Tag Archives: castle

A Birthday in Miskolc

Jesse’s birthday was on May 5th, and our friend Eszter invited us home with her for the weekend.  It was great to spend time with her family and to see a new part of Hungary.  Living on the Great Plain, we forget that Hungary does  in fact have hills.  The  landscape reminded me of central and southern Ohio.

On Saturday, we took a narrow gauge (tourist) train from Miskolc to Lillafüred.  The open-air ride into the hills was chilly but a lot of fun.  In Lillafüred we took a tour of Saint István cave.  We caught some glimpses of bats flitting around the stalactites and stalagmites.

Lillafüred

Lillafüred

Lillafüred

We took the train back down the hill and headed to Diósgyőr Castle.  It was a favorite hunting castle of King Louis the Great of Hungary in the fourteenth century, and a favorite spot of the queens of Hungary for several centuries until the area came under Turkish rule.

Diósgyőr Castle

Diósgyőr Castle

In the afternoon, we went back to Eszter’s family’s flat for lunch and birthday cake.  Eszter’s mom is an excellent baker.  The cake reminded us of our wedding cake.  From the expression on Jesse’s face, you can tell that he was pretty excited to dig in.

In the evening, we strolled around Miskolc’s city center.  It was really charming.  I was fascinated by a gate with hundreds of lovers’ padlocks.  We wondered how many of the couples are still together.

On Sunday, we went to Miskolctapolca, a spa town with a cave bath.  We didn’t have time to take a dip in the cave bath, but we strolled around the lake and enjoyed the adorable ducklings.

On the way back to Debrecen, we stopped at Eszter’s family’s cottage, tucked away on a hill.

Jesse kept his eyes out for squirrels, but they were elusive.  This one looks like he was ready for a showdown, but he dashed into the grass as soon as Jesse snapped his picture.  Hungarian squirrels have hilarious pointy ears.

Such a splendid weekend involving a cave, a castle, and a birthday cake is hard to top!

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Roadtrip in Slovakia

When our group spontaneously decided that we wanted to rent a car and drive around Slovakia, the helpful woman at our hotel arranged for a red Škoda Roomster (a Czech car) to be delivered to our hotel.  We were slightly skeptical that anyone would actually show up with a car, but a man rolled up promptly at 8:00 AM and we were soon on our way.

The highways and roads in Slovakia are wonderfully smooth.  As we drove over a mountain, seemingly out of nowhere popped a view of a castle in the distance with the snow capped peaks of the High Tatras behind it.  As a passenger, I oohed and aahed while Jesse navigated some rather treacherous switchbacks.

The castle was Spiš castle, one of the largest in Europe.  As we got closer, we pulled onto a side road and parked in a farm field to take pictures.

After exploring the castle, we continued on to Levoča, an idyllic little town with historic Renaissance buildings. The beautiful facades rivaled any we saw in Florence.  We found a delicious pizza place for lunch, soaked up the sun, and made a cat friend.  Only Wendy was brave enough to go inside the St. James church to see the famous wooden altar.  A wicked arctic breeze was coming out of the church doors, and I found the sunshine more appealing!

The church is being renovated, and we were surprised to see this lying on the ground in the rubble:

I don’t think I have ever seen a human skull just lying on the ground before.  I’m assuming he or she was dug up during the renovation, but it seems very bizarre (and disrespectful) to leave it outside!

This orange kitty was enjoying the sunshine and was eager for attention.  Its close-set golden eyes made it look kind of goofy . . . which made me miss my own goofy cat who is in Michigan.

After two hours, our parking time expired (There was no meter, but rather a portly man in a yellow vest who kept an eye on the parking area).  We bade farewell to the cat and hit the highway once again to get some more mountain views.  Next post: Slovak Paradise National Park.

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Castles in Bratislava

Not satisfied with one faux-castle in Budapest and an archbishop’s palace in Bratislava, we continued to explore fortresses and regal estates throughout the rest of our trip.

Bratislava’s most famous landmark is simply known as Bratislava Castle.  It is, of course, on top of a hill.  Unfortunately, the castle that stands today was mostly re-constructed during the Soviet era.  The original structure was destroyed by the combination of a nineteenth century fire and WWII bombs.

