castles of europe

A day at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock England

I have been in England for about two years now. Taking a stock of the places I have explored here, I realized that I have been more of an outdoor person; trekking and hiking the cliff paths, seaside, walking across towns on long hiking trails. As fate would have, my knees caught up with over stress and have been very bad last one month. So no climbing, no hiking for next 2 months. Apparently the only travel I have been making is from home to office and back. In this gloomy scenario, my good friends lightened my dull life with a day out to Blenheim Palace in Woodstock near Oxford in England. I have never spent one full day in just one monument, this was exceptional and I still felt when we left at 6:30pm that I didn’t have enough of it.

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Entrance to Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has so much of historical significance for the English, most of which was not known to me before I visited.

This is a grand palace; built from 1705AD to 1733AD. The battle of Blenheim was won by the Duke of Malborough, John Churchill; to celebrate the success, this Manor house and parkland was gifted to him with £240,000 as a gift from Queen Anne. After this began the construction of the Palace that we see today.

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Palace grounds from inside

Designed in old English Baroque style architecture which had a short life; however the magnificence of the architecture is evident in every corner of the Palace. It resembles the Palace of Versailles in France in terms of its overall layout and architecture. I certainly could relate the similarities between them.

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The skyline with statues in typical Baroque style

The palace belongs to the Marlborough lineage. Another major reason why this palace is so significant and hogs much historical limelight is because Sir Winston Churchill was born in this palace. From his birth to his childhood, his days of youth, entering wedlock, this Palace has been witness to the life of one of the most powerful and renowned statesman the world has seen so far.

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Sculpted – Sir Winston Churchill

In the backdrop of Marlborough family tree and the life of Sir Winston Churchill, you would tour the whole palace. There are royal rooms and apartments which are open for public viewing. The rooms spell richness and royal splendor with precious collections of furniture, porcelain, tapestries, silverware and other antiques.

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One of the state rooms

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The room in which Winston Churchill was born

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Beautiful painted ceiling of one of the rooms

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One of the official Rooms of the Dukes

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The royal dining place

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And my favourite room, The Library!

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The ornate and massive organ is placed in the entrance of the Library

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The base of the organ has these operational knobs.

Last hour in the palace, we attended a 30 minute of audio-visual tour titled ‘The Untold Story’. A very enthralling dramatic set up in the Eastern Wing of the Palace which has puppets and a story that plays as a dialogue in the background. The story is of the Marlborough family set in the Palace.

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One of the rooms with the puppet

The palace sits in acres of lush green parklands and a beautiful lake.

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View of the castle from the gardens. Retro look!

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The gardens

While the palace interiors will take most of your time, there is a lot to explore outside as well, specially if you are with kids and pets. The large parks have great spaces, rose garden, botanical gardens housing exotic plants, butterfly garden which is a very cute greenhouse observatory with lovely butterflies and humming birds, a green shrub maze, a small toy train to ferry passengers, a large lake with sloping grassy lawns; you will be really spoilt for choice here.

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The beautiful scenic lake

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Lovely view of the palace from the parks

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A small toy train ferries passengers from the front of the Palace to the Pleasure Gardens

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The Maze at Pleasure Gardens. Its fun. It will take you 25-30 min of running around to find your way out.

I am sure you would have got a fair idea that how we spent one full day in the palace and its green ambiance. The Blenheim Palace is a treasure trove of English heritage. Its a must visit for anyone who is looking at visiting a great monument, a world heritage site, a wonderful family day out and learn more about the British history.

