The tribes were defeated in their resistance and relocated to the Siletz (the collective name of the 20 tribes relocated here) Reservation. This reservation is a 48-hour walk (with current road systems) from Bandon to Siletz Reservation. They were placed in an area that is 5.82 sq miles, and have gone from 10 distinct languages to one. The Siletz language now has a talking language dictionary due to the help of National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, their language will hopefully continue to be preserved. Time went on and in 1873 George Bennette with his sons Joseph and George, along with Mr. Sealy came from Bandon Ireland to this area. The original name of Averill is changed to Bandon a year later and the town continued to flourish. Mr. Bennette helped to both build and destroy Bandon. He brought his native grouse plant from Ireland, which you will see throughout the town. The grouse is characterized by waxy leaves and small yellow flowers in thick thickets of bushes (especially along the coastline). The grouse plant is what started the great fire in 1936. The older folks in the town may remember the fire still, it would take years for the town to rebuild itself. Wood production, sawmills, water plants helped the town flourish, even the first Bandon Cranberry Festival took place (1947). You can still visit the Cranberry Sweets factory today and sample some of the treats and other boutique shop items.
Have I piqued your interest in Bandon yet?
It may look like a small town that is brand new, but this little town packs a big punch in both history and in the outdoor activities you can participate in.
Floras Lake State Park:
This hike is a lot more strenuous than it appears. You start off walking over a bridge to a beach like area. It is quite unique as there is a lake on one side and over the sandy hill is the ocean. The sand is more like small pebbles that really took a toll on my calves. The lake is a very popular place to come Kitesurfing as the wind is usually perfect for this sport.
As you walk along the edge of the lake to the forested area, I would suggest bringing water shoes so you can walk on the packed down sand near the shoreline. Once you reach the wooded area you feel like skipping down the trail singing, ‘Lions and Tigers and Bears oh my!’. Although nothing really jumped out of the woods at us, except for an occasional squirrel it is truly a place where you feel Gnomes and Fairies could live. We walked for quite awhile, 1 mile before most of the group turned back. My friend Breanna was so excited for this trail as it is supposed to spit you out along the sweeping cliffs complete with gorgeous waterfalls.
As she led us along this trail we ran into large puddles of water. With the edges of the trail being thick with sticks, moss, and underbrush we had to wade straight through the ankle-deep mud. I finally looked at my Fitbit watch and informed Bree that we had just hiked 2 miles in (which means we would have 4 miles back). She was sorely disappointed when I told her she could keep going, she caved and turned back with me. On the way back, about 1/2 mile past where the others had turned back, we noticed a tiny little sign (its brown and has a 1 inch by 2 inch arrow with tiny little black mileage on the sticker)….this was where we were supposed to have turned to head to the end of this hike. In total, we hiked 8 miles this day through pebble beaches, sand, sludge, wooded areas and were completely knackered by the time we reached the rest of the group.
So if you decide to hike in Floras Lake State Park, be sure you either have a GPS guide or someone who can tell you where the bloody turn is.
This 40-foot lighthouse was built at the mouth of the Coquille River to help the Mariners get by the dangerous shifting sandbars that dot the river. In 1890 the Bandon Oregon area was known for its fishing and timber industries. Congress approved the $50,000 it would take to build this lighthouse (in 1891) and it was completed by 1895 and was first used February 1896. The fire in 1936 slowed the ships into the town of Bandon and with the amount of money needed to rebuild the town, the Coast Guard decommissioned the Lighthouse by 1939.
Eventually, the lighthouse was restored, and in 1991 was gifted with a new solar-powered light. It is now open from mid-May to September. Address: 56487 Bullards Beach Rd, Bandon, OR 97411
Washed Ashore Gallery in Bandon Oregon: Art to Save the Sea
This was by far my favorite place to visit and where I feel my quest of using the least amount of plastic possible began. You wouldn’t expect something like this in such a small town, but artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi started this non-profit community art project in 2010 to bring awareness to the plastic problem in our seas. Every single piece of the marine life sculptures in this gallery are made entirely from garbage that is removed from the Ocean. After walking the magnificent beaches of Oregon Angela decided to make a bold statement through Art, by using this garbage to created the animals who were the most affected by the garbage pollution.
Be sure to stop by and help create one of these masterpieces, I’m sure you will leave the Washed Ashore Gallery with a greater sense of responsibility to #SavetheSea Address: 325 2nd St SE, Bandon, OR 97411 Hours: Thurs-Sat, 12pm-5pm Other exhibitions: St Paul Minnesota at the Como Park Zoo, Chicago, Illinois, S at the Shedd Aquarium, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Washington, DC. Donations can be made to WashedAshore.org – a Non-Profit organization
Shores Acre State Park
A picture can tell a thousand words, but a video can help you experience all that Shores Acre State Park has to offer. This park was once a magnificent estate of Baron Louis Simpson, a logging tycoon that wanted to create a palace for himself on the Shoreline of Oregon.
