30 June 2011

It's a Maze(n)

There are loads of things to do in Budapest. Visiting one of the many baths is a popular choice, but when you find yourself in the middle of a summer thunderstorm, exploring the underground cave system created by the hot springs feels a lot more ideal. Talk about seeking cover. The maze below Buda Castle has a long, rich history, tracing back to half a million years ago. The prehistoric caves were linked by passageways during the Middle Ages, utilized by castle dwellers and castle hill residents alike. Treasuries, dungeons, torture chambers, wine cellars - basically anything that can be done with a cold, damp, underground space was done and the labyrinth was expanded over time. By the 1930s, it was large enough to hold 10,000 people. None of this is really acknowledged in the modern touring experience, so I was glad to have read up on it beforehand.
That's the thing about the labyrinth - it's absolutely not what you would expect from one of the '7 Underground Wonders of the World' (according to their tourist brochure and Web Urbanist, who also counted the employee passageways beneath Disney World amongst the wonders). It became a cultural attraction at the end of the Cold War, first housing a wax museum. After renovations in the late 90s, a new angle was taken - to guide people through the concrete labyrinth in order for them to explore the abstract labyrinths of life. I'm paraphrasing. The ideas of time, space, history and evolution are played with in mini art exhibits.
Here, ordinary objects, like swimming goggles and radios, were given the names of mythological figures. A sparse soundtrack of drums and unidentifiable percussive noises echoed throughout. There were 'excavations,' which include a sneakered foot print as well as a fossilized cell phone and lap top. I particularly liked the enormous coca cola bottle imprinted in limestone. It was all presented as fact and there was definitely a mention of extra-terrestrial life. The experience was kooky and quirky, high-minded and hokey all at the same time.
This "Renaissance well" celebrated its use as a wine cellar. It was basically the eternal flame of winos, a fountain that shoots out 'only the highest quality wine' 24/7 (though signs suggested you believe them, but not drink it). You could smell the faint grape rot of years of cellar use. This being the brightest room, it was fun to see the faces of the handful of fellow wanderers. Some were entranced, others bemused, some perplexed, other disappointed. Lacking a sense of humor will thoroughly limit your enjoyment of the labyrinth. A belief in spirits and/or a slight fear of the dark will most definitely enhance it. There's minimal lighting before 8pm and then none at all afterwards. A night time visit requires the use of an oil lantern, which sounds very cool. Amazingly, the museum is open twenty-four hours.,
Traveling in an underground maze is never 'typical,' but I have to say that the Labyrinth of Buda Castle is particularly atypical. Of course, this is only one section of the 10 kilometer long system of underground caves and tunnels. A separate museum, "The Hospital in Rock," shows the area which was turned into an air raid shelter and emergency hospital during WWII. It has been frozen in time as opposed to the consciously timeless Labyrinth exhibit and, as far as I can tell without actually visiting, offers a much more traditional museum experience. You know, if that's your thing.

29 June 2011

The Hungarian National Melon

Hungary is watermelon country. It's the height of the season and fruit stands have popped up everywhere. We've stopped at a few of them, both out in the puszta and in Budapest, and eaten some of the best and ripest melons of our lives.
The Hungarian summers are warm, sunny and dry, which is perfect for the fruit. Watermelons are a great, early season cash-crop for the farms along the back roads, where they are sold out of trucks or from big bins. Pink umbrellas act as a beckoning sign on the straight roads, set up at pull offs and visible from a ways off.
From this woman, we actually bought a honeydew, which was so ripe that it gave our car a rotting, damp smell. It was perfect and delicious when we opened it.
Watermelon production has been in progress here since the middle ages, when 13th century moors brought seeds up from southern Africa. It's become one of the major food exports of Hungary, along with peppers, paprika, sunflower products and corn - we saw a sudden boom of big, green Hungarian melons in the Czech and Slovak republics as the spring began to heat up.
Here, at a semi-permanent shop, separated from the road by a deep and fetid gutter, we bought our first slice of melon. Also available: honeydew, cantaloup, raspberries and cherries. Cherries - perhaps even more popular at the moment - have a more prominent place in the fruit pastries and pies of the young summer, but that may be because watermelon is difficult to do anything with except eat plain.
The problem with watermelons, of course, is that they are difficult to eat - actually, the thing is, they are difficult to eat politely in public. They make a better rural food, where there is space to spit out the seeds and sticky hands are less problematic. Also, even a quarter of one melon is difficult for two people to consume.
A related non-sequitor: one night, when we were sleeping in a little campground bungalow, someone or something stole an eighth of a sizable watermelon from our porch. It was disappointing to wake up and find that our breakfast was gone, but the theft injected a bit of intrigue into the morning, so it was fine.

