Tag: european castles

Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, Portugal

During our vacation in Portugal, we toured with our good friend, Marie, from New York. We all met up in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. During our stay in Lisbon, we took a day-trip to Sintra. It was a relaxing one hour train ride through the beautiful Portuguese countryside.

Sintra is a small resort town in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains. While we were there, we visited the Palace of Pena and the Moorish Castle. Both are spectacular sites to see and should definitely be on the top of your list if you are ever in this part of the world.

Spoiler alert: following is some really fine photography! No drones or helicopters were used for these pictures. I don’t even have a selfie-stick. But if I did, I’d be using it to pat myself on the back. But seriously, amazing pictures considering they were all done with just my iPhone. It was also helpful to have such perfect weather! You should definitely be viewing these on your PC or tablet.

The Palace of Pena

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It began in the Middle Ages, as just a simple chapel on top of a mountain. In the 15th century, King Manuel I had a monestary built around the chapel. (I took the above picture by hanging out of a watch tower window at the Moorish Castle. Hey yall, watch this!).

For the centuries that followed, it became a quiet, peaceful place that housed about twenty monks. But the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 reduced the monestary to ruins. All that remained was the original chapel.

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In 1842, King consort Ferdinand II began constructing the palace around the chapel. The palace was to be the summer home for the royal family. Construction continued through 1854. Throughout the construction, he and his wife, Queen Maria II, frequently intervened in the matters of design and architecture of the palace. These choices are clearly evident in the end product. It manifested into a beautiful Ramantic style castle that looks part royal palace and part Disney.

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This is easily one of the most photogenic palaces I have ever been to. It has been a public museum since the fall of the Portuguese monarchy in 1910. In fact, the last ruling queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, spent her last night here, at this palace, before leaving the country in exile.

Over the years, this has become one of Portugal’s most visited monuments, and it is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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After visiting the palace, we stopped at a cute little cafe and had a light lunch while sitting around the old well. Then it was off to the Moorish Castle!

The Moorish Castle

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I got the above picture by hanging over the balcony off the Queen’s bedroom in the Pena Palace on an adjacent mountaintop. Worth it.

While the Palace of Pena is one of the most photogenic places I have been to, the Moorish Castle has to be about the most unique castle I have visited. It was built during the 8th and 9th centuries during the Muslim occupation. Not only is it perched high atop a mountain, but it is literally imbedded into the mountains and surrounding terrain.

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And on the inside, it’s not like a traditional castle with a keep in the middle. Once inside the castle walls, there is a vast, open area.

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There are beautiful trees there now, but back in the day it was cleared out. The formal keep is further inside, to the north, and the stables and other buildings are scattered around the edges. The castle is essentially a 450 meter (about 500 yards) perimeter situated atop and within the mountainous cliffs.

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This is a view from the outside. It took us about a half an hour to make it up the hill this far, and there was a lot of huffing and puffing. I can only imagine soldiers back then with all their armor and weapons. Significantly heavier than my iPhone and a water bottle.

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Not to mention, imagine coming all this way to attack and then being confronted with these massive boulders and cliffs (above). You could forget getting any siege engines up here.

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And the views from up here are just spectacular! Well worth the climb up. Almost in the center, at the bottom of the mountain is the cute town of Sintra. Over to the right, up on the hill is yet another palace. It isn’t the Palace of Pena. I tried to find it on maps but it isn’t marked. Like I said before, palaces and castles dot the horizon everywhere you look.

So, yeah, it was a great day adventuring up in the mountains of Sintra. Climbing, hanging out of windows and towers taking pictures while trying not to drop my phone. More climbing up the towers. But then came the dilemma of how we get back down the mountain. Interconnecting bus routes (slow, hot, crowded, time consuming). We could walk back down (LOL LOL LOL). Or we could rent a car with a driver. It was a short discussion.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

A marvelous old European city chock full of art, statues, and kaleidoscope views. Magnificent castles, palaces, and towers dot the landscape almost everywhere you look. This is a city whose existence dates back to somewhere around 1200 B.C. Easily one of the oldest cities in the world. Older than Paris, London, and even Rome itself. It would require volumes upon volumes of five inch thick books to capture all of the history of this city.

