others along with famous architectural relics around them. Starting with Muiderslot, the castle of Muiden SE of Amsterdam, here’s a series of examples without special order.P1130677P1130679P1130680The quality of some of the models is really beathtaking.P1130682P1130690P1130691I really appreciated the care invested in the immediate environment of the models: what in reality are tall trees or full-grown bushes have been pruned back, ikebana style, with breathtakingly realistic miniature trees and bushes, where even the flowers are fit to size.P1130693Fortuntely for toddlers and small kids, there’s a big and good playground behind this row of houses:P1130696There are some other exhibitions showing Dutch history and the life of the person, George Maduro, who was the inspiration behind the park. In the middle, there’s also a huge globe-like structure, ‘Fantasitron’, in which people can be scanned in 3D and afterwards be posted a 3D sculpture of themselves.

Unfortunately, the structure, which can be seen in the middle of this photo,P1130688is, in our opinion, is ugly and destroys some of the effect of the place. Besides, the park is rather small for the €16,5 entrance fee. The size of the area can be judged well based on this photo:P1130699and we can testify to the fact that it is small.

Whereas it’s a nice model of famous Dutch landmarks, little children would hardly appreciate this aspect. On a day with a lot worse, but a lot more probable weather, children couldn’t really play with water. Even we had no interest in the historical exhibitions, how could little children? But those water games offer nothing for parents, who would appreciate the historical features on display, but then again, this all is only about the Netherlands, so if you’re not familiar with most of the buildings, what is there for adults to enjoy for the price?

Taking up the comparison with Legoland again, the area is a tiny portion of that for nearly half the price. This place is not suitable for a daily programme without children as it can easily be walked in a couple of hours. In Legoland, the models represent famous landmarks from all over the world and in larger sizes, even fit for a real slide surrounded by figures. That one is great fun for all ages, this one is only suitable in part for adults and in the other half for little kids. We had a good, sunny day with two little kids, it was worth it, but still, for me, it was a bit of a let-down. I’d definitely not come again on my own, or without kids.

by P.S. and Z.J.S.

 

Date of World Championship of Living Statues Arnhem 2017?

I know, I know, this is my second photoblog, I should post photos here, but this is about future photos. First we have to know when the exhibition is coming.

Well, today I suddenly remembered that I missed last year’s edition if there was anything. I found something about it a month or so after it had happened early June. But I hadn’t seen any ads about it, or any crowds either, for that matter, so I’m not sure it happened.

From what I can read this year, it has now become a biannual event. Which is strange because I visited each year since 2010, except 2014, when I couldn’t be here. But anyway, I’m glad to be able to find that it’s taking place at the end of this August, when I can be here. You can read more here.

The only problem is that it may not … At the beginning it’s black-and-white. And it gets repeated near the end as well, following the Dutch explanations, under “Gegevens”, i.e., data. However, just above that, it says, “Meer informatie over activiteiten rond World Living Statues in Nederland vind je hier »“, which means, you can get more info about the activities of the event by clicking on that link, and then you’ll get into trouble. No, not that there’s nothing there, no. The real trouble is that there it says it’ll happen on Oct. 1 this year. Quite unlike the Dutch, I’d say. So be careful, if you can, with your bookings this year: you may arrive at the end of August to find nothing but that you’ve missed the possibility of booking for Oct. 1.

If I can get further info and a rectification or clarification of the date, I’ll post it here. Further, if the even does take place one way or another, I’ll post photos too – but perhaps on a third of my photoblogs, as this one may have reached the limit of data I can upload by that time.

Update: I’ve managed to get confirmation from the organisers that the correct date for the competition this year is 1 October (with the warm-up event running on the previous evening in Ede). The date has also just been corrected on the first site, so everything is all right for a great event. Hope to have helped you. See you in October.

by P.S.