27 June 2011

Kalocsa: Pretty Flowers and the Bones of a Saint

Kalocsa is the paprika capital of Hungary, or at least one of the two centers of paprika production in a red-powder-crazy culture. Being as I foresee a further investigation of the ubiquitous spice in the blog future, I won’t go too much into it here. I’ll only say that we visited the town specifically for the Paprika Museum, but stumbled upon a number of other curiosities and treasures. Of course, all exploration happened after a paprika-laden lunch, which included this cheese stuffed pepper and two fiery red bowls of soup.Kalocsa used to be a very important town, housing one of four Hungarian archbishops. The palace nearby had an incredible library, which we didn't have time to explore. The cathedral's exterior was mostly obscured by construction scaffolding, but its interior was splendid. The pink and gold fabergé egg walls were shocking to us, wandering in with no expectations as we did. It's amazing to think that all the churchgoers we'd dined next to had just come from their weekly mass in such a magnificent setting.
Tucked away in the corner, behind a flowerbed of prayer candles, was a gilded casket. Inside, the remains of Saint Pious were wrapped in a gauzy outfit, complete with little pointy shoes. An incredibly narrow ring was slid over his gloved index finger, sitting right below the visibly knobby knuckle. If you look closely, you can make out the saint's skeleton face. How bizarre.
The folk art specific to Kalocsa is some of the most famous in Hungary. The embroidered patterns are never repeated and never symmetrical. Some designs are made entirely of white embroidery and holes, others depict bright marigolds, tulips and roses. The collection of dresses, vests, socks, tablecloths and the like at the Károly Viski Museum were incredibly impressive. The flowers covered just about everything you could possibly decorate. Porcelain, wood, pottery, clay walls were all painted by the 'writing women of Kalocsa.'
They say that nothing in the town went undecorated in the second half of the 19th century. This bit of wall, between two shuttered sneaker stores, gave us a glimpse at what the entire town must have looked like. The Museum held a number of non-folk art related things, including one seemingly obsessive man's collection of rocks and minerals and a hall filled with ancient coins from around the world. The rooms had motion detecting lights, which would flicker on and buzz a few seconds after entering. That first dark moment in each new room, I was ready for just about anything to pop up. Kalocsa felt like a dusty, heavy-lidded trunk in your grandmother's attic, filled with any number of unexpected things: everyday items from another time and place, heirlooms and treasures, maybe a skeleton or two.
On the drive home, we spotted a barn full of cotton? dried flowers? Stopping, we realized it was garlic. Almost every house had at least a few clusters hanging on the sides of gutters, down from porch ceilings, on their mailbox. Little tables sold the heads next to dried peppers. A few also sold colorfully painted wooden spoons.

Halászlé: Hungarian Fisherman's Soup

Hungary is a river and lake country, with the Danube and Tisza rivers running through it's heart and Europe's largest freshwater body of water, Lake Balaton, in the west. Because it's so flat, and the water flows with such lethargy, it is also a land of big, slow fish. Carp, brown bullhead, sturgeon and catfish are plentiful, and their big carcasses and bones are excellent for stewing. We are staying in Baja, a fishing town on the banks of the southern Danube, where "halászlé" - fisherman's soup - is a culinary universality.
We've had three meals of halászlé so far. Above, the second best of the three, served to us at Panzio Vizafogó.
The Baja dish differs from other preparations in a couple of ways, but the basic recipe is almost always the same. A thick fish stock is flavored with an oily roux of paprika and onions, then used to braise heavy cuts of catfish or carp (or brown bullhead). It's hearty and easy to dress up in a number of ways. In Baja, little egg noodles are added to the broth and the fish is served on the side - so that the bones are easier to pick out, one waiter told us.
Baja is something of a halászlé capital, and it is assumed that travelers here have come for the soup. On the second weekend of July (sadly, after we leave the country), two thousand cooks will congregate here for an annual festival and soup boil-off. The dish's epicenter is on Petőfi island, where two restaurants claim to have the very best halászlé: Sobri Halászcsárdát and Vizafogó. We can say, with great certainty, that Vizafogó is far superior - though it's much less busy and doesn't have a "gypsy" band performing on the weekends. Above is the worst halászlé of the three, from Sobri Halászcsárdát, where we suspect they use a tomato soup base, and a fairly flavorless one at that.
If you really want good Halászlé, it might be worth it to head north from Baja to Korona Étterem in Kalocsa - the paprika capital of the world (maybe) - to try their variety. More spicy and more intensely fishy, it's delicious and simple. Without the noodles the broth stands out more, and the richer paprika compliments the sludgy consistency well. It's a better bowl of soup, really, and a great meal.

