Perhaps the highlight of the entire trip was castle spotting.
Whilst I absolutely love living in Australia, the laid back way of life, the climate, the land and the people, it is a sad fact that for all this we, as a relatively ‘new’ country, miss out on the history that countries in Europe have to offer.
One of the perks of said history is the castles.
Big or small, new and old, crumbling or unspoiled, extravagant and simple. I don’t care how they come, but boy oh boy do I like a good castle.
The idea of secret passageways, miniature doorways and hidden rooms just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Of course, this all stems from my love of fantasy stories, naturally. But what amazes me most is that no matter how many castles I see I still feel as if I am being transported back in time to a moment when castles were alive with nobility, scandal and intrigue. The feeling is so overwhelming that I’m certain were I to close my eyes, I could see the nobles wandering the castle grounds and the stable boys attending to the horses.
Like I said, I do love a good castle.
The first castle that caught my eye was in Krakow, Poland. We visited Wawel Castle at night when all was a bit eerie, but it was still perfectly beautiful, made even more so by the fact that it sits on the hill that hosts the Dragon’s Den, a limestone cave said to have been inhabited by the legendary Wawel Dragon.
Whilst the cave is closed during the winter months, the appeal of a city and a castle built upon the ashes of a dragon was all quite extraordinary to this impressionable young mind.
Now to England, where we find ourselves in the ancient town of Rye, which happens to be where my father grew up, his father before him and, some many years later, where I also did some growing up of my own. But more about that in another post.
Ypres Castle was built in 1250 and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rye. Once used as a prison, it now hosts the Rye town museum.
It’s a small fortress, but I love it all the same, especially after hearing of my grandfather’s part in the making of the canons that now sit outside the castle, as well as my father’s accident falling off one of the castle walls. Boys will be boys.
When I was 16, I went on a student exchange to Italy where I stayed with a host family for three months in the small town of Ferrara, about an hour south of Venice. The following year I went back to visit my host family. About three years later I moved there to study for a year. A few years after that I returned again for a visit. And this year, just over a decade after my first visit at the ripe age of 16, I returned once more to my host family, host town and host country.
Needless to say, Ferrara and Italy both hold a place close to my heart.
Did I mention Ferrara has a castle? And a moat? AND a drawbridge?
Yep, The Estense Castle is pretty impressive. Smack bang in the centre of the city, this moated medieval fortress has bared witness to every stage of the city’s colourful history since its foundations were laid in 1385. Whilst some amazing stories about the castle have been told to me in Italian over the years, I’d be well pressed to do them justice with a poor translation and my dreadful memory, but I would nonetheless recommend a visit to this beautiful castle if you’re ever on your way North to Venice.
The last castle I’d like to share with you is the gem of them all.
Having never before been to Edinburgh, I was absolutely taken aback by its beauty. The streets, the buildings, the architecture – it was all nothing short of amazing. Of course Edinburgh will get its own post, but its castle, well, it made such an impression that it probably deserves its own post too. Alas…
When I first spotted this magnificent structure, I was being taken on a tour through the streets by my dear Italian friend who now studies in Edinburgh. The irony of an Italian showing around the British born Australian was not lost on us, although it was even more prevalent when I found myself cooking her my Italian host-mother’s pasta sauce recipe. But I digress.
We were walking down the cobbled stone streets of the Grassmarket, admiring the beautiful bookshops, architecture and quaint little narrow passageways between buildings, when one of the wider side streets opened to reveal a towering rock cliff face, which literally morphed into the castle perched atop it.
I was absolutely speechless. Without getting all melodramatic on you, it was for me so overwhelmingly magnificent that I actually felt a bit choked-up.
Truly, this is the moment and the place that will stick with me as the absolute highlight of the entire trip. I was completely enamoured. I felt like I was standing before a castle from a fantasy story, in Westeros or in Middle Earth.
It made such an impression that I was compelled to write a poem about it. As I’ve said before, poetry is far from my forte and this is certainly no prize winner. But raw as it is, the meaning is clear: I love you Edinburgh Castle!
A Kingly Embrace
I walk cobbled streets
You hide behind stone
But with each passing crossroad
I catch glimpse of your throne
As cliff becomes castle
Turrets touching the skies
All turn to your fortress
With passionate sighs
You observe from above
The tenderness of others
The embrace of a friend
Brushing lips of two lovers
But when friends have long gone
And love starts to wither
The distance between us
Brings a tremble, a shiver
For in heart and in soul
I belong in your towers
Perched upon rock face
Dreaming for hours
And though distance remains
Between me and your grace
Please await my return
To your kingly embrace