Posts Tagged ‘castles’

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This summer we are criss-crossing around Sweden for little more than a week, the plan was to visit relatives and friends and try and see some of our home country. We packed our car and hit the road, we were heading north, to the small village of Gävunda in Dalarna, but decided to cut the trip with a stop in Vadstena, a city full of history and cultural heritage. It would be a little of a detour, but a chance to see some interesting sights.

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Our idea was to take it easy and do leisure stops along the way, we decided to stop in the city of Gränna, situated by the lake Vättern, that is renowned for the making of the red and white “polkagris” candy-canes, that happens to be one of Johans favorite candies. However, after a stop to refill our car with oil and another stop to tank our gas-tank, we realized we were running a bit short on time. Well in Gränna we had only time to eat a quick lunch meal and spend 10 minutes in a polkagris shop to buy some candy.

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We tried to hurry to Vadstena, since we had a guided tour of the palace booked, but it seemed that when driving legally, it would not be possible to make it in time, still, the scenery along the way was fantastic and the weather was at its best.

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We missed our guided tour, but we were rescheduled for the next day, so we went for a small walk in the town, where there are several medieval buildings and interesting historic sights. The 15th century town hall, is one, for example, the oldest town hall in all of Sweden.  There is also a park along the coast where we took a pleasant walk. There were lots of families sunbathing and swimming in the lake or having a picnic on the grass.

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We had booked the so called “Cultural package” at the Vadstena Klosterhotell, that is a hotel situated in the buildings that once were the Vadstena Monastery, the first monastery of the Bridgettine Order,  founded in 1350, by Saint Bridget of Sweden, who seemed to be a very intelligent and hard working woman. The monastery became quite powerful and rich, almost like a large business, owning quite a lot of land both around Vadstena and in other places in Sweden. The monastery housed at the most 60 nuns and around 10 monks.

We started our cultural package with a drink in the wine and beer cellar and a three course meal at their restaurant. It was the same cellar that the nuns and monks used. Due to the low quality of the water around Vadstena, the monastery produced beer and each nun was given around 2,5 liters of beer a day.

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The next day we took the guided tour of the Vadstena Castle, included in our hotel package. The Vadstena Castle, that was a former Royal Castle, was originally built as a fortress to protect Sweden from enemies, such as the Danish in the south but especially from enemies within the country.

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It was quite an interesting guided tour, where we were shown into the Queens chambers and told about the daily life at the Castle, including the rules of etiquette surrounding the court. The interiors have not been altered to look as they once did when they were first built, but preserved as they might have looked in the 19th century, with the original colors bleached by the sun. I found the rough and simple atmosphere of these interiors to be quite beautiful.

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The other guided tour included in our ticket, was of the Vadstena Monastery museum, at which we were told the interesting story of the monastery. The main building, in red brick, had once been a Royal Castle where King Magnus IV of Sweden and his Queen Blanche of Namur had quite a lot of parties. They donated the castle to Birgitta Birgersdotter, Saint Bridget of Sweden, and quite a bit of land, so she could found the monastery. Birgitta Birgersdotter was a close friend of the Royal couple since she had been Queen Blanches teacher when she first came to Sweden from Belgium. Birgitta was a devote catholic and had disliked the Royal couple’s constant partying, but the donation became a way for the couple to “pay for their sins” and make it to heaven more quickly, if I’m allowed to simplify the story a bit. The monastery was active from 1346 until 1595 and with the reformation of Sweden into a protestant country, the monastery lost more and more power and the last 5 nuns were literally dragged out of the monastery and given the chance to either convert or leave Sweden. They chose to leave for Poland were they stayed until their death.

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Our last stop before we left Vadstena, was the Vadstena Abbey Church, that is a magnificent building and now works as congregational church after being only opened to the nuns, monks and pilgrims of Vadstena. During our stay in Vadstena there were lots of priests in town, it seems that it was during the so called “priest week” when a lot of priests came to Vadstena to visit. Still today, Vadstena seems to be an important place for the catholics of Sweden and the world, and today there is a new Bridgettines monastery in Vadstena, just a few steps from the old monastery.

