Touring a Castle – Gorizia, Italy

Gorizia Castle

For those who’ve never heard of Gorizia, this small Italian town lies near the border of Slovenia. At various times, it has been ruled by the Venetians, French and Austrians. At the beginning of WWI, it was under Austrian rule until being conquered by the Italians in 1916 and again in 1918. To make matters more confusing, the boundary was also disputed after WWII when outlying areas of the town went to Yugoslavia in 1947.

It’s no wonder that a WWI museum is located here. But you wouldn’t know today that so many battles were fought here. Instead, the red-tiled town (which was mainly rebuilt in the 1920s due to significant damage in WWI) seems peaceful and definitely not touristy.

My other daughter quickly vetoed the plan to see a war museum. Thankfully, Gorizia Castle is located next door and we went to visit it while my husband and other daughter went to the trenches.

Between the two landmarks lies a stone church with a postage-size front yard. We chose to meet here 90 minutes later.

Climbing up the large steps, we entered a stone gate. With the castle to our right and the outer wall to our left, we ascended up the hill. Soon, an ivy-covered turret area appeared and we climbed the wall to see a birds-eye view of the town.

 

At the top, we paid the admission price, which was only 3 or 4 Euros and entered the venerable 11th century structure. What surprised me the most was seeing furniture in each of the rooms. Usually with structures this old, you pass by a room and a placard might say it was the dining room. In this case, the dining room had actual dining room furniture.

The dining room

Due to damage throughout the centuries, the city undertook a massive restoration campaign from 1935-1937 to restore the castle to its original splendor. We noticed that all the rooms came off of a large courtyard which we later learned is called the Court of the Lanzi. I always wondered how they had light inside the structure and this explained light coming from the outer wall and the courtyard.

Court of the Lanzi serves as the hub of the castle

Upstairs, we went into a music room that had a display case of various instruments as well as several halls that served as meeting and reception rooms.

We also passed by the prison which was exhibiting a WWI exhibit. We saw many different military uniforms and learned about the different fronts and battle that occurred in the area.

 

Lastly, we walked up another flight of stairs to the chapel and nursery areas.

The chapel inside the castle

We walked through a large room that was covered but open to the outside (this room was directly above a large diplomatic room below). From here we saw amazing views of Gorizia and we could walk all the way around the castle on this walk.

A model of the castle

Walkway around the top of the castle

 

View from the top of the castle

For more information about Castello di Gorizia, click here.

 


A Magical Day: Portschache, Austria and Lake Bled, Slovenia

A magical place – Lake Bled

It’s 1985 and I have just finished my junior year of high school. My parents and I embark on a three-week trip to Europe, but I’d much rather be at home with my friends.

We spend three harrowing days in Vienna. Why do I say harrowing? Because I blew out my contact lens cleaning machine when I forgot to use the correct electrical adapter. I’m forced to wearing my glasses for an entire evening until we purchase a new machine.

Then, my parents have the brilliant idea of hiring a guide to take us to Budapest for the day. Back then, Hungary was still a communist country and I really didn’t want to be stuck behind the Iron Curtain and miss my senior year of high school. The day trip turned out fine, but I had written postcards to my friends telling them if I didn’t come home at the end of June, my family and I were being held prisoner in Hungary.

Now that we leave Vienna and head towards Venice, where we’ll get on a cruise ship, I relax a bit. We drive through Austria and spend the night near Klagenfurt at a resort called Portschach. It is beautiful! Lake Worthersee, sailboats and plenty of outdoor activities manage to turn my sour disposition around. The next day, we go through Lake Bled in Yugoslavia. It’s another warm-weather town with a lake. Although we don’t spend much time there, I vow to return.

Portschach am Worthersee, Austria

Fast forward several decades.  After finalizing a cruise departing Venice, I know where I want to take my family first. You guessed it – Portschach, Austria and Lake Bled, Slovenia.

We arrive at the ParkHotel where I stayed with my folks back in the mid-80’s. Large plate-glass windows frame Lake Worthersee as we enter the hotel. Yes – this is the place. Walking outside, the lake seems much bigger. Multiple hotels dot the promenade area. It may have always been there, but I only remember the Park Hotel. Back in 1985, we arrived in time for dinner by the large windows and left shortly after breakfast. This time, I’m the adult and can set the schedule!

