TWO knights with tonnes of armour on their torsos perched precariously on horsebacks. Gripping their long lances and facing off menacingly across the open grounds, they were determined to dismount each other — in a battle for the champion title.
All around us, spectators dressed in endless permutations of tunics, cloaks and leather boots cheered their team on.
The tournament was part of the annual Ritterturnier, meaning “knights tournament”, a jousting tournament and medieval festival that takes place every year in the ruins of Königstein castle.
Königstein, located about 25 minutes from Frankfurt, is a charming castle town, where many of Frankfurt’s affluent reside.
Once an impenetrable stronghold, the 12th century castle fell into disrepair in the late 18th century after the French Revolution. Now it is a tourist’s favourite and home to the yearly Ritterturnier.
The crowds roused madly as one of the knights found an opening and with a sudden thrust of his lance, threw his opponent off his ride.
We would have stayed on to watch but sudden hunger pangs forced us to go in search of some food. The alluring smell of cooking meats led us to the marketplace.
Dark roasts from the tent
The marketplace was a row of tents to one end of the castle, each with their own snaking queue of patrons.
In front of a dark green tent, we could see a portly man deftly carving a roasting pig.
The tantalising aroma of cooking sausages drew us to the tent next door, where we bought bratwurst (sausage). We stopped by a makeshift tavern and bought some beer.
With food and drinks in hand, we searched for a spot to enjoy our meal. We passed a blacksmith busy at work, shaping his horseshoe with a hammer. He smiled and gestured to his handicrafts on display. “For luck,” he said with a wink.
Continuing on the footpath, we found a spot at a table by the castle wall and sat down with a group of mages who were huddled together, guffawing loudly while downing pints of ale.
Fairy tale scenery
Because the castle was built on top of a hill, it gave us a pretty good overview of Königstein. From afar, we could see the beautiful Villa Andrae, which has not lost its lustre since it came into being in 1891. Against the bright blue skies and pretty timber-framed houses, it looked nothing short of a fairy tale.
A hearty meal later, we downed the last drop of ale an set off to explore the castle grounds.
In a corner of the sprawling castle, several tents had been pitched, hawking everything from capes to leather boots — those who cite a limited wardrobe as reason for not dressing up will have no excuse next year.
Horns and trumpets sounded, heralding the start of the next battle. Around us, people in medieval garb were milling around, chatting and enjoying the festivities.
A couple of giggling nuns walked by. A warrior marched ahead, sword carefully sheathed and shield in his other hand. It suddenly struck me that I could very well be observing a similar scene five hundred years ago.
The impact of that realisation brought forth a profound sense of serendipity; we were walking amidst real people and participating in real activities. It was like history coming to life.
Singapore Airlines flies twice daily to Frankfurt. From Frankfurt, it is 25 minutes by car or train to Königstein.
■ This year’s Ritterturnier “Knights Tournament” takes place from May 10 to 12.
■ Combine your trip with visits to other small towns around the Taunus area such as Kronberg and Hofheim.
■ The best time to visit Königstein is between March and November when the dry weather prevails.
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YOU are about to leave Singapore for your well-deserved holiday, when about 15 minutes before your plane is scheduled to take off, you hear the announcement that your flight has been delayed.
That is fine if it is for half an hour, but what if there is no announcement on how long the delay will be?
Having to keep your cool during a flight delay might be alright for those of us who are not on business trips, but anything longer than an hour starts to become a nightmare.
Here are three ways to help you deal with potential flight delays.
ALWAYS GET TRAVEL INSURANCE
Some people may skip taking out a travel insurance to save money, or do not consider it necessary for a weekend trip.
But let’s look at it this way: do you know that some travel credit cards actually provide a free insurance if you use them to pay for your trip?
Getting it for free just for using your card really makes getting travel insurance a lot easier – not to mention cheaper.
Taking an insurance policy mitigates the risk of changes to your travel schedule and potential losses. At the very least, you can take comfort in getting some monetary compensation.
However, do note that there is usually a minimum delay limit in order for compensation to kick in. Some policies might also not cover delays and flight cancellations due to natural disasters and operational issues by airlines.
MAKE USE OF YOUR TIME WISELY
Many people go on a flight prepared with entertainment to keep themselves occupied during flight time.