26 June 2011

Puszta Horse Show

‘Magyars (Hungarians) were created by God to sit on horseback.’ That’s how the saying goes here in Magyarország (Hungary). Horse riding is an important part of Hungarian culture. Pervasive, even. In fact, the word ‘goulash soup’ literally translates to ‘cowboy soup.’ In the Great Plain, they are called “csikósok” and showcase their skills at horse shows. We went to one in Bugac, at the edge of the Kiskunság National Park. This young boy performed in it, most likely to illustrate the born-to-ride point and to draw coos from the audience. I can’t imagine he’ll be able to ride this particular pony much longer. I wonder if he'll be sad to lose his, maybe, life-long equine partner or happy to graduate to a new model.
Mostly Hungarian tourists had arrived for the show, which was a much more scaled down affair than I'd expected. Images of American rodeos and a land-bound Sea World infused a sense of grandeur, or at least spectacle into my imagination. A very familiar song played over a loud speaker. It was once my cell phone ring and I believe it is one part of the Hungarian Rhapsody, but I've had no luck finding a way to google something I can only hum. The crowd pulled sandwiches and cans of beer out of their backpacks and settled in for the show.
The exhibition began and ended with the pièce de résistance: Five in Hand. Our guide book described it as breathtaking. Astonishment and not-believing-your-eyes were other cited audience reactions. A cowboy stands on two horses while leading three more, which is really more Three in Hand and Two Under Foot, but that doesn’t have the same verbal swagger. It was definitely impressive and looked incredibly difficult, but was milked a little too long to remain captivating. As he rode faster, his knees wobbled under the strain and the lively music wound up giving the scene an unintended comic effect. Still, the feat was undeniably skillful.
It was followed by a series of small tricks that showcased their mastery over the animals. When the first horse fell into its "play dead" pose, I was slightly horrified. The others followed, though, and I realized it was a stunted collapse. Whew. They struck similar poses as the audience snapped pictures.
The tables were then turned and the men bore the weight of their animals. This csikós had a perpetually worried look on his face, but this was definitely his most concerned moment.
What’s a horse show without a little levity? Luckily, they had a donkey to provide the comic relief. Look at the donkey perform a trick badly! Look at the donkey’s silly grin! Look at the donkey poop on stage! Merlin insists that this last gag couldn’t have been rigged, but I’m skeptical. The woman who had been announcing the tricks – or reciting epic poetry, who knows, it was in Magyar – brought over a tray of fruit juice for the riders. Crazy hijinxs ensued.
My favorite part was this series of whip-tricks. The horses galloped loudly, kicking up sand; the whip cracked and snapped down at wooden pins. It was becoming quite windy at this point in the day, which gave it all a greater sense of speed and gallantry. The youngest csikós, whipless, trotted up to his targets and kicked them down with his foot, which got a little laugh from the crowd.
The grand finale was beautiful in its simplicity. A herd of Nonius steeds were led out and around in wide lap. The wind had really picked up and their lustrous manes blew. The sun bounced off their healthy coats and, once stopped at the fence, they stood patiently as all the children in the audience petted them. In the end, I was glad that it wasn't the extravaganza I’d envisioned, that there weren't sequins and lassos. It felt like a perfect way to experience this proud element of Hungarian culture.

