[The magical castle in Bojnice]
(I wrote this post on Saturday, and then right as I went to press the "publish" button, the wi-fi died. So you can translate all the "today"s and "tomorrow"s, etc.)
Yesterday at Silvia's house she showed me a print they had framed on their wall; it was a copy of an ancient sketch of Nitriansky hrad, as it was back in the 1300's, I believe. I would never have recognized it as the building I see from my window every day! There was a moat and a fortified lower wall (some ruins of which can still be glimpsed today), but the big difference was in the architecture and size. It was several times the size it is now, and the design style is completely changed. Silvia and Ruth were drawing from their shared knowledge about it, and they thought it had been burned down twice... Well, that explains something. Also in this sketch was the "ancient church" (that's what I call it in my head, because I don't know the actual name). It's this simple, unadorned building all alone on a cliff at the far western edge of Zobor. I'd always wanted to get a closer look of it, which I actually did today, while I saw another hrad...
Today Tibor, Ruth, Silvia, and I went to Bojnice to see its hrad, known as the prettiest castle in all of Slovakia. Well let me tell you, of that I have no doubt! But I won't get ahead of myself.
Bojnice is a town very close to Kremnica. But we took a different route to get there than the highway I've been on three times now. I was very grateful for the alternate route; new scenery to take in! A fun surprise as well for me, because the road happened to go right past the ancient church. I could crane my neck to look up the rock cliff and see it perched there. Silvia said they hold a mass there once a year. It would really be worthwhile to look into the date...
The countryside was Slovakian countryside. Always beautiful. The sunflowers are still not ready for the harvest, so as far as the eye could see it was gentle hills of drooped black heads. From a distance, they were actually lavender-toned, blending so gracefully with the green cornfields and pastures. It was a gray-sky day, so the higher hills were just faint outlines in the distance. I like them best that way.
We passed through some villages and towns I hadn't seen before, including Topol'cany, which I've been curious about for a while since a few of my classmates at school are from there. There was one village that Tibor said had been home to Tolstoy's doctor. Hmm! I really tend to prefer the rural settings to the industrialized cities, so I always enjoy these kinds of drives.
Bojnice was a smaller city. It's main attraction is its hrad, though there also is a zoo next door (which we didn't go to-- Ruth says it's not a very nice one, so I'm happy to skip it; things like that usually depress me). Please take a second and google image search this castle... If you do, you'll say, "wow!", but the reality was a thousand times more amazing.
My first impression was that it looked exactly like the castle from Beauty and the Beast (okay, minus the gargoyles). How to describe this... It was, simply put, the perfect castle. (I should probably use the word "castle" in lew of "hrad," because in Slovak there are two words for castle, based on if the function is primarily defense or pleasure, and this particular castle fits more into the latter category, but I don't remember the word for it.) It was huge--all in solid stone, plastered white--and exquisite from every angle. The spires were bronze (long turned green), and there was one section of roof that had a gorgeous inlaid design. There was a partial moat (you could see where there could be water, but the lake didn't go all the way around) with willows, ducks and even a white swan (sadly, only one). When we entered the first archway into a courtyard, I honestly felt I was stepping into a fairytale. There were a few delicate trees with black bark and lovely yellow leaves amid exposed rock, the ground dusted with fall's first leaves...
We got a tour, and while this castle had me sold just from its exterior, the inside was incredible too. Every room was fully furnished in period style with countless treasures; a rich feast for the eyes. There was an oriental room with silk screens with passages from the Koran on them, Japanese tapestries, huge Chinese vases and a Buddha, and a large mirror. Of the latter, the tour guide said, "If you smile in it, tomorrow you will be prettier." Soon we'll see how well that worked...
