Posts Tagged castle

Eifel National Forest roadtrip – Part 4

Hello All,

How are we all? Well, I hope.

A few things of interest of late, it is now Spring (astronomically speaking, but not really reflected in the weather, unfortunately) and today is World Meteorological Day which may interest some of you with a love for clouds and an interest in the weather, such as myself. For those of you who may not be able to access the link  to the Cloud Appreciation Society for any reason, the text introducing this is “World Meteorological Day on Thursday 23 March is themed, this year, on ‘Understanding Clouds’. It marks the publication of the latest edition of the World Meteorological Organisation’s definitive reference work on cloud classification: the International Cloud Atlas. This official resource for cloudspotters includes, for the first time, the ‘Asperitas’ cloud. It is a new classification of cloud, with a chaotic, turbulent appearance, that was proposed by the Cloud Appreciation Society back in 2008, based on photographs sent to us from members all around the world. It is a classic example of citizen science, in which observations by the general public, enabled by the technology of smartphones and the Internet, have influenced the development this most official of classification systems“. Even if you have a passing interest in sunsets or the like, the pictures are pretty awesome. Have a look.

Lastly, a more pertinent matter regards blogging and stuff. I am on Instagram! Yes, I have broadened my electronic horizon. If you are a ‘grammer, look me up @lukegeoffreyjohnson and I will give you a “follow”…or something, whatever this is referred to.

Anyhow, continuing to the blog, we are now on part 4 where things get slightly less history and more petrol-ly. I’m not sure that’s a word, but bear with me here. Essentially, this part of the journey covers some hiking up a hill to another castle and the views, but this view includes a racetrack, the main reason I travelled to the area in the first place. Anyway, stick with me here. The day was loosely based around me undertaking a trip to the Nurburgring racing circuit. However, on finding the village of Nurburg, I didn’t realise you could hike up to a castle…..

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From here there was a commanding view. The castle stands within the famous North Loop, or Nordschleife, of the circuit on a volcanic basalt cone. The castle has had quite a chequered past and has not been well treated but was of significance to pretty much every group who lived here since the site was first mentioned in the records in 1166 as Noureberg or Mons Nore. Local historians say it is probable that it was already used as a signal station in Roman times to protect the important Roman road that ran through the Eifel.

In 1290, ownership of the castle was transferred to the local government, because there were no more descendants of the lords of Nürburg. As early as the 16th century the castle fell into a very poor condition, a situation which the officials complained about. As a result, restoration work was carried out several times. In 1633, during the Thirty Years War, the castle was captured by the Swedes, who plundered and damaged it. In 1674, imperial troops re-occupied the castle. In 1689, French soldiers finally destroyed the place. Some surviving parts were also used  as a prison, but was no longer fit for that purpose after 1752. The castle was abandoned and used as a stone quarry. In 1818, local royalty had the castle restored because, with its height of 678 m above sea level, it would be able to act as a trigonometric point for creating maps. In 1949, ownership of the ruins was transferred to the German State Department for Conservation, who had work carried out several times in order to expose elements of the building that had been filled in, as well as to carry out safety and restoration work, which was still ongoing when I was there. What a view though…..

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Oh, and talking of views, what’s this? A racetrack? Actually, this is the view from just outside over the small village or Nurburg (which expands massively during racing season) towards the track. Those of you with an eagle eye, might be able to spot a small red car off to the left on the parking area. Yeah, I walked quite a way, not realising I could park at the bottom of the cone…

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However, the view from the top wasn’t just of the track, the beauty of the National Forest was obvious all around, as well as the fantastic field of vision. No wonder this place was fought over.

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Right, I will be talking cars now I’m afraid or more of the track and the surrounds, at least. There are quite a few garages owned by large organisations around the village that I noticed as I wandered around, including Bugatti, Audi, BMW M who all base a team here on occasion to test vehicles, which was the original purpose of the track. Nowadays, this is referred to as Industriefahrten. However, there are many new ventures for this area with the popularity of the area spreading, there are fairs, music festivals and all sorts of family activities hosted by the track but, the hardcore undercurrent is cars. On occasion, you see the odd private garage where people keep cars in the village just to go out and have a blast…..

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There is also a large visitors centre offering tours of the “ring°werk” museum and Grand Prix track behind the scenes, which was about all I could do as this was the German “off-season” and it seems that no-one visits Germany then. In a way it was nice, as there were plenty of parking spots, but not as you couldn’t experience a certain buzz that you get from places like this. There were many interesting exhibits and it was quite a place, but quiet wasn’t the word….