Stroll along the trail from the parking lot to the Ocean Cove at Simpson Beach. Take a gander inside the viewpoint gazebo during any season and watch the waves at high tide crash against the shoreline. You may even see some migrating whales along the shore during December and March.
The Simpson mansion has since disappeared but the formal Shores Acre Gardens are still well maintained and close by. Walking through these gardens is a like a botanical Disneyland. You start your journey through a tulip-lined walkway with fountains and benches. Birds softly chirping around you, and you are sheltered from the Ocean winds. A small house sits on the property with a cottage like feeling that welcomes all who enter. Be sure to take in the Japanese-style garden with a lily pond, and the two rose gardens. If you are there during the Christmas holidays, volunteers will delight you by filling the garden with lights making for a perfectly romantic holiday getaway. Address: Cape Argo Hwy, Coos Bay, OR 97420 Note: Credit Cards are not accepted for parking pass purchases. Receipt from any other Oregon State Park Campground is accepted as a daily permit, just display it on the driver’s side of the dashboard.
Crabbing in Charleston:
Did you know that you can go crabbing in Oregon and California? I thought that crabbing was reserved only for being on the boats in the middle of the Alaskan Bearing Sea. When we went to Oregon, I found out that you can go Crabbing just off the Pier in Charleston (a town right near Bandon). Grab some Crab Pots at Davey Jones Locker, along with some thawed out fish heads and such & catch some fresh Crab for your dinner.
Right between Bandon and Charleston are two places where you can ride ATV’s. Our itinerary did not allot for the time to do this, but is definitely on the list should we go back.
The trails that you would be looking for are Winchester Trails for ATV riding, and Blue Ridge for ATV, Camping, and Sand Boarding.
Check out Oregon’s riding restrictions before you go, so as not to get a ticket.
Although Bandon is not well known for its attractions, it is a truly beautiful place. If you are an outdoor fanatic like me, you will feel so at peace and at home being amongst the moss lined trees. Seeing Bandon on the map is quite a different experience than actually being in this city. The area is suited not just for the outdoor savvy, but those with children, elderly, families small and large, and for those who may have disabilities. Participate in as many hikes, sand labyrinth walks, and art projects as you can while visiting.
As Always Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You On the Flip Side.
The History of Dunrobin The area of Dunrobin goes way back to Freskin de Moravia, a Norman who helped both David I and William the Lion regain control of the Nothern Highlands. Earl Robin was granted the title, and allowed to fortify the area. Earl Robin was the founder of this castle in 1275, which looked very different than the Dunrobin Castle we know today. Although it has transformed from that time, the castle still holds his name Dun in Gaelic meaning Fort, and Robin, being his name.
Fun Fact: The 5th Earl ended up marrying Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert the Bruce. The Wolf of Badenoch lived here as well. A wildly brutal man who is known for terrorizing many of the Highland lands.
Dunrobin Castle History and Building the Chateau
The oldest part of this castle comes from the 1320’s, a stone keep was added in 1401 to help fortifications of the castle. Dunrobin was built to be a holdfast and military fortress, which can be seen by the iron yett at the entrance to the castle.
During the Jacobite Rising, the Earl of Cromartie was George McKenzie, a staunch Jacobite. It was April 1746 when the Earl heard rumors that Prince Charlie and many Clan members had been successful at the Battle of Culloden. Fueled by the passion of a Scottish King being on the Throne of England, he gathered his men and attacked Dunrobin. The castle fell to him and he claimed it in the name of the Stewart King. A short time after this the true news of the loss at Culloden reached the Earl. The Duke of Sutherland surrounded the castle, with a brutal battle the Earl was captured and Dunrobin Castle was back in the hands of the English.
The apartment where the Earl was hiding is still called the Cromartie Room (this room is now used as the children’s playroom). It was a short 40 years later in 1785 when Elizabeth Gordon, Countess of Sutherland began to clean and upgrade the estate, and the surrounding areas. https://youtu.be/S3LJla7v9FY The 2nd Duke of Sutherland inherited the castle in 1841, who then had 8 children. This gave way to the massive expansion of the castle. Most of the French Chateau styling came from 1845 by Charles Barry, who was a master of the Gothic Revival style. Charles Barry’s success at this castle is what influenced the men who built the tower of London to be what it is today. When Dunrobin castle was finished it was three times larger than it had been 6 years earlier.
The Castle was used as a Naval Hospital during World War I, and a boarding school from 1965 to 1972. It overlooks the beautiful Moray of Firth with a path leading directly to its shores. It is the most Northerly of Scotland’s castles and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms and has been continuously inhabited since the 1300’s. Home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. Visitors are allowed to take a self-guided tour through some of the 20 rooms in one of the most extravagant residences in the Northern Highlands.
Inside Dunrobin Castle
The tour starts in the inviting dining area, where a table set for 10 with the family silver adorns the table. The table is set exactly as it would have been in 1850. The walls are not filled with gold, gifts, and do not bestow the sense of trying to intimidate their guests like you would see in most castles. Rather, the walls are lined with wood paneling that provides a sense of warmth that would make anyone want to linger after dinner chatting and solving the world’s problems.