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Conquered and occupied by all of the dominant factions and armies along the way. In the early B.C. era, these included Germanic tribes, Phoenicians, and the Indo-European Celts. Later by the Romans of course, leading into the Middle Ages. In the 8th century, the city was conquered by the Muslims, whose occupation continued through the 12th century when they were conquered by the Norwegian crusaders.

In more modern history, the country of Portugal battled against Spain for its independence, and later fought within itself to end the Portuguese monarchy.

The city has struggled throughout time with devastating earthquakes. Then, in 1755, the mother of all earthquakes hit, followed by a devastating tsunami that triggered massive fires. Over 85% of the city was destroyed, and tens of thousands of citizens perished. At that time, Lisbon had grown to be one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe. The impact of the tragedy of 1755 sent shockwaves of awe throughout the world.

All of this means that Lisbon has survived its past and thrived to become the great, cultural and artistic city it is today.

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The weather while we were there in May was warm, sometimes even a little hot. But the evenings were still cool enough to warrant a light jacket or sweater. Clear blue skies and no rain in sight!

Cozy outdoor bars and restaurants abound, allowing you to unwind and relax in the center of the city’s historic beauty.

Perched on the mouth of the Tagus river that feeds into the Atlantic Ocean, the food specialty in and around Lisbon is seafood. Seafood here is part of the culture.

Restaurants in Lisbon

Some of the restaurant culture here is different than what we were used to. For example, we went to one place where we had made a booking, and the door was shut and locked. There was a sign that simply said, ‘Ring Bell.’ Which we did. The door slowly opened, and the host asked if we had reservations. When we said we did, he let us in and closed the door behind us. On the inside, it was a perfectly normal and nice restaurant.

At this other place we went to, Cervejaria Ramiro, there was a mob of people standing around the street in front of it. We muscled our way through and got almost inside. We were told to pull a number from the machine and wait until our number was called. ‘But we have reservations,’ we said. It didn’t matter, get the number, and step aside. So we got our number and joined the masses out front.

Occasionally, a strange, synthesized electronic female voice would call out a number over the loudspeaker. But it would be something crazy, like 200,615. She would repeat the number about five times. Our number was 5667. Then she would call number 874. So we figured it must be some sort of a lottery. They generate a random number, then call it out, if it’s your number, you get in!

Jana and I were fortunate enough to be able to hook up with our friend, Marie. Marie is from New York. So in addition to spending some great times with our friend, we got all caught up on the happenings back in the states.

So Marie has decide this isn’t going to work for us. She pulls up the email we had received that confirmed our reservation. She muscles her way up to the front again, and insists on talking to the name of the person the email is from, and she showed them the email. The host breaths a loud sigh and gives her the eye roll. ‘Very well,’ he says, ‘come with me.’

We follow this guy through a huge restaurant area that is as loud and chaotic as the New York Stock Exchange. People yelling at each other over the noise, making it worse. Countless hammers smashing open huge crab legs. We round a corner, then follow the guy up a very narrow set of steep stairs. We get to the top and, voila, a quiet, cozy, somewhat small restaurant seating area with a great view of the madhouse out on the street!

And the food was OMG! The menu had pictures of the entrees. But it was just a picture, with no perspective on size. So Marie tells the waiter she will have the shrimp as a side item, the waiter responds with a question: Just one? It was a little confusing. Did he mean just one serving, so she said yes.

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Nope, he meant just one shrimp! Look at that thing!

Anyway, suffice to say the food was superb at every place we went to, and each one was a new adventure.

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This shot, above, is the street that leads into the square. The Comércio square is a must see. There wasn’t much left of it after the 1755 earthquake, so they decided to just tear the rest of it down and start over.

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We were there the same week as the finals for EuroVision, which is a huge annual European singing and performing competition. Since Portugal won it last year, they are the host this year. It occupies the entire square. In fact, if you zoom the pic above, you can see the banner for EuroVision on the street on the other side of the archway.