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I quite like a quiet spot, as I am quite happy with my own company, but as I left the museum after buying themed boxer shorts and the like from the fan-shop (no, I’m not joking and they are the most comfy things ever) I couldn’t help but be attracted by an advertising hoarding for drives on the track with this gorgeous Audi RS4 Super-Estate sat there doing nothing. Now, this won me over and got me thinking. Whilst, I couldn’t afford this kind of thing at 649 Euros, there must be a cheaper option…and should I use my own car. Hmmmm….

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On the way back, to aid my pondering, a lovely sunset over the forest. It seemed strange to have the two things in one place…a forest and a racetrack. They almost seem at odds with the current thinking but it is working and has worked for many years, nearly 100 years in fact. However, mine is not to reason why, just to enjoy the view once more as I left the circuit behind for the day..

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Hopefully the non-car people have not dropped off. I will try to minimise my car based musings in future posts but I can’t guarantee it! Thanks for dropping in and reading my blog as ever, it is much appreciated. Spread the word, Instagram me, ask for copies of pictures if you like them. I shall happily provide them.

Until next time though, take it easy and enjoy Spring!

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Eifel National Forest roadtrip – Part 3

Hello everyone…

Well, here we are, another post and it is nearly the month of March! Crazy stuff. Life is busy as ever and with the impending onset of the (admittedly, self-inflicted) training regime for the Tour of Pembrokeshire, it is set to get busier, I dare say. Apparently, it’s a 12 week improvement plan, or something. I shall let you know how it is going.

Anyway, for one thing, I hope the weather picks up some time soon. A little while ago, I may have mentioned the onset of the back end of Storm Doris (thanks to the US for sending that across) but it seems that was a false alarm and this is now the time for Doris to hit. According to one of my my little weather gadgets, it is set to rain…..

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For ease of reference, this little bulb, known in the lingo as a “Goethe Globe” is a weather  predictor in that, once filled with liquid, a pocket of sealed air with a constant pressure is created inside the device. As the atmospheric pressure changes outside the glass, it will affect this sealed air. A high atmospheric pressure system will push the liquid down the spout, as the outside air is heavier than the trapped air inside. Low pressure will cause the trapped air to be heavier than the outside air and will push the water up the spout. High atmospheric pressure or a “low reading” in the spout usually indicates fair weather, while a “high reading” in the spout usually forecasts poor weather or a low pressure system. In this instance, it seems that it should have been raining buckets indoors!

However, I digress. I seem to recall that I promised you all a castle, or in German “ein schloss”, so here we are. On the day in question, following the roads and my few euros worth of map, I happened upon Burresheim Castle. In so doing, I chose a unique place, as this castle, together with Eltz and Lissingen, is one of the few sites in the Eifel that have never been conquered or destroyed and have been able to withstand the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as numerous European upheavals since.

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That being the case is all well and good, I was just struck by the fact it was a pretty good looking building all in all. From the moment you entered the grounds, you could tell this was a mature and well established property (click the link for an old painting of the castle) and was especially taken by the lovely gardens to the side. The effort that goes into the maintenance of the pyramid bushes is pretty awesome in itself.

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Moving further in, a glance at the floor lets you know that this place has been around for a few years. In fact, the castle was built in the 12th century and Bürresheim was mentioned in documents for the first time in 1157 along with the owners at the time. You can see the age of the property by the visible ruts in the stone entrance way worn down by umpteen horses and carts transporting their wares ….

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How is this for an olde worlde kitchen too eh? OK, so I know that all of the equipment here is most likely not original, but I am sure there is an attempt to make the fixtures and fittings as close to authentic as possible. Imagine rustling up dinner using the rickety cupboard and stone fireplace…..by candlelight. Respect to the cooks!

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Talking of trying to be authentic, it is worth mentioning that what you see in the photos is not what you saw if you clicked on the link above to the original painting of the castle. The complex, which currently appears as a closed unit, has only been like this since the 15th century. Previously, they were two completely independent, non-connected and differently sized buildings. Once upon a time, the fortress of Bürresheim was secured by a few walls and drawbridges.  The latter are nowadays buried and only a few remains are left of the walls. On other matters though, get a load of this door….that there is a piece if fine architecture. Beats IKEA hands down…..

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It seems that this castle was so good, it even had a brief flutter with the movies. That’s right, Burresheim is famous, albeit under different names. A brief exterior shot of the castle can be seen in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade where it features as the fictitious Brunwald Castle on the German-Austrian border, where Professor Henry Jones Sr is held. Additionally, it has featured in German domestic films for children as a kings castle, an advert showed the baroque garden as well as the castle in the background and in May 2009 filming took place for a German language version of Rumpelstiltskin. So, in honour of a static building being more famous than I, a further picture of the lovely exterior inclusive of gardens is due!