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My last shot before leaving the majestic Blenheim Palace. This photo shot reminds me of Palace of Versailles and certainly there is a similarity in both

 

Note to Travelers

  • Travel : The Blenheim Palace is not easily accessible by Public transport. Its outside the city limits. You must come to Oxford Station and take a Bus to Woodstock and further ahead a taxi. Its best to drive if possible. There is ample car park space in the Palace.
  • Food : There are quite a lot of options in the Palace. From coffee shops to restaurants there is a decent spread of quite bites and elaborate lunch options.
  • Walking Shoes : There is a lot of scope of enjoying the green spaces by walking around. Ensure you wear your walking shoes or very comfortable flats.
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Categories: castle, castles of europe, palaces, travel, travel blog, Uncategorized, visit britain, visit england, weekend trip | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wavel Castle, Krakow – Walking in the footsteps of Polish Kings

A hot sunny afternoon today and I have been dreaming since last night about being one of the Polish queens walking the Royal route alongside my King in the timeless streets of Krakow. Well sounds preposterous and very bloggish to write some invented crap like this. To be honest I do take my historical travels seriously. Okay!! After these possibly ‘LOL’ statements, I need to really say that I couldn’t help writing this tripping specifically on Wavel Castle; it was indeed one of the most impressive fortress I have visited till date in Europe.

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First sight of Wavel Castle

The mighty Wavel Castle situated on Wavel Hill in Krakow is built in Gothic style. Cited in many records are evidences of earliest settlement on Wavel Hill in Paleolithic age, hence human establishments and trade grew around it. For many centuries this was the royal residence of the Polish Kings. Today this is a symbol of Polish Heritage and a reflection of its rich culture.

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The edifice of the Wavel Castle from mthe riverside

Me and my friend just had an hour in between work which was our lunch break; we decided to munch something on the way as we both wanted to tour the castle. Staying close by was a boon; we grabbed a ‘zapiekanka’ each and walked up the gentle climb to the castle entrance.

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Entrance to the castle. Rather this is the view while we exit.

The giant doors admit everyone in and you can tour the grounds and get great views of River Vistula and a part of Krakow without any entry charges.

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One such view from the grounds of the Castle

As we walked to the main square inside the castle compound, I was suddenly taken aback by the beautiful architecture of the buildings inside, the multiple domes, sculptures, the whole ambience glistening in the sun looked quite a fascinating sight..

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The inside view of the Castle Compound

The Castle compound houses the Wavel Cathedral, Museums, Royal Crypts, State Rooms and Royal Private Apartments, Sigismund Bell. You can take anywhere from an hour to maybe a day to take a tour of the Castle. With the crunch of time we had, we decided to tour the major and most talked about corners of the Castle and the first one being the Wavel Catherdral

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Wavel Cathedral and the domes of the Royal Crypts. The golden dome undoubtedly stands out.

The interior of the Cathedral was stunningly jaw dropping. Its rich golden gilded pillars and altar, silver statues and exuberant tapestries, all spelled luxury and wealth of the Polish Kings. This is supposed to be the third Cathedral as the previous two were destroyed. There are more than 15 chapels inside the Cathedral which are all ostentatiously decorated. Photography is not permitted inside. This is definitely a must visit monument in Krakow.

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The front of The Wavel Cathedral

From the Cathedral, there is an alley leading to the inside of the Castle. The beautiful creamy Castle Courtyard is flanked by stately rooms. There is also an exhibition in one of the ground floor rooms which houses the world famous painting ‘Lady with an ermine’ by Leonardo da Vinci; one of the three of of his oil paintings in the world and a close cousin of Mona Lisa in ‘being mysterious’.

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The Castle Courtyard

Next me and my pal made our way up through a dark cellar with rustic narrow wooden steps to view the Sigismund Bell. The Bell is up at the top of the Tower and its quite a gruesome climb up but an interesting one. While you climb up the dark woody staircase you will cross few huge iron bells as well.

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Bells on the climb to the Bell Tower

Finally after all the sweat and strained knees, we reach the belfry of the tower. Hanging from the wooden ceiling is this giant intimidating bronze monster, Sigismund Bell, supposedly weighing 13 tonnes. This bell rings till date on national days and important festivals and the gong is heard as far as 50 kms. A true testimony of Polish heritage.

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The Sigismund Bell

It was truly rewarding to have walked the path of the Polish Kings all the way from the Wavel Cathedral to the Stately Apartments and Courtyard and then shed some sweat on our ascent to the Bell Tower. Before we take a flight down the steps to the Castle grounds, captured some lovely views of Krahow City from behind the ‘bars’ at the Belfry.

