Tag Archives: castle

Once in the highlands, the highlands of Scotland

From Bath (yes, that was ages ago; this post is late), I headed to Scotland. I didn’t actually start in the highlands, preferring to conquer Edinburgh first. But I spent a lot of time there, and Brigadoon songs make for excellent post titles. This was a change from my usual traveling modus operandi in that no opera or theatre was involved! This trip was all about castles and heroic battles and hairy coos. Mostly hairy coos.

But let’s start with a castle, since there’s conveniently one right in the middle of Edinburgh. It’s quite the authentic medieval castle, but apparently the Victorians thought it didn’t look medieval enough, so they put forward lots of proposals to re-design it. Some of the drawings are displayed in one of the exhibits. (I kind of love the Victorian obsession with making things more medieval. It led to the magnificently ridiculous Scottish Baronial architecture you can see all around the country.) There are a lot of buildings in the castle complex, which house (among other things) a war museum, a war memorial, a Victorian-ideal-of-medieval banquet hall, a prison, and the Scottish crown jewels. Did you know that Sir Walter Scott was the one to re-discover the crown jewels, which had been locked away in a chest for centuries? It’s hardly fair that he got to do that on top of (well, because of) being a famous author! But I think his novels are actually pretty dull, so there!

Actually, I’m not a huge fan of most Scottish literature. So of course I took not one but two literary tours of Edinburgh. The first was a pub crawl led by two actors, and it focused on Burns, Scott, and Stevenson. It struck a fun balance between the informative and the comedic, with a lot of emphasis on these great authors’ fondness for women, beer, and whiskey. There was a pop quiz at the end, and I obnoxiously answered all the questions. But I suppose my literature degree and complete sobriety (I was still recovering from Cambridge) probably helped. The next day, I visited the Writers’ Museum, which was dedicated to the same three authors. There wasn’t much new to learn, but there was lots of their paraphernalia and furniture there, which was fun to see. There was also a book lovers’ tour, which I of course signed up for. We wandered all over the city, hearing tales of Iain Banks, Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.K. Rowling. I especially loved the stories about Joseph Bell, an Edinburgh surgeon who taught Doyle and whose incredible inductive reasoning ability inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. We also heard about William McGonagall, the world’s best bad poet (and the namesake for a certain Hogwarts professor). His poems are so bad, they’re almost good! He supposedly brought an umbrella to his readings to protect himself from the crowd’s projectiles. Yet he continued writing. Somewhat disappointingly, neither the tours nor the museum included anything about Ossian/Macpherson. I suppose it’s hard to be proud of a poet whose largest contribution was premised on a lie. Still, I would have enjoyed the Werther connection. Continue reading Once in the highlands, the highlands of Scotland

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Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen!

(First things first: If you don’t know what the title is referring to, go watch the excellent Danny Kaye movie musical Hans Christian Andersen. This post will still be here when you finish.)

I’m in love. I’ve never felt as strong an urge to stay and live in a city as I did in Copenhagen. I can’t quite explain why. The beautiful green spaces? The good infrastructure? The fish-based cuisine? The lingering traces of Kierkegaard’s presence? I know it gets awfully cold in the winter, and I probably wouldn’t like that, but on this trip it seemed like the perfect city.

Authors, philosophers, and other famous people

Have I mentioned on this blog how much I love Kierkegaard? I know it’s one of those totally unoriginal teenage obsessions, but I can’t help it! So of course tracking down Kierkegaard-related sites was a priority during my time in Copenhagen. I didn’t go quite as far as this author, but I made sure to see his grave, his statue, and the exhibit about him in the Museum of Copenhagen. The latter was small but really cool—it organized paraphernalia from his life into different categories of love. These were paired with relevant quotes from his works (of course, Works of Love and his notes played a large part) and with objects and stories submitted by current Copenhageners. The Regine Olsen episode of Kierkegaard’s life is fascinating, so I loved how much emphasis it got. The city’s other famous author, Hans Christian Andersen, is in the same cemetery. One of his stories is also commemorated in the city’s most famous attraction (supposedly the most disappointing attraction in Europe), the harbor statue of the Little Mermaid.

Continue reading Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen!