If you have a book, magazine or your laptop on hand, why not get some reading done or use the time to learn some new phrases in the language of your holiday destination?
Since you cannot do anything about the plane, might as well do what you can within your power to make the situation more productive for you.
CATCH UP WITH YOUR FELLOW TRAVELLERS
If you are travelling with friends or family members, you can use the delay to interact and catch up on lost time with them.
That is exactly why you are on a holiday together, right? Go for a coffee break somewhere nearby, play some card games together or simply talk about or plan your itinerary together if you have not already done so.
The delay could also make a good conversation starter with fellow passengers. Who knows who you might meet next?
This article first appeared on Get.com, a personal finance and lifestyle website.
KAMUIMISAKI cape is located on the north-western edge of the Shakotan Peninsula in Hokkaido. I walked along a narrow path that looked like a mountain ridge going as high as 80m above sea level. I proceeded for about 20 minutes amid the ocean wind and then came to the tip of the cape, which overlooks the crystal-blue Sea of Japan. This beautiful colour is known as Shakotan blue.
As the horizon appears slightly curved at both ends when observed from the tip of the cape, you can see that the Earth is round. Though it takes about an hour from the centre of Shakotan by car, the spectacle is worth the trip.
The sea offers not only this impressive view but also a variety of seafood. The town is famous for its nama uni don (raw sea-urchin roe topping a bowl of rice). I was there, however, just after the fishing season, which is only from June till August.
Even so, a Japanese restaurant I visited for lunch offered steamed sea-urchin roe and I enjoyed the kaisendon sashimi bowl decorated lavishly with northern shrimp and seasonal salmon roe. The sea urchin roe melted in my mouth and I could taste its subtle sweetness. I felt a sense of the abundance of the sea.
Forests account for 80 per cent of the town. The rains that fall on the highlands are soaked up in the mountain areas and the nutrient-laden rivers flow into the sea. This process is believed to help the growth of seafood and seaweed.
In 2010, Japan Tobacco (JT) began a 10-year project called JT Forest Shakotan to help the conservation of these mountains. JT subsidises the costs of forest thinning, weeding and afforestation over 350ha within the reach of three rivers running through the town, including the Bikunigawa river.
“Ill-maintained forests are recovering,” said Shakotan Mayor Hideki Matsui, 68. “I want to scientifically prove that mountains foster the ocean.”
Experts on forests, rivers and seas have already started investigations in their various fields.
“I hope they will collect enough data soon so that we can properly explain to children, who will be responsible for the next generation,” Mr Matsui said.
Forests not only nurture the abundant sea, but are also helping the reconstruction of areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. About 2,000 trees, including Japanese larches, were cut down, sent to disaster-hit areas such as Miyagi Prefecture and used as foundations for temporary housing units in May 2011. The workings of nature help human beings, highlighting the importance of protecting nature.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The next day, I visited a traditional-style fishermen’s lodge in the centre of the town that was originally built for those involved in the herring-fishing industry. Its herring fishing was the boast of the town and there were many houses that accommodated fishing boat owners, their families and crew members. But these houses are almost all abandoned nowadays.
In 2008, residents in the town began activities to preserve these houses as sightseeing spots. Local volunteers including Noriichi Bessho, 67, renovated the lodge and named it Yamashime Banya.
The two-storey wooden house has a total floor area of about 420 sq m. A public interest corporation subsidised the costs of renovation, such as those for replacing the flooring.
The facility was opened to the public until late September, hosting events such as shamisen lute performances. It is currently closed in preparation for further restoration work but its reopening is planned for around May next year.
“I feel regret if tourists just eat sea-urchin roe and leave town. I want them to know the history of Shakotan, even if it’s just a little,” Mr Bessho said.
Though the town has a population of only 2,300, many local people I met love their home town.
It takes about 1 hour 40 minutes by plane from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to New Chitose Airport. Then, 1 hour 15 minutes by train from the airport to Otaru Station and 1 hour 25 minutes by bus from the station to Bikuni, the centre of Shakotan.
For more details, contact the Shakotan tourism association at (0135) 44-3715 (English inquiries accepted only on weekdays) or visit http://www.kanko-shakotan.jp.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
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