Castle Devin

We took a half day trip up the Danube to Castle Devin. It’s about a two hour boat trip up stream and half hour back on one of the little boats that regularly cruise the river.

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Castle Devin is set on a cliff at an altitude of 212 meters and sited where the Danube and Morava rivers meet and has served as a fortification since a stone castle was first built on the site in the 13th century

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The castle is in ruins these days, partly due to Napoleon blowing it up in 1809.

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Here is the tiny watchtower, known as the Maiden Tower. Separated from the main castle, it balances on a  rock and has plenty of legends around it featuring imprisoned lovelorn daughters leaping to their deaths.

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Before 1989, the Iron Curtain between the Eastern Bloc and the West ran just in front of the castle.

The area surrounding it constituted a restricted military zone, and was heavily fortified with watchtowers and barbed wire. After the Velvet Revolution the area was demilitarised.

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Nearby the castle is a memorial to those who lost their lives from 1945 to 1989 under the Communist Regime.

Many people lost their lives trying to cross this spot on the Danube river to get to Austria.

The memorial shows how many victims died under the communist regime in different circumstances.

According to the memorial, 2,200,000 people were deported from Slovakia from 1945 to 1989. 20,000 Slovaks were also sent to gulags from this period.

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Smurf Church

One of the quirkiest sights in Bratislava is the Church of St. Elizabeth – commonly known as Blue Church. It’s also known as the Smurf Church!!!!!

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It is a Hungarian Secessionist Catholic church located in the eastern part of the Old Town in Bratislava and is decorated in Art Nouveau style and  is astonishingly blue from tiles to pews to the roof.

It is consecrated to Elisabeth of Hungary, daughter of Andrew II, who grew up in the Pressburg (Bratislava) Castle. Saint Elizabeth is often shown holding a basket of bread, or some other sort of food or beverage, characteristic of her devotion to the poor and hungry.

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Elizabeth is perhaps best known for her miracle of the roses which says that while she was taking bread to the poor in secret, she met her husband Ludwig on a hunting party, who, in order to quell suspicions of the gentry that she was stealing treasure from the castle, asked her to reveal what was hidden under her cloak.

In that moment, her cloak fell open and a vision of white and red roses could be seen, which proved to Ludwig that God’s protecting hand was at work. The circular mosaic art above the door depicts this moment.

The Blue Church’s oval tower is 36.8 metres tall.

Interior decorations include the Elisabethan rose. Two coast of arms are displayed – Hungarian and the City of Bratislava.

Bratislava Castle

One of the most prominent structures in the city is Bratislava Castle.

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Sat 85 metres (279 ft) above the Danube. The “upside down table” as it is affectionately known by locals, is an imposing glaringly white block.

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You can see it from most places as it looms, in an almost affectionate way, over the town .

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The castle was converted into a Gothic anti-Hussite fortress under Sigismund of Luxemburg in 1430, became a Renaissance castle in 1562 and was rebuilt in 1649 in a baroque style.

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In 1811, the castle was destroyed by fire and lay in ruins until the 1950s  when it was rebuilt mostly in its former Theresian style.

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As usual we whisked around the outside but refused to pay to go in! I have a lot of exterior memories of places . . .

Central Europe beckons

Hot on the heels of our Malaga holiday we decided to head in completely different direction for our next travel fix.

Hence we found ourselves heading to central (almost Eastern) Europe in the shape of Slovakian capital Bratislava and the sprawling beauty of Budapest.

Here’s Bratislava as seen from the castle, with the Danube River in the background.

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Positioned in southwestern Slovakia, occupying both banks of the Danube River and the left bank of the Morava River it borders Austria and Hungary. It’s the largest city in Slovakia and has a population of about 500,000.

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Interesting fact alert!!! It is the only national capital that borders two independent countries.

While the old town is compact and it’s easy to see all the main sites in half a day at a push, it’s the kind of place that you either breeze through quickly or find yourself content to just veg out for weeks!