 

There is just a ton of great things to see and do in this city. There is São Jorge Castle, which we did not visit. Another great square to see is the Rossio square (above left). There is the Santa Justa Lift (above right), which is a famous elevator built in the early 1900’s and has a very colorful history.

 

We really enjoyed our time in Lisbon, and didn’t even scratch the surface on covering everything is has to offer. All the more reason to come back! While we were in this part of the world, we also visited Belem and Sintra. These are covered in separate articles. And yes, that’s a real bird in the picture, and yes I took the picture. 🙂

 

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The Great ?Swedish? Roadtrip

The Great ?Swedish? Roadtrip

Ok, so as you probably know by now, we’re Americans living in Stockholm. We use public transportation exclusively. We don’t even have a car over here! And we love it! But we do sometimes yearn for the open road, cruising down the countryside under your own power. And so, we decided to rent a car and brave the open highways of southern Sweden!

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For our first Swedish road trip, we decided on a small, but well known town along the eastern coast called Kalmar. It was highly recommended by the locals, was easy to get to, and was about a five hour drive.

Not only is it a great historic area with a still intact renaissance war castle, but Kalmar is also well known for its glass crafting. We did visit a couple of outlet stores while there and we bought some nice crystal glasses and bowls.

We really lucked out on the weather this time. For the first time since old man winter wrapped his icy fingers around Stockholm, the temperature was actually around 60 degrees Fahrenheit! By far the warmest day of the year. And since we were headed south, it would be even a little warmer than that.

Unlike most of our other adventures that begin with the subway, for this one we took the bus to the Hertz rental office. When we got to the office, there was no one there. The place was deserted. And mind you, this a work day, Friday around 9am. Jana wasn’t worried, she said she had special instructions in case this happened. So we went a couple of doors down. There was a keypad on the door. We entered our secret code from Jana’s special instructions, but nothing happened. Oh look, there’s another keypad over here. We entered the code into that one, got a confirmation buzz, then I pulled the door open and we stepped inside.

It was a small room with what appeared to be an elevator door. There was only one button: down. We pushed it. After a minute or so, the elevator door slowly parted open. It was a very small elevator. Following the special instructions, we stepped inside and pressed the button for negative three. That’s right, three levels down. There was a long pause. Finally, the inner door moaned and creaked as it slid shut, sealing us in. Then there was a violent jolt as we started our decent. I looked at Jana and said, “And they were never seen again.”

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Ha ha, we had a good laugh. After a brief argument with an unmanned kiosk, we got our keys for our fancy Volvo wagon (it even had dual exhausts and a spoiler), and off we went. I leaned out the window and raised my fist as I yelled, “ROAD TRIP!” A column in the garage nearly took my head off. I knew it was there.

Söderköping (Mayberry, EU)

We had a great recommendation for a place to stop along the way. It was about an hour and a half into the trip. It was supposed to be a cozy ice cream parlor with an outdoor area that overlooked a beautiful canal. And it was there, and we found it. And it was cozy, and it was right on the canal. And it was closed due to construction!

But because it was closed, it forced us to explore this wonderful, quaint little Swedish town, er uh village. I swear this place was like a Twilight Zone mirror image of  Mayberry. I kept thinking I would see Barney Fife (Bårnet Fifé) slapping a parking ticket on our fancy city slicker Volvo (with dual exhausts). For those of you who don’t know what the Twilight Zone is or have never heard of Mayberry, you’re too young to be reading this, so get out.

Since it was such a warm, beautiful day, we figured we would find another place with outdoor seating. We scoured the entire town, which took ten minutes. We found an area where a dozen or so people (half the population of the town) were waiting in line to get into this one place. Turns out, it was another ice cream place. I guess with the one by the canal shut down, this one was picking up the slack. But there was nowhere to sit, and I was ready for a frap or a latte. We did find a coffee shop, but it was a misunderstanding on our part, it was an actual coffee shop, as in coffe beans, ground roast, etc.

We finally found this one place that had outdoor seating (they had put out some lawn chairs). There were only six, but two were actually vacant. So I rushed to secure our territory, while Jana went inside to get our refreshments. Turns out it was another ice cream shop. This town really does love ice cream! It just added to the Twilight Zone aura. And even more weird thing, the whole time we were there, we didn’t see a single person using an electronic device.