Castles in Hungary, part 3

In this part, I’d like to show you some photos of one of the oldest and probably the most famous castle in Hungary only second to Buda and built in the 1250s. When you are driving up to it, this is the view you get (the other kinds are made from the other side of the Danube, from where you can’t approach Visegrád).P1130174It has a famous Slavic name, though, also made famous by a part of Smetana’s Má vlast (My Homeland) cycle: Visgrád in Hungarian, Višegrad in Czech as well as in Serbian to denote not only Smetanas mucis but also the castles in those territories. The name meanst Upper Castle, or High Castle. Out of those castles, it is probably the Hungarian Visegrád which stands upon the highest elevation above its neighbourhood. When you’ve made it upstairs, wonderful panoramic views can be enjoyed.P1120211P1120248There are two ways of approach. One is when you drive around the mountain to a parking place relatively high up on the mountain side and pay. Then the entrance is through this tower.P1120208One can park near the Danube, though. It is the much longer path, but on the way, one can enjoy the ruins of the 15th c. palace of the famous king Matthias, who brought the renaissance and power to Hungary before the kingdom was submerged in chaos and was overrun by the Turks. Here are a few photos of the remains of the last real golden age of Hungary.P1020739P1020780P1020783P1020763After the palace, the ascent takes us up through the Tower of Salamon, one of the earliest of the fortifications.P1020811After some more, steep climb, we get to the high castle, where we have to pay for the entrance. There is a small waxworks exhibition inside as well, but the point is the castle itself, which has been restored in good taste.P1120212P1020872P1130155P1020891

by P.S. and S.Z.J.

Castles in Hungary, part 2

To follow on with this topic, you can find some more examples of real castles in Hungary. Contrary to castles in the Netherlands, which were mostly built of bricks, at least in their present state, never really played parts in wars, so they are almost exclusively intact and could best be described as palaces of some sort, most Hungarian castles were built of stone boulders for and used in wars and suffered several instances of being blown up.P1120293My first example here is the castle of Esztergom, which was one of the earliest castles in Hungary. It became one of the most important centres of the king before the Tartar invasion. As the castle withstood that invasion, its importance served as an example to what the country should do to prevent another invasion to happen. Unfortunately, the castle suffered enormously during the Turkish occupation and changed hands many times. Afterwards, the stones were carried away by locals to rebuild their houses. The basilica we can see in the above photo from the Slovak side of the Danube was finished at the place of the fortifications and the earlier palaces in 1869. This view is also the only kind that can show that Esztergom used to have a castle with defence lines and bastions.

The next and perhaps most typical example is the castle of Buják, which is hidden among the low hills of the Cserhát mountains, North-East of Budapest, in county Nógrád.P1130565The ruins can’t be seen from the roads, you even have to guess which road actually leads to near it. The reason has a lot to do with the fact that the area still belongs to the army. But as I was appalled by the fact that for this reason I couldn’t see these ruins 45 years ago, I gave it a try this time, when the army is no longer so important. Still, you are shooed away from the parking place, so you have to park a car by the roadside nearby. Then you have to climb a path of a few hundred metres on a dirt path to reach the ruins. P1130568What is a-typical here is that it was not blown up by the Habsburgs – the Turks blew it up before other castles met this inevitable fate. Not much can be seen today, but the view is beautiful.P1130558

The last castle I’m showing you today stands above the only Hungarian village on the World Heritage list: Hollókő, again, among the Cserhát mountains, only a few kilometres from Buják – though no direct road exists between the two villages, so you have to drive a lot more.P1130585From the village, where you can park your car (but don’t be surprised if the parking metres don’t work), a few hundred metres again lead to the rebuilt fortification:P1130570Again, it’s not a big castle, but shows the middle-ages well. For a small payment, all the restored parts can be visited.P1130571P1130576You can even enter a room which has been somewhat furnished (very rare in Hungarian castles except in Buda).P1130575P1130578The view over the low hills from the walls is again beautiful.P1130579With this, I bid farewell for a while. Hope you enjoyed it all and can visit the places some time to come.

by P.S.