Lunch spots and hotels line the lake

We stop for lunch at the Restaurant Pruller in the Strand Hotel. Fortunately, tourists haven’t arrived as it’s late May and a weekday so I feel we have the place to ourselves. We walk along the Johannes Brahms Promenade back to the ParkHotel.

Now we head to Lake Bled just an hour away. On the 1985 trip, Lake Bled was part of Yugoslavia. As we cross into Slovenia, we see the old Communist style checkpoint from long ago.

Soon we arrive in Bled – a city nestled in the hills around a glacial lake. In the middle of the lake is a tiny island with a church and bell tower. As we drive around the lake, we pass a beach area and a castle. Getting back to the main area of town, we park at the visitor center to get a map and our bearings.

View of Bled from the castle

The docent tells us to walk towards the water where we’ll find “pletna” boats to take us to the island – the only island in Slovenia. As we’re walking down, a young man has a partially filled wooden boat and asks if we want to ride. For $14 Euros each, we agree to take the 90-minute trip. On the pletna boat, the captain has to row all of us (about 20 people) by himself. There is no engine, motor or sail to assist him.

The Pletna Boat

We learn from the couple sitting next to us that we just missed a huge rainstorm. As we get further from the town, we pass large mansions. Another passenger explains that one of these is owned by a wealthy Russian.

One of the many mansions on Lake Bled

Soon we arrive at the island where we hear bells tolling from the bell tower.

The Church of the Assumption on Lake Bled

 

We walk around the island in a clockwise path. At the far end, we see a lot of stairs – 99 to be exact – leading to the Church of the Assumption. This also seems to be the main docking point for the electric boats depositing loads of tourists. At the top, scaffolding covers the church building. Since we’re short on time, we decide not to climb the bell tower.

The Bell Tower was struck by lightning in 1688

Instead, we dip our toes into the cold water while watching more boats arrive.

On the boat ride back, another passenger tells us to try the Bled cream cake the region is famous for. We stop at an open air restaurant and try it. It is delicious.

Bled Cream Cake

As we head out of town, we drive up to Bled Castle.

Bled Castle

On the way back to our hotel in Klagenfurt, I reflected on our day’s adventure. It was everything I remembered and even better. Portschache and Bled aren’t the first towns to jump in people’s minds when you book a trip to Europe so I’m glad we could see these off-the-beaten path treasures!

For more info about Portschach, click her and about Lake Bled, click here.


Washington DC & Virginia Itinerary

In 2013, our vacation plans called for a week-long trip to Washington DC and Virginia as soon as school ended in May. In retrospect, we should have waited a few days. After picking up our kids directly from school on their last day, we stopped in Charlotte to have dinner with some friends and then drove as far as Durham, NC that night. Colonial Williamsburg was crowded when we arrived around 11:30 the next day (which also happened to  be the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend). By the time we got to DC on Sunday afternoon, everyone was tired and cranky. We learned a very valuable lesson – give our kids at least a day or two to unwind from the school year before going on a week-long trip!

Thankfully a good dinner restored us on Sunday night and we were refreshed by Monday morning. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve pushed everything back by two days, avoiding most of the holiday weekend. Other than that, the trip met our expectations and then some!

Friday

Drive to Durham, NC

Saturday

Colonial Williamsburg

Duke University campus

Colonial Williamsburg – including lunch at Chowning’s Tavern, tours of Rudolf House, Rockefeller House, Tea Room, Magazine, House of Burgesses

Dinner Blue Talon Bistro

Sunday

More Colonial Williamsburg – Governor’s House

Lunch at Trellis

drive to DC

Old Town and Alexandria waterfront

Stayed at Hotel Monaco, now the Alexandrian, Autograph Collection

Monday

Newseum

Dinner at Taverna Cretekou

The U.S. Capitol

Tuesday

The Smithsonian Museums – American History Museum, National Gallery  with one child, Museum of Natural Science – spouse and other child

US Capitol Tour

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Hotel Washington Bar with friend

Wednesday

Spy Museum

Ate at Pi Pizzeria

Annapolis, MD ferry tour

Mt. Vernon

Thursday

Mt. Vernon

Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive to Charlottesville, VA

Dinner – Continental Divide

Friday

Monticello

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