We sat outside, eating ice cream, right off their main square. We were pretty sure we were the only tourists there. A young mom walked by pushing a stroller and chatting with her friend. Nothing unusual about that. Except that she was barefooted <play the Twilight theme music in your head>.

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But the place really did do the trick for us. It displaced us from our hustle-bustle big city Stockholm mindsets and made us sit and relax in the warm sun enjoying each other’s company and some magical ice cream.

And then we were, that’s right: On the Road Again.

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Driving to Kalmar

They say it isn’t the destination, but the journey that is special. And this trip was no exception. We had traveled many times along the waterways marveling at the beautiful archipelago scenery from a boat or ship. But this trip showed us what was behind all that, what rural Sweden was really like. And it was spectacular.

Wide open highways, gorgeous backcountry homesteads, spawling green pastures. Well, see for yourself below, but please forgive the quality as they were snapped while flying down the highway:

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And it literally just went on and on and on. One really nice thing was that, apparently, in Sweden they have some strict laws about keeping the landscape free of billboard clutter.

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A note on driving in Sweden. We didn’t really see it as being that much different than what we were used to in the US. Most of the signs were intuitive, and of course everything is in the metric system. The roads were smoother than any I had ever seen in the US. No construction to speak of, and not a single pothole. And yes, that is a warning sign for a moose crossing!

There was one oddity, however. As we were driving, the car would occasionally make a beep, like a warning tone. We checked the gauges and lights, but everything looked good. I did have my phone BT’d to the car and was streaming music and navigation, so we figured it had something to do with that. On the trip back, it started doing it again. I started exploring the visual tools in the car itself and brought up the navigation map. There was a symbol of a camera pointed at a car. I looked out the window and, sure enough, there was an automated camera taking pictures of speeders. The car had been trying to warn us of this. I can only imagine how many times the cameras must have caught us speeding. Hopefully, we won’t get deported as a result!

Kalmar

Like most European cities, Kalmar has a long and violent past. This is especially true of the cities that were on the coast. Particularly in the 1600’s, Kalmar saw a lot of war and bloodshed. At the time, it was located very close to the Danish border. The area just south of Kalmar used to belong to the Danish, but it is part of Sweden today.

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See the model of the city, above, with the castle right on the water. This is a battle castle complete with moat, drawbridges, and cannons. It was under siege 22 times, but was never taken. Also note the walls encircling the entire city itself. The mark of a true war city. We all think of Sweden as a peaceful, neutral-ish country. Perhaps it was all the wars and violence from the past that made it that way.

But today, the town is bursting with charisma and elegance.

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Stately European architecture that just takes your breath away.

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Here you can see part of the original wall that once circled the city. The tower looking over it all is more modern, but awe inspiring to behold.

Magnificent parks, bridges, canals, and tunnels. Great restaurants, bars, and cafes. What else could you ask for on a long weekend getaway?

Kalmar Castle

Definitely one of the better castles we have toured in Europe. You can see the effort they have put into keeping it in such great shape. It is integrated into the town’s landscape.

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See above, the approach to the castle from the town. Stunning. Note that you can see two of the short cannon towers. There are four total, one on each corner. Here’s a closer view of one of the towers:

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If those ducks think they’re gonna take the tower, they better think again! As I mentioned before, this castle had been under siege at least 22 times, but was never taken.

See below a view of the seaward defensive battery:

An all around fabulous castle. The interior was well done, too. Sorry I didn’t get any pictures of that. It was well presented and had lots of good information about all the rooms. Some of the ceiling work was still in its original form, but the pictures didn’t come out well (too dark).

The Island

If you recall, from the top of the article, the town is situated just west of a rather large island. There is a 6km (3.7mi) bridge that connects the mainland with the island. As you can well imagine, the island was ravaged and raided time after time during the wars. In fact, there are still remnants of old castles on the island dating back to the 300 A.D. Unbelievable!

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We did venture over to the island. It is covered with farms, pastures, and homesteads. And it’s incredibly beautiful!