Castles in Hungary

I showed a large number of “castles” in the Netherlands and some in Germany in this blog and in my first photoblog as well, but so far nothing from the country where I come from: Hungary. The reasons are numerous, the important ones being that I only visited them a long time ago and my relatively recent visits to the country were not about castles. I did visit some of them, however, over the last few years, so let me start with the largest one in Hungary, the Buda Castle.P1120035Buda castle is the largest castle in Hungary, probably second largest in the world only to the Hradzin in Prague (please enjoy my earlier photos about it starting here), and it’s definitely the most important in the country’s history, as it was the official residence of the kings of Hungary when they were present in the country. This was not always the case under the hundreds of years under the Habsburgs, nevertheless, it has always been the most important administrative centre of the country since the Tartars left in 1243. A morning view from further off shows a great deal of why Budapest is so famous and popular among foreign tourists.P1080001Although it was the ground for many a battle for the hegemony over Hungary, Buda castle survived relatively well, showing a lot of its original fortifications, partly thanks to its importance, which made it imperative for its rulers to restore damaged parts over the centuries. Here is a rarely-photographed side.P1020116Inside the huge complex, there are still scores of buildings going back to at least the Renaissance, which are mostly housing restaurants and shops for tourists today.P1020195A lot of other, usually larger buildings are used by various organisations, the National Gallery, museums, churches, a theatre, and among them, the building of the Hungarian president can also be found. This one is one of the most beautiful of the early remains, just opposite the famous Matthias Church:P1020231As Buda castle is one of the most widely photographed areas in the whole country, I’ll just show a couple of more photos for those who’re unfamiliar there. This is about the famous Fisherman’s Bastion, which is, despite its fortification-like looks, is a late-19th c. addition, followed by views of the Eastern side of the city, Pest.P1020221P1100094P1100096P1100093Definitely beautiful but touristy, so let’s head to another beauty, which is a lot more typical of what kinds of castles are mostly found around the country. This one is above Lake Balaton (or Plattensee for German speakers) and is above a village called Szigliget. The castle was built on a smaller one of the famous and picturesque volcanic leftover mountains above most of the Northern side of Europe’s largest lake.P1040242It has also had a turbulent, but typical history of wars, battles and desolation in Hungary, but has been restored quite well, without overdoing it, not trying to show any of its “full” form, but it’s not in complete ruins either – both of which kind I’ll show some examples in my following post. So let’s scale the winding paths and stairs and see it.P1040299P1040264P1040274We’ll definitely notice the beautiful landscape around, which is a lot less touristy than that from Buda Castle, but definitely enjoyable for rovers. The bigger mountain opposite is St. George’s mount, a bit further from the lake than the touristy Badacsony.P1040283Hope you’ve enjoyed roving around with me and you’ll join me on the next tour as well.

by P.S.

Keukenhof – the perfect day out on Easter Monday

4cef0d00-1f06-42b0-8ce5-603e3412d710.JPGWe had a really fortunate day when we had to travel to Den Haag anyway. By the time we finished there, it was a bright sunny day, albeit not entirely warm at all. But after a short visit to the seaside nearby, we went on to enjoy a wonderful day among the flowers in this enchanted world. Keukenhof can be approached easily by car either from Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden, The Hague or Rotterdam as it is situated right in their middle. Expect to pay €16 per adult and €8 per child and also that even small children with small rollers are not allowed in – we came with two of these to make it possible for the kids to roll easily from place to place without getting to tired but we had to park them in a locked place. I personally don’t know why exactly this was the rule as people were allowed in with dogs on long leashes, which definitely disturbs lots of people, but one can’t argue. Instead, enjoy! We aren’t adding comments as the variation of flowers – and with them, names – is so vast that it’s impossible to keep up.

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Hope you enjoyed all these.

by Z.J.S, P.S. (first two photos and one more near the end courtesy of “De Gitarist“, and with participation of Zhuo and Julcsika)

Prague, part 4

p1120612If one has more than two days to spend in Prague, (s)he will most probably come back to the castle again, at least to have another look at the city, even if it’s a cold, windy day. This time around, we’ll look at the outer walls of the palaces overlooking the river, then look down.p1120520p1120607p1120609On a sunny day, it looks a lot more cheerful, of course. So does the city below.p1120525p1120515But wait, what’s that dark wall over there? Closer …p1120511Still uncertain … Let’s get down there.