On the street to the castle, we saw this beautiful, narrow building–“The House of the Good Shepherd.”  Outside of communist apartment complexes, it feels like amazing architecture is everywhere I turn in Europe.

Although the skies were gray, the golden leaves added some color and cheer to the day.

Jesse wasn’t too sick to pose in front of the castle.

Most of it was under renovation, but we could go in a small museum that housed artifacts excavated from the courtyard.

A snoozing guard woke up just in time to ask us for our tickets, which we did not know where to purchase.  Several other groups of people wandered in without tickets as well.  The guard patiently directed the tourists back outside.  You’d think if someone wants your money, they’d at least make it well-known where to pay!

Once inside I enjoyed looking at the ancient coins, glassware, and other objects that spanned nearly two-thousand years of history.

From the castle, we had a good view of the bizarre “New Bridge.”  It looks like a U.F.O. has landed on top.  The U.F.O. is in fact a restaurant and viewing deck.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to go up.

On Monday, nearly all the museums in the city were closed so we decided to take the twenty-minute bus ride to Devín Castle.  I am so glad we did.

Because of my experiences with public transportation over the past two months, I was able to locate the bus stop hiding under the New Bridge and decipher the schedule displayed on a small computer print-out on a cluttered bulletin board.   I didn’t know that I’d made progress until I was able to handle a situation like that with relative ease.

After a weekend of clouds, the sun was shining as we hopped on the bus, which passed through a little village and deposited us in a parking lot right beneath the castle.

We got off and stared in awe for a few minutes.  It was like something out of a fairy tale.

Jesse started snapping photos, but I was eager to see the castle up close.

The view of the surrounding hills burning with the flames of autumn was breathtaking.  Even without the castle, climbing the hill would have been worth it.

The site of Devín was inhabited for thousands of years and once served as a Roman outpost.  The castle that remains today is at least seven hundred years old.  It was blown up by none other than. . . NAPOLEON in 1811.  He was a very destructive man.  Of course, the Hapsburgs would probably have destroyed it if Napoleon hadn’t beaten them to it.

From the castle, we could see both the Morava and Danube rivers.  The deep blue water shimmering in the sunlight evoked the sounds of that familiar Strauss waltz that I listened to in elementary school music class and on Saturday morning cartoons.

During the Cold War, Soviet sharpshooters were positioned in the Castle because the Iron Curtain fell in the middle of the river.  The soldiers guarded the border with Austria–probably to keep people from fleeing rather than to keep Westerners out.

I envy this cheerful lizard for getting to dwell at such a neat location.

After a short hour, we had to catch the bus back in order to take a walking tour.  The castle is perhaps my favorite thing that I’ve seen so far in Europe.  As a person who is generally calm and introverted, bustling cities and museums crammed with tourists cannot really compete with a beautiful setting on a hilltop and a little smiling lizard.

In coming weeks, when I feel stressed and anxious, I think I will close my eyes and recall the serenity of standing in the tower of a castle and soaking up the fall sunshine.

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Autumn in Budapest

Jesse and I enjoyed an afternoon in Budapest last Saturday.  Our train from Debrecen deposited us at Keleti Station, and we had four hours until the next train left for Bratislava.  This was just enough time to have lunch and stroll through City Park.  (Being history fanatics, we also squeezed in a visit to a museum.)

The park was full of people relaxing and dogs chasing after sticks.  Leaves blanketed the ground in golden orange.  I find Jesse’s coppery hair to be most stunning at this time of year!  He fits right in with the autumnal color palette.

In the park, we found a statue of Anonymous.  The name of this famous twelfth-century chronicler is unknown, but he wrote the first surviving work on the ancient Hungarians. Touching his pen brings good luck.  He is quite a popular fellow.  Tourists (like myself) enjoy posing with him.

Anonymous sits in front of Vajdahunyad Castle, which is a faux-castle constructed at the end of the nineteenth century.

An amalgam of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, it also houses the Agricultural Museum.

The Gothic section is based on a real castle in Transylvania.


As the light faded, we scurried back to the train station and set off for another European capital city.

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