The previous owners (royalty) seem to have been infatuated with details; even the smallest or most ordinary thing had some secret worked into it. Somehow I picked out a serpent in what seemed to be wallpaper of just ivy! There were hidden faces everywhere; a little disturbing, actually. I realized one seemingly plain vase actually had many people etched into it subtly. One room had a whole ceiling studded with a hundred identical "cherub" faces... I use the quotation marks because there was nothing angelic in their expressions. No matter how I squinted, they looked downright evil, with their lips puckered in a grimace, mouths open-- I felt if I put my finger in one of them, it would bite me! In that same room there was a strange painting... I didn't know why, but of the dozens around it, I felt like it was radiating something unpleasant, melancholic at best, but maybe sinister. And to my surprise, the tour guide singled out this painting, drawing our attention to one of the apparently unremarkable background people. What! The artist had actually painted two faces on her! Very disturbing.
And on the subject of pictures, there was another that caught my interest, of a woman standing by a pond in a garden with a staircase behind her-- on the staircase are some nondescript, mysterious figures. The tour guide said the perspective was such that no matter where you stood in relation to the painting, it would look like the stairs were directly in front of you. I tried it; it was true.
Probably my favorite painting I saw there was a very large one of some ancient Grecian ruins. I love paintings in this style that can make the ruins look like they're in another world, or perhaps the only things left on the earth after some devastation. I could have looked at it for a very long time.
Sadly, the portraits were not the prettiest. That's speaking euphemistically. Really, I kept wondering if the portrait-sitters had realized how completely foolish-looking they had been immortalized. I hope they got their money back...
There was one part where there were three small dog statues. One had its mouth open excitedly, one had its paw raised (just like Phoebe always does!), and the last one I couldn't really see well. The tour guide told us each to pick one. Ruth and I both picked the one closest to us, the one with its mouth open. The worst one, it turned out! It symbolized a wild, lawless person. The dog with the raised paw (Silvia's pick) symbolized intelligence. And the last dog was the best: the well-rounded one who lives a good life. Oh well!
There was also periodic entertainment for us on the tour, as people dressed in full period-wear would be waiting in rooms to perform various skits. Twice we saw sword fights-- except these were with real metal swords, and they were doing some impressive moves! I was getting really nervous watching, even though I could guess how extensively rehearsed it was. There was one time when they were asking who wanted to shoot their crossbow. (Yes, a real crossbow with metal-headed arrows.) All of these audience participation sections were designed for the little kids--we had two in our group-- so at the crossbow part (yes, for little kids) I didn't go forward. But Silvia and Ruth started going, "Come on, Rhiannon, you should totally do it!" so finally I gave in to peer pressure. I ignored the weird looks the guys with the crossbow gave me. Whatever, I'll never see you again! But they kept giving me instructions on how to hold the crossbow in Slovak, and I kept doing it wrong, and Silvia kept translating... Finally the stars aligned and I got it right; I only half-glanced at the target and then fired... It was only a few inches off dead center. By far the best (yes, I beat some little kids), but they didn't give me the souvenir card. Fine then.
Another audience participation thing I did was learning the period dance... I didn't want to do it because of course, I wouldn't be able to understand their instructions in Slovak, but Silvia wanted to do it, so I went if she was going to. Actually, it turned out I did understand the Slovak instructions, so no translations required, and it was pretty fun. Thankfully easy! I'm terrible at learning dances unless they're left-right-left, which this one was.
To top it all off, the castle even had a cave underneath it. The caste is built on a--let's see if I can get this right from memory-- collapsed thermal cover? Does that sound plausible? Well, the cave was large and there was a lot of (drinkable) water down there. Also down below was the tomb of the last of the Palfi family, who owned the castle for centuries. It was very impressive, ornately-carved pink granite. Huge! I missed the date in Slovak as to when he died and was buried, but some time afterwards a honey-like liquid began to seep from his tomb. People said he was crying because the castle hadn't been turned into a museum immediately following his death, as he'd wanted it to be. Years later, in 1992, they discovered the liquid was actually...him. The metal structure within the tomb that had supported his body had partially collapsed, and well... Ruth told me this story, and I immediately said, "What? Why did no one assume from the beginning the liquid was him? Why would they assume it was anything else?" It seems pretty obvious to me that if something's seeping out of a tomb, it's going to be organic material! But Ruth said, "Here, people always want to assume first that it's something magical happening." That's a very interesting cultural thing. Who jumps first to science, and who looks to the supernatural?
