February 23, 2018

Historic Castles in the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has been a country only since 1993 when the ancient lands of Moravia, Bohemia and Silesia were combined as one. Since then millions have traveled to this area learning about the country so long kept hidden.

With a history dating back over 1,000 years, the Czech Republic boasts many UNESCO World Heritage sites, a large number of architectural and historical attractions, natural parks, medieval towns and beautiful villages.  This varied landscape has been home to Kings, European rulers, artists, and scholars.

These influential people have left their mark on the Czech Republic’s history in many ways.  Visitors can, in part, relive this history through the castles they left behind.  Today we will explore 5 castles dotting the Czech countryside.

Kost Castle Czech Republic

Kost Castle

Kost Castle

Gothic Kost is located in the “Bohemian Paradise” region which is known for its astonishing landscape and historical monuments.  Kost castle is one of the best preserved castles in the Czech Republic.  This castle is different because is it was built down in a meadow and not on top of a hill but doesn’t mean it lacked the ability to defend itself.  Part of its “charm” is its very own medieval torture chamber complete with guillotine, rack, stocks wheels and thumbscrews.

Karlstejn Castle Czech Republic

Karlstejn Castle

Karlestejn Castle

Founded in 1348 by the Czech King and Roman Emperor, Charles IV, this is one of the best symbols of the Czech Kingdom remaining.  Karlstejn castle was the home of the crown jewels and many relics important to the state. The castle defenses were challenged many times and many times they held.  Karlstejn has also been remodeled to add in both Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Krivoklat Castle Czech Republic

Krivoklat Castle

Krivoklat Castle

Another Gothic castle with an exciting history.  Originally built in the 13th century as a hunting castle, Krivoklat was a prison during the 16th century, burned down in the 16th century and was restored during the 19th.  During your visit, you will see a library containing many historical manuscripts, a display of hunting weapons, Gothic paintings and an exhibit of torture devices.

Cesky Sternberk Castle Czech Republic

Cesky Sternberk Castle

Cesky Sternberk

This Gothic beauty was built in 1241 and has been part of the noble family Sternberk for years.  Medieval Cesky Sternberk sits high on a cliff over looking the Sazava River.  The fortifications and towers reflect the medieval beginnings but the interior has been remodeled to the early Baroque style.  This castle offers a very interesting exploration of castle living.

Spilberk Castle Czech Republic

Spilberk Castle

Spilberk

This 13th century royal castle was modified to a Baroque fortress during the 17th and 18th centuries.  A very interesting aspect of Spilberk’s history is that during the Hapsburg rule, it was the most feared prison in the monarchy.  Today the “jail of nations” is home to the Brno museum offering exhibits of the history of the castle and city.  Visitors can also tour prison cells.

 

 

Have you been to any of these castles?

Which one would you like to visit?

Europe’s River – The Danube

Dunav.  Donau.  Duna.  Dunarea.  Dunaj.  Dunai.  Danube.

Ah the Danube.  From its beginning deep in the Black Forest of Germany to its outlet at the Black Sea, the Danube has inspired people without end.   Along with the other great rivers of the world, the Danube links together many countries and, in fact, ties together the European continent.

Traversing through 10 countries, the Danube provides millions of people with food, drinking water, power, and fun.

Bratislava. by stefanweihs, on Flickr

Bratislava by stefanweihs, on Flickr

The Danube flows over 1,770 miles and runs through 4 European capital cities – Bratislava, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade – more than any other river in the world.

belgrade by scropy, on Flickr

Belgrade by scropy, on Flickr

Traveling the Danube will take you through hills, wild canyons, forests, National parks, farmland, historic cities and more.

There are many ways to enjoy the Danube.  One of which is viewing it from a great vantage point with a  glass of wine but other options include:

  • Take a scenic cruise on the Danube from Melk to Krems or vice-versa.  During your cruise you will float by beautiful Baroque abbeys, medieval castles, the Wachau Valley a UNESCO World Heritage Site, vineyards climbing the hills along the river, and 1,000 year old villages.  I will be enjoying this cruise this summer during my visit to Austria.

    Wachau Valley Austria

    Wachau Valley Austria by jay8085, on Flickr

  • The National park, Derdap, is located in eastern Serbia on the border of Romania.  In this park you will find natural beauty and archeological sites dating back 8,000 years.  In the park is the Djerdap Gorge or better known as the Iron Gate.  A narrowing river and rising cliffs make for impressive views.