It’s actually within the Waldstein Palace complex, which I approached from the direction of the garden.p1120615_waldstein-palSome interesting sculptures can also be seen in the garden as we approach that wall.p1120618p1120618p1120622p1120623Some of those sculptures are quite old, this Laokoon below, for example, by a Dutch sculptor, is from the early 17th century.p1120626To the left of this path is that wall, which turns out to be called ‘dripstone’, which, outside of geology, is a a stone moulding used as a drip, also called ‘hood mould’. I’ve been to countless cities around Europe and China, but this is the first time I’ve seen such a wall. A rare sight indeed …p1120628_dripstonep1120629and there is even a big aviary for eagle owls made of these walls there.p1120632After having a good look, we can retract our steps and then, on the left side, we can go through a door to the Senate of the Czech Parliament – we have actually seen this entrance down the path among the sculptures, above. Here we get into a nice inner yard. p1120635_walstein-palaceThis is the Senate building, where, in the basement, we can see a nice collection of presents presented to members of the Parliament and other government official on their visits to a lot of countries around the world, from Zimbabwe through Turkey to Malaysia and further – a rare collection of people’s self-reflection.p1120638p1120640Only then did I find the front of the palace. Looking around a bit here, I finish my accounts of Prague. Hope you’ve enjoyed all of it and that you can also visit this gem of Middle-Europe, or similar Czech cities if you haven’t already been there.p1120642p1120643p1120645p1120648p1120650

By P.S.

Prague, part 3

p1120534A bit long after the previous post, but not forgetting this wonderful city, I’m starting out at a quite inglorous place – at first sight, those odious shafts above the river catch the sight of the visitor. However, the house in the middle is the Smetana Museum. We mustn’t forget that Prague was the birthplace or working home of numerous excellent Czech composers, some of whom are famous, like Smetana, some less famous but non-the-less excellent, like Vítězslav Novák (https://youtu.be/8TITh5lXxiE?list=LL06KyV5SXeGc9T-4-ioIqsw), Zdenek Fibich or (Isaac) Ignaz Moscheles (https://youtu.be/WmILM1ruuFE?list=LL06KyV5SXeGc9T-4-ioIqsw) among others. However, beside Dvorak, Smetana is definitely the most well-known Czech composer, so let us see his statue a bit taken out of these inglorious surroundings: p1120538This time, we are going to concentrate exclusively on the other side of the river, so we’re crossing over the Charles Bridge again and approaching the castle differently. Actually, the following routes are the more usual ways to approach than those in my previous posts. On the way, though, there’s an interesting, partly underground shopping area, which reminds us of the fact that the Czech were once also famous about their crystal-ware. How much of it is real now is anybody’s guess. p1120540 But take heart, there are at least scores, if not hundreds of other shops in the area selling something similar stuff.p1120546 On the other end of the bridge, we find ourselves in small but beautiful streets again. p1120549p1120550p1120554_st-michaelp1120552Under those arcades, lots of small pubs, restaurants and vendors can be found – but behind them, we can also get a glimpse of real life: p1120555p1120558p1120560Having reached the upper level of the castle, it is worth crossing a bridge over an old ditch under the walls on the other side. A rare, but beautiful aspect of the cathedral, real old castle walls and a nice garden is our prize. p1120567p1120569p1120571My real aim today is, however, inside the castle: the Lobkowicz Palace. The building is huge, though not particularly interesting, but inside there is a good museum from the collection of this once mighty family over the centuries. Be generous with your purse, though: the entrance fee is rather steep, about €14. Most of the paintings are, uninterestingly for me, are portraits of old family members and related people one tends to forget, but the artefacts are mostly very fine.p1120583p1120584p1120585p1120587p1120588p1120590p1120591p1120592p1120593p1120594p1120595p1120596Some members of the family used to be very refined musicians, so a room full of their instruments is in order – if I remember well, Beethoven is said to occasionally be among the guests who played on some of them along the earl.p1120597There are a few very interesting paintings in the last room: originals by Canaletto and a couple of others. From the historical view, at least, they are very-very interesting.p1120598p1120603Leaving the museum-palace, we pass some other beautiful views, like this gate to the plaything museum, but I’m leaving you here before you get too tired. The last part of my Prague posts is still to come.p1120508

by P.S.

Prague, part 2

Starting out from the National Theatre, a bit south of the Charles Bridge, one can cross the Vltava via the Most Legii, built in 1901, which received its name in memory of the legions that formed under the Austro-Hungarian empire during WWI. Many thousands fled these legions to support the other side during the war with the intention to fight for an independent Czechoslovakia. Keep forward on the other side and you reach the bottom of the stairs leading up to Újezd. To the left, one can see the Hunger Wall, and right ahead is the Monument to the Victims of Communism on the stairs.