25 June 2011

The Great Plain

The Hungarian “puszta,” or steppe, got its name from the Magyar word for emptiness and desolation. At one time, it was the romantic land of shepherds and galloping horsemen – a place where gypsy bands played music in the night and the legends of a country played out on a large stage. Today, it’s mostly agricultural land, and not quite as empty. The earth is still dry and the June sun is vicious. After a few days navigating the great plain, we’ve come to enjoy the openness, huge sky and flatness.
The puszta is a bit of a backwater place, with few big towns and dusty, table-flat roads. Driving here can be almost meditative, with so few turns and no hills. The only change is in pace – slow in the villages, fast in between. There are people along the roadsides, selling all kinds of things – brooms, baskets, goulash pots and sheepskins are popular. Prostitutes stand along the more desolate stretches, waving at cars. Old men on bicycles pedal very slowly along the hot pavement. Everywhere, there are fruit stands. This is one of the bigger and more busy ones we stopped at, where they sold field-warm melons and tomatoes. Notice the threadbare carpets over the dirt.
This plane appeared out of nowhere, and seemed to have some unstated purpose in the empty fields. Propped up like that, as though in flight, it felt like a monument to something less two dimensional than the steppe.
Along the Tisza river, one of the major tributaries of the Danube, the soil is rich and the farms are legendary for their abundance. Ducks and geese are popular, and goose liver is a regional specialty. Goulash was invented here, and paprika is part of the local makeup.
Korona Cukrászda is a landmark in these parts, an ice-cream emporium renowned throughout Hungary and jam-packed on a recent Saturday afternoon. Their product is thicker and more custardy than anything I’d ever eaten in a cone, and it seemed to melt at a much slower pace than normal ice cream. The town of Soltvadkert is nothing much more than a setting for this shop, and nobody passes through without stopping. It was a perfect antidote to the heat and grit of the puszta; an oasis in the hardscrabble landscape.

22 June 2011

A Summer Market

We’ve been waiting for a market like this. This was no Czech or Slovak affair, with a few overwintered root vegetables and a selection of plastic-skinned, Turkish tomatoes. Before those countries, in more promising places, it was too early in the year for nice vegetables. Arriving in the Eger market was like walking into a garden, with fruit and greens galore.
It’s probably just a shift in the weather, and nothing to do with geography, but the first day of Hungary and of the summer felt like summer in a way that we hadn’t experienced in a while. Even in the shade it was hot and dry, and it made us crave something crisper and more refreshing than goulash or schnitzel – a perfect time to wander amongst apricots, lettuces and flower stands. Though the longest lines were at the butcher counters, a general enthusiasm for produce was palpable in the air. It's easy to get excited about new growth, and about the familiar smells of foods that have been absent for months.
It’s cherry and watermelon season here. We bought some bruise-colored, tender, black cherries and stood on a nearby bridge, spitting pits into the Eger stream. Later, we ate cold “meggyleves” (cherry soup) at a café and talked about how wonderful June is.
It was nice, too, finding apples with spots and irregularities. The people who sold their goods here were selling something that they had been a part of – if not growing the fruit, than probably buying it directly from a farm or orchard. Outside, old women sat with a few pints of raspberries, calling out to passers-by.
There was a certain bizarreness to the upstairs food court, where younger people ate fried doughs and men bought ricey blood sausage for their lunches. Up above all of this fresh food, like a slick of oil above clear water, the air smelled strongly of grease and meat and cigarettes.
There are places when the idea of a great European market is based on nothing but fantasy or tourism-brochure outliers. Then, in a sudden switch, polyester underwear and packaged crackers (which make up the bulk of most market's offerings) give way to a blossoming of summer.