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The chariming city of Krakow as seen from the Sigismund Bell Tower at Wavel Castle

*Note to Travelers*

– Tickets to the Wavel Castle can be purchased from the Wavel Castle Office.

– The entry to the Castle Apartments, Bell Tower, Royal Crypts, Exhibition is all through the Wavel cathedral which shall be your entry point to explore all the spots.

Categories: castle, castles of europe, cathedral, cathedrals of europe, catherdals of poland, churches of poland, travel europe, travel krakow, travel poland, visit krakow, visit poland, wavel castle, wavel cathedral | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An evening in the charming Krakow, Poland

I stayed in Krakow for a night and was in this charming city for two days. Of course work kept me occupied and confined to a hotel during the day, but its the end of April, crisp spring weather and long days of sunlight; it did make me lucky to go around the town and explore after work. Thanks to my lovely Polish colleague and friend who was my local guide and so patient as I stopped now and then to click pictures.

Krakow is Poland’s second largest city and supposed to be a financial and IT hub. The city dates back to 7th century. After Poland was invaded by Germans during World War II, Krakow was the headquarters of the German occupied Poland. Unlike Warsaw, this city was not heavily plundered and still retains most of its old historic buildings and monuments.

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One of the first view of the old monuments as I started my walking tour to explore the city.

Irrespective of the time you are here, its fairly easy to understand the town and navigate. My short and working knowledge of the town which should assist anyone who wants to wander around in the least bit of time and enjoy Krakow. The new part of Krakow is quite swanky and has many state of the art Business Parks. Multinational conglomerates have made a beeline to this city owing its multilingual workforce, good infrastructure and strategic location with a proximity to Germany, Czek Republic, Austria.

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Krakow is located well to connect major cities in all neighboring countries and Poland as well

The UNESCO listed old town of Krakow is the one to visit to enjoy the old world charm. Like many other European towns, it is also straight from a sketchbook. Criss-crossed with cobbled streets, towering church spires, outlined with quaint restaurants, its large town square, called Grand Square or Main Market Square, locally Rynek Glowny is probably one of the largest and most beautiful in Europe.

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Grand Square at the Old Town Krakow

While you stroll around the Grand Square, there is a lot to see and observe. The most obvious monument to catch your eyes undoubtedly would be the Town Hall Tower with the ceremonious clock glaring with its hands spread out.

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Town Hall Tower

Next overlooking the Square is the grand pair of towers of St Mary’s Basilica. Yes like you I had the same question in my mind, why this Basilica has two towers? I have always seen one dome or pulpit; well there is a fable around it, of two brothers building each one and one of them dying to leave it unfinished, hence its the shorter cousin.

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The grand towers of St Mary’s Basilica or Bazylika Mariacka

Up from the taller tower, goes the daily ‘bugle call’ called ‘hejnal mariacki’. It is believed this was used as a watchtower and a trumpeter was sounding off alert to the people of the town of approaching Mongolian army when he was shot in his neck. To keep the tradition alive and honour him, today every hour the bugle sounds off and abruptly breaks off mid-melody. Do not miss it!

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Close up of the Twin Towers of St Mary’s Basilica

The Basilica is open for prayer but for a visit you have to pay 10 Zloty. I wasn’t expecting this at all, when I entered , the interiors blew me off completely. Sheer opulence and richness drips from every corner of the Basilica. The ceiling is an interesting starry sequenced with a striking blue background. The altar is the highlight with its large altar piece which is supposed to be the largest Gothic one in the world. Golden gilded figures, elaborate carvings and lavish interiors, you wouldn’t be able to get over it. Honestly I didn’t know when to stop looking at this sight and exit. Its like you cant get enough of it.

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Photography is not permitted inside. This one was clicked by phone camera as I wasnt aware. The only one photo I clicked.

