Laura and I woke up refreshed and ready to get out of Munich; we've discovered we like the smaller towns over big cities, so much less noise and hustle and bustle, especially when you're in a foreign country, slower is better. Breakfast was once again a traditional cheese and ham hard-roll sandwich for me, and some bread with jam and butter for Laura. As we were up early, it was relatively uncrowded, and we made a quick get-away back to the train station. Another quick stop at the reservation desk, and we had two tickets to Fussen and were ready to go. We picked up sandwiches at the train station baekeri and found our way to the right platform (with this being the biggest train station we'd seen yet, there were about 40 platforms, so this was a little more challenging than before). We were one of the first ones there, so we found a nice seat pointed the right direction, and read our books while the train slowly filled. Wave after wave of people showed up, until there were no seats left, and we were off. I wonder how they ever know if there will be seats for everyone on the train, since there's not much in the way of making a reservation.
The two-hour train ride was a little rainy, but filled with some great scenery. The hills gradually became larger, more and more cows were spotted grazing, the houses took a turn for the classical look, and then we saw the Alps, slowly creeping up until you couldn't help but call them mountains. Even for the next half hour, they just slowly grew, and by the time we reached Fussen, we were at their base. Besides looking at the scenery, I finished "Rendevous with Rama" and Laura made more progress in her Cat adventure book.
We acted like tourists and followed everyone else off the train when it reached Fussen, and they thankfully led us to the tour buses, headed up the hill toward the castles. We couldn't see the castles yet, but we just knew we were at the right place. A cramed bus and 10 minutes later, we were at the base of another hill, and when we got off the bus, we spotted a fog-shrounded Castle Newschwanstein.
I've always wanted to see this castle, first because it is the castle you see everywhere, on jigsaw puzzles, posters, etc, and second, because when my grandparents visited Germany in their retirement, one of their travel pictures was a perfectly-framed Newschwanstein castle. The quality was good enough that they could blow it up to a 2 feet or so framed picture on their wall, which then hung in my room once they passed away and is now in our bedroom. My mission for today was to find the spot where they took their picture and see how well I can replicate it.
A short walk of following tourists took us to the ticket booth, where we picked up the Royal Tour tickets, first for Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig was born and grew up, and Newschwanstein, his fantastic unfinished castle just across the valley. As this was a main tourist spot, both of our tours would be in English, for better or for worse. The rain had picked up, so we donned our ponchos from previous castle explorations, and headed up a short walk to the waiting gate area. The system was very orderly, with numbers on your ticket telling you exactly when to head in, and as we had about half an hour before our tour, we hid under a tree and our umbrella to eat our lunch, a nice meal of breaded chicken sandwich for Laura and a ham and cheese sandwich for me. Try as it might, the rain could not dampen our spirits for castling today, and when our number was called, we shook off our rain and headed inside.
Our tour took us through the Queen's rooms on the 1st floor and the King's rooms on the 2nd floor. The third floor where the children lived (with almost no interaction from their parents it seemed, only caretakers and nannies) was not restored and could not be seen on the tour. The most memorable thing was the very detailed and colorful wall paintings. They had been painted directly on to the plaster, and detailed many historical knights of the family as well as local fairy tales involving swans, thus the Schwan name in the castle. There were many symbolic figures of swans, lions (for Bavaria) and eagles (for Prussia) also hidden among the paintings.
As with the other castles we saw, this had been destroyed by the French and been rebuilt within the last two hundred years, but with a mind to preserving the historical feel. Both floors had a very large dining room area with ornametal plates and table-settings, makes you wonder if they ever ate together as a family and played board games, probably not. Many of the ceilings were painted blue with white stars, and the ceiling in the King's bedroom had been altered to allow the simulation of stars, by drilling holes to the third floor, putting in colored glass pieces at the bottom, and having servents stand on the third floor with lights, waving them until the King went to sleep. We also noticed that one of the perks of being King is getting fantastic birthday presents, like an ivory carved chest, a gold goblet, engraved shields, and 100 year old bread and salt (well it wasn't 100 years old when he got it, only now, and it looks very well preserved..) The tour ended with a short walk outside to visit the gardens and view the valley down below, and we looked at our watches and started headed for the next castle, following some Italian smokers down the hill.