See below, we even ventured off the beaten path a couple of times in our city slicker fancy Volvo wagon with dual exhausts!

 

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We stopped at one of the castle sites. Unfortunately, it had fallen to ruins. But not after hundreds of years of being the center of a war culture. It was built around 300 A.D. and was still in full operation as late as the 1200’s.

And that was really it. After touring around on the island, we returned to Stockholm. It was a great visit and a great town. Given enough time, we would gladly return to Kalmar and yes, even stopping again at Mayberry, EU.

 

Day Six – Fronsac

Up and out early today. After a quick breakfast, we took the bus and headed out into the Fronsac appellation. This is an area northwest of Libourne and is known more for red wines. Being a right bank appellation, it uses a majority of the lighter and fruitier merlot category.

Chateau Boutinet

This is a privately owned vineyard, meaning it is not in compliance with the strict French regulations known as AOC, rather, they are experimenting and sort of going their own way. That means you will never see this wine in your local store, nor will it ever be exported. This is how wineries begin. This one is run by a husband and wife team. The wife, Nathalie, walked us around the gorgeous property.

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Note that there is a medieval castle on the property. Unfortunately, it is in pretty bad shape. Not from wars, but from time. They are slowly working to restore it, but it is a time consuming and expensive endeavor. Their goal is convert the castle into a Bed & Breakfast.

The fog this day was a dense shroud, inhibiting our sight, but at the same time, was also kind of romantic. After a fascinating and educational tour of the grounds, we were honored with a tasting of wine, which was of course from their own sweat and blood. It was quite good, we even bought a bottle to take back to the boat!

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This is the only pool I saw the entire time we were in France. This was an amazing castle surrounded by vineyards and beautiful gardens. The views are spectacular. Too bad we didn’t bring our bathing suits…. maybe next time.

And talk about history? Oh yeah. There are 25km of underground caves that were originally created through mining shale. There is a secret entrance that the French resistance used right under the noses of the Germans who had occupied the castle during the war. The small carvings you see in the stone there were done by the rebels as a means of secret communications.

There was even an underground spring running through the caves. See the rut carved into the floor – pure, clear spring water flowing through there. There were sitting areas and meetings rooms scattered throughout the underground labyrinth, all carved From the shale.

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Yup, that says gallon, yup as in US gallon! You would be very hard pressed to find any other French wine bottled in a gallon jug. The guy that owned the place back in the 70s wanted to be able to impress his American friends when they came to visit, so he always kept some around.

I was just fascinated with this place. We didn’t stay long enough to see the entire sprawling estate so will come back here if we are ever in this area of the world again.

This, combined with the private tour given by the owners of the other vineyard we did today just made for a great day.

Boat Trip to Skokloster

Boat Trip to Skokloster

Recommendation

The Travelin’ Man’s Overall Recommendation GOOD*
(met expectations, would recommend, would do again)

  • What did I like the most: Breathtaking scenery on the boat ride and at the destination
  • What is the biggest area for improvement: food on the boat

Logistics

This is an all day event (8-9 hrs). It’s a boat ride from Stockholm to the Skokloster palace. The company that provided the boat ride was Strömma. We left the docks at 10am and got back at 6pm. We got our tickets from and left from Stadshusbron. Prices are seasonal; we did our trip at the peak of summer in July and paid 375 kr per adult. Food and drink are not included.

Breakfast is a pastry or choice of a couple of different muffins. Also have coffee and sodas. On board cafeteria serves only one selection for lunch, smoked salmon in our case. But there are sandwiches and paninis available at the snack bar.

The Boat Ride

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There is a lot of time spent here on the boat. The boat ride out is around 3 hours, and it’s about the same going back. So if that’s not your scene, you won’t have fun here. It’s a big boat, and you’re free to walk around. It has multiple decks, including outdoor areas front and back, two bathrooms, and a cafeteria and bar. So if you do enjoy a good boat ride, which I do, then you will love this.