Next, you will head into the old boy’s mess hall now turned into the Drawing Room. I was astounded at the intricate details of the ceiling. Imagining the boys sitting in this room, trying to get their ‘wiggles’ out of their bodies & drawing the patterns of the ceiling with their fingers. It would be hard for me as a child to pay attention to the schoolmaster in this room.
You will be especially impressed upon by the French style furniture, the oldest piece being the Louis the XVI table with a Florentine Dura top. I can just imagine ladies in their frilly dresses playing a round of cards, while the men look out at the ships passing by the castle on the Moray of Firth discussing politics.
The Significance of Dunrobin Castle Library
In my opinion, the crown jewel of the castle is the Library. This library has over 10,000 books, with books ranging from politics to art to world history. Some of these books date clear back to the 17th century. There are many of the books that include original Scottish law, which is very rare. After The Battle of Culloden, many of these books were burned, the Gaelic language was banned & Scottish law was changed completely. To have this knowledge so carefully preserved and protected within the walls of this castle makes Dunrobin all the more important piece of Scottish History. Duchess Eliean, the 1st wife of the 6th Duke of Sutherland is lovingly placed over the fireplace. Dressed in very modern clothing for that time period, she is responsible for how the castle, as you see it today, is designed. She was also a voluntary nurse and helped turn Dunrobin into a Naval hospital. Working alongside her Mother-in-law, she aided soldiers during World War I.
The Green and Gold Bedroom:
The French interior decorating really comes through in this room. The bed that dominates the room, is a four-post bed with delicate flowers climbing the posts and topped with doves. Commissioned specifically for Queen Victoria’s visit from September 6th-11th 1872, after which the bed was used by Duchess Eileen.
This is not an ordinary bedroom, it is a suite, with a dressing room and a bathroom within a short distance of this bedroom. This is an older part of the castle, built around 1784. As you pass through this room, you can still glimpse what the original bathroom would have looked like, a skylight and a claws foot tub.
Dunrobin will always be a Family Home:
The staff and the current Countess and Duke work with the general manager, Scott Morrison, to ensure that the castle will always appear as a family home. In any of the rooms that you walk in, you can imagine them playing board games in the dining room, having tea in the old mess hall, or children rocking on the wooden horse in the playroom. No matter what facelift, transformation or event Dunrobin is used for, both the family and the staff ensure that it is filled with love, warmth and a welcoming hand to all. Even at the entrance, you feel this warmth both figuratively and literally.
The ticket booth is directly across from a roaring fireplace with sweet townsfolk gathering the payments and tickets to see the castle. They warmly greet each visitor and seem truly interested in your own story. It is almost as if they take these stories, and lovingly place them into the castle itself. So that those who enter their doors will know that all are welcome to Dunrobin. This falls in line perfectly with the Clan Sutherland Motto, Sans Peur, which is French for ‘Without Fear’. For a full tour of the castle, be sure to check out the interview with Scott Morrision, General manager, and his tour of Dunrobin Castle giving all the details, tidbits and history of Dunrobin. (Coming soon to Culture Trekking on YouTube).
Falconry at Dunrobin Castle:
Originally Falconry was introduced in England in 860 AD, and from there spread like wildfire throughout both England and Scotland. Falconry at Dunrobin has an exceptional display of the birds of prey.
The keeper, Andy, raises the birds from the times they are chicks, develops a relationship with them with food, aids them during hunting, cares for them if they sustain injuries, and treats them like they were a member of the family.
Many people get angry that the birds are kept tethered at times, but this is just not true, every morning the birds are let loose to fly, hunt and leave if they wish. They always return to Andy, and he secures them for the night in a warm and safe environment.
There are plenty of fields nearby full of mice, chickens, and jackrabbits that the birds regularly bring home to him to share. If you do nothing else, make sure you go to the Falconry show. It is a perfect opportunity to teach children about how animals who are treated well, will treat you well. Stay tuned for a portion of the Falconry show I was privileged to film….
The Tea Room and the Gift Shop
At the conclusion of the journey through this stunning castle, you will find an excellent tea room and gift shop. Wind your way through the gardens and sip on your tea and crumpets for a truly Scottish experience. The cost to visit Dunrobin is
My Final Opinion on Dunrobin Castle
If you want to feel as if you have been adopted into an ancient Scottish Clan, while feeling like you are visiting France at the same time, then head to Dunrobin. It is not just the castle staff that create a wonderfully friendly environment, but each room is crafted with a sincere message of the importance of family in mind. Even when you stay in nearby Airbnb’s, there is a general expression of love for Dunrobin, it’s Countess and Earl and all they have done to help the community. If I could pick one place in my lifetime I have visited and would love to continue to be a part of, this town would be what I would pick. It is calming, friendly, kind, and has a feeling of community that is hard to find in a world that is becoming more and more rough around the edges.
How to visit:
Fly into Inverness, Rent a Car and take a tour up the NC500 Coastline, there is plenty to see along the way – but Dunrobin is the crown Jewel of this bucketlist road trip in Scotland.
