Posts Tagged ‘Castle’

An Hellenic Adventure

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

We went first West to the coast to catch a good road, then South toward the border with Greece. Roads were not horrible, but not great. Our suspension got a few more dings in it but nothing shocking. The border crossing went off without a hitch and we were pleased to be back in Euroland.

Northern Greece was partly wooded, hilly, not fully agricultural but with some fields. Small towns separated by longish distances. We hit the town of Ioninnia and continued south to Patra where a large bridge now crosses the strait to the mountainous Peloponnese penninsula. We camped that night just outside of Olympia.

The next morning we spent several hours wandering the ruins of the temple complex of ancient Olympia where the old games had been held in celebration of the festivals for many Greek gods. We also saw the point where the Olympic flame for the modern Olympics is lit and the trip to the site of the Olympics begins.

We traveled back along the norther coast of the Peloponnese peninsula arriving later in the day at the Acrocorinth, the high mesa overlooking both the ancient and modern city of Corinth. It was spectacular. We saw it from miles away, rising hundreds of feet high separate from the surrounding mountains. On the top and down the sides, walls and ruins outlined the forts, castles, citadels, temples, and other buildings of the ancient Acrocorinth could still be seen. We explored for hours, hiking to the different high points, climbing the ruins and walls, and exploring the underground cisterns. We were also pleased by the entry cost: free.

We left in high spirits and aimed our citröening black Passat for Athens, stopping at the famous canal to see a spectacular bridge that lowers itself deep into the water instead of rising up or splitting to allow wider and taller ships through. It was cool.

We knew we were in Athens when we saw the Acropolis rising from the center of the city and we headed for it. After finding a Lidl and replenishing our stocks, we found a camping spot and spent the night just outside the city.

Little Liechtenstein and the Umlaut Invasion or How We Got from München to Zürich

Monday, June 15th, 2009

We took the highway south out of München (Munich) back to Austria (purchasing a valid highway pass for €7.70 as we entered instead of paying €120 at 0530 the next morning. It was Tuesday (9/6) and we were bound for Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a small “independent principality” stuck between Switzerland and Austria. It has a population of under 50,000 and the capital, Vaduz, has less than 8,000 people in it. So, we thought, why hasn’t it ever been invaded by either Switzerland or Austria? It would be a nice, tasty morsel for even a small country. As we got closer, however, we realized why. The entire country is inside an Alpine valley, which would be pretty difficult to invade. Also, there wasn’t a whole lot there to covet. Plus, it has been independent since 1866, so why ruin its record?

We got some gas in Austria (which has pretty good prices on gas compared to other countries; around €1/liter instead of €1.10/liter) and reset our trip odometer. The border crossing went through without difficulty, although they did check our passports, and we were in the nation. A few miles later we were in Vaduz, parked in the middle of town by a cow pasture and headed for the main tourist drag. The main pedestrian area had an information center/stamp store/free candy spot, a museum, three or four restaurants, several neat fountains, a museum of philately (Liechtenstein is famous for its stamps, although we asked about two people at the info center and one at the museum and none of them knew why), and a path to the castle.

At one of the restaurants we spotted a small boy of about 12 enjoying a beer and were, in our American-ness, taken aback by the sight. We recovered and started up the path to the castle.

Just a short way up the path we stopped for some relief and, looking up, noticed delicious looking cherries hanging from the branches above our heads. We stayed at the cherry tree for almost half an hour picking and eating and spitting. There were no houses nearby and no indication that we were stealing someone’s cherries and the locals didn’t scold us this time, so we ate. I don’t know how much we all ate but I do know that we stripped three large branches of all the available cherries and, working together to pull the branches within reach, looked a lot like a quartet of apes.

After we had eaten our fill, we moved on, reading a number of plaques that lined the path to the castle. They contained information on Liechtenstein. The principality is ruled, obviously, by a prince, although he has abdicated many of his duties to his son, the crown prince who is an absolute ruler but with the input of a Diet of representatives. The crown prince’s modestly-sized castle (only 130 rooms) overlooks Vaduz and, in fact, almost the entire nation. We eventually reached the castle but weren’t allowed inside since the crown prince and his family live there.

Our descent was uneventful and, arriving at the car, we made ourselves some sandwiches for lunch and headed out of Vaduz and, just 5.9 miles after we had entered the nation we were in Switzerland.

