A trip exploring castles, palaces and ornate cathedrals
The romantic idea of a princess finding her prince and living happily ever after has been ingrained in little girls for centuries. Just the mention of the word castle ignites that dream in the little girl inside many of us. Taking a river cruise where we would see a castle around every bend sounded like a most romantic voyage.
The word castle (thanks to Disney) brings to mind a shining white structure, spires and turrets with ornate gingerbread trim and an elegant interior to match. In real life, a castle is basically a fortress. The dictionary defines castle as “large building or set of buildings with high thick walls and towers that was built in the past to protect against attack.”
The interiors were utilitarian, cold and uncomfortable. Now this is not to say that the castles are not beautiful or imposing works of architecture, but the light airy romantic feel that one expects to get when viewing them just isn’t there.
A palace, on the other hand, is probably what we are visioning instead of a castle. The dictionary defines palace as “the official home of a king, queen, president, etc. or a very large and impressive home or a large and fancy public building.” Our cruise on the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers gave us the opportunity to view and explore castles, palaces and ornate cathedrals. I will share these with you, starting this time with the castles.
The story of even one castle through the ages could consume pages and pages of historical information.
The one thing that amazes me most is the importance of historical buildings to the people and their dedication in preserving or rebuilding. An example of this was encountered in Budapest at the Buda Castle.
In Buda, the castle and palace complex was first completed in 1265, and sat on the southern tip of Castle Hill overlooking Pest and the Danube River. The current Castle is not quite as sturdy and massive looking as many other castles. This was not the case of the original. Through the years, as kings and queens came and went each had their own idea of what type of a residential palace they wanted to have constructed within the castle walls. For each palace that was constructed from 1265 to the present there was a reason for the demise of the previous one — from natural disaster such as a fire; sieges as in 1686 and 1945; and the unreasonable destruction because the new ruler wanted a different style or something even more opulent than the last.
So even though Buda Castle was our first castle, it has been redone so many times that it is more a palace than a true castle.
Our next castle was Bratislava Castle, the main castle of Bratislava the capital of Slovakia. The position of this castle has been important since 2800 BC since the location was the hub of many ancient Central European trade routes. Smaller fortifications were built through the years, but not until 900 AD was major castle construction begun.
The size and design have changed over the years as with the Buda Castle, with the current structure standing above the city, shaped much like a massive upside down table with the towers at each of the corners serving as the legs. Today, the former Baroque chapel in the castle serves as a music hall for concerts while other wings and floors house the Slovak National Museum and the rooms of the Slovak Parliament.
The type of castles that I was expecting to see on this trip didn’t come forth until we reached the Wachau Valley of the Danube. From there through the Middle Rhine Valley there were more than 30 castles or castle ruins perched high above the river on rocky cliffs, and as I had hoped, at least one or two every few miles.
From the river, many of them looked as if Mother Nature had grown them just as she has grown other fabulous rock outcroppings.
They were stately and romantic looking even though their purpose was originally for protection of an important location on the river or a town located somewhere nearby.
There was an opportunity to visit the interior of the ones that had been been damaged or largely destroyed and one that had truly been carved out of the rocks.
However, it was raining that day and very cold and we were forewarned that there would be many slippery narrow steps to ascend and descend so we decided to stay with the boat, after looking at a website for Marksburg Castle,
I decided that I had made the right choice. It was much more romantic from afar.
Since I always talk about some kind of food, I will share that the word castle brings to mind something in the little girl inside me— the White Castle hamburger. I am not sure why I was so enthralled with these tiny morsels. Was it the little white cardboard box that looked like a castle or was it the burger itself?
Whenever we visited my aunt in Louisville, Ky., my dad would pick up bags of burgers from the restaurant resembling a small white castle and bring them home for a feast.
I could eat five at the total cost of around 50 cents. I was delighted when I found that our local Safeway carries these delicacies in their frozen food department, even though they have increased in price a bit.
My prince isn’t very excited about these castles, but when I need a nostalgia fix I pull some White Castles from the freezer, add dill pickle slices to make them authentic, and munch a few for old times’ sake. Enjoy.