Where to Stay in Dunrobin:
As always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Nairnshire Scotland stands a charming 14th century keep, Cawdor Castle. This castle not only has rumored ties to Macbeth but a history of thorn trees, donkeys, and kidnappings. Intrigued? Come with me on a journey through this fabled castle ripe with stories for the telling.
The earliest notations of fortifications in this same area were with William the Lion in 1179. He was assigned to command the ford over the river Nairn near the sea.
Traveler tip: Make sure to stop by Nairn Beach, a very popular place to relax and have a picnic whilst on your road trip in the area.
After a dreadful fire, and many years uninhabited, the license to fortify was granted to William Calder, Thane of Cawdor. The oldest stonework has been dated by historians to be from 1380, with the license to fortify being granted in documentation in 1454. History in the Scottish Highlands is sparse due to wars and clearings of Gaelic tenants.
Legend of the Donkey:
It is said, that the early Thane of Calder decided that animals know best, and so bestowed upon his donkey the rights to claim the land which he would build his castle. The Thane of Calder loaded up his donkey with the gold (thought to bring good fortune to the site) and off they went.
The donkey, after miles and miles of walking finally chose to lay down under a Holly Tree (Thorn Tree) with radiocarbon date sampling from the core dating back to 1372. This Holly Tree has become the focal point for the castle, although after building a castle around the tree it eventually died, you can still see the tree in the vault of Cawdor castle.
Something you should realize about Scottish history is that there are many places throughout the Highlands that are believed to have a sense of magic. There is the Fairy Glen, the Devil’s Pulpit and even some hidden valleys where they believed Ghosts lived and roamed. (Stay tuned for posts on these areas) The Scottish Highlands were full of both religion combined with magic and superstitions. So the fact that the Thane of Calder used a donkey to find this place, and believed loading it with Gold would bring the castle good luck….something obviously went right, otherwise like so many other castles in the Highlands, this one would be left in ruins. So I will let you choose if you believe in superstitions and magic.
This is not just an ancient castle with loads of history, it is also home to the current Countess of Cawdor. She resides here mostly in the wintertime when there are not as many tourists here to see the castle. Everything is set up exactly as you would see if when she is living here.
Here you see the grand entrance to Cawdor castle, complete with a grand piano and a fireplace that has the family symbol of the Stag’s head with a buckle. Statues and topiary’s, with fresh flowers, adorn the room to give it life. Notice the wooden pillars that are supported by the stones. This is classic of the 16th-century architectural style.
As you walk through the rooms, make sure to look around you, at the little embellishments just like the ones you would find in your own homes.
The Tapestry Bedroom:
Here you are greeted by tapestry’s depicting Don Quixote. These Flemish tapestries are quite rare, called Arras Tapestries. A tapestry woven in wool and silk and used to cover the plastered walls to keep in the warmth during the harsh Scottish winters.
A velvet lined bed dominates the room, topped with feathers that look as if they came directly from Angels wings. This is truly where I felt like I was walking into a medieval castle.
This extraordinary bed was the marriage bed for Sir Hugh Campbell and Lady Henrietta Stuart in 1662. Be sure to make a note of the headboard, an original Venitian guilded headboard. The combination of it all makes this bed quite an extraordinary piece of art in and of itself.
The Dining Room:
Your imagination takes hold as you enter the dining room. Greeted by a table laid out in the same way that you would see it when the Countess would be dining there. Silver plates edged with the Cawdor coat of arms, with (comically) an 18th-century Portuguese shaving bowl as the centerpiece.
As you walk past the dining table, you will see an exquisite fireplace, said to commemorate the marriage between Sir John Campbell of Argyll and Muriel Calder of Cawdor.
You can see the Calder Clan’s symbols on the righthand within the shield, and on the left is the Campbell clan symbols. This fireplace was made as a single piece, the Laird and 24 other men tried to bring it across and into the castle via the drawbridge. Alas, the fireplace was so heavy, along with 24 men – the drawbridge collapsed under the weight. The fireplace split in half killed one man and broke another man’s leg.
The Sitting Room:
I wandered through the sitting room with photos of grandchildren, several large marble balls, a bronze age vase with a Photo of John Campbell next to it.
Go down the hallway and you will be able to go down the winding stairs to several other rooms: the peach room, a room where the countess guests stay, stairs with the Cawdor tartan and an array of priceless guns.
As you make your way to the basement you descend down some stone stairs, on the right-hand side of the windows in the corner you will see the signature of a Campbell from the 16th Century. Diamond pens were all the rage at the time, and this chap was a huge fan. Can you make out the name and the year he signed it?
After you finish staring into the windows, and everyone who passes you thinks your a lunatic. You will come to the basement vault with the thorn tree (discussed above). Just outside the vault, you see an original cannon and the original gate of the keep.
In the Kitchens:
There are two kitchens, a modern kitchen and the original kitchen complete with a well, a cooling cupboard (seen at the end of the long counter). Copper pots, measuring devices and more.
