Muckross Abbey, Ireland

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Muckross Abbey in Killarney National Park, Ireland

The silent headstones reach out of the earth like fingernails. A soft layer of grass covers the ground; ivy climbs the walls. Wildflowers, left to their own devices, plant their roots in their chosen bits of earth. Muckross Abbey, a squat, ancient building within the beautiful Killarney National Park in western Ireland, rings of silence. As one approaches the roofless, hollow structure, the quantity of graves thickens, as in Catholicism, being buried on Holy Ground was a believer’s final life objective. Graves are everywhere, even inside the building. The ground by the abbey seems to be higher than the ground further away, but that’s no trick of the light or any natural phenomenon – no, that’s a result of as many people being buried on Holy Ground by the church as possible. The silence inside is deafening. Your footsteps echo in the cloisters as you circle the inner courtyard. Climbing to the second floor, you come face-to-face with the ancient, scared yew tree planted by the monks of yesteryears, a symbol of their eternal faith. Finally at the top of the tower, you get a sweeping view of the rest of the churchyard, and beyond it, the lush greens of Killarney National Park, a good bit of which was once the property of the Muckross Estate before becoming Ireland’s first national park in 1932. The spell is finally broken when a group of boisterous tourists lumber through the abbey’s gates, and you take your cue, quietly slipping out onto one of the many forested paths winding in and around Killarney’s famous park.

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Kreuzenstien Castle, Austria

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Burg Kreuzenstein, Austria

The film set for Ken Follet’s World Without End is probably one of the most interesting castles in Europe.Why, you ask? Well, in some ways it’s not a castle at all. Some consider it authentic, but for others, it’s nearly akin to a hoax. You see, Kreuzenstien Castle is a bought castle, a ‘Frankenstein’ castle. It has been created from a hodgepodge of other castles from Austria, France, Romania, Germany…you get the picture. A ‘Frankenstein castle.’ The owner, Count Johann Wilczek, made rich from coal mining, decided that the ruinous medieval castle that predated the current structure was not a fitting for the Counts of Wilczek, so he built his own, using the original foundations as well as bits of any other medieval structures that his coal-mine money could buy. In this way, it is considered both a ‘neo’ and ‘original’ medieval building! Regardless whether you view it as ‘authentic’ or not, the castle remains a beautiful building with an interesting history, and well worth the  day trip from Vienna. Add bonus? If you’re into history, try to spot the different styles, eras, and buildings!

 

Train station in Antwerp, Belgium

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Central train station in Antwerp, Belgium

Trains whistle as they slowly puff to a halt inside the light and airy station. People hurry to and fro, a newspaper or novel tucked under one arm, a cup of coffee or sandwich in the other. Like any major train station, everybody is either hurrying to board a train or waiting listlessly for their train to arrive. There is an air of travel about the air, as everyone in the station is either coming or going. You, the intrepid traveler, can’t help but feel nostalgic in this slightly old-fashioned station, reminiscent of bygone times when steam engines were chic and classy. What makes Antwerp’s station special is its sheer beauty. The Belgians regard it as the highest quality of railway-related architecture in their country. If you don’t think that that’s impressive enough given the small size of Belgium, how about this? The world-renowned American magazine Newsweek named Antwerpen-Centraal “the world’s fourth greatest train station” in 2009, and just this year, the Anglophone magazine Mashable ranked it the number one most beautiful railway station in the world! With not only its gorgeous facade but also this massively beautiful clock presiding overhead, I think we call agree that it’s one heck of a place to catch a train!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument (Bath)

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Royal Crescent, Bath, England

Hidden somewhere in this beautiful city is my heart, left behind after spending nearly 6 months living and studying there. To me, nothing is more monumental than Bath, England. Bath’s beautiful centre consists of Georgian (neoclassical) architecture, ancient baths, a magnificent abbey, wonderful limestone houses, not to mention the classy Royal Crescent (pictured here). Together, they form a UNESCO world heritage site, meaning that I’m not the only one who finds the city monumental! Bath is an ancient Roman city, founded in 60-70 A.D. to take advantage of the natural springs bubbling underneath the city’s feet. Bath’s Royal Crescent is a row of 30 interconnected houses that form the shape of a crescent moon. Overlooking Bath, the Royal Crescent has long been inhabited by the upper echelon of Bath’s high society (made ever more posh by the marketing of Bath’s spa as a haute couture resort, particularly in the 18-19th centuries). Ironically, the chief architect only constructed the facade – each of the 30 owners had to hire their own architect to construct their house – meaning that in the back, each house is different in size, height, style, etc. Regardless, this building is – like the rest of this breathtaking town – monumental.

Strasbourg, France

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Strasbourg, France

France is, of course, a beautiful place – but one of the prettiest places in the country wasn’t officially France for a large part of the last two centuries. Alsace – as well as its sister, Lorraine –  played monkey-in-the-middle since the fall of the Roman Empire, bouncing between what constitutes as present-day France and Germany, depending on who had more power at that moment. Because of this, Alsace has both a distinctly German AND French feel to it, making it a unique place. Long before there was a “France” or a “Germany,” these two European giants have shared thousands of years of history, culture, and people. Even today, one finds many Frenchmen with German heritage and vice versa. The famed Gutenberg spent over 15 years of his life in Strasbourg, developing a new idea of his – what we call movable type, otherwise known as the printing press. Aside from shared history, Strasbourg’s beautiful wattle-and-daub architecture along the river is to die for. Known for its exceptional Christmas markets, it’s also a great place to sample vin chaud (hot wine), crepes, as well as regional Germanic specialties such as choucroute garnie (sauerkraut), pork sausages or foie gras. Visit Place Guttenberg and Petite France to become a part of this region’s colourful history.