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The scenery is spectacular. As you get further and further from Stockholm, you see the landscape morph from urban to rural. After you pass Hässely Strand, which is as far as the subway goes, you see the buildings get smaller and smaller until you suddenly realize you are in the northern rural countryside of Sweden. Standing out on the front deck with the wind blowing through my hair and the sun warming my face, I swear the air smells fresher, clean and crisp. Ok, the wine probably helped a little but I really felt I could smell the country freshness in the air.

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As you push up and then down the Mälaren lake (3rd largest lake in Sweden), you get to see the country living of the citizens of northern Sweden. Don’t misunderstand though, living right on the lake is insanely expensive, so most of the houses are over-the-top nice with huge plots of land, and there are even several mansions as well. The trip includes an onboard tour guide who will call out noteworthy things along the way, including the really large mansions. It’s done first in Swedish, followed by English.

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As you approach the palace, you will want to be on the front deck in order to get that beautiful photograph of the stunning baroque style palace. The palace is right on the lake and the photo potential here is fairytale quality. But if you missed it, it’s just as beautiful as you’re leaving.

The Palace and Grounds

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The entire trip including the palace itself is just a photographer’s dream. Definitely bring your nice camera on this one. The outdoor areas around the palace and church are quite spectacular. I couldn’t stop snapping pictures the entire time.

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The age of the place is a little deceiving. The outside is so well preserved that you forget it was built in 1676. So when you step inside, that’s when you go back in time. The internal archways and pillars, and the artwork tell the true age of the place. Take your time and follow the history of the owners through time.

Most of the plaques and documentation that describe the rooms and the antique collections are in Swedish. But we didn’t know that when we turned down the audio guide. I strongly recommend getting the audio guide.

 

 

 

We got to explore the first two floors for free. Some of them even had the original furniture and decor. And the ceiling artwork is rivaled only by the royal palaces. On the third floor is a Jane Austen presentation complete with some of the costumes from the movies. We didn’t opt for that since none in our group were familiar with her work. But if you are a fan, you should definitely opt for the 30 kr tour of that area.

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The boat ride back was just as pleasant and breathtaking as the trip out. It was just a little cooler, so coming back we got a table by the window and enjoyed some wine and conversation as the beautiful scenery scrolled past the windows.


* Each area is rated on a scale 1-5, with 1 = poor, 3 = good, 5 = exceptional
How did this do compared to what I had expected: 4
How well were the logistics handled: 3
Was the staff helpful and friendly: 3
Overall execution and presentation: 3

Total score interpretation: 13
4 – 8 is POOR (was not at all what I expected and/or was not worth the time/money)
9 – 10 is OK (quality of the experience was a little low, but I enjoyed it)
11 – 13 is GOOD (met expectations, would recommend, would do again)
14 – 15 is VERY GOOD (surprisingly good, exceeding on some levels)
16 – 20 is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (outperformed my expectations, great value)

 

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia (stats courtesy Wikipedia):
Pop City Proper: 279,756
Metro Pop: 537,712
Municipality: 163.8 km2 (63.2 sq mi)
Density: 1,708/km2 (4,420/sq mi)
Elevation: 295 m (968 ft)
Weather: Cold, short winters, mild summers
Warm: April – October
Summer: Low 80’s
Language: Slovene, English is very common

What’s so special?
This area has breathtaking landscapes, magnificent architecture, and unforgettable castles. Rolling green hills, shimmering lakes, even caves and a dramatic gorge to explore. Truly, a hidden gem you will want to come back to again and again. Be sure to scroll through all of my Slovenia journals as they are all close to Ljubljana.

Ljubljana – Lover’s Town

As you can see from the header at the top, it’s not a large city, especially by capital city standards. And, mind you, this is the largest city in Slovenia. But this is the truly classic, romantic European town. There are so many great things to see in this area that a lot people just use Ljubljana as a central base camp. But this works to your favor as it is not over run with tourists. We found it to be very laid back and easy.

The town has done a marvelous job of entwining itself around the Ljubijanica river. It is no hard task to grab a cozy table overlooking the river to enjoy a glass of wine or a cappuccino. While there was more than enough to see and do, it isn’t chocked so full of famous tourist attractions that you feel you have to rush around to take them all in. It’s an easy town. Pull your lover close and enjoy the richness of this old place as you explore the shops, bridges, and cafes at a slower pace. And by the way, the first part of Ljubljana, ‘Ljub’, means “to love” in Slavic. Just sayin’.