Hungarian First Steps

Our first day in a country is usually marred by a little too much driving and a little too much expectation. We too acutely feel the full of weight of embarking on a new chapter in the trip. It can feel like the flip of an hour glass, making time feel finite and valuable, which is a terrible feeling to have when you're observing road work speed limits. I'm usually flipping through at least two different books, highlighting and asking questions like “how long does it take to walk 3 kilometers?” and “a town of 21,000 would probably have a laundromat, right?” The second day, we’re more or less settled and, feeling guilty about the unproductive first 24 hours, we do some sightseeing. So, today, we climbed the very pretty city of Eger’s very narrow Turkish minaret.
For a month in 1552, a ragtag group of 2,000 soldiers held off 10,000 storming Turks. This success means more for the folklore of the country (and, obviously, the city) than for the actual fate of history. Legends include women who poured boiling oil on enemies and men with beards stained with red wine. All sorts of fun stuff. However, the Turks revisited a few decades later and, this time, Eger fell. The minaret is the last remaining piece of architecture from the period of Turkish rule. It’s currently surrounded by murals done by school children, which portray the first, fabled fight. In the context of all this, I saw the minaret as the middle finger of their enemy, raised high to remind them what the final outcome was.
It was easily the most narrow staircase we’ve climbed – and we happen to be people that have never turned down an offer to climb a narrow staircase. Standing with both feet on a step, the walls grazed both of my shoulders. There was a fair amount of crawling on the ascent and the sound of our backpacks scraping against the walls. I'd say I was about the maximum size, sans backpack, for a n upright climb. So, if you're over 5ft 6in and more than 130lbs, it may be a squeeze. At first entrance, it was a welcome escape from the sun. About halfway up, Merlin asked, "Is it hotter in here?" Ninety-seven steep steps led to this door to the balcony.
There wasn’t much more room to maneuver once outside, but more light and more air. Which is always nice. Testament to the steepness, under 100 stairs had brought us much higher than we'd expected. Looking down over Eger, we saw a family of four taking pictures in front of the minaret. For a moment I thought, “Oh, I hope I’m not ruining their shot.” Then, I realized that if they were a beetle to me, I was probably no more than an ant to them. I'm not sure why, but when I see shadows like this, I always get the urge to wave my arms around and see if I can alter the silhouette.
The summer day played out below and around us. Ice cream cones, outdoor lunches, men in fluorescent construction overalls watering flowers. It must seems so strange to imagine us up there. Eger citizens must think it's so strange that on a day like, that really could have reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, this was our chosen activity. That people like us pay to take an uncomfortable stroll up a stone relic instead of rambling through the park or garden for free. But, see, for us, the few minutes it took made us feel exceedingly accomplished. Physical exertion? Check. Cultural experience? Check. Historic research? Check. First blog post of the country? Check.

20 June 2011

Slovak Spirits

Slovakian liquor stores generally highlight three interesting spirits – one strange digestif, one common-seeming brandy and one truly different thing that belongs to a singular classification. All are shockingly cheap, none are of undrinkable quality. While nobody would classify Slovakia as a great drinking destination, there are some interesting and quirky things to sip on here.The digestif is called Demänovka, and is referred to - in the peculiar taxonomy of Czech and Slovak imbibables – as a “bitter,” which is only somewhat descriptive. Partly concocted from a mead-like honey liquor, the herb qualities in the drink are less bitter than aromatic. Clove and cinnamon are probably part of the recipe, even if they aren’t named. It is dry enough to drink a lot of, unlike more cloying and intense digestifs. Perhaps this could be used well in a good mixed drink with a dark rum or a bourbon. I rarely have access to ice, so that’s just speculation.
The commoner in this grouping, “slivovica” comes in many forms and bottles. Sometimes dressed up, sometimes sold cheaply, this plum brandy is the same as any fermented-fruit alcohol in that its quality has more to do with the producer than something inherent to the recipe. The Slovak model skews toward unthinking clout, with searing alcohol content and a plum flavor that’s unadulterated by aging or finesse.
Of the three, “borovička” is the most unique. A Slovak invention, the strong national drink is often referred to as “outlaw juniper brandy” because of the illegal distillers who first produced it in the 16th century. Made from juniper berries, and thus obviously similar to gin, borovička has a strange, essential woodsiness that is entirely its own. The production process is completely different – gin gets its herbaceous qualities from vapor infusion, not from fermented juniper – and the taste isn’t quite the same, but the effect with lime and tonic is nearly identical to gin’s cantankerousness. A gin and tonic is refreshing, a borovička and tonic has an outlaw dash thrown in. It has less astringency than gin does, but a stronger taste of its base liquor. Slovak people tend to drink it warm, in a post-prandial ritual that is supposed to cleanse the digestive tract. I feel that it’s probably best taken on ice or mixed with something a little easier on the throat.
Slovak beer is generally pretty good, but not outstanding in any way. As I’ve said many times before, though, I’m not really a big beer drinker. Ignore the green can of Kozel – it’s actually a Czech beer.
One can be forgiven for thinking that all Slovak beers – like their Czech counterparts – are extremely alcoholic. Every beer produced here has a number on the front, followed by a percent sign. Most display 10%, 11% or 12%, with even 14% showing up from time to time. This - thank goodness - has nothing to do with alcohol content. Instead, the numbers reflect the degree of maltiness in the pre-fermented mash. Higher percentages tend to be darker and stronger tasting, lower numbers usually signify lighter, pilsner types. The numbers actually refer to the specific gravity of the mash, measured in Plato units. I have absolutely no idea what that means. Apparently, mass-produced pilsners are usually in the 6% to 7% range, while stouts and Belgian trippels can run above 20%.