So, a wonderful tour and time at the castle. We spent many hours there walking around and enjoying ourselves. It's such an incredible place. Okay, I was only 7 when I went to Europe the first time and saw castles, so I've definitely forgotten a lot, but I don't think I've ever seen a nicer castle. I'm not sure how it would be possible!
Outside the castle Tibor bought me a package of what looked like edible plates-- they're plate-sized, thin, beige sugar-wafers--in a souvenir box (which pictured Bojnice castle on one side, and leopards from Bojnice zoo on the other). I can't remember the name for this food, but they're more souvenirs than sustenance. An outline of the castle and a fountain is embossed on each one. So, here's the part I don't get: Coming home in the car, Silvia told me that these are traditional "spa food." What? "Slovakia has a lot of spas, you know. When you go to the spa, you buy these. You can only buy them near spas." "So what, you eat them there while you swim?" I asked. "No, you don't actually eat them there, you just buy them and bring them home for your friends to say like, 'hey, look, I went to the spa!'" I kept pressing Silvia for what the correlation was between sugar-wafers and spas, and she didn't know. That's just how it is! So, I found out there is a spa near Bojnice castle, and that's why we were able to get these there.
Coming home at 3, we went to lunch at a traditional Slovak restaurant near Bojnice. I knew what I wanted: vyprazany syr! (Breaded and fried cheese.) I actually decided on vyprazany encian instead; encian is a particular kind of cheese which tastes roughly like bleu cheese but is completely oozy when you cut open the fried shell (that's the "vyprazany" part). To drink, of course Kofola; and for a side... hmm, why not knedl'a? "Knedl'a?" Ruth asked. I knew before I said it that my Slovak friends would find it a very weird combination with vyprazany encian. But hey, it tastes good. "I know it's a weird combo," I said. "Can I take a picture of you with it when it comes?" Ruth asked. Wow, okay, apparently very weird! Tibor ordered for everyone, and when he said my order, he laughed and winked at the waiter, who gave me the strangest look as he shook his head in disbelief, chuckling. That American! Ruth did in fact get a picture when my food came, but it took so long I'd finished my Kofola by then... Too bad, because Kofola, knedl'a, and vyprazany encian define my favorite Slovak foods.
Ruth and I got home to something very unpleasant. Stara mama and stary otec were off to the spa, so now we have Molly and Lilly, two more Yorkies, to look after. And Molly is terrible as far as "house-trained." She just isn't. I can't believe how much she's gotten around in such a short amount of time! Everywhere...
Well, Ruth and I had an adventure, because this afternoon, when the dogs first arrived, we gave them all baths! Molly and Lilly were filthy and stank. Neither of us wanted to even touch them, let alone have them running all over the furniture... Phoebe and Roxy were also due for baths. But wow, that was a painful process. Well, for Ruth, anyway-- I thought it was really fun. Most memorable was Lilly, who is a mutant Yorkie. I call her "Vel'ka" and "Med'ved" ("the big one" and "bear"). She's enormous. She's about half the size of a big lab and just as heavy! Stara mama doesn't believe in cutting the dogs' hair at all, so Lilly is just a shaggy mess. Not only did we have to cover more surface area in bathing her, it was denser as well! And she's a sweet dog, but it was very traumatic for her. The whole time I had to have both hands wrapped around her neck (above her collar bones, you see) applying constant pressure to keep her down in the tub. I was worried I was going to choke her! It was a wild time.
Ruth and I were going to go to mass today (rather than Sunday) at the church at the base of the hrad because it's Angels Day, another special Catholic day. Unfortunately, dog-washing took so long we were too late to go to the service. Smutne!