We travelled northwest along Lake Constance (or Bodensee) to the city of Constance where the Council of Constance took place which abolished many of the popes ending the Great Schism and was a major point in the Roman Catholic conciliar movement. It was also when Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic. They also recondemned Wyclif, just in case it hadn’t taken the first time. Beyond all that, it is also a pretty little town at the tip of a lake on the German side of the border by the Rhine river. We saw the main square, the Rathouse, and the building where there Council of Constance took place. Then, we were on our way south to Zurich.

We arrived rather late in the evening and walked the city along the Limmat River (where several anabaptists where drowned) and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). We saw the Fraumünster with the headless saints of Zürich, Felix and Regula, and the Grossmünster–the mother church in the Swiss Reformation–but were unable to see either the über-statue of Charlamagne and his 12-foot sword or the Zwingli Bible inside because the church was closed. I had seen them the last time I was in Zürich, büt I was a bit disappointed for the other guys.

After a short trip to a lookout above the city where we just looked out (”the lights of the buildings and cars looked like reflections of the stars,” we thought), we were on our way and camped an hour or so outside of town.

Daniel R. Ziegler

We’ve Got Hurt Feelings

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Our second run-in with the law was much less pleasant than the first. We left Praha/Prague late Sunday afternoon, the seventh, and drove until 9 or so when we stopped and prepared a birthday feast. Daniel Shenk, 23 years and roughly 10 thousand miles away in Canada, began his preparations for this epic journey and we decided to celebrate. We found a truck stop and began a meal worthy of our birthday boy. Fusilli pasta covered with tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes, onions, and meat. We also enjoyed toast and popcorn and washed it all down with a “cappuccino.” We concluded the birthday festivities by lighting a birthday “candle,” a little excess camping gas. I took the wheel and drove on into the night, crossing into Austria around one. Only David and I were awake at the border where we drove through the dark customs and immigration checkpoint without a second thought. Just another border. I found a rest stop half an hour later and we fell asleep with the promise of showers (our first in a week) in the stop’s facilities the next morning.

Still partially asleep, I stumbles out of the driver’s door at 5:30 Monday morning. I had fallen asleep behind the wheel without reclining the seat and slept fitfully so it merely felt like a dream. I had to adjust my pants on the way out of the seat and I mumbled something incoherent about losing them. I thought the guys were messing around. It took a second before I realized I was standing before two Austrian police officers. I got back in the car. Shenk had also woken and believing he was still dreaming about rendezvousing with some friends, jumped out of the car as well. “Suddenly I realized I wasn’t dreaming and I had to pretend I was doing something intelligent,” he said later. After returning the officer’s curt “Morning,” he put on his jacket and made a show of stretching. I was in the driver’s seat, only awake enough to understand that we hadn’t bought a €1.25 ticket to travel the highway in Austria. I fumbled in the center console for some change. “It’s one-twenty,” intoned one officer, “you can pay by cash or card.” He had to repeat himself twice until I realized he referred to a fine and it was one-hundred and twenty Euro.

Bumbling, I tried to reason with the officer. We had entered the country late and had missed the signs he described that warned of the necessary highway ticket. Apparently you buy them at customs or the next petrol station. He wouldn’t buy my sleepy appeal for mercy. We payed by card. All of us awake now, there was a moment of panic when we realized it was 5:30 a.m. And we we’re sure to whom I had just groggily handed our debit card. Daniel confirmed seeing their cop car so the realization began to set in that we had just significantly contributed to Austria’s GNP. We returned to sleep less than pleased with the Austrian authorities. I’m not sure how this plays into Ephesians 4:26.

We slept in. I woke, admittedly still harboring some animosity toward Austria. We completely unpacked the car, determined to milk our time in the country. It didn’t help that another police car stopped and an officer demanded to see a highway ticket. He seemed a little too disappointed when I pointed to the dash and our €120 ticket. We reorganized the car for the first time since Shenk’s return and enjoyed a shower. Our tag-team approach proved effective and the four of us finished cleansing ourselves with four minutes to spare of the fifteen minutes allotted us. Shenk enjoyed a late birthday present. I enjoyed a shave.