Climbing further towards Petrinské skalky, you get a wonderful view of the city’s eastern side, which I showed you in my previous post

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The view is even more beautiful in springtime

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It is worth climbing further on the quiet hillside as we can soon arrive at places from where another view of the castle can be revealed, one that few tourists come to see

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We can have a wonderful view not only of the outside walls of the Schwartzenberg palace

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but also of the Lobkovitz palace and the St. Vitus Cathedral behind it

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On the way there, it is worth looking back again on the old town

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Then, passing the Strahovsky monastery by, P1120452

we are in the sprawling castle district with winding streets and dozens of famous palaces

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among them, the Cerníncky Palace, which houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs now or the Toscan Palace here

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The Schwartzenberg Palace, which we have seen from the outer side, is one of the most interesting among them

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And then we are almost at the Cathedral …

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almost …

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and having passed two gates …

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Overlooking the square with the old royal palace

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the southern side is also of utmost beauty

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All the surrounding buildings and others further down the street are amazing.

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I leave you here with a view overlooking the old town again, I’ll be back soon with more about this beautiful city.

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by P.S.

 

Castles in the Netherlands – part 16: Kasteel Duurstede and Huis Doorn

Last weekend I managed to make my next trip and went to see these two places near Utrecht, beginning with Duurstede. The nearest train station is at Culemborg, which is on a side-track for slow trains from Utrecht to Tiel, or another one from Arnhem, but that was fine as I like cycling to my final destinations. On the way, you have to cross a small river, the Lek, or take the long cycling route directly from Utrecht. Of course it’s simpler by car.

Wijk bij Duurstede, as the place is called, is a small town with two little churches very close to each other that we see coming from the road near the river, the Nederrijn (not directly from Utrecht) …P1130001and a very nice, working windmill, which can be visited insideP1130028 and some of the very nicest boat houses I’ve ever seenP1130029The town looks otherwise very pretty too P1130005but the main attraction is surely the castle, which is, oddly enough, rarely accessible to the public. It is usually rented out for events and, in between, it is closed. It is one rare ruin, as most castles are in good conditions and are occupied, or almost disappeared. But this one has one tower intact, another partially intact and walls almost completely ruined but with enough to give one an idea.P1130010P1130012P1130013However, I was lucky enough to arrive on a day when there was no big event but a nice little concert in the garden, and so the towers were open. It’s completely free to look inside and you can have a feeling of how small feast are catered for. P1130015 From above, the view is really nice over the restaurant and the moatP1130020the other tower, where I didn’t enter for the small exhibitionP1130021 and over the townP1130022Here is a song from the concert under the tent, with people enjoying the atmosphere, some snacks and drinks.

P1130027After such a pleasant place I rode further to Huis Doorn, which was the last dwelling place of the German Kaiser in the Netherlands after WWI. The entrance is next to the road, can’t be mistakenP1130031and the park around the house is really huge, complete with an Orangery and various romantic routes. The house, however, is a real let-down, not only because of its puritanic structure, which soon reveals that, other than the front side, it is nothing special at all.P1130037P1130040The real disappointment is that, for the orbital price of €12, one could only see a few rooms furnished as in the few years of the Kaiser’s stay, relics of the emperor and practically nothing else. I decided not to enter but have a drink in the restaurant. Still, a nice day.P1130044If somebody cycles this far, the nearest railway station is at Driebergen/Zeist, which means that the route can be pedalled through backwards starting there.

by P.S.

Prague, part 1

P1120203I arrived in Prague on a kind of professional project in the middle of April and landed in an out-of-the-way, cheap hotel in this street, near the railway station, which was, however, situated at a very ample place to travel around this charming city easily. And, business done, this is what I did.

I have to warn the unsuspecting visitor, though, that there are booby-traps in this city, however friendly, quiet and cheep it looks. For one, don’t trust the official exchange rates. The Czech krone, officially around 25 to 1 Euro, brought me less than 24 at banks, minus 2% commission. However, this was in my neighbourhood. In the city centre, ridiculous commissions apply: 19% was most prevalent, but I saw rates up to 25% with exchange rates below 23 to one. My best exchange was right on arrival, at the airport terminal, where one can cash kronen from any foreign card. Best option.