John Campbell of Muckairn, 3rd of Cawdor added a beautiful medieval garden in 1635 which I would highly recommend wandering through. You will be greeted by a beautiful array of color, flowers, and unique sculptures that complement the elegance of the castle perfectly.
For more photos of the gardens, be sure to check out the Culture Trekking YouTube Channel. You won’t want to miss this…..trust me, these gardens are considered some of the most important medieval gardens in Scotland.
Make sure to wear your best dress, because the Instagrammability of this place is around every corner, nook, and cranny. Be sure to find the walled flower garden, originally planted in the 17th century.
Traveler Tip: When you come out of the castle, across the drawbridge. If you wander to the left you will see the medieval gardens. If you wander to the right, you will see an adorable garden gate entrance to the walled flower garden.
No matter where on these grounds you decide to visit, Cawdor castle Gardens are sure to delight, enthrall and provide you with a plentiful amount of memories (and perhaps your next Christmas Card photo).
To Be, Or Not To Be…Connected to Shakespeare:
It is rumored that the Shakespearian play Macbeth is connected inherently to Cawdor Castle. For those who need to brush up on your literary stories: The story of Macbeth has three witches who foretell that Macbeth, (then Thane of Glamis), would become the Thane of Cawdor, and then a King!
The King at the time, King Duncan I, immediately made Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth was so convinced by this coincidence of prophecy, that he, and his wife plotted to kill King Duncan in order for Macbeth to fulfill the rest of the witched prophecy and become King. The King comes to visit Macbeth in Inverness and is murdered while there, in his sleep.
You can easily imagine the King staying in this velvet lined bed, and being murdered there. Alas, this tale is not actually connected to Cawdor Castle in this historical facts.
King Macbeth ruled Scotland from 1040-1057 after killing King Duncan I in battle near Elgin. Macbeth was never actually Thane of Cawdor, and Cawdor castle didn’t exist during that time. Shakespeare wrote this gruesome tale in the early 16th century, causing quite the kerfuffle with the 5th Earl of Cawdor who has been quoted saying, “I wish the Bard had never written this damned play!”
The Calder (Cawdor) Clan in the 15th-16th centuries was a very powerful family. Ensuring that their heirs also marry into powerful families. They were not the only ones with this game of power in mind. The nearby Clan Campbell was assigned (along with Rose of Kilravock) to be the guardian of then infant Muriel Calder….who was also the heir to the Calder family Castle and fortune. A plan was devised by the Campbell Clan to bring the child to Inverary, and raise her under the Campbell roof. Her uncles opposed this plan vehemently, and this is when the chase began.
Things were quickly put onto carriages and horses, the child was miles away, it was a matter of hours before her fate would be decided. The Campbell’s were on the hunt, led by Campbell of Inverliver who upon reaching the child led a gruesome battle. Six Campbell lives were lost that day, all of which were sons of Campbell of Inverliver. In the end, Muriel was safely delivered to Inverary…..but not without considerable loss of life.
Despite all of the drama that led up to her delivery to Inverary, Murial led a happy life and was brought up as a Campbell. She fell in love with Sir John Campbell, son of the Earl of Argyll.
Sadly Murial died in 1575, and her descendant, John Campbell of Cawdor was raised to Lord Cawdor in 1796, after which his son was created the first Earl of Cawdor in 1827. This my friends is how you play the game of Scottish Thrones. This sealed the fate of the Calder family and is the reason there is now a ‘Campbell of Cawdor’ in the name of Cawdor Castle family Crests.
Stop by the Gift Shop:
Here you will see the prior horse stable turned into a gift shop. The items within the gift shop are chosen by the Countess of Cawdor. I personally bought 2 beautiful pillowcases and a teacup when I visited the shop last time.
The castle also has a gift shop, bookshop, and wool shop, in addition to a restaurant located in the castle itself and a snack bar near the car park. Make sure you stop at the Cafe earlier in the day if you are planning on lunch there, the two times I have visited they closed up the kitchen and only had cakes available at 430pm. The Cafe does not stay open as long as the Castle does.
Golf at Cawdor Castle:
Visiting Cawdor Castle is guaranteed to educate, enthrall, excite, and fill your mind with awe at this spectacularly preserved building. It is so close to Inverness and well worth a visit if you are a fan of Shakespeare, intrigue and spectacular gardens. This castle will give you an excellent introduction to both Scottish History & the Highland Clans.
I want to also would like to say thank you to Cawdor Castle staff for hosting me and allowing me to take photographs inside. They were warm, informative, and very helpful throughout the FAM trip process. I will definitely be returning for a third visit in the future.
How to Get To Cawdor Castle:
Map to get there by Car – travel time approximately 3 hours from Edinburgh, or 25 minutes from Inverness. Map to get there by Train/Taxi – Travel time approximately 4 hrs 51 minutes with an additional 7-minute taxi drive from Nairn. You go through Inverness then to Nairn, from Nairn is where you will catch the taxi.
The thing about Christmas Markets is that it is always changing. This guide will give you a glimpse of what there is to offer, and what is available at those markets based off of research and my own experience for what to expect for the Brussels Christmas Market.
