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Monday, May 01, 2006

Europe Trip Report – Day 4 – Bavaria & Neuschwanstein Castle

Today’s excursion is one that Ashley has been looking to for quite awhile – her return to King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle in southern Bavaria. She visited King Ludwig’s fairy tale castle back in 1997, this same one that Snow White’s castle that Disneyland in Anaheim is modeled after – important Disney connection! It will be my first trip to southern Bavaria to see the popular castle.

In our original planning being Americans, we did not consider the May Day holiday. While we planned to make a few other stops along the Romantic Road, however the abbreviated bus and train schedules for May Day had us change our plans just to head down to the town of Fussen.

We grabbed at quick bite to eat at executive floor at our Hilton Munich City hotel and hopped the quick S-Bahn down to main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. This experience was less stressful than our way in from the airport, as we picked up a German Rail Twin Pass for our planned train trips. We wrote in the date on the pass and headed down to the train station to have it activated. Once activated by the Deutsche Bahn attendant, we headed to our train platform.

The minutes before the train left provided a little bit of comedy for us. For our trip, since we knew we would be taking a night train (nacht zug) we went ahead and picked up the first class German Rail twin passes rather than the second class ones. For a five day pass, the price difference was less than $100, however there are a lot more non-smoking, no cell-phone, and spacious compartments.

As we attempted to get on our board, a German lady pleaded with us not to get on in the first class car. We motioned to her that it was ok, but she insistently pointed towards the second class car. We went ahead and boarded the train in the first class compartment as we realized that she was trying to keep us from making a common and costly mistake. Fines are steep for passengers sitting in the first class compartment that should not be, even if they are ignorant Americans.

Our train trip to the town of Fussen was quick and peaceful. During our quick train switch, several other multi-nationals (Americans and Japanese) decided to follow us. It made us feel good to know we were getting the hang of it again. The rest of the way provided breath-taking views of the German countryside as we saw the snow-capped Bavarian Alps grow bigger and bigger until we reached to the town of Fussen.

After getting off the train, we went to jump in line for the bus, when we again realized that we did not know when the bus would be coming or even if it would be. So rather than wait in line for an indeterminate amount of time, we hopped into a taxi and took it to the base of the “Royal Castles” in about 10 minutes for about 10 euros.

The Taxi dropped us off at the Ticket Center, where we waited in line to get tickets for our tour. Fortunately, the lines were not as long as some of the horror stories you hear. Our tour time was only about 60 minutes from when we got our tickets. Since it was a beautiful day, we decided to take the half mile walk up the steep winding slope. While walking up the mountain, we had some great views of the neo-Gothic Hohenschwangau Castle, where King Luwig II spent some 17 years there. The castle was undergoing restoration, so a large portion of the castle was hidden from view.

The way up to the castle provides some picturesque views of the valley around Fussen and of the Neuschwanstein castle itself. Once arriving at the top, I was surprised at the vast diversity of tours and languages. I had mainly expected Americans and Japanese tourists, but the tours were offered in several other languages including Italian.

The Neuschwanstein castle undoubtedly is a very beautiful from the outside. However, I never realized how unfinished the castle was. The two most impressive rooms are the throne room with Christ looking down on the twelve apostles and the six canonized kings of Europe. The Singer’s Hall on the 4th floor is equally impressive – although since it was not September we did not hear the Wagnerian concert.

The most impressive view from the castle is off the balcony of the king’s bedroom. From the window you can see the amazing 150 foot waterfall in the Pollar Gorge. Breathtaking.

Upon finishing our tour, we grabbed a quick bite at restaurant just at the bottom of the Schloss Neuschwanstein, with traditional German fare include apple streusel. After having the heavy meal, we decided to hoof it back to town to catch our train back to Munich. The walk turned out to be a little longer than we remembered – about 3 miles.

However, we did have the chance to walk through the down of Fussen and take in the principal shopping area in town, the Reichenstrasse. We arrived back at the train station with 15 minute to spare.

Once back in Munich, we headed down to our favorite area – Marienplatz. In the square, there was a concert and peaceful protest for the May Day celebration. A bunch of people in white lab coats and orange hats. We did not quite get it, but it was amusing.

For the evening and dinner we headed to the world famous Haufbrauhaus beer garden. The Haufbrauhaus is perhaps the most popular and widely known beer house (Biergarten) in the world. On this particular night it was packed with patrons and tourists alike, attracted to the beer, the camaraderie, and entertainment with lederhosen clad Germans dancing and singing German folk music. One very interesting fact about the restaurant is that many of the repeat visitors store their beer steins there in the lockup.

As we walked through the hall, we passed the pretzel station and Ashley’s eyes immediately lit up. I knew that very shortly we would be back to pick a couple of these huge wonders of bread up. The night itself was pretty calm as the Haufbrauhaus goes, on my previous trip to Munich a few years back – great beer and food.