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.

 

Advertisements

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 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.

P1120294 P1120299

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.

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:

P1050590

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.

P1050582P1050585P1050586P1050610 P1050617P1050599P1050600

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

P1050602

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

P1050624

Except for a few modern sculptures …

P1050630P1050618 P1050621

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.

P1050631P1050636 P1050638P1050644P1050642

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

P1050639 P1050640P1050655P1050671P1050672P1050649P1050650P1050654

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.

P1050669P1050656P1050657P1050658

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

P1050659 P1050661P1050664P1050665P1050668P1050674

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

P1050683

P1050687P1050688P1050692P1050693P1050695P1050698

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.

P1050696P1050681P1050708P1050705P1050700P1050703

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.