What to expect:
Christmas Markets in Europe are like Country Fairs in Texas. Instead of Cowboys, you have Saints and St Nicholas. Instead of Bulls and Pigs, you have reindeer and the Nativity.
The food is about the same with local culinary artisans exhibiting delicacies from around Belgium including the coveted Warm Apple Cider (spiked or unspiked). This pairs well with the famous Fritland Fries that are heart-stoppingly scrumptious.
Brussels Christmas Market takes place from 30 November 2018 to January 6th, 2019 on and around Grand-Place, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marché aux Poissons. This particular Winter festival includes the magical son & lumière illuminations on the Grand-Place Christmas markets in the city center attractions including merry-go-rounds on Place Sainte-Catherine, the large wheel and ice rink at Place de la Monnaie, and stalls for stocking up on gifts and treats within a 1.2mile trail.
There are over 200 Chalets, which look like tiny log cabins adorning the streets complete with all sorts of gifts and gadgetry. You walk by each one and are wrapped in fresh leather smells, Christmas spices, organic lotions and soap bars, or my favorite….delicately balanced tea light oil diffusers and hummingbird candle mobiles. The last two were ones that I purchased for myself, as my Birthday was very close. The perfect place was waiting for these two items at home, right by my brand new giant tub with some lavender oil….doesn’t that sound absolutely divine!
I attempted to find the other areas that featured the singing choirs, the Ferris Wheel and ice rink as I wanted to experience the full European Christmas Market, but I was running out of phone battery (my GPS guide) and needed to save it for being able to get back to the train station. Twenty-four hours is not enough time to truly experience the European Christmas Market. The next Christmas Market I would love to visit is actually in London, I have heard this one is spectacular.
How to Experience the Brussels Christmas Market Properly:
If I had the chance to do this over again, I would start with my Self-Guided Tour of the Best of Brussels and end in the Grand Palace for the lighting of the tree and the Grand Palace. Stay overnight in a hotel near the Ferris Wheel or the Ice Rink, spend the day talking with locals and entreating myself to the local delicacies. Attend a free Christmas Concert that is part of the Brussels Christmas Market.
Take a side trip back to Amsterdam and walk along the Amsterdam Light Festival & experience Sinter Claus and Black Pete coming into town. Top it off with a Pancake and stay overnight in Amsterdam. Head back to Brussels the next day and finish off with visiting every one of the 200 Chalets that are apart of the Christmas Market (along with my lottery money 😉 and sip Cider in front of a fire and a good book in hand.
Where and What to Eat:
BookaLokal, where the concept is easy: food brings people together. With BookaLokal you can find yourself a guest at a dinner party in the home of a Brussels local. This is a way to try homemade, cultural fare while meeting people from all over the world gathered together at a single dinner table. Café du Sablon.
This welcoming café is a favorite hangout for ex-patriots and travelers, and you will almost always hear a constant hum of English being spoken here. Not to mention their specialty drinks menu puts Starbucks to shame. Café du Sablon: 1000, Rue de la Régence 26, 1000 Brussels, Belgium Train to Brussels: $48 Round Trip (1hr 51min)
The Christmas Market was a lot more chaotic than I expected, and I found myself getting a little overwhelmed with all the people. However, that being said, if I focused on one street at a time and interacted with the shopkeepers and asked about their products and how they made them, it helped with the anxiety a little. I was not able to visit all of the sites that encompass the Brussels Christmas Market, but I can confidently recommend this as a day trip from Amsterdam should you find yourself there in November or December.
As Always…..Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side!
This Brussels neighborhood from 6 am to around noon plays host to the biggest flea market in central Brussels. It is a poorer area of town, and many of the vendors are immigrants who are selling a variety of knick-knacks from (what appears to be) estate sales. I found it interesting to wander around and see what the people of Brussels actually keep in their homes. Imagining what would possess someone to buy the oddest pieces, but a common theme reigned true. There was loads of oriental plates and vases! This is likely from the Delftware pottery influence stemming back from when Amsterdam was heavily involved in the East Indian Trading company. At the heart of the upscale Sablon neighborhood is the Grand Sablon and Petit Sablon squares. This is where many tourists go to start their quick tour of Brussels, but as I like to be involved in the local daily life, I found this to be quite interesting. Even if you don’t leave with anything, it is really fun to see locals just enjoying the busy atmosphere, a string quartet playing on the corner, and cute cafes nearby to just have an easy morning and wake your brain from the long train ride there.
After your morning coffee in the Place du Jeu de Balle head to the Place Royale and all its museums with a stop in the Petit Sablon.
Palace Royale and The Museums
From the Petit Sablon, it’s a straight shot to the Palace Royale, the spacious square that sits atop the ruins of the Coudenberg Palace. The Coudenberg Palace was founded in the 12th century with subsequent successions it was transformed into quite the luxurious castle. Sadly it burned down in 1731, after which the current royal district was built on top of its ruins. If you have the time, make sure to take an underground tour of the Coudenberg Palace ruins which I hear are quite impressive. Among the cream-colored neoclassical buildings are some of the more popular museums with tourists (the Magritte Museum, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts). Art Nouveau MIM (Musical Instruments Museum) and Art Deco precursor Bozar.
