Beauty and the Beast’s nod to Saint George the Dragon Slayer

In the closing minutes of the recently released Beauty and the Beast, a gargoyle atop the multi-turreted castle transforms into the unmistakable depiction of Saint George slaying the dragon.

Saint George is a legend of medieval Christian iconography. In short, St. George kills a dragon, which had terrified the simple villagers, so they will convert to Christianity. The fable went on to inspire innumerable pieces of art, literature, and architecture in the medieval era.

So it was a pleasure to see a subtle nod in the final moments of the classic story of Belle and the Beast. The tactful reference adds a touch of class to an overall excellent retelling of this classic tale. To avoid spoiling the film (for the one person in the world who may be unfamiliar with the plot,) I will refrain from drawing any inferences.

Seeing it on the big screen reminded me of a recent trip to England and Bavaria, where my wife and I saw lots of St. George and the unfortunate dragon. A traveler doesn’t have to look far, whether it’s on the streets of Munich or the museums of London, to find St. George. Here are a few mementos. Enjoy.

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Left to Right: British Museum; Bavarian National Museum; Marienplatz in Munich.

Dickens does Travel 19th Century style

A review of Charles Dickens On Travel

IMG_0944On Travel by Charles Dickens is a charming if brief collection of essays on travels on the cusp of the modern era. He writes captivating accounts on topics such as trans-Atlantic voyages, pre-modern river tourism in America, and London cab rides. While evocative of past times. Dickens’ account can still be appreciated in today’s wanderlust-obsessed era.

As a master wordsmith, Dickens’ travel journalism is second to none. This Hesperus Press edition of On Travel contains seven stories, ranging from the criminally enterprising cabs of London’s streets in the 19th Century, to a continental expedition through Verona, Milan and the Alps. Dickens undoubtedly enjoyed the reflecting on his personal experiences ambling across the continent, as much as he enjoyed creating the wild characters of his popular novels.

For this reader, the strongest account is also the most dramatic: the harrowing ventures of pre-cruise liner trans-ocean travel. In “The Passage Out,” Dickens provides a glimpse into the voyages of 19th Century travellers as they navigated the dangerous waves to pursue a better life, or seek new sights and adventure.

Some key differences between cruising the Atlantic in Dickens’ era and today’s include the water within one’s cabin deep enough to wet one’s feet, persistent seasickness, and turbulence so vicious it leaves the author bed ridden for days, (not to mention the ship getting lost en route.) Despite these differences, Dickens’ style is as fresh as if it were just plucked off the pages of a blog or last month’s travel magazine. Check out this blog-esque Dickens’ passage:

“I am awakened out of my sleep by a dismal shriek from my wife, who demands to know whether there’s any danger. I rouse myself, and look out of bed. The water jug is plunging and leaping like a lively dolphin; all the small articles are afloat … Then I begin to comprehend that the stateroom is standing on its head,” (Dickens, 17).

Transported to the 21st Century, these lively travel accounts would live well on the pages of an adventure blog; however, this describes the tenuous state of trans-Atlantic seafaring in the 19th Century, where waves held passengers hostage, and tossed huge vessels like little pop bottles, with similar ramifications for one’s innards. But let us not forget the customer service experience:

“Rather a heavy sea on, sir, and a headwind,” a steward says to Dickens. While this writer has not yet been on a modern cruise, he is inclined to think this explanation wouldn’t cut it with today’s needy tourism clientele. Dickens contrasts the vivid descriptions of his age’s seafaring risks with the banality of a long voyage – leaving the reader with the impression that this voyage was not unique for the times. Like today, the traveller occasionally must wait out the bad for a return to the good when mishaps, lost luggage, or extended delays hamper plans.

Dickens takes pains to describe his prolonged seasickness after several days: “I lay there, all the day long, quite coolly and contentedly; with no sense of weariness, with no desire to get up, or get better, or take the air; with no curiosity, or care, or regret, or any source or degree, saving that I think I can remember, in this universal indifference, having a kind of last joy…” (Dickens, 19). Dickens begins to sound much like a modern voyager approaching elusive nirvana at the end of a vigorous quest toward wanderlust – the modern reader might interpret.

But the quest toward wanderlust is only beginning. Days later without reprieve, he describes, the ship “flung down on her side in the waves, with her masts dipping into them, and that, springing up again, she rolls over on the other side, until a heavy sea strikes her with the noise of a hundred great guns, and hurls her back…” (Dickens, 21).

