Sunday, July 27, 2008

Neuschwanstein Castle - An Architectural Wonder

To visit Neuschwanstein Castle once is a marvellous experience but to visit it twice as I have been able to is a joy. I first went to Bavaria when I was just 16 years old and the sight of this fantasy castle when it first came into view was nothing like anything I had ever seen before.

Its location is stunning, set up high on a rockface and the architecture so daring that it begs belief today let alone how it must have appeared when it was first built. And that's just on the outside! When you go inside Neuschwanstein Castle the whole experience just becomes even more breathtaking. You might think I'm exagerrating but I'm not - ask anyone who's been there. The lavish gold leaf decorations, marvellous murals, mirrors and marble ornamentations are just too many to go into detail about. You then begin to think about the fact that the castle was never actually completed and the tragedy of what happened to King Ludwig II of Bavaria is brought home.

Branded a 'mad' king for his love of the arts in preference to military matters, he was by no means mad. He was a brilliant architect having designed Neuschwanstein largely himself and his passion for great music is the main reason why we know of Richard Wagner's music today. Had it not been for the patronage of Ludwig, Wagner might never have been able to make his 'Ring' a reality. Nor might we have ever heard of the Wagner Tuba. The Festspielhaus at Bayreuth was built with funding from Ludwig purely for Wagner's music.

The price Ludwig paid for his unkingly love of the arts was an early death, drowning in the Starnbergersee lake along with his doctor. At the time it was pronounced a suicide but in later years a clearer and perhaps more truthful understanding of the political opposition Ludwig faced has come to light and it's thought by many that his death was not self inflicted.

My second trip to Neuwschwanstein, this time with my husband whose family tree in fact goes back to Bavaria, was to provide more special experiences - but that story is for another time and another blog.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Medieval Fair In Portugal

Recently one of our team went to the Alentejo which is north of the Algarve in rural Portugal and was surprised to learn just how much medieval history there is there - from medieval villages and towns to medieval castles.

As chance would have it, they were there on 25 April which is "Revolution Day" in Portugal, celebrating the Carnation Revolution. There are festas and parties in every town throughout Portugal that weekend and our team member managed to get to Almodovar where there was a rather special 'party' taking place.

The first photograph he took on the way there and shows the magnificent, unspoiled countryside that stretches for miles into the distance.

The second photograph he took in Almodovar itself where they were making preparations for a medieval fair of some kind. The heraldry, helmets and axes in the photograph are replicas of what would have been used in medieval Portugal.

It's interesting to note that Portugal’s medieval castles, like the majority of those built in England and Scotland, were built for defence purposes - primarly against Spanish kingdoms to the north and hostile Moors to the south. They were certainly effective and it is said that Portugal today has the longest standing border in Europe.

Our team member was so taken by the lakeside quinta retreat which he used as his base, that he suggested we pass on the recommendation. Called 'Paradise In Portugal' it enjoys a unique, tranquil, lakeside setting and friendly atmosphere - a great base for a central Portugal holiday. It certainly looks a stunning place!

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Medieval Gardening & Herbs

Gardens were a great source of ingredients for both cooking and medicinal purposes in medieval times. Some herbs and plants were also used for religious ceremonies and for dyeing of fabrics.

A selection of herbs and plants grown in medieval gardens are still around today with a few still used for the same purpose – eg. Rosemary (Romarinus officinalis) was used then, as it is now, in cookery for seasoning.

Others include:
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Borage (Borage officinalis)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus spp)

Photo: Rosemary growing in my garden

Many medieval castles have gardens, not all dating from the medieval era admittedly, but many of the families who have owned these castles over the centuries have developed herb gardens within their castle gardens. I once enjoyed a super meal cooked by Lady Carlisle at Naworth Castle and recall how she enthused about the quality of the herbs in the recipe – all from her own herb garden within the castle grounds. I must admit, the food did taste really good!

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