We arrived at Salzburg around noon and set out to witness this city fit for a king (see film below). It was “a literal fountain of fountains.” We climbed to the impressive castle fortress’s walls and walked past Mozart’s home and the cathedral where he was the music director and choir master. There were even lady-folk. The town was nice but we still felt relieved to leave Austria. There were border signs regarding the highway tax, but they were small and in German. Back in Germany, we found Dachau and its concentration camp. The camp was closed so we walked around outside, enjoying the emptiness. I drove out into the countryside and down a little rural road that led to an ideal camping site in a stand of pine trees. I tried out the off-roading capabilities of our overloaded station wagon. We cleared a substantial tree stump and barely avoided two others. A hot meal and we split to the tent and the car to write blog posts and sleep off Austrian wake-up calls. So the next time you drive through Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, or Hungary, may we suggest you buy a highway ticket.

Matt

Norway and Early Mornings

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

We left Sunday evening (05/24) just around midnight and headed north along the coast. The sunlight glimmered in the sky until almost 0030 and by 0230 it was starting to get light. By the time we stopped at about 0330, it was almost full light. We slept at a nice little rest stop alongside the road and woke up the next morning sorted through all our stuff getting Dan S’s things packed and all the stuff the rest of us were sending back to our families and friends via his mail service.

We set off north again a few hours later and made it to Norway soon, passing the border with no problem and then began looking for the nearest train station so that we could get the schedule worked out for Dan’s train trip to Frankfurt connecting through Copenhagen. Pulling off the highway, Matt talked to the first group of people we saw. About 7 or 8 older men sitting around a round table enjoying a lunch and it just so happened that one of the men lived right near the train station and was leaving just then, so he offered to lead us there. We followed him into Halden and and found the station. Chalk up another friendly European.

After we worked out the details, we happened to notice a pretty neat castle/fort nearby called Fredriksten and went and explored it for free. It was huge, and pretty neat. Apparently the castle had been there for centuries protecting the town and port of Halden. We had lunch outside the fort and then kept pressing north. Just before we entered Oslo, we found a large sign with lots of writing on it that described a toll to be paid, but there were no toll booths! Apparently, after about 10 minutes of trying to figure out the sign we decided that there were 3 ways to pay: You could have a special transmitter with your billing information (which we didn’t have) or you could go to a special place and pay (which we didn’t want to do) or you could wait and they would mail the bill to you. So, we went for the last one. I expect to receive a bill from Oslo, but to tell you the truth I’m not sure what to do with it.

Anyway, we drove into the city without much traffic our trouble and parked near a gigantic stone wall. We had no idea what it was but after walking for several kilometers we eventually came to a small gate and walked inside. Apparently it was the fort built to protect the harbor of Oslo and is now a museum and park. After exploring it for a bit we went into the city center itself passing the harbor (well-protected by the fort) on the way along with significant amounts of electric car parking–complete with electric cars parked.

Oslo did not impress us much with its architecture or its sculptures–we decided that there must have been a period in Oslo’s history where no one wore clothes and that was when all the statues had been made–but it did impress us with its weather. Everyone was outside sunbathing and it was the warmest day we had experienced on our trip, despite being the farthest north we had been on our trip so far. Dan, David, and Matt went and saw the city cathedral and the palace which were nice, but we’ve become a bit jaded by palaces and cathedrals. Really kind of a disappointing thing, but in in Europe it seems that every city has a cathedral and every other city has a palace so it’s hard to not feel like you’ve seen them all once you’ve seen the first 100.

I saw the city hall which was nice and wandered the streets a bit enjoying the nice weather and checking out the cool Nordic sweaters, the cheapest of which cost the equivalent of $300. A short time later we met back at the car and, after snacking on some apples, headed back south. We got into Gothenburg–where we had enjoyed the internet and a wharf the day before–that evening and Dan and I went to purchase his train tickets.

The information center closed 5 minutes early and we were there 3 minutes before the time it was supposed to close, so we were sorely disappointed and on our own to try to buy his ticket from a little Swedish kiosk. We did succeed, however, the entire time being offered advice by Johan, a Swedish welder who had apparently enjoyed a few powerful beverages earlier in the evening. He offered us advice on everything from where to stay–”You can stay in my garage! It’s free!”–where we should be visiting–”You gotta stay down south, man. It’s ******* **** up here. You gotta go to Amsterdam. That place is ******* awesome”–and how we should be entertaining ourselves–Ladies and Drink. We turned him down on all of his information, but he didn’t really pose a threat and was quite a nice fellow. He smiled and waved rather tipsily as Dan and I (tickets in hand) left the station entreating him to be careful on his way home.