An Extraordinary Traveller

Dickens brings similar colourful commentary to other stories in this collection. In “Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller,” Dickens describes an intrepid traveller who turns a previously sedentary and monotonous life on its head for wanderlust and continual travel in retirement. In modern language, Mr. Booley is living the dream as he visits America, New Zealand, Australia, and Egypt among others. I can’t help but reflect on modern road warriors as Dickens describes Mr. Booley:

“Nothing exhausts him; no alternations of heat and cold appear to have the least effect on his hardy frame. His capacity of travelling, day and night, for thousands of miles, has never been approached … He has often found a biscuit, or a bun, sufficient for his support over a vast tract of country” (Dickens, 74).

After living off the land in the bush and meeting a lass on her children, he resumes travels to unusual destinations for the time including the Artic, where he and the ship spend a winter frozen in the ice “vacationing.” I suspect the modern tourism industry does not and will not offer this any time soon, as enticing as it sounds. Still, Dickens account gives pause to reflect on the wandering spirit of another age in all its glory and bemusement.

Addendum

On Travel was published by Hesperus Press Limited in London, UK, in 2009. I found this by happy accident at Indigo Books in the clearance section. Originally priced at 7.99£, (about $13.25CAD), I bought it on markdown from Indigo books for $2CAD, about 1.2£. For my European Union readers, that’s about 1.4€. In other words, a great deal! This UK publisher specializes in rare classics and lesser known works of some of our favourite classic authors. (See www.hesperuspress.com.)

(As noted in the introduction, the collection contains some archaic relics of ignorance from previous times. Aside from this, On Travel charms the reader with vivid descriptions of intrepid characters and their experiences around the world.)

Iconic Paris in the Spring

Around this time last year, my then-fiance (now wife) and I visited Paris on the cusp of spring. We had a great time seeing the sights and did a ton of ambling through wet streets. Here are a few highlights: Eiffel Tour from Tour Monparnasse; Shakespeare an Company Books; Notre Dame Cathedral; and the streets near Galerie Lafayette. Enjoy. For more, see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/amblings780/.

Germany’s Romantic Road Delivers Beauty and History

One of the hardest parts of crafting a vacation itinerary is not deciding what to do; it’s deciding what to leave out. And nowhere is this more true than when choosing a day trip outside of Munich.

Ahead of our 2016 pre-wedding honeymoon vacation, my wife and I assessed many options. For several weeks I focused on the iconic Neuschwanstein Castle, with intentions of visiting this inspiration to Disney’s representation of 19th Century castles, films and the romantic era. It was already in the online shopping cart. However, for due diligence, I looked at a few alternatives, including enticements like Salzburg or the Alps. But among the top rated Munich day trips, a traveller consistently finds the Romantic Road to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (on the river), a medieval city perched above a gentle stream.

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I showed my wife and from that point on, we couldn’t be persuaded otherwise.

We booked a day tour with Grayline at a reasonable price point of around $75CAD each*. The tour came complete with commentary on points of interest along the way from our guide, and interesting history including about the region’s legendary beer industry. Our guide told us about Germany’s Purity Law: Reinheitsgebot. This 16th Century law restricted brewing to three ingredients: hops, barley, and water. This would surely be a modern craft brewer’s worst nightmare. Personally, I love German beer and think they hit on something special.

Our first stop brought us to a castle of a different sort than the famous one at the foot of the Alps: Harburg Castle. It’s different in that it functioned as a real castle over several centuries. Complete with siege features like massive, thick rock walls, and a dungeon for prisoners, Harburg intrigued without overwhelming.

Seeing Harburg Castle with it’s modest but deadly medieval mentality proved a pleasure for us seeking an authentic medieval experience. A local guide toured us through the castle, explaining its history going back to the 11th Century by the Hohenstaufen dynasty. The guide rapt our attention with intriguing insight about the thick, siege-ready rock walls built by hand before inventions of the modern era. The original iron gate was still intact, its downward pointed ends still stained by the blood of intruders from times past, we imagined.

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A small gift shop provided a few key pieces of memorabilia quite unlike the flashy, aisles of gimmicky souvenirs one might find at larger attractions. For myself, I chose a pint sized glass beer mug emblazoned with the crest and an artistic representation of the castle, (which has served with dignity bearing many frothy beers since.)

Romantic Road

The Romantic Road winds and turns through gentle, calm landscapes. Green, with spring in the air, small shoots started their upward journey, much like us traversing toward our destination. Along the way we drive through the Nördlinger Ries, an international recognized site believed to be the landing pad of a massive crater caused by a gigantic meteorite 14 million yeas ago. Its 24-kilometer diameter forms an upper ridge, like a pie crust, the bottom of which we drive through smoothly with cheer. The coach doesn’t stop. Some make do with photos through the windows as we cruise through the rolling, lush countryside. Others doze.