    Danube Iron Gorge Serbia

    Danube Iron Gate from wikipedia

  • Visit Great War Island in Belgrade.  Belgrade is home to the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers and this is where you will find Great War Island.  Of strategic importance to Belgrade, at least since 1521 when the Turks attacked, today you will find over 196 species of birds along with local flora and fauna.  Great War Island is a great place to find a piece of nature that has awesome views of the city too!
  • A wildlife lover’s paradise can be found in the Danube Delta.  Another UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, the delta is 2,200 square miles of rivers, canals, marshes, islands and lakes.  Days can be spent just bird watching.  Cormorants and white tailed eagles are included in the over 300 bird species inhabiting this area.  Other animals can be found too including fox, wolves, deer and fish.

    Danube Delta by katesheets, on Flickr

    Danube Delta by katesheets, on Flickr

  • There are 250 miles of bike paths from Passau (Germany) to Vienna (Austria).  The Danube Bike Way runs parallel to the river on both sides.  There are many bridges or ferries along the way so you can cross from side to side.  In medieval times this trail was used by horses that would pull barges or ships traveling on the river.  You can stop along the way for a night or two enjoying some of the many small villages.

Although the Danube is no longer blue, it was forever immortalized in Johann Strauss’ waltz “An der Schonen, blauen Donau”  (On the Beautiful Danube).  If you listen carefully, I bet you can hear it now!

 

Have you spent time on the Danube?

Tell me about your experience. . .

Montmartre a retreat in Paris

Paris is one of my favorite cities.  When visiting France, I always make an effort to spend at least a day in Paris discovering a new neighborhood or reliving a past find!

One of my personal favorite neighborhoods in Paris is Montmartre.

Montmartre Street Paris France

To me this is what Paris of old must have been like!  I love the winding cobblestoned streets, the central square, the views of the city below and Sacre Coeur.  Even though it is usually busy, it feels so remote.

Montemartre Paris France

Montmartre was a haven for painters like Monet, Modigliani, Picasso, and Van Gogh.  Today, it is still a haven for painters.  Maybe a famous painter of tomorrow is painting there right now.

 

For more great pictures, make sure to look into Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Every Thursday they post new photos from their travels and invite others to join in!

Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

 

Italy’s South Tirol: Wine and the Dolomites

Easter weekend my husband and I visited with our daughter in San Luis Obispo, CA.  As part of our weekend, we spent most of Saturday in beautiful Avila beach.  This beachside community is home to Alapay Cellars where we enjoyed tasting some of their great wines.

One of their red wines, Lagrein, caught my eye because I had never heard of these grapes and it tasted great.  Our host told us the grapes are from Italy so I did a little sleuthing and discovered they are grown in the Alto Adigo region or otherwise known as South Tirol.

More sleuthing and I discovered this region is home to the Dolomites, a mountain range I have long wanted to visit.  So where is South Tirol and why should you visit?

Majestic Dolomites South Tirol Italy

Majestic Dolomites from Suditirol Marketing/Frieder Blickle

Alto Adigo or South Tirol is located in the northeast corner of Italy right up against Austria and Switzerland.  This area is known for its dramatic scenery, medieval cities, apples, wines, olive orchards, castles, the Dolomites, extreme sports and many winter activities and resorts.  The area is Germanic speaking and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WWI.

There are many great reasons to visit but here are 4 that looked interesting to me!

Food and Wine: Finding good food in this area should not be an issue since there are 15 restaurants in this one tiny region that have at least one Michelin star.  You will find a nice variety of food that includes traditional Alpine cuisine along with foods more thought of as Italian, pizza and pasta!  Of course, you will also find local apples, olives and chestnuts.  As part of your visit, you might wish to take a drive on the South Tyrolean Wine Road.  This road winds its way through picturesque villages full of narrow streets and grand houses.  Along the way you can discover romantic medieval castles and maybe even take a dip in the warmest lake in the Alpine area, Lago di Caldaro.  All while enjoying great wine!

Vineyards South Tirol Italy

Vineyards from Suditirol Marketing/Helmuth Rier

Castles: If you enjoy castles, then you are in the right place!  The South Tirol region is home to more than 400 castles and manor houses.  You will see these castles high above the valley floor and nestled in amongst the vineyards.  Among the castles is Schloss Tirol Castle.  This castle is a fine representation of both Romanesque and Medieval architecture.

