Schonnbrunn Palace, Austria

Now, I debated on whether or not to write about this palace… you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside.  So is it worth it to write about it?  Or just skip this and move onto the next thing?  But ultimately, I really enjoyed it- and wanted to share it. Continue reading “Schonnbrunn Palace, Austria”

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Gyeongbokgung Palace, Korea

In an exciting turn of events, this blog post is about two things!  First, my trip to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.  But also about the fact that I have a new camera.  Well, a new to me camera (I’m on a budget.)  There were a few issues, mostly with the fact that I don’t know how to process .RAW files.  But I am nothing if not a learner.  So here’s to hoping things smooth out.  I also tried photo editing a little bit, for pretty much the first time… (other than instagram) (You should follow me on instagram: Placestorunto) Now, onto the palace.  We planned on getting to the palace around 2:30, because there was a changing of the guard ceremony at 3pm.  I’m the only one that actually made it there by 3, but I am so so happy that I did.  The changing of the guard ceremony was really fun to watch, with explanations in Korean and English as to what was going on.  I mostly didn’t listen though- so I’m making this up as I go.  🙂 01.jpeg First, this guy banged the drum.  Because… well, because it’s his job.  I suppose he also needed to signal to the guards on duty that the new guards were approaching. 05.jpeg The new guard arrived to the gate complete with flowing banners and a band.  Because if you’re going to make an entrance- Make. An. Entrance.  I assume this type of ceremony would not have been effective if stealth were in anyway important. 06.jpeg Once the new guard was in place, it was time for the retiring guard members to be led away with the banners and band.  They marched back into the palace. After the guard ceremony, I was (finally) joined by my friends and we started to explore a bit of the palace.  Gyeongbokgung was the royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty, and it is the largest palace from that time period.  It was damaged by the Japanese but has since been carefully restored back to it’s original beauty. After passing through the main gate, we came to the inner gate, which created a large courtyard in front of the throne room. 08.jpeg The throne room was really impressive.  What I found most impressive about it, was the detailing inside the room.  I’ve said it before about Korean traditional architecture, but the detail and painting are so intricate and beautiful.  Instantly recognizable as Korean, as well. 09.jpeg Near the throne hall, was the banquet hall.  It was used for throwing fabulous parties, and entertaining visiting dignitaries.  As such, it was spectacular as well. The name of the banquet hall is Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which means: the king is capable of handling national affairs only when he has the right people around him.  I really liked that. 10.jpeg After the pavilion, we traveled around to different places in the palace complex.  The palace is so large that it now houses several museums as well as a folk village.  One thing that I really liked was that while it had a lot of traditional Korean things: 02.jpeg It also had a “street to the past,” where things looked like they did in the mid 1900s.  They had a printing shop, and a comic book shop, barber shop… all the things you would really need.  My favorite, though, were the old movie posters they had up. 04.jpeg   (In the background is an original model Hyundai.) There were so many buildings and pavilions spread around, it was cool to see this Pagoda.  Sitting atop a high platform (with enough stairs for us to think staying on the ground was the best idea) it was easily the tallest building. 11.jpeg   And now I leave you, with possibly the least threatening totem poles I’ve ever seen.  How jolly. 🙂  All in all it was a really fun afternoon, even if it was super hot.  I’m not a fan of summer.  But I’m into my last few weeks/months of living in Korea, so I’ve got a lot of stuff planned coming up.  Really excited to make a last push to see the varied sites of Korea.  Any suggestions are always welcome!  🙂 03.jpeg

Pogradec Castle Ruins, Albania

By now, you’ve probably realized I like castles.  So, you’ll understand that I was pretty excited to learn that there were castle ruins, on a mountain just on the edge of the town I’m living in, Pogradec, Albania.  I set off, thinking that I would walk up, then spend a little while walking around the castle ruins, and maybe try and stay till sunset, to watch the sun set over the lake.  Beautiful.

I started out with a short walk around the lake, and then was happy to see signs pointing the way.  Directionally challenged me was relieved.

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Going in the right direction!

Now, it didn’t take long for the trip to get a little weird.  Definitely still in Albania!  First, there were a lot of chickens running around in the road.  No problem, I’m fine with chickens… (they’re smaller than seagulls) 

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Laundry day and chickens

But chickens aren’t all that strange to see.  (Even though there were a lot of them)  but like stray cats and dogs, chickens aren’t really a surprise to see.  A stray horse, however, was a little less common.  Eating lunch out of a dumpster… Two days later I saw the horse down by the lake snacking on delicious green grass (which is a lot better than the packet of crisps it was trying to eat when I took this photo)  Heh.  I said packet of crisps. 

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Note the angry ear position

So, already this trip was more than I had expected, and I wasn’t even barely on the mountain yet.  Just to mention some other interesting things that happened as I walked up: praying mantis, big flying bugs, wild blackberries… general lack of flowers.
The mountain (which most people would probably call a large hill, but I’ve spent most of the last 6 years in Chicago and Estonia… anything that isn’t flat, is pretty much a mountain in my book) isn’t so large, but the path sort of winds around it, making the journey much longer than it seems like it should be.  But finally I was approaching the summit, excited to finally see Pogradec Castle!

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You could say I was disappointed in the castle ruins.  Or, as I like to call it now, the dents in the ground where a castle should have been. 

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I took a photo of this rock, because maybe at one point is was a part of a castle.  Maybe. 