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Onward now to a couple of water based images. On the way back from here, I stopped at what I thought was a pleasant lake for a leg stretch/walk. Judging by the large car park and numerous cafes, I thought it would be nice but it turned out to be very interesting too. What I had actually found was the Laacher See, an oval volcanic caldera lake around 1.5 miles in diameter up in the hills. It is part of the larger Eifel volcanic range and caldera features in the area, after an eruption formed the lake around 13,000 years ago. Since then it slowly filled with water but was expanded a bit in Roman times as the lava was quarried for millstones until the introduction of iron rollers for grinding corn. On the western side lies the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach. The lake has no natural outlet, but is drained by a tunnel dug before 1200 and rebuilt several times since. As you can see, the nature of the rock makes the water as clear as a bell, which probably accounts for the popularity with tourists.

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Having a Google, there are guesses of what this eruption might have appeared like at the time. SCIENCE ALERT! Much text about volcanoes now; please scroll down if you are likely to be bored easily or frightened by scales of the eruption in numbers! It is very interesting though, so please, hang on in there…..

So, for what seems a fairly small hole in the ground, the effects that it would have had were pretty far reaching and quite humbling. According to the scientific guff and in summary, volcanism in Germany can be traced back for millions of years, due to the collision between the African and Eurasian plates, but it has been concentrated in bursts associated with glacial advances and retreats. The initial blasts forming the Laacher See, which took place in late spring or early summer, flattened trees up to 3 miles away. The magma opened a route to the surface which erupted for about ten hours, with the plume probably reaching a height of 20 miles. Activity continued for weeks or maybe even months, with pyroclastic flows travelling 6 or 7 miles away covering the area with hot sticky mud. According the surveys, near the crater deposits are over 150 feet thick and even many miles distant, they are still 30 feet thick. In this eruption, all plants and animals for a distance of about 40 miles would most likely have been exterminated.

Unbelievably, the sticky mud actually seems to have dammed the Rhine River and created a lake! When this burst, the water flooded downstream and traces of this mud have found in Bonn, 50 miles away. Fallout effects have been recorded in an area of more than 120,000 square miles, covering from central France to northern Italy and from southern Sweden to Poland.

The wider effects of the eruption on weather were pretty harsh too, amounting to several years of cold summers and up to two decades of environmental disruption in Germany. However, the lives of the local population, known as the Federmesser, were massively disrupted. Before the eruption, they were a sparsely distributed people who existed by foraging and hunting, using both spears and bows and arrows. According to archaeologist Felix Riede, after the eruption the area most affected by the fallout (the area nearby occupied by the Federmesser) appears to have been largely depopulated and population shifted to southwest Germany and France. However, he states that these people seem had a lower level of toolmaking skills than the Federmesser and appear to have lost the bow and arrow technology. In Riede’s view the decline was a direct result from the disruption caused by the Laacher See volcano eruption. In essence, the eruption set the evolution of northern Europe back a little, which is pretty blooming scary when you consider the existing volcanoes and the population nearby in parts of Europe such as Naples.

Anyway, not that anything is likely to happen in our lifetimes, let us bask in the prettiness of the clear water and try and forget the geological time-bombs around the world!

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That was a little bit of a sobering note to end up on wasn’t it? Sorry about that. You have to admit that it is fascinating though isn’t it? The fact that surveys can find things like this out and a picture can be built up of what might have happened, is very interesting to me and I hope that it was for you too. Don’t worry, I don’t go all science all the time, there was a few easily accessible articles that had clear illustrations in, so I couldn’t help myself. Calm your fevered brows with a nice green landscape….

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You’re welcome. Next time, I shall avoid science, honest. Thanks for reading as ever, see you soon with a more light hearted blog, promise!

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A trip to Ghent (Part 1)….and some weird weather at home!

Hello and Happy 2015!

I know it’s a bit late but, I haven’t seen you. Looking good! Are you on an exercise program? Lost weight? Hehe…compliments over. Hopefully you all had a peaceful holiday and didn’t over indulge in mince pies and the like. I know I did but I am working on that. One of the steps is a new bike as mentioned before and seeing that will be soon, I am glad the near hurricane force winds that we had earlier in the week have passed us by. One night I had to park my car nose into the wind so I could get out without the door flying out of my grasp.

Also, some of you who reside in South Wales, or indeed the UK, may have experienced a fairly unique occurrence (well, to the UK anyway) in this last week. Thundersnow. No, it’s not a made up term (spellcheck thinks it is)…a quick explanation can be found by going to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-30814403. I could have pasted the Wikipedia link but it was waaaaay too scientific. OK, so over me, it wasn’t thundersnow over me but thunderhail and thundersleet (yes, these are also real things).

