Wednesday 31 July 2019

Medieval Days 2: Celje Castle

I tagged along (in a semi-official capacity) to the annual maths workshop in Rogla again this July. Here's last year's post. I didn't write an update because, with no elder children to serve as babysitters, my experience was not as hedonistic or adventurous as last time. (Basically I took the four year-old swimming every morning and read chick lit while he was passed out in the afternoon.)

Anyhow... on the way back we decided to stop off at Celje Grad (Celje Castle), with Ted's American PhD student in tow. The Counts of Celje rose to power during the medieval period. In an effort to free themselves from subordination to the Hapsburgs, they forged an alliance with Hungary, which propelled them onto the scene of medieval European politics and helped them rise to the rank of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire. Unfortunately, their line petered out soon after and ended with the assassination of the last heir in 1456. Their castle in Celje was abandoned in the 18th century.

Photo credit:

We visited a castle they owned in Croatia, Veliki Tabor, at the end of our Krapina holiday, but I never got around to writing about that visit. It was interesting to note that both castles claimed to be the site of the infamous, tragic legend of an heir to Celje, Frederick, and his low-born love, Veronika. I think that's worth a blog post in itself, but in summary, Frederick's father, Herman II, not too much of a nice guy by all accounts, forced his son to marry dynastically. Frederick fell in love with a non-noble woman,Veronika, and abandoned his wife. Herman demanded a reconciliation, but mysteriously (or not, ahem), Frederick's wife was found assassinated the morning after, and the two lovers went on the run. The irate father eventually captured them, had Veronika drowned, and threw Frederick into a tower for several years of solitary confinement.

Barbara became Queen of Hungary, Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire

The infamous Herman

The castle claims to be the largest (by area) in Slovenia. I don't know if that is true, but the visit was pretty much castle tour plus bonus thigh workout, climbing hills, ramparts and towers, surrounded by wonderful views. They seem to have rotating, often interactive, exhibits, so not everything was open (including, sadly, the virtual reality combat zone).

Yes, I am looking red, a result of my "forest bathing" experience in Rogla

A tour of our tour: The museum tower recreated castle rooms, complete with costumed mannequins: the armoury, a scribe's room, and a solar (lord and lady's living room). "Look," said our son, "there's a dead monk... and there's a dead princess."

Dead monk hard at work

"Frederick's Tower" was the supposed place of imprisonment for the disobedient son - where, according to accounts he almost starved to death and/or went insane. It posed a less serious dilemma for us: climb to the top first for the panoramic view, or down to the dungeon for the exhibition of torture instruments? We decided the tougher part was the climb, so that first, egged on our way by curiously computer-generated images of Veronika and Frederick. And then down to the torture chamber, which I went round swiftly, with the lightest of explanations to Alcuin. "Look at those funny hats people had to wear if they were bad!" Apparently this sort of torture was going on into the 18th century, which shocked me. I only took one photo, for the blog, because it turns my stomach if I think too much about what those devices actually inflicted on people (the wheel, the rack, the iron maiden... you get it).


In a grassy, thankfully shady, inner ward to the side of the castle gate, there was a small medieval encampment, part of their living history programme, where we enjoyed our picnic. Whereas the players at Kubed waited for us to step into their world, the people here were aggressively interactive, almost leaping on us to drag us into the medieval spirit. There was a chance to dress up, handle weapons and armour, practise archery, check out cooking and camping, play an outsize game of skittles, or experience the tamer punishments of the stocks.

That's an unfortunate shaft of sunlight falling on Ted's head - not a bald spot

A stop at the somewhat ironically-named Veronika cafe - feeling thirsty, anyone? - rounded out the visit (plus a visit to the toilets, which curiously looked more like a modern art installation than a loo). Apparently, the Counts of Celje owned more than twenty castles in Slovenia alone, so I suspect we will be bumping into them again.

Touristy stuff. Good value. The entrance price for all four of us was about the same as one ticket for a National Trust or English Heritage property, plus we got credit for the cafe, which had normal (i.e. not tourist) prices. Plus, there were detailed, free guidebooks. During the summer, there are various events such as tournaments and concerts (with a major medieval event towards the end of August), and you can also book extras such as guided tours or a medieval feast. The website is not very good, though. Here is some basic info via the Celje tourist site, and their facebook page. We would have explored downtown, too (Celje is the third largest city in Slovenia), but it was a very hot day, and we knew it would be miserable traipsing around surrounded by concrete. We definitely plan to go back.

Friday 26 July 2019

Medieval Days 1: Kubed

The village of Kubed, within the municipality of Koper, and not too far from the more famous Hrastovlje, puts on a yearly medieval festival. It runs over two days, with evening games and entertainment Friday night, and a pilgrimage-style hike of the region Saturday morning (apparently with goulash thrown in), followed by festivities on the grounds of a ruined castle fortress. With our teenager away in the UK digging up the Dorset landscape, we had no extra help with the hurricane that is our four year-old, so we had to opt for one event that looked child-friendly. We went for Saturday afternoon.

Taking a chance on the thunder showers sweeping across the region (see photo above), we set off up the ubiquitous winding roads, forearmed against the satnav inevitably missing the crucial hairpin turn. When we got to Kubed (someone was there to direct parking, hurrah), we got to wind uphill again, but on foot this time. But we were rewarded with free shots of local liqueurs - except Ted declined because he thought he'd be facing insane drivers on the mountain road home responsible.