Beautiful Dolomites South Tirol Italy

Beautiful Dolomites from Suditirol Marketing/Frieder Blickle

Dolomites: The Dolomites have been on my list since the first time I ever saw a picture of them probably 10 years ago.  I am a mountain girl and these staggeringly beautiful mountains still call me today.  What I didn’t know was they were part of a coral reef from eons ago. The Dolomites are part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage and are among the most impressive mountains you will ever see.  You might not know about all the WWI history that is in this area.  The Via Ferrata are trails left over from the war and allow everyone access to history and the beautiful views.  For more WWI history visit the Museum in the Tre Sassi fortress.

Medieval Villages: From the smallest village in the area, Glorenza, to the largest, Bolzano, the region is full of charming medieval villages.  The villages still contain burgher houses, arcades, narrow streets and central squares that are all steeped in history!  Glorenza’s 900 residents are surrounded by the intact wall dating back 400 years.  Bolzano, the regions capital, is home to a gothic cathedral, medieval town square, Schloss Runkelstein and an archeological museum which houses Otzi, the 5,300 year old man found in the area.

Dolomites South Tirol Italy

Views of Dolomites from Suditirol Marketing/Frieder Blickle

Yes there are many reasons to visit South Tirol but it is the Dolomites that are calling me.  In case you aren’t convinced yet, here is a video to watch that will make you pack your bags!

 

Have you been to South Tirol?

What would lure you to visit?

6 Free Things to do in Budapest

For a city that has over 2,000 years of history, Budapest looks great!  Despite the years of invasion, oppression and even independence, Budapest has been able to maintain its title as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

The history of this city will make your head spin and shows how Budapest was a revolving door for invaders.  First settled by the Celts then the Romans who were followed by a pillaging at the hands of the Ottomans.  Next were the Turks, who left some great baths, and then the Hapsburg Empire.  It was during the Hapsburg rule that Buda and Pest were merged.  A free country after WWI, Budapest was declared a communist country at the end of WWII.  Later the Soviet Union came in to squash a rebellion and a people until the communist era ended in 1989-1990.

You can see the visual images of all this history on the buildings making up this city’s stunning sights.

Budapest is bisected by the Danube which is crossed by 9 bridges.  The buildings include all styles of architecture – Classic, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau – sometimes even in the same building!

Budapest Hungary

Budapest by ** Maurice **, on Flickr

Music has been a part of Budapest’s history for centuries.  Music lovers, or not, will find a plethora of musically related events and sites to behold.

Budapest’s many World Heritage Sites will entice any traveler and keep you busy for days.

I will be spending a few days in Budapest later this summer and have been looking at ways to stretch the budget.  Below are a few of the free or nearly free things I have come up with.

-From the west side of the Danube take in the panorama that is Castle Hill.  This is a must-see district for any Budapest visitor as the castle walls and cobbled streets will be a vision in your mind for a long time!

Castle Hill Budapest Hungary

Castle Hill by Bruce Tuten, on Flickr

– From here you could visit the Romanesque Matthias Church.  This church reflects the history Budapest has endured and was even once transformed into a mosque during the Turkish occupation. Here you will find architecture, history and art all for about $4.

-While in the Castle district, don’t miss Holy Trinity Square.  In the center you will find the ornate Holy Trinity Column which dates back to 1713. The square was the main marketplace of Buda during medieval times and the column is a memorial to all the people who died during the plague of 1691.  Also in the square is a replica statue of Pallas Athene, protector of cities.

Fisherman's Bastion Budapest Hungary

Fisherman's Bastion by mdid, on Flickr

Fisherman’s Bastion is located at the site of the medieval fish market and is one of the most beautiful sights in Budapest.  Not only is the structure magnificent but so are the views of the Danube and the Pest side of the city.  The stunning architecture is both neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque.

Heroes’ Square is devoted to “the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence,” and is one of Budapest’s most emotional monuments. Don’t forget to take a picture of the Millennium Monument and the tall column with the archangel Gabriel on top holding the Hungarian crown in one hand.

Heroes Square Budapest Hungary

Heroes Square by mdid, on Flickr

Nagycsarnok or Great Market Hall is an architectural gem.  Its Baroque roof is just a part of this 20th century structure.  There are over 200 market stalls where you will find souvenirs as well as paprika, salami and wine.  The bottom floor is where you will see lively shopping complete with bartering.   A real  taste of Budapest in this more traditional  part of the market.

 

I know Budapest is full of amazing sights to see.

What did I leave off the list – free or not?