Royal Palace and Beetle Ceiling
As I was there in the Winter, and the Royal Palace is closed to visitors due to the Royal Family being in residence I was unable to see this famous Beetle ceiling. If you are going in the summer, be sure to pop in for a free glimpse at the monarch’s beetle ceiling. At the request of Queen, the ceiling was plastered, and the chandelier of the palace’s sumptuous Hall of Mirrors with 1.6 million scarab shields was installed. The odd name for such a ceiling being: Heaven of Delight. There is a rumor that the artist who installed this hid tiny skull figures in the work as a reference to Belgium’s not too gentle colonial past in the Congo. Morbid, yes…..but we cannot run from history lest it repeats itself.
Mont Des Arts Garden
These geometric gardens designed by René Pechère’s geometric gardens and the medieval city residing below the gardens is one of the most photographed spots in all of Brussels. Originally designed by King Leopold II as a place to have the Arts magnified and put on a show after he bought and demolished the buildings that once stood here….the financing failed and was left in a dilapidated condition. When the Expo in Brussels was approaching the King, fearing to appear destitute, ordered a temporary garden to be designed. It has undergone several renovations and upgrades, but for the most part remains what it was during that time period with the current geometric garden design being implemented between 1956 to 1958. It was nice to sit and enjoy the gardens for a bit. As a solo female traveler, it is difficult to get photos of yourself at times. But I can imagine a big flowy red dress on the stairs leading up to the Brussels City hall as a perfect spot to take a photo.
Manneken de Pis
The Brussels’s pride and joy is a small statue of a small boy peeing into a water fountain. Apparently, this is very characteristic humor of the people of Brussels. This Manneken has more outfits than I do, of all his hundreds of outfits….I’m sure there is one that you will find equally entertaining and offensive. The statue itself is quite crowded, even in the morning, with people trying to take a photo of the statue. The statue itself is only about 15 inches tall, resides 10 feet off the ground and is behind a cast iron gate with monitors watching the area carefully. After you have taken some comical photos for your own viewing pleasure. Take a moment and look around at the place you are standing. You are currently in the Îlot Sacré or “Holy Island,” this block makes up the most historic (and most jam-packed with tourists). Indicating you have arrived in the best of the best of Brussels.
Right near the Mannekin de Pis, there is a beer bar with authentic Brussels Beers. I am not much of a Beer connoisseur or drinker myself, but if you fancy a dram of their golden liquid then be sure to visit the Moeder Lambic. I hear the waiting staff is quite knowledgeable and will be sure to wet your thrapple should you find your self-hankering for a delicious beer.
All roads in this Holy Island eventually lead to the Grand-Place. Even for those of us who have severe directional challenges (raise your hand if you feel me) it is hard to miss the towering medieval architecture. As you enter the Grand-Place Square, you will realize why this particular setting so inspired Victor Hugo to describe it as “a miracle”. Be sure to pop into the King’s House, what is now the City Museum, for a look at the history of this place and other areas around Brussels. As I was visiting Brussels at the time of Christmas, we were greeted by the Royal Family for the opening day of the Christmas Market and the lighting of the Christmas Tree for the first time in the 2018 season. I didn’t actually know who they were until I got home, but when the crowds below the terrace suddenly started to cheer and wave at the elegantly dressed family above…..I assumed they were quite important and snapped a few photos. Moral of the story: always have your camera ready, and maybe find out who rules the country before you visit, lol.
Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert and the Taverne du Passage
If you walk about 3 blocks from the Grand-Palace, into a nearby alcove. You will find what looks like an indoor mall. This is, in fact, the Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert and the Taverne du Passage. If it hadn’t of been for the opening day of the Brussels Christmas Market, this is the place I would have done all my shopping. It is a little off the beaten path track of small shops that looks like many locals frequent for their shopping as well as is far less crowded than the streets around the Royal Palace. The Galeries Royales was built around 1847, inspired by the Italian Renaissance which is evident by the statues adorning the ceiling walls. This place was the first of its kind, and really the beginning of strip malls everywhere (well at least in my opinion).
La Bourse and Fritland
La Bourse is a haunted place, and in more of a modern way, it was the site of the terrorist attacks in March 2016. In the shadow of the former stock exchange, that was anticipated to become the ultimate Belgian Beer Museum in 2018….people gathered in solidarity perusing peace after the deadly attacks.
It was surreal to walk in this place and imagine what that horrific day must have felt like. To be excited about a new country visiting, and then suddenly chaos erupts. The streets are bustling again since then, but it makes me wonder, with all the traveling I am doing….will I one day be a witness to a massacre like the one they experienced? It is a sobering thought, but after several minutes of haunting contemplation, I decided that I would not let the terrorists succeed in instilling fear of something that brings me so much joy. So I said a little prayer to those who were affected that day and decided to live out my life in joy as a way of protest against terrorism. Comfort food is always a good thing, maybe not for the waist, but you have to at least try the Fritland Fries! Despite being called French Fries, Brussels boasts that they were the real inventors of this savory treat. These golden sticks are a source of pride, evident in Fritland’s decorations consisting of mostly the national flags.