In a fun (and clever) marketing ploy, we had to exchange our euros for the festival currency, the cubidum. And we had to exchange that within minutes for a child who saw all the food stalls and decided he was starving.

Not much was going on yet, though it was past starting time. There was a ring with assorted 'medieval' weapons for children to kill each other with. Alcuin was itching to jump in the fray, but it was mostly monopolized by older children, and he couldn't understand why it wasn't a good idea to throw himself in the middle of no-holds-barred eight year-olds. Eventually, the small(ish) kids got to take over, and he had his time in the ring.

At last! Something happened: a bunch of cosplay people processed up and down the pathway. As you can see below, included in the procession were people in national costume, who proceeded to put on a little play for bystanders. From my amazing grasp of Slovene, I can tell you it was about eggs and sausages, and then they played the accordion.

After that, it was historical reenactment time: players hung out by the armoury and practice areas, interacting with anyone who wanted, with music and dancing. And medieval drinking, which they deserved for wearing all those clothes - and armour - in the heat. One fun addition to the festival was a full-size combined trebuchet and catapult. When they felt like it, the players livened proceedings by lobbing some (non destructive) ammunition at the castle wall.

This isn't a great picture, but you need to note the chairs, because they appear in the next post, too!

Someone rashly let Alcuin handle a bow twice as big as he is. I stood well back to take the photo.

Finally, much later than advertised, and just as we were about to give up and leave, the combat began. And, after the wait, it was pretty good - professional and well scripted. But we had been there too many hours: Alcuin had reached the end of his attention span, and it was time to head off before all was over, thankful that we had missed the thunderstorms, and wiser for the next visit.

Ted pronounced that it was the sort of thing that would be more fun if you went in a group, with a designated driver (i.e. not him). I have to say that worrying trying to outrun (outdrive) the storms also made it less of a good time for him. I'd like to participate in some of the other events as well, so maybe there will be an update post coming!

Postscript. On the way to the car, Alcuin tripped on the pavement. It was a seminal moment - his first bad fall on concrete. He wasn't badly injured, but he was so traumatized he refused to walk for the next 24 hours. I had to carry him everywhere. Honestly, he is the most single-minded child we have, and that is saying something.

Touristy stuff. The festival, Medieval Days in Kubed, runs around the beginning of July. Here's a link to this year's festival (still working at time of posting), and one to a tad of history about the place. I promise, it's far from the worst mountain road we have been on. It's Slovenia, so you might want to turn up a little later than advertised - that's what the locals in the know seemed to be doing. If you are dedicated to efficient tourism (don't have small children), you might also squeeze in the famous Dance of Death fresco at nearby Hrastovlje.

Monday 15 July 2019

Quick Lit July 2019

 Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy as usual. I didn't read too much in June. For one, I was in the US attending my daughter's graduation - and getting in a little literary pilgrimage to Salem, home of Nathaniel Hawthorne. For two, we are in the throes of purchasing a house. And three, I was a beta reader for an upcoming historical novel, which I loved but can't reveal!

Picnicking in front of the House of the Seven Gables in Salem!

Robin Sloan - Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
I picked this out of the library in my daughter's dorm house in Cambridge, MA, while staying there for her graduation (from MIT, excuse the proud parent moment). It's a tale of ancient literary mystery meets Google (quite literally). Out-of-work Clay stumbles into a job as a night clerk at Mr Penumbra's bookstore, and soon discovers that the mysterious night-time customers are novices and initiates into a centuries-old secret society. With the aid of his tech-savvy friends, he sets about finding the final solution to the coded secret left by its founders. I especially enjoyed how this novel wove friendships across generations and celebrates the craftsmanship of both the past and the future.

Barbara Pym - Less Than Angels
I was feeling in a slump, and Pym is always the perfect pick-me-up. Her books are light and witty, but never shallow. In this 1950s comedy of manners, she draws on her experiences working at the International African Institute in London to pen a tale of love and petty rivalries among anthropologists, dissecting the lives of those who consider themselves experts at dissecting the lives of others. This novel has a larger cast of characters than other Pym novels I have read, and it was hard to keep everyone straight at first (you know, all those kinship ties), but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Where The Scarlet Letter began: the Custom House, Salem

Katherine Pym - The Barbers
Surnames a coincidence! This roistering Restoration tale is from a member of my online critique group, one in a series (not particularly interlinked) of London novels leading up to the Great Fire. Celia illegally practises surgery in her father's barber shop, a career not generally allowed to women, and then only outside the City of London. She is naturally skilled, with psychic powers that match her scientific curiosity. However, Celia's greatest threat is not her status but her ne'er-do-well family, who continually threaten to come between her, success and love. Katherine Pym's unusual style seeks to immerse you into a 17th-century experience - this is for you if you want a fun read with a difference.

And, Make Way for Ducklings in Boston Public Garden! (Mrs Mallard's and my own)

Ruth Hogan - The Keeper of Lost Things
Author Anthony Peardew has been collecting lost things since the tragic day forty years ago he lost not one but two precious things in his life. Now, he leaves his legacy to housekeeper and assistant, Laura, herself a 'lost thing' he rescued after a confidence-shattering divorce. Laura's mission is to reunite objects and owners - but she has to deal with lost souls as well as lost objects who need happy endings (including her own). A sweet, magical story.

Any plans to make your own literary pilgrimage this summer? Happy reading!