Mostar is a city located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is an easy drive from Dubrovnik. As we drove across the border, the transition was dramatic – from the Latin alphabet to the Cyrillic; from beautiful coastal buildings to houses that were still pockmarked with bullets or fully shelled.
Pictured here is the Old Bridge (Stari Most). It was destroyed in 1993 during the war, much to the dismay of many. However, in 2004 the bridge was rebuilt and stands today as a beacon of hope for the future of this war-torn country.
Ah, Salzburg – the city most famous for being the birthplace of Mozart, and the filming location for Sound of Music. Everything about this Austrian city is perfect and picturesque: narrow cobbled-stone streets, stunning architecture, friendly locals and delicious food. The more I travel Europe, the more I’ve come to appreciate the smaller moments and memories abroad. Yeah, sure … I enjoy Europe’s big attractions – many are famous for good reason – but I don’t enjoy wading through a sea of tourists. My favorite memories usually involve finding a nice place to eat that is tucked back along some alleyway, and enjoying the local cuisine while soaking up the sounds of a new language. And in this way, Austria did not disappoint. My only regret is that we only spent 1 night here – I think Salzburg deserves a 2-night minimum.
Highlights from Salzburg:
- We hiked up along the outskirts of the old city wall, and just as we reached the top of Mönchsberg an enormous rainstorm swept through. Thankfully we were able to take cover under some umbrellas outside a cozy pub called Die Stadtalm, where locals were scrambling to duck inside. It rained so hard that even the umbrellas couldn’t keep us dry. Despite the wetness, there was something special and romantic about standing with Luke in a rainstorm overlooking the city. Shortly after the storm front passed, the clouds broke and were treated to this spectacle:
City view from Mönchsberg
- We ate dinner at Zwettler’s Stiftskeller, a cozy restaurant centrally located near Mozartplatz in Old Town. I consumed the most exquisite, yet simple spinach dumpling. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Dinner at Zwettler’s Stiftskeller Escaping another rain storm at a street-side cafe
- We went super-touristy and purchased a few Mozartkugels, a chocolaty delight first introduce by local Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst. You can find imitation Mozartkugels on nearly every street corner, but at least we opted for the only place in the world that stills sells hand-made Mozartkugels using the original recipe. You can find these at Cafe Fürst right off Brodgasse in Old Town. As a chocolate lover, I very much approved.
- Lastly, we enjoyed a pleasant stroll through the gardens of Mirabell Palace, which you may recognize as the filming location for the “Do-Re-Me” scene in South of Music
Mirabell Gardens, with Salzburg Castle in the background
I’m not certain we will have time to go back to Austria during our time here (Vienna being the other popular destination), simply because our list is too long and there is much to see. But I’m content with this delicious mini-slice of Austria.
Bodiam Castle. This is just about as quintessential as it gets. Located near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, this traditional British castle comes complete with a moat and drawbridge. It was fortified by order of Richard II in 1385, for the purpose of defending the south coast from the French. For centuries this proud building was left to fall slowly into decay, only to be purchased in the early 19th century by local builder “Mad Jack” who stripped the castle for building materials. At last, the castle was purchased by Lord Curzon in the early 20th century. Lord Curzon showed great sensitivity in his restoration of the castle walls, and he also restored the surrounding landscape. At his death in 1925, Lord Curzon passed Bodiam Castle to the National Trust, and it remains in their care to this day.
Luke and I visited this beautiful castle back in March. He drove with me 4 hours just to take pictures. Is he the best husband or what? We are blessed to have such amazing travel opportunities.
Have you ever been? If so, you may know that climbing to the top of Michelangelo’s dome will add 491 stairs to your workout. And it’s a scary climb – in some spots, the “staircase” is so narrow there’s no room for railings, so there’s a rope that runs down the middle for you to hold on to. And sometimes, it’s both narrow and incredibly slanted. Not good for claustrophobics. You don’t have to climb the whole thing, though – you can take an elevator and save 171 stairs.