Paris – Versailles

Posted: May 28, 2013 by monoton in Europe, Travel
Tags: , , , ,

Having heard about the huge crowds at Versailles, we set out early to be there when it opens at 9. Unfortunately we found that our train line had been closed for maintenance and we had to go across Paris to take another line instead.

Gate

When we arrived an hour later than planned, we were greeted not only by gilded gates but also a long queue in front of the palace. However, we had read on their homepage that they recommend visiting the garden during the morning and saving the palace tour for the last hours before closing.

Palace

Facade

The garden was refreshingly empty in the rather cold morning weather and provided some picturesque views of the building, if you only managed to avoid the large modern art sculptures someone thought a good idea to place there.

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Garden

The areas closest to the palace were open and contained grass lawns in geometric forms and fountains, everywhere you’d find beautiful marble statues and neatly trimmed bushes. The second photo is from later in the day, when more people had arrived.

Open Space

Garden

To the sides of the main park there were square gardens, each with paths and open spaces in different, often symmetrical, maze-like configurations. If one were to hold an enormous garden party here, there would be plenty of places to sneak off to when you wanted some privacy.

Fountain

Reemerging on the Royal Avenue, the Apollo on his chariot fountain had been turned on. At this point the garden continues as an artificial lake where you can rent a small boat, but we turned off to the side and walked towards Petit Trianon.

Petit Trianon

 

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The Petit Trianon is by French monarch standards a very modest building, where Marie Antoinette could take a break from the strict rules of etiquette that reined everywhere else.

Grand Trianon

Yellow Room

Nearby is also the Grand Trianon, which among other things had rooms in different color schemes.

Courtyard

When we decided to have a look at the interiors of Versailles we discovered that we had been misled, the admission line was now twice as long compared to when we arrived. Some 45 minutes later we were past the gates and at the inner courtyard.

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Room

With so many intricate details everywhere from floor to ceiling, a fisheye lens was very useful.

King's BedQueen's Bed

The king’s and queen’s beds. Elegant, but still separate bedrooms. I wonder if they took turns visiting eachother during the nights.

Tapestry

Ceiling

Mirror Hall

The grand and spacious Hall of Mirrors felt vaguely familiar, probably from having seen it in historical movies.

Red Bedroom

Empty Corridor

After trying to admire so many extravagant rooms while being pushed around by hordes of other tourists just looking down a closed off and empty corridor felt like a relaxing change of pace.

View From a Window

Library

 

 

We took the night train from Dandong to Beijing. Apparently, getting a so-called soft-sleeper bed on a night train in China is very difficult. The tickets get sold out very quickly, but we managed to get the two last tickets and we were on our way.

Since we couldn’t find a couch in Beijing we headed for an area called Dashilar, where we got a room at a hostel. The area is very touristy, it is a historic shopping street that has been restored and is packed with expensive restaurants and shops. Still, we were happy, the hostel was clean, an important feature in China, and the area is close to several sights that we wanted to visit.

After one day of hanging out and watching movies at our hostel we decided to head out to see the Forbidden City. In the map it seemed like a short walk from our hostel, but it was hard work getting to the actual palace. After we had crossed two gates we were still only half ways.

We crossed Tiananmen square, which is the biggest public square in the world. Of course, it is the police officers that have all the fun here 😉

Mao greets us at the entrance of the Forbidden City. One might wonder what he has to do with this ancient royal palace, but he seems to be everywhere. For example, when other countries have bills with pictures of different prominent people from the country, China has Mao on all.

The Forbidden City is huge and most of it is actually closed to visitors. We did our best to explore as much as possible, but after several hours we had barely explored a small portion.

Throughout the city lions guard the different palaces. The one on the right side always stepping on a round ball, the one on the left playing with a lion pup.

The palace is in a bad state, I don’t know if there isn’t enough money to restore it, but still one can admire the beautiful details and architecture of the ancient Chinese civilisation. Many of the beautiful things we’ve seen in Japan and Korea once found their inspiration from China, this is where it all originated.

