Never in my life have I dreamed of being a princess in a castle twirling my golden locks of hair, or of finding prince charming. In my mind, such men don't exist. A false illusion created by numerous Disney movies, yet castles always hold a real sense of charm and intrigue. When I first started traveling in Europe over a decade ago, such structures were completely new to me as an American. Castles aren't woven into American culture or landscapes. However, after visiting dozens of them throughout Europe they all began to blur together so I removed them from my travel agenda in European countries. Then I got a fancy camera a year ago and became more interested in photography. As a novice shooter, castles provide exceptional vantage points so I now make an effort to stop at them while traveling in this region of the world. In Slovakia, we encountered a very unique castle system, filled with obstacles and prohibitions. First stop was Orava Castle, pictured in the cover photo.
1. Orava Castle sits atop a very steep, winding hill. I'm reminded each time I climb these mountains how easy it is to get out of shape sitting behind a desk all day! You're hugged by a lot of trees on the hike up the path, forest like in some ways.
2. At the top of the hill, you're greeted by a door with a dragon knocker. No castle worker is present, although we checked to ensure the castle was open and available to visit during the time frame in which we planned to arrive. What to do? My travel partner macos began knocking on the door! "Hello, anyone home?" Silence. Also an intercom, but no one responded to our cries for entrance.
3. Maybe the Russian man scared the fair maiden behind the walls? So, this charming Brazilian woman (who spoke perfect English!) tried to penetrate the walls. There were five of us gathered at the top around 10 a.m. Me, Alexander and three Brazilian tourists. Still no answer at the castle door.
4. We stood for about 1/2 hour, waiting for someone to arrive and provide further guidance on entrance to the castle. Finally an old lady answered the door and informed us it was necessary to buy tickets at the BOTTOM of the hill. We saw no such signs on the way up and I didn't feel like climbing down again. Alexander went and discovered it's necessary to pay a higher entrance fee if you wish to take pictures. Okay, it's odd but we will pay. Then, the real shocker! It's only possible to enter if there's a group of 15 tourists. The cashier informed him we could wait an hour or so to see if others arrive. And who wishes to waste such time? Not us, so I heard a loud scream from the bottom of the hill for me to return down. Visit to Orava a total bust! We saw nothing inside, but the outside structures were interesting.
5. Seller of worn shoes at the bottom of the hill, which suggests that there are normally a lot of tourists at the castle. Luck not on our side this day.
6. Beautiful view of another castle from the road, I don't know the name of it. A lot of castles in Slovakia!
7. Next one our route was Trencin Castle. Same story here. It's necessary to climb a very high, winding hill to reach the top of the castle.
8. When you start to gasp for breath from the steep climb, you can take a break and peek through one of the many nooks on the castle wall. Scenic shots of the charming town through the peep holes.
9. I called this one the "Smiley Castle." Everywhere images of eyes, nose and a mouth on the walls.
10. At this castle, tourist face fewer hassles. There's a clearly marked ticket counter half way up the hill. Friendly cashier, but again it's only possible to visit in groups and at designated times. It was only Alexander and I, but a party of two is okay here. Not necessary to wait for a large group to gather.
11. Cheerful purple-haired lady and watch dog arrive with keys and let us into the castle. She gives a very brief explanation of the castle history in Slovakian (or maybe Russian, I can't remember??), and then tells us we're free to roam around. Why is it necessary to have her there, I'm not sure? Something strange in Slovakia where visitors aren't permitted to enter castles alone.
12. Inside the castle there are various artifacts. Here, some type of horse armor.
13. Cool art, but I don't know the significance of the images. Very few English inscriptions at the castle, although the main history was written on a plaque in English language text. Convenient for foreign tourists - Russia take note and follow Slovakia's example!
14. Observant bird in castle window.
15. As much as I moan and complain about the long hike up, the view from the top is always worth it! Lush, green trees everywhere.
16. Narrow, dangerous steps especially for clumsy people like me. It appears to be an entrance to some type of dungeon or torture chamber but it led only to another viewpoint in the castle. Dungeons - always my favorite part of castles but I didn't see one here.
17. The town of Trencin is very colorful and charming. The view here reminds me a bit of the bright scene from atop Vyborg Castle, although the architecture of the buildings in Trencin is quite different. If you haven't read my report about Vyborg, you can find it here.
19. Exit from the castle.
20. The town of Trencin sits very close to the Czech border, with about 60,000 residents. The town has a lot of small, narrow pathways, some right at the bottom of the castle hill. Cute little place in traditional European style. So different from America, where everything is big and spread out. Difficult to find cobblestone streets anywhere in my country.
22. A lot of quaint and cozy coffee shops and cafes nestled in various pathways. This one I particularly liked - "Coffee Sheep" rather than "Shop." Creative, and I find these animals to be cute. :)
23. Local resident.
24. Small market in the city center, where residents can purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. Guy selling here is a midget. Do you know this word? I recently taught it to one of my Russian friends. It's the name for a little person, similar to a dwarf but different physical characteristics.
25. Nice window dressings and thrift shops.
26. Even a sex shop!! Remember the Aeroflot thieves who stole my toy? Here a perfect opportunity to replace it, but alas no. We were on such a tight schedule and "sex shop" wasn't a planned stop on our route, so Navigator Alex said no. I began to call him a dictator at various points in the trip. :))
27. Beautiful child playing in fall foliage. Marvelous and decorative hat on the little one.
28. I will never forget the face or eyes of this woman. A real beauty with a gentle smile!
Trencin, I liked it very much! Still many more reports from the Eastern Europe trip to come. Sorry, I've been a bit lazy with posts recently. Where have you seen the most magnificent castles?