So here we are at last (as far the ongoing chapter commentaries for Vodnik go)–the introduction of Trencin Castle. I approached the castle almost as a character in and of itself in the book. It has its own subplot, it’s very much in danger, and it’s has a big impact on the story line.
As I’ve mentioned in past commentaries, I went through the same tour Tomas goes through in this chapter. One of my favorite memories of my first trip to Slovakia was going around the castle with my brother in law, with him pointing out all the stupid things Communists and architects had done to his castle over the years. I’m the sort of guy who goes straight for the castle in whatever European city I end up in. Castles get explored first. Ruins are just as acceptable.
One of the things that has disappointed me over the years is the fact that some castles are just, well . . . phony. I’m looking at you, Neuschwanstein. Absolute poser of a castle. It was built to look like a fairy tale castle, not to actually be a castle. That might cut the mustard in Disneyland, but when you’re in Europe, you need a whole lot more than that.
Trencin Castle represents almost everything I love about authentic castles. It’s utilitarian. You can tell that it was built to be used, not to be pretty. This is no chateau. It’s old, with a ton of history stretching back over the years. It has a bunch of interesting stories connected to it. It has a large park out back (which Tomas never really explores in Vodnik). And it sits high up in the middle of the town like some kind of watch-dragon.
Of course, a large part of my great impression was due to my tour guide: Milos “Lasky” Krizan. My brother in law is pretty much the best resource an author could ask for when it comes to Slovak history, folklore, and anything medieval-related. Not only does he take part in jousts and gladiator combat, he’s a blacksmith (here’s his FB page for arrowheads he makes) and the night watchman at the castle. He’s also much more extroverted than I am. On one trip to Slovakia, we went on tours of a ton of castles and palaces around western Slovakia. Milos came with us, and he pretty much got us in anywhere we wanted to go. Everybody knew him or knew of him. I don’t know if we paid a single admission on that trip. Everybody just waved us through when they saw him.
Any time I had questions about a matter of folklore or history, I’d get on the phone to Milos and work things through. His English is about as good as my Slovak, but between the two of us, we manage to be pretty well understood–though every now and then we’d have to resort to using my wife as a translator.
What can you expect if you go to visit the castle? Well, no tours in English, for one thing. (At least not last I checked.) They have an information sheet in English that you can take around with you, but all the tours are in Slovak only. (This might be a bit different in the summer. I’m not sure.) And the only way to see the tower and the palaces are by tour guide. Still–you don’t need the guide in English now, right? You’ve read all about it in Vodnik. 🙂