The next day we decided to check out the other great sight close to our hostel, the Temple of Heaven Park. A lot of people gather here to socialise, or take a dance lesson.

The Temple Of Heaven is an impressive place, constructed during the Ming dynasty, just as the Forbidden City. But the temple is in a much better state and one can almost imagine how it was to walk here in the 15th century. That is if one manages to disregard all the souvenir sellers.

Everywhere little girls wore diadems, not sure if it is something that the women from the Ming dynasty used to wear, but I was tempted to get one myself.

There are many structures in the Temple Of Heaven Park, amongst others an altar, I wonder if it was used for sacrifices.

At night we found a cheap and tasty kebab place close to our hostel.  While we were enjoying our food and watching Arabic music videos we saw some police lights flashing down the street and suddenly all the shop and restaurant owners started rapidly to get their things inside.

We spent a whole week in Seoul and got the opportunity to see many of the great sights the city has to offer. Close to our hotel we visited the beautiful imperial palace.

Several animals and imaginary animals guarded the main hall of the palace. The monkey looked quite fierce according to us.

The main hall ceiling was heavily decorated. According to the guide from the free tour in English we took, the golden dragon in the ceiling represented the emperor. All the animals in the palace were portrayed in pairs, representing yin and yang.

The guide told us that the palace is built according to the rules of feng shui, and even though we don’t know a lot about it, we think it turned out beautifully.

The animals of the Chinese zodiac were represented as warrior sculptures and since it is the year of the rabbit, we thought it was worth photographing it.

If there is a tower in a city we want to go there and get a look at the view. There is actually a cable car that you can take up, but this time we chose the much cheaper option of taking a bus all the way up to the tower.

Apparently if there is a tower, people seem to like to “lock away their love”. The place was full of locks in all colors and shapes.

We took the bus back to the subway station and went to the Namsangol Hanok Village, which is a traditional village built in traditional style right in the middle of the city center. We found some cute kindergarten children playing traditional instruments.

But the real reason why we came, was the 1 hour Taekwondo show  taking place here. We arrived a bit early, so we got to see them practice for the show.

The show started with some traditional dance.

After the dance the stage was overtaken by perfectly coordinated Teakwondo kicks and punches.

There was a lot of board breaking and jumping that left us with our chins on the floor.

Then the show took a new turn. In came dancers, and two of the Taekwondo performers put some fancy coats and there was singing. For us, without really understanding what was going on it felt like some sort of Taekwondo opera.

In Matsuyama, that has the 51st temple of the 88 temples of Shikoku, not only pilgrims flock, but also onsen lovers. We were staying at a hostel close to the famous Dogo Onsen, which is over 1.000 years old, and everywhere we looked there were people wearing yukata on their way to or from the onsen.

The area around Dogo Onsen is quite touristic, and by the Dogo Onsen tram stop there is a small square with an animatronic clock that everybody stops to look at on each hour when it starts to animate.

There is also an open foot bath at the square, where you can soak your sore feet for free.

So this is what all the fuss is about, the Dogo Onsen. It is a splendid building, inside there is a small exhibition of the royal family’s private room that they used when they visited the onsen, and also some small artefacts. Of course, there is the baths, which in my opinion are surprisingly small, although pretty. We visited the onsen a couple of times, and at one point it was quite crowded, still it was very nice and relaxing.

Of course, there is a hill, and on top of it there is a castle. The Matsuyama Castle is quite nice, although most of it has been reconstructed. If it wasn’t lightning, it was the USA fire bombings during WWII, and if it wasn’t that there was arson.

On our way up we met several classes of school children, they were very curious about us and although many were shy they were more than happy to say hello and ask if we were アメリカ人 (Amerika-jin, from USA). Since we’ve been studying some Japanese we could at least understand them and say that we were スウェーデン人 (Suweeden-jin).

Matsuyama castle is heavily fortified, and it has been cleverly built to lure enemies the wrong way and to maximise the defence.