The current Basilica is actually the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Old Saint Peter’s Basilica was built by command of Constantine I in 324. It was at there that Charlemagne was crowned the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on Christmas Day in 800. Not much of the original Basilica remains, but a piece of a mosaic from the eighth century can still be found at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, and eight of the original columns from the old altar were moved to the new (current) St. Peter’s.
Luke and I hopped over to Cork, Ireland for the night. It was a wonderful little trip, and though it was short we were able to see quite a lot. With some spare time before our flight home, we checked out the Fota Wild Animal Park near Cork, Ireland. The weather had been really crazy that day, alternating between sunny and stormy. As another storm cloud rolled over us, this spider monkey hunkered down in a nearby shelter.
I don’t photograph animals too often, but this little guy was too cute to pass up.
While waiting for the sun to set over Warwick Castle, I decided to hop down to Stratford-Upon-Avon for a quick look at Shakespeare’s hometown. Just a mile outside of town, in a village called Shottery, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage awaits Shakespeare-loving tourists. It costs $13 to get in, which I found to be quite expensive for what you get. I didn’t care too much to tour the interior, but they’ve built hedges all along the property so it would have been impossible to get a good picture without paying the entrance fee. So alas, I paid up. It was definitely interesting, and I do not regret it.
Although it is often called a cottage, it’s actually a large, twelve-roomed farmhouse. The earliest part of the house was built in the 15th century. The cottage was originally known as Newlands Farm in Shakespeare’s day and had more than 90 acres of land attached to it. Today it sits on a small (but beautifully landscaped) piece of land, and attracts over 50,000 tourists every year.
Anne was born in 1556, eight years before William Shakespeare. She was the daughter of a prosperous farmer. Many historians think they had an unhappy union, but there is actually no proof of that. Though he lived and worked in London while Anne stayed in Stratford, he did eventually move back and settle down in Stratford with his wife.
Last New Years we decided to head up to Edinburgh. We heard their New Year’s celebration was world class, and oh it was! (More on that later). Edinburgh is a good 8 hour drive away, so we took our time exploring the beautiful northern countryside on our way up. This sunrise photo was taken looking out from our charming bed and breakfast, The Pheasant Inn, in Keidler National Forest. This was the view from our window as we ate a delicious traditional English breakfast. A wonderful experience indeed!
I’ve visited dozens of castles over the 6 months, and all seem to pale in comparison to Warwick Castle – at least in terms of preservation. Warwick seems frozen in time as if not a single battle or storm could shake its walls. As such, Warwick Castle is often hailed as England’s greatest Medieval castle, and I can see why.
The castle first appeared on this site in 1068 at the command of William the Conqueror. Its bloody history is steeped in treachery, murder, mystery and intrigue, and it has passed through several great dynasties – the Beaumonts and Beauchamps, the Nevilles, the Dudleys, the Richs and the Grevilles. And yet, here it stands nearly 1,000 years later as if its never been touched.
This is Highclere Castle, located in Hampshire. Some may know it better as Downton Abbey, the estate featured in the popular British period drama. Although it is the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, it also serves as the filming set for the show.
Why “Abbey”? Like many of the great estate houses in England, Highclere rests on the site of a former ecclesiastical property. When King Henry VIII turned against the church in the 16th century, he seized many properties such as these. Used by the bishops of Winchester in the 12th century, even now it boasts a “monks’ garden.”
As a big fan of the show, it was quite a treat to visit this grand estate. Unfortunately, we arrived too late for the tour of the castle’s interior. We’ll save that for next weekend. If you’re looking to visit, make sure to book your tickets in advance. It sells out quickly!
I met a truly eccentric yet nice man who is the grounds keeper for Castle Rising near King’s Lynn. He had wild white hair, closely resembling the Doc from Back to the Future, wore a giant bronze key around his neck and talked to ghosts in his spare time. He told me stories of his encounters over the last 10 years, and all the footage and proof he’s assembled. “I talk to dead people” he says. “I have since I was a small child”. After giving me his own private tour of the castle, he showed me the tallest tower, which is normally locked up, and let me retire the castle flag for the evening. And as we were leaving, he bolted the doors, placed his hand gently on the wooden frame and whispered “goodnight”. He turned to me and said “just tucking them in for the night”. And that was that.