Castle Hunting: Spišský Hrad

Rebecca remarked, when we first caught sight of Spiš Castle (Spišský Hrad, in Slovak), that this must be the most amazing castle that nobody's ever heard of. During that first glimpse, we felt a kind of awe. This is the kind of fortress that seems only to exist in the imagination or in tourist towns - turning off the car's engine and stepping out into the field, we felt almost alone with this medieval apparition. A tractor grunted its way across the field in front of us. cutting hay, but otherwise the hilltop seemed constituted only of ancient rock thrust up into the wind. This is the Slovak backcountry, and Spiš Castle rises in a lonely, limestone vision.
As we got a little closer, hiking up from a lonesome parking lot far below the walls, signs of modern life began to emerge. A group of paragliders circled above the hilltop and a second (closer, much more convenient) parking lot was bustling with cars. Spiš is famous within Slovakia, and it doesn't want for attention from Slovak daytrippers. From across the valley the endless walls had seemed deserted, but this was a trick of the distance.
From a nearby hilltop, we took advantage of the great light and blue skies. The breeze had attracted winged visitors to the high ground, and we watched as a few paragliders launched from nearby. A sidenote: I was intensely jealous of these guys. What fun it must be to fly like that.
Spiš is a ruin. In 1780, a huge fire destroyed all the wooden elements of the buildings, which had already been mostly deserted by the owners. Much of the stone components were damaged further by scavenging locals, who were looking for building material. The early-13th century stone tower at the center of the complex is one of the few remaining parts of Spiš in good shape - remarkable because of its age and its height. The tower was built to replace an earlier keep, built sometime in the 12th century, which was toppled by an earthquake. It was one of the first stone defensive buildings in the region, and an unsuccessful Tatar attack in 1241 - during which the tower was held easily by its defenders - helped popularize the masonry (as opposed to wood) trend. The walls are especially thick for such a short and narrow structure, and they seem a little primitive when compared with later designs. Still, it's remained intact for eight hundred years, which many newer, more advanced towers weren't able to do.
The fortification stood at a major crossroads between two trading routes, and the hill upon which Spiš stands has been settled since the 5th millennium BC, with rudimentary fortresses occupying the point for the past four thousand years. At the beginning of the middle ages, the Celtic and Dacian tribes that controlled the region had a stronghold here where they produced unique silver coinage that became the dominant hard currency of Slovak lands. Later, the kings of Hungary began building here, and created a monumental, defended residential outpost. The genesis of the surviving castle was centered around a Romanesque stone palace, accompanied by the original tower and a network of supporting walls and gates. Additions and flanking walls sprouted outward from this point as time went on and the site grew in importance. By the beginning of the 15th century, it was already one of the largest fortresses in Europe.
Constant construction and ambition ultimately proved a detriment, however. A long, lower extension was added to the upper castle in the 1440's so that a larger army could be garrisoned at Spiš. Two towers and a round keep were built, and the defensive focus shifted away from the high structures to the lower, more vulnerable walls. The advent of gunpowder weapons also complicated this addition, because the gunning vantage points of the high walls were so distant from the outer defenses that it made it impossible to fire in that direction without damaging the castle. New batteries were added below, but what was once an asset to the defenders became a liability, with nearly a kilometer of exposed battlements.
Partly because of this over-extension, the castle didn't fare very well in the centuries after, being taken and retaken by various forces until the region became more stable in the 18th century. As Slovakia became more peaceful, Spiš was also turned into more of a residential structure, with an architectural consolidation of the disparate upper buildings in a late renaissance, Italianate style. Interestingly, most of that renovation has been completely stripped away. The stones that were used for the more modern project were better-quarried and more valuable, so they were the first to be looted from the ruin. What remains is mostly older and more original.
At this point, Spiš is almost more impressive from afar, when the immensity of the thing can really be appreciated and one can imagine it more complete. Walking around the actual grounds, the walls seem more decayed than whole. From afar the outline is evocative enough to make you gasp. It looks, in its tumbledown way, better than a lot of rebuilt or well-kept castles and the white walls catch the light in a striking, romantic way.