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One place you definitely want to visit that will take you back in time is Klobasarna. You get a fresh cooked, sliced local sausage on a paper plate.  Oh yeah, simple man here just loves stuff like this! But I am glad I got the half, its a good bit of meat especially if you’re intending to have dinner later.

The whole town is full of places like this. And there 15 or so bridges crossing the river in the area, and almost all of them have ornate statues highlighting their entrance or medieval carvings all along their length. One such bridge was dedicated to the dragon, which is also the town symbol. I’ll let you learn that legend on your own, but here’s a hint, you may want to keep a wary eye to sky.

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Ljubljana Castle

Towering over all these cozy cafes and shops is a castle. Look closely at the picture below. It’s actually two pictures. The one on the left is me looking up at the castle from the city. The one on the right is me looking down at the city from the castle. The big street in the center is the same one I was looking up from!

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It’s a pretty decent hike up to the castle, and since we were so full from the sausage, we took the funicular up – wait, what? Ha, it’s basically a cable car and was kind of fun. But we did hike back down. And when we saw how steep it was, we were glad we didn’t walk up.

The castle gives the most spectacular views of the city, and will make anyone look like a professional photographer. The interior is remarkably modern. This castle has a very interesting story to tell. And you should know by now, my job isn’t to tell you those stories, but to let you discover them on your own. But suffice to say this castle does have a unique history and has at times been more than a castle. It’s been a fortress, a prison, a residence, and more!

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Accommodations

We stayed at the Vander Urbani Resort. Primo location right off the main road that parallels the river, and centrally located for exploring the city on foot. The prices were competitive with other hotels in the area. We paid around €180 per night during what is considered prime season (early May).

As with most European hotels, the rooms were small. But the style of our room was particularly structured in such a way that there was no privacy for anything, I mean anything while in the room. So make sure you are really really intimate with who you are staying here with.

We only ate the free breakfast in their restaurant, but it was cozy and nicely laid out. The main guy that ran the area down there seemed always stressed out even when the place wasn’t crowded, so we didn’t feel inclined to party there. Besides, ten paces and we could be sitting outside right on the river.

The rest of the staff was polite and friendly, always eager to help. Everyone spoke good English.  I would stay here again.

Notable Restaraunts

Spajza

Venue: I’m going to tell you straight up here, the food in this place is pretty fancy. Casual attire, although I would have felt a little better if I had worn my suit jacket. Very cozy setting. I understand it used to be a house and was converted. It does have a homey feel to it. Considering how fancy the food is, and how good the service was, the prices were very good. Everyone spoke good English, and they had English menus available

Menu: It’s the first place I ever went to that served horse (which I did NOT eat of course). Venison with blueberries. Octopus. Hmmm. Also some great fish selections. But they redeemed themselves by having several beef selections, including T-bone steak.

Drinks: Great selection of local wines. We just love the Slovene wines. We actually got the Malvasia which, believe it or not is actually an orange wine. I know, but we like it! Reasonably priced,  maybe a bit on the high side.

My recommendation: So the JC Simple Man rating is not so good, but I will give this place high marks on Trip Advisor because the overall value for most people is top notch. If I was out on my own looking for dinner, I would not come back here, but for my friends who I know like this type of venue, I would highly recommend this place to them.

Marley and Me

Venue: Definitely casual, laid back and relaxed. Somewhat small inside, lots of seating outside. Prices were very reasonable, between €10 and €20 for most main dishes.

Menu: Some pretty fancy pasta dishes, good salmon and sea bass selections, but a surprisingly good selection of beef, pork, and chicken.

Drinks: Good selection of local wines and a pretty good deal on the prices. We had a local cab and it was excellent.

My recommendation: I ordered the hamburger. As with most European restaurants, I asked for it med-well, and got rare. I can’t really fault them for this. Since I know this is what they do, I should not order a hamburger unless I’m willing to accept it, which I am. Overall though, I would recommend this place and I would come back here again.