Compared to this outdated commission system, hotels felt rather cheap even at more central places. I found transport rather cheap with a half-hour ticket at 24 Kr and 1,5 hour tickets at 35 Kr, which are valid with changing among any means of public transport. One can use one of he latter even to get to the Eastern side of the city from the airport far out on the Western side with one change, so any other options seemed orbital in comparison.

P1120235Food is not very cheap but not very expensive either. Sometimes, however, quality punches you in the stomach: downtown, not far from the very touristy places, I sat into a fairly expensive restaurant on this corner, chose something the waitress said was one of their fav specialities and was given this. I’m not one to get worked up about stuff especially because I was hungry but please notice the colour difference of a piece of ‘knedla’ on the left from the other ones: it was brown with P1120236age. And it felt so old as it looked too. Outrageous. As to the beer to accompany a restaurant meal, it’s strangely cheaper (usually around 35-40 Kr) than a bottle in most shops. Perhaps watered up …

Now, any world-roving traveller is familiar with pictures of the famous sights in Prague: P1120535P1120356the castle, probably the largest one on earth, Charles bridge with crowds ogling old saints P1120541or artefacts on display or sitting for a portret, and of course taking selfies in front of ages-old sculptures, P1120335 any one of the towers

and the Old Square with the astronomical clock P1120304 near this amazing building P1120309 which, however, almost nobody cares to look at, just like this fabulous detailed gate right next to the clock.P1120308Then there is the Old Square itself with the beautiful buildings and the church behind themP1120311P1120312.P1120314 However, there are other beautiful towers around the city and other churches with even more beautiful interior than the Church of Our Lady above.

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What I found most charming about Prague, however, was that one can find beautiful, well-restored old buildings almost everywhere around. Just look into a side street, you’ll see them, not only near the Old SquareP1120291 or near Charles bridge (Karluv most)P1120401or along the river VltavaP1120412 but further away from the beaten track as well.P1120284The buildings of and the areas around theatres and the opera house are especially niceP1120280P1120269P1120267P1120234P1120241P1120246 Near here it was that I first met the first vendor of Trdelník, brashly advertized as “The Old Bohemian Speciality”…P1120245 As I asked him whether he knew this is actually a delicacy from Hungary and Transylvania called “kürtős kalács”, he opened his arms saying, yeah, well, but he has to trade here … High fives! He obviously runs a far better business about it than the real original vendors in Hungary. One can only smile along with this strange figure nearby P1120252 Here come a few more photos about theatre neighbourhoods. P1120253

P1120223P1120266The National Theatre (Národní Divadlo) near the Most LegiiP1120407 Now that we are back to the river, we should not miss the Smetana museum (on the right side here) P1120336P1120405 Next time we shall cross this beautiful bridge to the west of the river, to the castle district. Now I’m returning to the Old Square to say good bye. P1120326

by P.S.

Giethoorn and Kampen for a short holiday

An ideal area for a couple of days’ holiday, for us beginning on May 1st, in the northern corner of the province Overijssel.

Giethoorn is a lovely little village built almost on water as the whole neighbourhood lies low among lakes and networks of channels among them. The overall impression is somewhat damaged by the fact that somehow the place has become known as the Dutch Venice so most of the inhabitants turned to serve the tourism industry. This is what awaits the visitor just off the car park.P1120687To the right you can imagine the row of restaurants and stalls of the lots of guides offering to hire out legions of small boats and barges for larger groups of tourists. But one has to cut the crowds out of the pictures (if at all possible) to see what the village should actually look like as habitation.P1120690In fact there are so many tourists that it is quite impossible to avoid them any further. Miraculously, the place has become rather well-known among the Chinese so the density of Chinese people almost matches that in popular large Chinese restaurants anywhere around the Netherlands. Notices about hiring the boats and restaurant menus are in Dutch and Chinese, not in English though the odd Italian restaurant also appears as befits a mini-Venice. But quite unlike in Venice, almost all houses have thatch roofs.P1120703P1120702P1120697P1120696The Brazilian giant rhubarb is also prevalent in the village, I’d like to see it fully grown later – it must be a spectacle.P1120706P1120712P1120718P1120738Then, when hiring boats, some people really become dangerous – beware if you are with kids.P1120743P1120746The boats for hire are battery-operated slow boats and can be taken for one or two or three hours or even more, for which tourists get a description of the route possible for that length of time. It is by hiring for at least two hours that people can get out into the nearby lake and explore nature on a sunny day.P1120756P1120764P1120763P1120768P1120773P1120774At one point there is a look-out tower. The view from there is a nice eye-opener about the area.P1120776Those intent on avoiding the crowds can opt for the area called Dwarsgracht just across the road from Giethoorn. We chose a different area with kids though.