All I recall is getting wound up behind a guy who couldn’t see a green light for toffee, then an almighty flash, no thunder, then a sudden downpour of soft hail which made the drive home VERY interesting. Think wet snow and people being tarts by driving normally. Apparently, the flashes are brighter in thundersnow and such because the light reflects from the moisture and this also in turn muffles the thunder, which accounts for the fact that I heard nothing but my father 4 miles away though the world was ending. He very rightly rushed out to garage his car, although the hail here was soft….we have recently heard from a friend that in Roch, 10 miles distant, it was powerful enough to possibly write off 2 cars we know of, but I’m sure others my have been damaged by multiple dents. I still think this is what damaged my bumper last winter whilst pounding a motorway, but Ford deny that their paint job is shite, so I have to take that on the chin. Anyway, pretty cool stuff eh? The only bummer it all happened when I was “sans camera”, so best use your imagination for an image!

What you don’t need to use your mind’s eye for is my trot around Ghent, or Gent, depending on which language you choose to write it in. Again, a lovely town with history oozing from the brickwork (hopefully not like Verviers which seems to have been oozing radicals…current affair based sly dig there). First stop from the rail station was a huge square where this is the main feature, the Belfry of Ghent, otherwise known as Belfort Ghent. Standing at near 95 metres tall, this is a further building that is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Listed item, as is the centre of the city.

Good weather and a pretty awesome subject to photograph. Eeexcellent!

Good weather and a pretty awesome subject to photograph. Eeexcellent!

This building served a similar purpose to that of the Belfry in Bruges, in the first instance it was used for religion, then was converted to basically a look out tower and now is used as a landmark and holds bells that lend a unique chime to the city every hour. On to the next picture and couldn’t get over this…this building is not a church, nor a cathedral but, believe or not, is referred to as the Old Post Office. Pretty cool place to get your postcard sent from I’d say! Further on round the corner, you get a flavour of the “Old Town” also recognised by UNESCO.

The Old Post Office...come on, a post office? Seriously?

The Old Post Office and Old Town…come on, a post office? Seriously?

In amongst all the old buildings, there are always a smattering of news ones and I was quite taken by this one. From what I could see by snooping, it was a very nice restaurant for the well-heeled (judging by the prices) but I was amused by the signage you might be able to see at the right of the fence banning people from parking their motor cruisers outside! Possibly a Belgian nouveau riche thing….

By all means visit this restaurant at the end of the row, but don't park in front of it in your boat!

By all means visit this restaurant at the end of the row, but don’t park in front of it in your boat!

Now, to a castle with possibly the coolest name ever. The Gravensteen. Say it with a deep voice in a sentence involving torture and it sounds even better….”take him to the rack in The Gravesteen”. Mwuhaha! Alas, the translation is less spooky sounding, as it means “Castle of the Count”. Quite disappointing really. The castle you can see is from the 12th century but, apparently, a wooden version of the building has been here since 900 AD or so.

Spooky intimidating castle alert. At least it's not raining to add to the spook :)

Spooky intimidating castle alert. At least it’s not raining to add to the spook 🙂

The castle was as multifaceted as castles are; if anyone has the good fortune to live nearby a relatively intact castle you can explore, they get used for all sorts of stuff. This castle was used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard and the stones of the walls were used to erect other buildings. At one time it even served as a factory! At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished but the city bought it and renovated it for future generations.

Prepare to repel raiders! Oh, it's only people going to the cafe.....

Prepare to repel raiders! Oh, it’s only people going to the cafe…..

Part of the renovations added the museums within the walls and a fully renovated basement and crypt, which was pretty creepy and too dark to get decent pictures of, I’m afraid. Mind you, the stuff they had in the museum was awesome…not sure if it was from the renovations at all but still, all the exhibits added to the atmosphere. Very tasteful.

Fancy waering some of this armour? Not me, I'm a mere slip of a thing...I'd do my back in

Fancy wearing some of this armour? Not me, I’m a mere slip of a thing…I’d do my back in

Now this picture I really like, the curve of the walls in the inner sanctum of The Gravensteen. Mwuhaha! OK, enough of that, but it really does, if you squint and concentrate hard enough, look as though you were there. Ignore the modern trappings and such, imagine stray farm animals and wanderings serfs and it’d be authentic. In fact, the BBC liked this placed so much that a BBC drama series “The White Queen” used the inside of the castle squares for some scenes and the outside view of the castle with the moat was shown in some bits of the programme (with some airbrushing for obvious reasons). See, it’s not just me with a keen eye.

The sweeping walls and lovely relaxing interior of The Gravensteen

The sweeping walls and lovely relaxing interior of The Gravensteen

Anyway, I do leave the castle (under protest), so will show your some further images of Ghent next time. I believe there was nice bit of hail core action I took some pictures of when I got back to Bruges too…if not next time, then soon. I’m even taking images of weather on holiday! Sad, I know.

I shall keep you up to date with regards out freaky weather here. I hope it relents soon, I have a bike to ride to get under 12 stone! Until then, keep safe and thanks from dropping in.

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