These’s a lot of statues in the old town, ranging from the oft photographed “man at work” of a worker peeking out of a man hole, to Napoleon prying into the affairs of seated tourists.

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Neil, as usual was forced to pose with anything that I spotted!!! (He loves it really) Here he is as a) Slovakian lady  d) porky mates c) chillin with Napolean d) ice cream testing

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We stayed in two different hotels during our stay in Bratislava. First up is the Hotel Devin. Wonderfully situated on the banks of the River Danube, it’s five minutes walk to the old town and 15 minutes from the train station.

With a rather imposing Soviet facade the hotel has had a complete refurb in the past few years and is now a sumptous, luxurious and lovely place to stay. There’s a wonderful wellness centre with pool, sauna, plunge pool and steam room plus the best breakfast I’ve had in Europe!

Here’s the view from room 318 across the Danube and towards the UFO bridge. The hotel is also minutes away from the national theatre.

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It’s a short walk from the main bus station too. (Which we couldn’t find initially – hence having to walk all the way to the river from the train station to find the hotel!!)

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It features some thoughtful graffiti (and some not so thoughtful too!!!)

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Artwork is a feature of most European towns and Bratislava is no exception. Here’s Neil striking a pose.

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And in stark contrast to the harsh new traditions, we also stumble across a festival celebrating Slovakian traditions. Here’s a rather imposing gentleman working the anvil (plus an odd green man too).

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Pueblos Blancos

The white towns of Andalusia, known as Pueblos Blancos  are a series of towns and large villages  in the northern part of the provinces of Malaga.

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All of the villages are characterised by bundles of houses with whitewashed walls and red or brown tiled roofs

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Although we didn’t have time to extensively tour these little hidden gems, we did make it to one – Olvera.

The main monument of this city is itself.

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A phrase that exemplifies this reality is “Olvera is a street, a church and a castle, BUT what a street, what a church and what a castle!”, for that reason Olvera was declared a Protected Area of Artistic and Historical Importance in 1983.

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At the very tip of the town is the church Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (the Parish of Our Lady of the Incarnation) next to the Arabic Castle.

From here you have a panoramic view over the picturesque red tiled roofs and whitewashed homes.

There is also a cemetery at the top of the village where you can see the traditional, stacked style of burials favoured in the area.

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As you wander the sunwashed, crazy paved alleyways, it’s like passing by whitewashed high rises for the dead.

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Help me Ronda!!!

About an hour and half from Malaga is the incredible town of Ronda.

The town is situated in a mountainous area about 750 m above  sea level. The Guadalevín River runs through the city, dividing it in two and carving out the steep El Tajo canyon on which the city precariously perches.

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Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls describes the execution of Nationalist sympathizers early in the Spanish Civil War.

The Republicans murder the Nationalists by throwing them from cliffs in an Andalusian village, and Hemingway allegedly based the account on killings that took place in Ronda at the cliffs of El Tajo.

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Here Neil gets a dizzying taste of the heights! It is spectacular, breath taking and more than a little knee wobbly!!!

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Next stop is peering over the tourist favourite – the 18th century Puente Nuevo ‘new’ bridge.

It straddles the 100m chasm below and offers unparalleled views out over the Serranía de Ronda mountains.

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Ronda is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting. Here’s the town bull ring.

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Then we brave the scorching heat to head off down into the ravine in order to truly appreciate the amazing technological marvel that the Puente Nuevo bridge really is.

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The architect was Jose Martin de Aldehuela and the chief builder was Juan Antonio Díaz Machuca.

The bridge was started in 1751 and took an epic 42 years to build. Sadly fifty workers were killed during its construction.

The bridge is truly awe inspiring when looking up at it from the ravine basin. If you look closely there is a chamber beneath the central arch that was used for a variety of purposes, including as a prison.

During the 1936-1939 civil war  both sides allegedly used the prison as a torture chamber for captured opponents, killing some by throwing them from the windows to the rocks at the bottom of the El Tajo gorge

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