The nearby Kempen is a completely different cup of tea. On the way there the traveller gets in among some wonderful fields of tulips.P1120779The town lies at the mouth of the river IJssel, near where it flows into the IJsselmeer. Surprisingly, it is a former Hansa town with beautiful architecture, complete with a number of bigger sailing ships moored on the quay.P1120780P1120781P1120786P1120792(Broederport)P1120795P1120797P1120798P1120799P1120800P1120804P1120806P1120807P1120809P1120810P1120812P1120816P1120819P1120822P1120823P1120824P1120825P1120826P1120828(Memorial to the Schrokkers, fishermen who were re-housed to Kampen when the island Schokland in the Zuidersee was evacuated)P1120831(No bikes here!)P1120829(the smallest house – in the Netherlands? here in Kampen for sure)P1120833

by Z.J.S. and P.S.

Bratislava – Beauty and History on the Danube

Although, as a Hungarian, I had toured lots of places in Slovakia over the decades, way before the age of digital photograpy, I only visited Bratislava, or Pozsony to Hungarians, once about ten years ago. It was a very pleasant surprise, quite different from the stereotypical image of one of the largest housing estates  and one of the most beautiful bridges in Europe, shown below:

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For those who consider Budapest as one of the most beautiful Middle-European cities, I suggest visiting Bratislava instead. Not that one can’t find nice places in Budapest too, but the old town of Bratislava is, in my eyes, almost unique and can only be compared to Prague.

The city emerged as the capital of in Hungary (not of now, but of the historical one) when the Turks had invaded most of its historical territories, and when they were driven out of the country and Hungary came to be united with the Habsburgs instead, it became the seat of the Diet. Its vicinity to Vienna was important and remained so until the fall of Austro-Hungary at the end of WWI. All through those centuries, almost all important decisions and events in the kingdom of Hungary took place here.

After being the second largest city of Czechoslovakia afterwards, it naturally became the capital of the independent Slovakia in 1991. But in its streets, the feeling is one of old historical inheritance, not of modernity, thankfully. Its old buildings and memories seem to be well preserved, although it is a bustling modern city as well.

Where else to begin wandering through Bratislava than in the historic castle? Come and join me and experience parts of this beautiful city on the Danube.

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The view over the old town is beautiful from the Castle as well.

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Outside the castle, everything still reminds one of old times.

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Except for a few modern sculptures …

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As earlier from above, St. Martin’s Cathedral, the coronation place for eleven Hungarian kings and queens, can be seen from many places throughout the inner city, as well as other beautiful churches.

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Although the old streets are charming enough, sometimes it’s worth peeping into a garden or under the arcades.

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Although not as beautiful as the churches, still, the memory of the early recitals by the celebrated 19th century pianist, Liszt Ferenc, is also keenly preserved.

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In a side street, I found a fascinating Eastern carpet shop.

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The building of the old national assembly (and the square where it stands) is especially beautiful.

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Many of the details on buildings are fascinating as some of the above show, yet, there are other, often very funny details just dropped into the streets.

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Hope you have enjoyed these excerpts and that you can once find the time to visit this charming, historical city, which lies just a few dozens of kilometres away from Vienna, the flashy city of the Kaisers.

by P.S.