Supposed to be the World’s oldest shopping mall, The Krakow Cloth Hall dates back to the 16th century, is right in the middle of the Main Square. A beautiful piece of architecture houses neatly lined shops inside, most of them sell handmade artifacts. A must visit!

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Krakow Cloth Hall

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The other beautiful view of the cloth hall market

Huddled in the corner of the Market Square is this bundle of domes, the 11th century Church of St Adalbert. More than 1000 years old, this is one of the oldest stone churches. Of course you cannot miss this one as well, as its right there though a little intimidated by St Mary’s Basilica’s flamboyance.

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Very interesting architecture of St Aldalbert Church

Next to the St Aldalbert Church is something that caught my eye. A quaint cart of souvenirs and knick knacks. While the masses were busy in clicking selfies in the Market Square, this small treasure trove certainly finds a place on my blog.

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The cute Cart of lovely Krakow souvenirs

All these monuments are packed in this large square, so the best way of course is to walk around. However you can also try these chariots driven by some lovely Polish women. Take a relaxed tour of the whole town in some charming company.

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White Chariots. Prices are unknown as we chose to walk around the town

If you are venturing a bit outside the town or traveling into the Old town from another part, the Trams are a great bet. Cant say much about the fares or timing as I didn’t get a chance to use them, but surely clicked a picture.

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Beautiful trams on cobbled streets

After having a good walk and clicking lots of pictures, we moved to another part of the town, towards the castle. Easiest way is to walk through the Grodzka Street from the Old Town. Apparently this is also called the ‘Royal Route or Royal Road’ as it is flanked by monuments. As you walk through this street, you will actually feel like one of the Royals as you cross various historic buildings, churches, giant statues.

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Cobbled Street upto Wavel Castle

As we keep walking, we cross another beautiful and very famous Church, The Church of Saints Peter and Paul, first Baroque Church of Poland.

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Church of Saints Peter and Paul

The most striking feature is the raised platform with statues of the Apostles. The interiors are beautiful and opulent too.

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The statues of the Apostles in front of the Church

As we left the Old Town Square behind us, we reach the Wavel Castle situated on the Wavel Hill. The evening views of the Castle were fantastic. Perched high this fortress has treasures inside it which we reserved to explore the next day. I will also write a separate post on the beautiful Wavel Castle.

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The Wavel Castle on Wavel Hill top

The setting sun glistening the Castle Walls with many stories hidden behind its high walls.

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One of the views of the Wavel Castle

Our walk for last few hours was one of the most amazing ones I have had in Europe. Truly felt transported back a few centuries and walking the beautiful streets amidst the timeless historical giants looking down at us. The river Vistula adds an extra charm to this idyllic town. As we called it a day and proceed ahead to the Jewish part of the town called Kazimierz to celebrate my belated birthday, we stopped for a while to admire the sunset on the horizon of this beautiful river town; And I would say my best click of the day.

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Sunset on River Vistula

Note to Travelers:How to Travel : Its really easy to travel to Krakow. It has an international airport and has good connections. You can also travel by train from major stations in Poland. I traveled to Krakow from London Gatwick and the flight was close to 2 hours. On my return I took a train from Krakow to Warsaw which is about 3 hours and costs 150 Zloty. In Krakow, wear your walking shoes and enjoy the city on foot. Alternately Trams are there as well. – Where to Stay : Preferably stay in the Old Town as its easy to explore it by walking. I stayed in Best Western Hotel which was a little on the higher side, around 400 Zloty a night. However lots of hostels and budget hotels are available in Old Town. – What to Eat : Eat at local joints. Try Pierogi which are meat or cheese dumplings, Zapiekanka which is like a crunchy long baguette with Pizza kind of toppings. Very filling and cheap. In the old town try some nice ice cream.

Categories: basilica, castle, castles of europe, cathedral, cathedrals of europe, church, churches, crakow, eastern europe, europe, grand square, krakow, old town, poland, polish, royal route, solo travel, travel, visit krakow, visit poland, wavel castle | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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