Tag Archives: ramparts

Traveling in Europe: Den Bosch Part I–Canals & Countryside

Den Bosch, moat, Holland, Dutch history, travel, culture, fortress

Den Bosch's ramparts and river served as a nearly impregnable fortress.

My last stop of four cities in Holland was Den Bosch. The full name is ‘s-Hertogenbosch and I think you have to be Dutch to pronounce it. Most people call it Den Bosch now and pronunciation seemed to differ between “den bos” and “den bosh”. Den Bosch is south of Utrecht and north of Eindhoven. It’s not large but considered a place to get away “to”. I probably would have missed it completely if it wasn’t that speculative writer and editor Jetse de Vries lives there and I emailed him to meet up.

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Boschenballen; worthy of making a stop in Den Bosch

Once I started reading about Den Bosch it sounded interesting enough that I stayed for two nights, couch surfing with Will. Jetse and I played a bit of tag at the train station, trying to find each other. Once we met I put my luggage in a locker and off we went to a cafe where Jetse introduced me to Den Bosch’s own claim to fame, the Boschenballen. If you’ve ever seen a profiterole (cream puff), imagine one bigger than your fist, covered in yummy dark chocolate and inflated with creamy goodness.  I wasn’t sure I could eat the whole thing (and shhh, but I’m allergic to dairy) but I took a bite and another and somehow managed to polish it off. I certainly didn’t need lunch till much later.

North Brabant, Den Bosch, fortress, Holland, history, canals

A very larg cannon is housed in the structure atop the walls built in the 15th century.

By the 1500s it turns out Den Bosch was once the true mercantile center of Holland, with three rivers (Dommel, Aa and Maas) converging nearby. The Dutch are also masters of the water ways and trade came and went by land and water. It was second in population only to Utrecht. ‘S-Hertogenbosch means Duke’s Forest and the original Duke was Henry I, Duke of Brabant. Over the centuries, with fortifications increasing, Den Bosch was considered impregnable and nicknamed the Marsh Dragon. They had built a moat from the rivers and water ways; if invading forces came near, they flooded the lands around. Too deep to walk through and too shallow to put a ship on, the city’s defense’s held strong.

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To get over one of the many bodies of water, there is a hand crank raft to take people across.

That is, until 1629 when Frederik Hendrik of Orange, using Dutch ingenuity and a goodly portion of purloined coins from a Spanish armada, built a dyke around the city with windmills and then pumped out all of the water. He managed to break through the one weak spot in the wall’s defenses and then rebuilt that section making it stronger. The ramparts still stand and are integral to holding back the waters. Den Bosch is considered one of the better fortress cities in Holland. A nature reserve now borders one side of the town, giving great pastoral views and nature walks.

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The underground canal tours are lovely and a great way to see the city.

Jetse had booked a canal tour and Den Bosch’s canals are unique in Holland because they’re mostly covered, unlike the open canals elsewhere. While the tour was in Dutch, Jetse was able to tell me much about the rich history of this small town. It seems people were not allowed to build outside the wall and as the city became more crowded they actually built over the canals. At one point the city was going to pave over the canals but instead the government made it a protected townscape, preserving the historical ramparts and the canals.

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Boschian fun on the canal.

The weather was perfect in late September, around 25-27 degrees Celsius. The tour went under the city and then outside around the ramparts. It ended with ducking into a darkened alcove where they showed a short film on Hieronymus Bosch, the city’s most famous painted. The water level was relatively high so we really did have to duck. And along the canals were large sculptures of some of Bosch’s strange creations.

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Den Bosch's canals were very beautiful.

Even without understanding Dutch the tour was worth it for the sheer beauty and scenery. The following day I took a walk outside the city walls and got to see Den Bosch from afar. Of the cities I visited Den Bosch definitely felt the most pastoral, because of the flat fields and the winding river around it. In my next post I’ll talk more about the cathedral and other aspects but it was definitely worth the visit. I’ll also have the full album posted once Picassa stops being persnickety.

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Blarney Castle, Ireland

From the fall of 2007.
 
It turns out my pictures got a bit out of order. There was the day that included Limerick and King John’s castle (getting there in the nick of time) and then driving to Blarney and finding we just had enough time to get to the castle. So Blarney was the end of our day and  then  we did Cashel the next day. I think.

The weather was so warm this day and we got there just before the sun was setting. They said, you have about a half hour for the castle but the grounds are open longer. (The castle is privately owned.) The grounds were very peaceful and evocative. The castle itself was impressive for its height (destroyed in 1446 and reconstructed by Cormac MacCarthy but must have been abandoned for a long time by the looks of it.) It was originally constructed before 1200 AD and I would suspect that the towers are the oldest parts as they were throughout Ireland. It was here that the Blarney Stone kissed me when I was snooping in dark and narrow passageways.

There was a long, dark, narrowing tunnel at the base of the castle. There were three doorways and one was purported to have been a dungeon. Some of the dungeons in these places were small crawlspaces (or in Bunratty, a space twenty feet below the door which would have required a ladder). I walked up the five steps and tried to peer in. I didn’t have a flashlight so I kept setting off my flash, hoping to get a split second view into mystery. I took a few pictures, then turned around to leave and noticed a bit of light illuminating another set of steps to my right. I put my hand on the wall and moved slowly to see where they lead. And ran into a bridging of stone, right at my nose level. I whacked my nose, hard enough that I saw stars and my eyes water. Had I even been walking at a normal pace I would have broken it. I stood there for a few moments waiting for the pain to subside.

After the stars stopped spinning about me I left the narrow passage and went down and around into the castle. There were only a couple of other people and at one point this guy yelled down, Are you going up or down? I said up and he said, hurry because I’m closing. So up and up and up and up I went. My sister had wandered off, having both a bum knee and a fear of heights, she couldn’t have done Blarney. It was definitely the highest of the castles we saw.

The castle itself wasn’t as interesting because it was just a shell, the walls rough and mold, the floors so uneven that they must once have had floorboards or rushes on them. All castle ruins tend to be open to the elements as most roofs were of wood and would have been the first things to decompose or burn in a razing. Such was also a case for Blarney and I wouldn’t doubt if it had burned in 1446. The groove in the main floor with the hearth was interesting and I believe it would have been for the juices from the spitted animals to drain off and through a sluice in the side walls.

I have to say the view was spectacular and the grounds exquisiste. I love some of the pictures from the top, and they are some of  my faves of Ireland (one decorates the top of my blog page). I didn’t kiss the stone at the top, where you lay over this open grate to the grounds hundreds of feet below. I said to the guy, I hear the local lads do other things on the stone (like pissing). He said not since he’d been there and since the grounds (and later the castle) were locked I could see that it’s probably not done anymore. Though a friend, whose dad was Irish, did say that his dad had done this: pissed and kissed or maybe it was the other way around.

The history of the Blarney Stone is a bit murky and no one knows truly where it comes from. It’s supposed to give one the gift of eloquence (a fancy way of saying BS) and the ritual may not be older than the 1700s. It looked like every other stone in that castle wall to me and since the castle had already kissed me I felt no reason to repeat the experience. A couple of women completed the ritual as I wandered and took pictures and started down. I didn’t realize it but everyone had left except for the Blarney guy and me. He accidentally found me on the way down and said, you better hurry, I almost locked you in. So I trundled down and spent another 20 minutes on the grounds.

It was starting to get cold and dark and it was time to go. My sister might have thought I’d been locked in but I eventually found her outside the property gates. As we walked back to the car the Blarney guy drove by and beeped his horn, then turned around and went back the other way, beeping his horn at me again. Friendly fellow. We then drove on to Cashel and found a place to stay.

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