Of course, there is a fantastic view of the city from the castle.

The interior of the castle is rather interesting, and there is a small display of artefacts that have connection to the castle.

If there is a castle, there is a garden, and if there is a garden, there is, most certainly, a koi pond. The garden wasn’t in its best condition so nothing beautiful came out of it, except of course, the beautiful koi.


While in Matsuyama, we also visited the Ishite-ji, the 51st temple of the 88 temple circuit. It is a rather odd temple, we entered from what felt like, the back side, where Buddhist figures, a pagoda and what looked like some old run down circus props. It was quite refreshing actually.

The temple was quite colorful and had some beautiful details.

Several cats seemed to be living by the temple.

On our last day in Matsuyama we did a day trip to the small town of Uwajima, to visit the famous fertility shrine, Taga-jinja. A long time ago many Shinto shrines had connections to fertility rites, and this is apparently one of the few ones that remains. Besides the obvious phallus symbols, there is a sex museum connected to the shrine. Really, rather than a museum I would call it an eager collector’s private porn gallery.

After a day of travelling and settling in Takamatsu, on the island of Shikoku, we went on a day trip back to Honshu and the city of Okayama. The first sight that greeted us when we arrived was a sculpture of Momotaro and his friends, a dog, a monkey and a pheasant. We could not have been happier. Momotaro is the hero of a Japanese fable that takes place near Okayama and he has come to be a symbol of the city.

I`m not sure if this is the dog from the fable, but it sure is cute when its scratches its ear.

Our goal for the day was to visit Koraku-en, which has been ranked one of the 3 best gardens in Japan. So we strolled the tranquil streets of the city and took a peek at the Okayama Castle, built by a feudal lord of the region. As many Japanese castles it was completely destroyed during WWII but has since been rebuilt. The castle bears the nickname, Ujo, Crow Castle, because of its black exterior.

We arrived in Koraku-en, which was nice and pretty, but we felt that it was certainly not one of our 3 favorite gardens in Japan, but I guess we are not the experts. Koraku-en is a bit unusual for a Japanese garden and has vast green lawns, that you of course are not allowed to step on.

The garden has also several small shrines.

The ponds at the garden are quite large and spotting of koi is a bit more difficult than usual, but we stocked up with some bread to lure them to us and our cameras.

After the park we headed for some lunch. Eating in Japan is an experience of its own, you really have to be open-minded and just go with the flow. We usually just pick a spot, we try to get some guidance from the picture menus outside, but really, half the time we don`t know what we are ordering. But it`s ok, we have never eaten something bad while in Japan.

The next day, we checked out from our hotel in Takamatsu and got on our way to Tokushima, our next destination, but not before we stopped at Yashima to visit the famous temple there. By the way, there are no coin lockers at the Yashima JR station. Fortunately for us, the friendly man at the JR station asked the friendly bus driver that later asked at a gift shop by the temple if we could leave our backpacks there, which we could.

Yashima-ji (Yashima temple) is located on top of a hill in Yashima, but a bus will take you there in 20 minutes, it is the 84th of the 88 temples of Shikoku, but more on that later.

The temple area is quite nice and relaxing, there were a few Japanese tourists, one in particular, from Tokyo, came up to us and said hello. He was curious to where we came from and after we greeted each other he asked to take a picture of us. Maybe he collects pictures of people from different countries and we were the first Swedish he met.

An interesting figure from the Japanese folklore that we have previously come across is the Tanuki, which is identified specially by their large testicles. In Yashima-ji they had a shrine dedicated to them, which apparently is a good spot when asking for fertility and family oriented wishes. For those of you that are curious, there is a quite cute and amusing movie with the tanuki as main characters, created by the famous Studio Ghibli, Pom Poko.

We took a walk around the hill to take in the views of Takamatsu and eat lunch.

Behind the temple is the Pond of Blood, where some warriors once washed their swords after a famous battle and turned the water red. Nowadays is good for spotting frogs.

Of course, the temple cat, that everybody wants to feed and pet 🙂