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.

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


The view is even more beautiful in springtime


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


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


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


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


Then, passing the Strahovsky monastery by, P1120452

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



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


And then we are almost at the Cathedral …


almost …


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



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.


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.

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.

Castles in the Netherlands 13 – Slot Zuylen

This relatively small and nicely rebuilt palace is easy to reach near Utrecht and has a number of nice features to it.

P1110421P1110423Yes, that dark line is a snaking wall, with a lot of fruit trees on its inner side facing South, soon to be reached …


On the positive side, the garden and park, which are also quite small, are very beautiful especially with the wide variety of flowers blossoming there even in mid-September.

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And here we are at the snake-wall.

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In the middle of the 18th century, this was the living place of the later Isabelle de Charrière, better known as Belle de Zuylen, until she became 31 and married the Swiss teacher of her brother. A person of very wide and deep interests and secret studies, she was a forerunner of emancipated women of much later and an author of many learned works written in French. She is one of the main attractions of the palace, which was somewhat rebuilt after her departure.

However, a visit inside is a bit cumbersome as it is only possible as part of a guided tour every hour. My guide was always in a hurry to close the boards inside the windows after her explanations, making taking good photos very difficult with so many in the group, but another guide may not be so hasty.

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Otherwise, period furniture and clothing mean mainly the 18th or 19th century here. Paintings on the walls are huge in size and numbers, but are only of members of earlier families owning the place except for an older triptych and a really huge tapestry in this room.

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This is where the budding ‘writeress’ wrote her letters to her forbidden and much older love, James Boswell, who, by the way, has the language institute of Utrecht University named after him (this is no ad for them, I hardly liked their Dutch language course when I attended).

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By the way, guiding is possible in English as I heard another one, but I guess that was a small, special group. My guide was quite lengthy and uninteresting for me in Dutch, which was a bit of a let-down for the entrance fee of €8.5. Still, some nice pieces and the garden outside make it a nice place to visit, if not necessarily inside.


by P.S.


Castles in the Netherlands 12 – Batenburg and Hernen

Getting to Batenburg is a bit difficult from the direction of ‘s Hertogenbosch as you’d have to drive back towards Nijmegen across bridges and then back. If you come by bike, this is a very beautiful view of the village from across the Mouse.


The white structure hardly seen a bit closer from the church tower is the ferry that takes you across the water – if you’re on foot or by bicycle …

From all directions, there are only small country roads you wouldn’t expect in this country of motorways/freeways. On top of this, unless you’ve seen this picture somewhere, you’d be in for a surprise.


Yes, the castle must have been impressive a few hundred years ago, but not much more is left than the walls seen below. Here I can let you have a look at a few views in rainy weather.


The upside is, you don’t have to pay a penny to see everything worth seeing.

Quite unlike in Hernen.

Hernen looks like a castle worth seeing. One of the oldest in the Netherlands, you’d really like to see what it was like so long ago.

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Unfortunately, the most interesting thing to see was a birthday party behind those open ground-floor doors, and of course, if you haven’t been invited, you’re not to see it, as I was made aware by a huge man by an inside door. I already became aware earlier that although the Dutch are very-very friendly almost everywhere, they are utterly territorial and what is theirs, or what they’ve paid for, is completely out-of-reach by others. So I was told that !this was a private affair, so …! I asked back, “So what?”, which lead to a rather hazy look and the person mumbled, so to make sure you don’t come in … I was half his size, no threat at all, yet he wanted to see me out of the building. Even then, I said yes, fine, but I’m not leaving the way you want me to. I’d paid for seeing the whole building after all, not a little.

The price for the whole building is €7.50. Considering that it is almost completely empty, I was left wondering what the curious visitor is paying for. Even the old walls are thin, make you understand why the castle of Batenburg is in ruins: thin walls of brick need only to be pushed a bit more strongly than by hand and they topple. See for yourself.

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They say the wooden structure of the towers is still original …


but is this enough reason to fork out that entrance fee?

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Even with the nice view, comparing to other castles, my answer is a resounding NO. A light walk around the buildings is all it is worth. You can decide for yourself though.


Good luck and enjoy.

By P.S.