When you first approach Fritland, you will think something along the lines of, “UM! Hell to the no! I’m not waiting in that line for some fries”. I was so hungry I was glad to slow down for a minute and wait, and after observing the line… it moves quite rapidly. Be prepared to order your fries or meal quickly, once you get near the counter it is like trying to buy stocks on Wall Street in New York. A cacophony of grease splattering, garbled languages attempting to communicate, laughter, beer and loads of the goldenrod goodness.
I personally tried the mitraillette, a sandwich jam-packed with fries, meat, veggies, and a sauce of your choosing.
With a belly full of golden goodness from Fritland I headed back to the Grand Palace for the lighting of the tree and the famous Lumineres of the buildings of that square. I sipped on my Hot Chocolate and savored the delicious warm sweetness warming me from the inside out. Surrounded by the twinkling lights of the buildings and the tree, it was hard for me to leave. A certain calmness settled over me after the rushed events of the day. I was proud of myself for doing this self-guided tour in such a short amount of time & grateful I made the decision to come to my first European Christmas Market. While this guide may not be the most glamorous of the guides you may find online, this was the perfect taste of Brussels for me & saved me quite a bit of money doing it this way. My wallet remained full and now that my belly was full, I headed back to Amsterdam to celebrate the rest of my Birthday in the home of my ancestors.
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side!
ClinkNoord Hostel, with loads of time still to burn for the day. I opened my phone and was expecting to browse around and kill a few hours. Blessed Google and their location services popped Castle De Haar up into my feed and my jaw dropped.
Castle De Haar, a Neo-Gothic castle so well preserved it appeared as if you would be transported back into the Medieval days of old. Talk about a PERFECT Instagram spot! I quickly packed up my purse and camera gear and headed to Amsterdam Centraal Station.
How to Get to Castle De Haar:
Take the train to Utrecht and then a small bus to Kastel De Haar. For specific times of the train and directions from your location see Rome2Rio. I didn’t know if I would have enough time to do an actual tour before it closed, but I had to try! After a few transfers, the bus dropped me off on a long winding road that led to the castle. I still think that if I had not stopped to take so many blasted pictures of the sunset, I would have made it on time.
History of Castle De Haar:
It is said that there was a castle here since 1391 and remained the property of the De Haar family until 1440 when sadly the last male heir died childless. The castle was then given to Van Zuylen family. After several years of the castle being tossed around and falling into ruin, it was inherited by Etienne Gustave Frederic Baron van Zuylen Van Hyevelt van De Harr (yep that is one name….) who then married Baroness Helene de Rothschild who rebuilt the castle over the next 15 years starting in 1892.
The Castle Grounds:
Covering over 135 acres, with nearly 7,000 trees that were imported I was not too upset about not being able to see the interior. Spending more than 2 hours in the gardens and on the castle grounds taking photos was so peaceful and best of all there was NO ONE else around. It was interesting to be walking the grounds alone. I was looking at this beautiful building and imagining how much money it must have cost to live here. With all other major cities being so far away, it must have been very lonely here and far from society. Can you imagine being so isolated?
Realizing this made me grateful to personally live in a place that may not be as grandiose, but at least I can still connect to the people around me…..which I feel is the most important thing, don’t you?
Castle De Haar Interior:
This castle has 200 rooms, 30 bathrooms decorated with pieces from the Rothschild collections including a rare carrier coach of the woman of a shogun from Japan. There is only one of these Shogun’s left in the world that resides in the Japanese Museum in Tokyo. When you enter it is said that the wood carvings, stained glass windows, and lighting remind you of entering a Roman Catholic church. The colors of the family arms and mottos are seen dotted throughout the house in the red and white of the Van Zuylen and the stars of David in the knight’s hall and the De Rothschild coat of arms underneath the hearth in the library.
A foundation was set up for Castle De Haar (or Kasteel de Haar) and the family members retain the right to stay in the castle for banquets, dinner, and parties at least one month per year. This is typically in September. The parties are typically for A-listed attendees such as Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Yves Saint Laurent, and Brigitte Bardot.
Festivals at Castle De Haar:
The grounds were just being cleared out from the Elf Fantasy Fair that had just concluded.
Channel Your Inner Royalty:
If you find yourself in Amsterdam and want to get away from the crowds to see something truly unique, stop by Castle De Haar. Channel your inner Bell or Beast, because standing in front of this castle will seem like you have found the castle that Beauty and the Beast was inspired by.
Give yourself ample time to get there and back, and remember that day bus tickets are a different price than night bus tickets so make sure you buy it before you get on the bus or have the cash with you. Try and plan your trip around a time a festival is occurring and experience Castle De Haar, like you never experienced Europe before.
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, See You on the Flip Side!