Budapest, city of everything

After five days in Budapest, I find it hard to decide what I most associate with it. It’s different from almost any other major city I’ve visited. Part of the problem is that the city is big—Buda and Pest are each rather sprawling, so put them together, and you have a lot of city. But it’s a lot of awesome city. The architecture is varied, though in bad repair. The Jewish community is vibrant. The food is delicious and cheap. The nightlife revolves around super-hipster bars in crumbling old buildings. The flea markets are a dream come true. So I guess I’ll just give up any hope of putting this in a logical order, and instead try to talk about everything.

We stayed on the Pest side of the river, in the Jewish District. This is the happening part of town, which locals like to dub Budapest's "Soho"
We stayed on the Pest side of the river, in the Jewish District. This is the happening part of town, which locals like to dub Budapest’s “Soho”

Beautiful buildings and views

Budapest is gorgeous, and the two halves are gorgeous in different ways. Buda is full of hills, with the white Matthias Church (with a very colorful roof) and the surrounding Fisherman’s Bastion sitting atop one of them. Pest is flat, but it has St. Stephen’s Basilica, the extraordinarily intricate Parliament building, and City Park (with a castle). Of course, both sides have lovely views of the Danube, and the famous chain bridge connects them.

Even the less photo-worthy areas are fascinating. Pest features a wide range of architectural styles, with neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance banks and churches mixed in with Art Nouveau villas. (There are all the ugly Soviet-era buildings, too, but you can try to ignore them.) Many are in desperate need of repair, but I suppose that’s the natural consequence of your government being broke. Continue reading Budapest, city of everything

Bratislava

I spent the last week travelling with my fellow Fulbrighter, Vicky. We devoted most of our vacation to Budapest (a blog post is on the way!), but we stopped over in Bratislava for a few days. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, feels very small. Our tour guide told us that during the Soviet era, they essentially chose between Prague and Bratislava: one would be thoroughly modernised, while the other would be historically preserved. Bratislava got the short end of the stick (at least in terms of post-Soviet tourist revenue), so most of the old town was destroyed. Everything important in the city proper—the castle, the major museums, the prettiest buildings—can easily be seen in a day.

To start, the castle. We made the mistake of going inside. Don’t do it! There’s very little of interest there. But the outside is pretty, thanks to a recent rennovation project. And the views from the hill are fabulous. Also, there’s a playground!

Continue reading Bratislava

A day in Nuremburg

Fellow Fulbrighter Eric and I keep talking about seeing more of Germany, so we started close to home on Saturday with a day trip to Nuremburg. We encountered much bad luck: we got on the wrong train and had to pay extra (our ticket was ony valid for certain trains to Nuremburg), we arrived at the War Trials Memorial seven minutes too late (not seven minutes before it closed, but seven minutes before the last allowed entry) and the guard was stubborn, and the frozen yogurt shop we told ourselves we’d visit on the way back to the station was closed by the time we got there. But we still had fun. Nuremburg has the quaint, medieval German town feel that Munich lacks. It’s picturesque, with old buildings and churches and a castle atop a hill. The Dürer house is there—it’s horriby kitschy, but worth the (admittedly low) price of admission. On Saturdays, there’s also a Saturday market, where we grabbed many free samples of pestos, truffle pastes, cheeses, and even cheesecake!

Next up (within Germany): Stuttgart, And of course I still need to plan a pilgrammage to Wahlheim Wetzlar.

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces

I’ve had a few visitors in the past couple weeks, which gave me an excuse to be tourist-y in Bavaria. This, of course, meant visiting castles—both the one very close to my house (Schloss Nymphenburg) and the more famous one a train ride away (Neuschwanstein). This also meant that I have photo evidence of these trips! (I may be terrible at taking pictures, but my visitors weren’t.)

Let’s start with Schloss Nymphenburg. It was originally built as the Bavarian royal family’s country hunting lodge. Of course, it’s now in the city, but that’s what happens when cities expand.

Continue reading The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces

Getting orientated in Marburg

Orientation for Fulbright students was in Marburg this year. I admit, to my shame, that even when I was there, I didn’t quite know where Marburg was—only that it took five hours to get there by train from Munich. Thanks to Google Maps, you can be better informed.

The red marker is on Munich, and the black line leads north-west to Marburg.
The red marker is on Munich, and the black line leads north-west to Marburg.

It seemed a bit silly to travel so far for what was essentially a one-day orientation, but since the Fulbright Commission paid the travel, hotel, and food costs, I suppose I can’t complain.

Continue reading Getting orientated in Marburg