Castles in the Netherlands 15 -Kasteel Amerongen

P1110807Amerongen is situated in the heart of the Netherlands, on the border of the Province of Utrecht with Gelderland. It is easy to approach by car, but without a car, one has to take the train to Utrecht, or Veenendaal-De Klomp, and cycle from one of them. I chose De Klomp, so I cycled across Veenendaal, then kilometers of beautiful autumnal forests of Het Amerongse Bos, one of the oldest forests in Utrecht, which goes back to 1770. P1110800P1110796The Kasteel is actually no castle at all in the classical sense. Though it was build about 700 years ago, the French burned it to the ground in 1673 after the owners failed to pay the required fire tax. As a result of the rebuilding by the owners not much later, the present palace is a Dutch classicist ‘Huys’, as they often also call it.P1110856It lies on a large area of 10 ha, most of which is a beautiful park of huge trees, the rest has a charming garden (if one likes the French style) and waterways where people can rent canoes to discover it from surface level.P1110858P1110854P1110805P1110806P1110812As a building, it fails to impress but the most enthusiastic visitor. However, thanks to its history and well-preserved inside, it is worth the fee of €10, which is in fact the highest out of all castles I’ve visited so far.P1110815P1110816P1110855P1110817Not only were the owners high-class noblemen, but they made sure the interior is left as it was in 1977, when they gave over the estate to a foundation to open it to the public. It is thus quite likely that some of the furniture was used by the German Kaizer, Wilhelm II, when he abdicated the German throne, asked for asylum and lived here for 1.5 years from November 1918, before he moved over to nearby Huis Doorn. The interior is one of the most original a simple visitor to such places can ever find. Fortunately, one does not have to wait for guided tours either.P1110818P1110820P1110825P1110819P1110821P1110822P1110823P1110826P1110827P1110828P1110829P1110830P1110831P1110837P1110839P1110846P1110847The huge central hall upstairs is suitable for concerts by local amateur choruses, which was also taking place at the time of my visit.P1110849P1110850P1110841P1110853P1110852Opposite the ‘house’, the pub-restaurant is a nice place to enjoy time before or after seeing the building or the surroundings.P1110851From this point, the old church tower is also impressive just outside the complex.P1110857P1110803Kasteel Amerongen is definitely a place worth visiting for its mix of history, interior and nature surrounding it.P1110859

by P.S.

Castles in the Netherlands 14 – Kasteel Heeswijk, in Brabant

A very romantic little castle indeed, with a simultaneous presence of various styles added over the centuries. While the first parts originally stood there in the 11th century, there’s nothing to show for that, various styles from the Renaissance are detectable.I t spelt roles in Dutch history at various points. After several leaders of the Dutch republic and kingdom, the ‘Sun King’ resided there, and a French general also used it as his centre in Napoleonic times.

Although it lies near Den Bosch, in the small village of Heeswijk-Dinther, it is difficult to approach, and impossible by train. Due to roadworks in the neighbourhood, I even found it difficult to get there by bike, but the entrance fee of €7.5, guided tour included, is worth the time and effort. A real gem of a place. Hope you can enjoy it too.

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Of course, the guidance in the tour has its disadvantages, but, unlike in a previous castle, the guide didn’t force all the windows close immediately so taking photos was less of a problem here, only a drag as the guide was talking for ages about one historical – mostly of tertiary interest – figure in the paintings after another. At least I was allowed to wonder in the meantime.

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In one room, interesting armour was exhibited, even complete with Excalibur …

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The “Chinese room” was unfortunately behind glass

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Nowhere before have I seen Chinaware on the ceiling …

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It was time to leave after more than an hour and a half. A great place.

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by P.S.

The World Championship of Living Statues, Arnhem, 2015 – 2nd part

This is the larger part of this year’s competitors as adults are always more numerous than children. Some of these are professionals, but I didn’t bother to remember them as non-professionals were often just as high quality. Hope you’ll enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed the show as a spectator.

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Mary Poppins liked lending his umbrella to daring kids …

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This one may have been one of the kinds, but I’m not certain …

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Of course, such a Dutch event would be nothing without a Sinterklaas – some insist he’s not really Father Christmas, that’s why he comes before December – but so early?

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However scary this face may be in reality, I hope you’ve enjoyed the show.

by P.S. and Z.J.S.

The World Championship of Living Statues, Arnhem, 2015

This year’s edition of the festival was pushed even further later in the calendar, but it enjoyed nice weather and no delays by the Dutch Railways as I’d anticipated a few weeks ago.

The Statues by Night section was presented this year in Ede the previous night, so I missed that. In its place, I can start with the children’s section, which was very nice this time. I can’t resist but begin with a very naughty little fella. I wish you enjoy the rest as well.

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Performance at the World Living Statues event in Arnhem in 2015

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Hope you’ve enjoyed it so far. I’ll soon follow with the adult event.

by. P.S.