We arrive outside the walled medieval town steeped in historical significance for lunch. After a few wise tips, we were unleashed into the sleepy town.

*IMG_1492Through one of 42 gates, building facades bear bright, beautiful colours: blue, orange, yellow, pink – not unlike the charmed streets of London’s Notting Hill. The colours makes on feel like he is in an adult themed amusement park of sorts. The cobblestone streets, the town gates, and the thick, solid original walls that are at a couple meters thick transport the visitor back in time. Atop the wall, one sees a soldier’s view of the town.

Within the walls, one feels a part of history, as if we are awaiting siege like they did during the Thirty Years’ War. Perhaps we await reprieve and delivery from our foes, which have kept us captive several. Climbing the staircase to walk the walls, anything feels possible.

Rothenburg’s history weighs formidably; one inhales it and it is a pleasing aroma of fried sweet breads, cookies, and pies. (Or maybe that was just one of several bakeries as we walk toward the town square.) Nonetheless, it delights and tantalizes our taste buds as we seek a spot to refuel for the afternoon.

*IMG_1510Locals, we see, live and work here. People make a living within the walls; the town is not solely for the pleasure of sightseers. Midweek, our experience is quiet with no crowds to slow us down. We eat lunch at Baumeisterhaus, enjoying spaetzel (egg noodles) and kopytka (potato dumplings) in rich gravy with beef and chicken, sitting between walls of decorative antlers.

After, we stroll. We use the map courteously provided by the guide, and we locate the outer wall again and follow it to the Castle Park overlooking the river for an amazing view. We amble among the bright, blooming flowers and historic remnants the medieval period. We shoot photos by the Burg Turm und Tor gate house. We walk back by St. Jacob’s Church, a massive Gothic cathedral, but not through it, to the legendary Christmas store Käthe Wohlfahrt – Weihnachtsdorf.

One thing about Europe – for anyone who has not yet been – Europeans celebrate Christmas in style with big outdoor markets, festivities, and a rigor not quite matched in Canadian culture. Expecting something crafty and quaint, we find ourselves surprised and overwhelmed by room after room of Christmas crafts, décor, and sentimentality, complete with nativities, elves and a bit of the odd. My wife chooses a life-sized cheeseburger ornament for our tree next year. Regretfully, l left the companion pickle ornament behind. While we passed on viewing the attached Christmas museum at the back of the store, we spent our time absorbed in creativity and wonder. Here we were in March, fully immersed in a European Christmas experience, we felt.

Again, one finds himself conflicted by these choices when we choose one attraction over another. Given time constraints imposed by travel, we accept that we won’t see everything and leave treasures to be found another time. We skip the town dungeon and the Medieval Crime Museum, among others.

As we now head back toward our coach, we stop at a bakery for a ‘snowball,’ which consists of crispy strips fried bread, shaped into a ball, and dipped in various coatings like white or milk chocolate, or playfully dusted  with icing sugar. Big, small, colourful, crunchy, sweet, piled high in various windows as we stroll past gift and specialty shops, one almost feels surrounded by this local baked tradition as one might feel among banks of actual snow. Available in charming tins, we take just three for the road, and are kindly reminded not to eat this flaky pastry on the bus due to its persistently messy demeanor.

*IMG_1578With a few minutes to spare, I ascend the stairs to the top of the wall and follow it down a ways, fingers tracing the uneven rock, cold to the touch. I look out a narrow window, where defenders could have plotted victory from the clutches of deadly medieval means of war, or poured deterrents on unfortunate mercenaries below. I breath the cool, refreshing air.

On the way back we pass through the world’s largest hops growing region on the Autobahn, cruising through traffic at speeds quite unlike our ambling drive up the Romantic Road. The guide serves cheap beverages, and I enjoy cold Munich helles for only a couple of euros. The new hops crops have not yet grown up high on the polls and netting to produce the hops that make beer become beer, giving it that trademark hint of bitter. We don’t stop for photos. But all the same, we are glad to arrive back to Munich, where we know the streets, its people and landmarks, have much more to share.

Links:

Harburg Castle

Christmas Village

Tourism Rothenburg

*We paid our own way for this day trip and received no free products or services.

Dreaming about London in spring

My wife and I love London. Especially in the spring. In 2016 we enjoyed a nice amble through Hyde Park on a fortunate sunny day, and were impressed by its breadth and scope, it’s clean sight lines and openness. Populated but not crowded, green but not yet in full bloom, March is a worthy travel season. But don’t count on many sunny days.

Below are a few photos I took. Enjoy.