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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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Good luck and enjoy.

By P.S.

Castles in the Netherlands 11 – Kasteel Ammersoyen, North of ‘s Hertogenbosch

Next up in this series comes a relatively small castle North of ‘s Hertogenbosch, still in the province of Gelderland. An easily approachable castle and one of the oldest in the country from the 13th century, it has a nice content inside to see for the €8.5 entrance fee. We can opt for a walkie-talkie for a guide, otherwise, you’re given a nice folder of text with photos describing the main points of information, but the explanations on the walls are also excellent for us to get to know the history and the people behind it. Outside the summer season, it opens at 13.00, so don’t need to hurry, and, as it’s not big, it can comfortably be seen within an hour.

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The walls are extremely thick, even with the stair inside them, one can imagine the difficulty of breaking through them. The toilet in the wall can still be used, they say.

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In this room having the tapestry on the wall, one is surprised by the voices at a time when almost nobody is around. You look around and see nobody speaking. Ghosts? You look around with awe. Then you move around and find where it comes from.

The next room on the tour describes most of the history, from the beginnings through the great fire of 1590 and the time of the nunnery until the abandonment and taking over and renovations by the Friends of Gelderland Province.

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by P.S.

Walk around Leiden

Leiden is one of the most famous cities in the Netherlands, partly due to its university, which is by far the oldest in the country (University of Leiden),

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partly due to its outstanding position in the country around the beginning of the development of modern Netherlands, partly as the birth city of the most notable Dutch painter, Rembrandt van Rijn

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The city, originally built at the meeting of the Old Rhein and the New Rhein near the see, is today not among the largest ones in the country, but, with its numerous canals and the original river branches, it inevitably reminds one of Amsterdam on a smaller scale and a very pleasant atmosphere:

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No wonder one can see, besides hordes of cyclers in the streets, a lot of rowing parties on the waters of the city.

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Hortus Botanicus, established in 1590, is the oldest botanical garden still in existence in the Netherlands.

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The largest church in town, Hooglandse Kerk, formely called Sint Pancraskerk, almost became a cathedral in the 16th century. The size would make it understandable.

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but we can’t really see the full size from anywhere. However, it is interesting inside due to two objects: an ancient clock worked through huge ropes working on enormous cogwheels by weights on the wall

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and the “English Organ”, one built in England but taken to pieces and still being built in this church

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Back to the “streets” …

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As in Amsterdam, restaurants and cafes are sometimes crammed full of people even during the day

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just as “rondvarten” are popular

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Interestingly enough, the neighbourhood of the railways station is highly reminiscent of the same area in the HagueP1110174

Apart from this, however I look at it, it is an interesting and beautiful city with an old atmosphere worth visiting just outside of Amsterdam.

by P.S.

 

 

 

Maastricht, the Netherlands

Maastricht, the Dutch city famous for the treaty of the EU signed here decades ago, is in a very far, Southern corner of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburgh, of which it is the capital, but at a distance of many hours of drive or train journey from almost everywhere, wedged between Belgium and Germany. As distance is translated into travel costs, I never really hoped to get there, but an action by HEMA, a chain store in the country, helped me out with a cheap offer (a quarter of the usual price) of day tickets I could tap into.

A few words of warning for tourists in order here. People other than residents of the Netherlands can only dream of receiving such deals except if the tourist has local friends. For a start, if you have internet access, you have to have a Dutch bank account to pay for the ticket as well. That’s a tall order, but foreign banks are not accepted. Then you need a printer to print the ticket after you’ve run the full gauntlet of the complicated procedure successfully. Further, be warned that the country is on the cusp of getting rid of paper tickets so you need to buy daily chip-cards to put money on before you get on a train. For the sake of the relatively large numbers of Dutch people visiting other countries, I wish other countries also introduce such systems almost fully shutting off travel possibilities so that they get an experience of their own medicine. With a venom. Talk about free travel in the EU.

Well, no problem for me, so I went to see this beautiful, intercultural city a few weeks ago, and to full satisfaction. One can hear as much French and almost as much German in the streets as Dutch, quite unlike anywhere else in the country, and it is a beautiful city on top of local hospitality. Its history goes back to the early middle-ages, which is reflected in a large part of the inner city and the ring around it, though there is not much as a surprise for continental Europeans.

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The inner city is dominated by a number of great churches, of which St. Servaasbasiliek is the oldest and most respected one with a wonderful collection of religious relics inside, some of which dating back to the 5th century as the city and this church was involved in the old Franc empire of the Karolings, Karel Martel, Karel de Grote, Barbarossa and others right after the fall of Rome.

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