Now we had three options, either take a horse carrige up the hill, take the bus shuttle, or walk along the horse trail. We noticed the horses were going rather slow, and since the rain pretty much stopped and we were starting to get used to all this excersize, we choose to hoof it on our own. It turned out to be a pretty direct route, with only a couple of detours made to avoid the horse droppings on the way. We exited the tree-covered road to see the huge white walls of the castle with a large circular staircase on one side. There seemed to be a very long line to get in, but it was once again an orderly procession of people waiting to have their tour number called. Finally it was time for #475 at 2:15, and we headed in.
The castle was huge, probably the biggest one we'd seen all trip. And since it was never finished and never lived in, we were able to see more rooms than any other castle too. It's surprizing how much money was put in to this castle, and for someone to have that much money at their disposal, even at the time when it was built. There were many beautiful ceilings with their gothic arches all painted. We moved through a huge hallway with views on either side, one of the valley, the other of the servant's quarters, which looked bigger than our apartment. As in Hoenschwangau, the walls were all painted with huge plaster paintings, many of them featuring scenes from Wagner operas, as the castle was dedicated to Wagner since he and Ludwig were friends. I was particularly impressed with the size and brightness of the throne room (minus one throne-to be added later) with a huge mosaic under our feet and wall paintings of knight/saints in the place of the usual chappel/12 disciples spot. This was also the favorite spot for the other tourists in our group to take illegal pictures. The bedroom included some of the most intricate wood carvings we'd seen, it looked like a miniature copy of the Koln cathedral was made into his bed canopy and light fixtures for his sink, and everywhere we went there were large white swans. Laura's favorite room was the Music Hall, our last stop, where the ceiling was constructed for perfect acoustics, and the walls were painted green like we were in a forest, right up to the door we used to exit, which was perfectly hidden. We ended our tour by visiting Ludwig's childhood gift shop (obligatory Simpson's reference) and picking up some postcards.
But as yet, we had not found where my grandparent's took their picture, although we did see some very similar pictures in the gift shop, so we searched our map some more and found a pathway to Mary's Bridge, which looked like just the spot we needed. Turns out this was a very uphill hike, just what we needed, more hills. It was worth it, though, as we crested one hill, we found an opening to take pictures of Hoenschwangau down in the valley, Laura thinks it will be perfect for her Mom to remember the Alps. Another small hike upwards, and we found the famous bridge, rickety and metal, with very bouncy wooden planks under our feet. Laura was very brave and walked out on the bridge with me, and we turned to see Newschwanstein in perfect position for a picture, and I'd finally found the spot where my grandparents had walked in Germany. I snapped some large and small pictures, and we headed off (much to Laura's relief) to find a bus back to the train station. We squeezed our way onto the next bus and careened our way down the hillside, to another bus station, where we managed to catch the last bus back, and hopped on the last train back to Munich 4 minutes before it took off. Phew!
Laura found many opportunities for pictures on the way back, with the rolling hills and receeding mountains being the home to many cows and picturesque German houses. I slept what I could (I'm not a good train/bus/moving vehicle sleeper) and Laura read some more while the two hours back to Munich flew by. And by now, after a day of exercise, we were starving for dinner. We returned to the pedestrian mall we found yesterday and found the Spatenhauf for another good German meal, with the compelling reasons being that it had English translations of thier menu options, we could sit outside and avoid the smoke, and it was close. I tried out the Jagerschnitzle, which was Wienerschnitzle covered in a creamy mushroom and onion sauce, with some pan-fried spatzle on the side. Laura ordered the Oxenhau, a pot roast slicked and coated in a mustard sauce, with skillet-fried potatoes with bacon and oregano. We split a green salad, and amazingly (although not by now) we finished everything we ordered. Best meal yet! :)
Still in search of gardens in Munich, we wandered down to a green spot on the map marked Promenade, with 3 large statues (maybe Maximillian and other Bavarian kings?) amongst two rows of marigolds and tall white flowers. By now, our energy was exhausted, so we headed back to the hostel and fell into bed, with plans tomorrow to see the famous Deutches Museum.