Meanwhile, Matt had gone to check out the local U21 football game where the locals beat the opponents soundly. After the game, the crowds flowed raucously out of the stadium carrying Matt with them in their joy. Dan, David, and I waited for Matt and eventually he arrived having enjoyed the experience greatly.

We went out of town that evening and slept in a forest near the airport; Dan and I in the car and David and Matt in the tent. The next morning at about 0430 Dan and I left for the train station and I successfully dropped him off about an hour later. He cut quite the striking figure in his lumberjack jacket, shaggy head, and with a large Viking sword slung across his back in a duct-tape scabbard. I returned to the campsite and a few hours later was woken to some delicious Scott’s porridge Matt and David had prepared.

Daniel Z

Edinburgh, Jewel of the North

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Morning dawned cloudy after our unexpected nocturnal adventures (ie losing ourselves in the wonders of Edinburgh during construction season). It has been raining off and on for almost a week now and to tell the truth we’re all getting a bit tired of it. Another thing we’re getting a bit tired of is having Harvest Morn bars for breakfast each morning. Although these are delicious and highly nutritious, a full week of them begins grate on the senses. That’s why we decided to enjoy a full breakfast of free-range eggs, thick-cut toast, and real scottish bacon. It was spectacular. A breakfast which will stand out in legend for ages to come.

After fully enjoying the cooking and eating of our spectacular morning meal, we set off for a full day of exploration in the capital of the Scottish world, Edinburgh. A sprawling city built between several hills near the end of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh has become a mecca for anyone seeking the “Scottish Experience.” Lining the steeply downhill Golden Mile from the ancient and stately Edinburgh Castle to the impressive and glamorous Holyrood Palace is a plethora of shops and tourist traps. The Scottish Whiskey Experience, Thistle Do Nicely, and The Edinburgh Woolen Mill share the road with two magnificent cathedrals and dozens of 18th and 19th century buildings.

Throughout the entire city, history meshes with kitsch in an amalgam of historic beauty and garish modernity. The finest example of this dichotomy was seen near the bottom end of the Golden Mile where ancient Holyrood Palace shares an intersection with the new Scottish parliament building. Built within the past decade to house the Scottish Parliament–a body devolved from the UK Parliament in 1997–the parliament building on the outside is made of shaped steel, wood and glass in a way which calls to mind an image of a bamboo forest. In any modern city (eg Chicago, Columbus, even Belfast) it would have been quite an interesting and beautiful building, but as the seat of power for the leadership of the rugged, rocky and natural nation of Scotland and when contrasted with the ancient stone cathedrals, palaces and castles surrounding it, it ends up looking simply tacky. But enough about architecture and back to exploration.

I’m not sure exactly what David, Dan and Matt did during the afternoon, but I made my way out of town in the car with our clothes only about half of which had dried overnight and used one of the first dry days since our arrival in Scotland to hang our clothes out to finish drying. I drove about 20 minutes out of Edinburgh and pulled off the highway doing a bit of exploring until I found a driveway leading to the entryway of a field. There tied up a line from the car to a fencepost and strung our laundry up to dry. It took about 2 hours even in the bright sun and constant wind, but I managed to get some reading done–I’ve been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune after finishing Starship Titanic earlier in the trip–and took a nap. It was a very nice day and no one bothered me until just as I was taking the laundry down a fellow drove up and asked if I needed any help and when I said no he asked if I had been dumping trash there–apparently a problem in the area–I told him I had just been drying my laundry and he said “Right. No problem. Cheers!” and drove off. We’ve been quite amazed by the friendliness of pretty much every single person we’ve encountered here (except for one rather curt waitress in Galway).

After my leisurely afternoon, I rejoined the guys at our appointed meeting spot in Edinburgh (the Burger King with free WiFi). Soon we were on our way (after a dash to get back to the parking lot before our time expired and we got charged €4.50). We drove steadily northwest toward Loch Ness and the Lake District of Scotland–not to be confused with the Lake District of England–and one of my ancestral homelands.

We spent the night by a stream just a few miles outside of Inverness at the tip of Loch Ness and were not attacked by monsters of any sort.

Daniel Z