But on the upside, yes I trekked up to see a castle that turned out to be non existent… but the view!  So wonderful!  On the one side, you had mountains:

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On the other side, you could see the whole city of Pogradec:

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You had great views of the absolutely stunning lake:

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And you can even see the towns and villages dotted around the lake:

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So, yes, the castle was a disappointment.  But the trip was worth it none the less.  Perhaps some new signs advertising the spot as a viewing point would be more applicable. 

And one last picture of the gas station on the edge of town:

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I really do love this place. 

Devin Castle, Slovakia

When planning on going to Slovakia, I wasn’t really thinking about castles.  It didn’t seem to me to be a place where castles would be a big attraction.

WRONG.

Just outside of Bratislava, lies the ruins of Devin Castle.  Perched on a hilltop, it overlooks the places where the Danube river meets the Morava.  Now, it is just ruins, but it was quite spectacular to see them. I met up with a guy in the hostel I was staying at and outward to Devin we went.  First, I must say, getting to Devin was much easier than I thought it would be.  A very easy bus trip from the city, you board the bus at its first stop, and get out at the last.  No worrying about missing your stop here.  Another cool thing, for me, was that the bus stop in town was covered in really cool street art.

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When you arrive at Devin Castle, the bus drops you off at the bottom of the hill.  There are a few bars and cafes nearby, and upon seeing how high up the castle actually was, my friend and I looked at eachother, and I seriously contemplated just getting an ice cream and waiting for the next bus.  It’s high.

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There it is… alllll the way up there.  But he’s a pretty active guy, and I didn’t want to be the lazy schmuck, so up we went.  It was a surprisingly easy walk up, and felt no where near as high as it looked.  Truthfully, the upper part of the castle was closed to the public so we didn’t get to go all the way to the top. It was closed due to renovations, and a lack of funding had suspended the renovations.  So they were only charging half price.  I think they should just continue charging full price, because then they might have enough money to finish the renovations!  Full price was only 3 euros.

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The castle ruins were beautiful, but it was really the surrounding area that was the most stunning.  I just kept wandering aroj d saykng, ‘It’s so beautiful.  I know keep saying that, but everytime I think it,  take three steps, and think it all over again.  It’s so beautiful.’

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You could see the cloud shadows as the drifted over the hills.

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The castle, as I said, is at the meeting point of the Danube and Morava rivers.  I loved how you could actually see the waters from the two different rivers meeting and mixing.

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After spending a little too much time walking around the castle babbling about how pretty it was, we decided to walk down to the river and then through the little town as well.

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It was such a beautifully clear day, you could see the trees reflection in the water.

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The town near the castle was a mix of very expensive looking houses, and very old ones.  All in all, it was a cute town, with a great view in its backyard.  We saw this super cute puppy that really really wanted to be pet.

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At the end of the afternoon, we indulged in the ice cream at the cafe, and waited for the bus to come back and pick us up to go back into town.  A really lovely day, for under 5 euros (including return bus ticket, castle ticket, and ice cream)

Malbork Castle, Poland

Malbork Castle is just about an hour outside of Gdansk, Poland.  I decided to make a trip out to see the castle, and hopped onto the first train.  Now, the train ride itself was somewhat terrifying for me.  There were no seats available, so there were a whole group of us standing in the area between two cars.  This in itself was not scary, however, the fact that I was somewhat wedged against the door f the train, and a large Polish guy broke the emergency door open handle so he could prop the door part way open, and get some air into the otherwise insufferably hot train car was terrifying.  The whole trip, I thought the door was going to open, and I was going to tumble out of the train.
Luckily, I made it to Malbork.
Now, I am geographically challenged. I can not navigate.  I can’t tell directions.  I get lost a lot.  So I was sort of dismayed that when the train dropped us off, there was no castle in sight.  I would have to find the castle.  Not my strong suit. I decided to take the road with the nice sidewalk.  I figured since the castle was the biggest tourist draw in the area, they would make it as easy as possible to find.  (Not by posting signs, mind you…  at least not that I saw)  The road took me into a cute little town.
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I decided the best option was to just continue through the town.  And then, surprise of all surprises- I found the castle!  On my first try!  Without getting lost or taking a wrong turn.  Just intuitively.
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There weren’t many people around when I got to the castle, but they were all out of audio guides.  Normally, I wouldn’t care, because I’ve never been a big fan of audio guides, however in this instance an audio guide would have been very useful. The map I had was unhelpful at best.  Most things were not labeled, and it only showed the ground floor.  Undaunted, however, I entered the castle, through the gate.
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Well, gates…  because Malbork had five gates.  Five.  Good luck trying to attack this place.  And that was only into the lower castle area…  more gates and a moat were also protecting the upper castle. I suppose, when you live in a castle, you can never really be too careful.

Immediately upon entering the lower castle area, I was confronted with some art that really had me a bit confused. It was a whole collection of larger than life statues of men. With boxes around their heads…
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Also, they had cannons aimed at them…
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This was the first time I thought to myself, ‘gee, I wish I had an audio guide.’ It would not be the last. It wasn’t even fifteen minutes later when I noticed the second thing that I thought was rather inexplicable…
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Ninja warrior, suspended in midair. And he was not the only one… there were many ninjas all over the castle.
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I don’t know why they were there. Perhaps the castle was at one point protected by a band of ninjas…
ANYWAY
The castle was very large, and some things about it were just gorgeous. However, I felt it had been too renovated. The whole castle looked good as new, and it took away from any authenticity you would have felt. Until I stumbled into the one room that hadn’t been renovated yet. It was my favorite part of the castle, because for once you could see the history.
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The one thing I really did love about the castle was its windows. It had fabulous windows.

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The castle was really nice though, and all in all I had a great afternoon there. But all too soon it was time to turn back and head back to the train station to go back to Gdansk.

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