Trip to Bavaria

Sorry for the delay in Blaag posts, we had a busy February. We will make up for it with the prohibitive length of this post. Things that happened:

  • Friends came to visit from London, and one of them saw snow for the first time!
  • Carol stayed up until 4am to watch the Super Bowl. Phelan tried, but did not succeed.
  • We went to Bavaria, Switzerland, and Austria (briefly). Let’s talk about the Bavaria:

We started out in Munich and drove to a small town in Southern Bavaria called Garmisch – Partenkirchen, home of the 1936 Winter Olympics. I still can’t really pronounce it.  Major ski events are still held at their Olympic Stadium. We were glad that we chose to visit this cute ski town with the streets lined with Alpine-style houses nestled into the towering Bavarian Alps (much majesty).

We had just enough time to go to the Partnach Gorge when we arrived. It takes about an hour to hike through the gorge and make your way back down the mountain on a (terrifying) cable car. The hike through the gorge showcases crystal clear water ( so clear), amazing ice formations, and tunnels burrowed through the mountain side.

The next day was my birthday and castle extravaganza day!

The road to the Castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau lead us through Germany and Austria’s Zugspitze area, a section of the Bavarian Alps containing the tallest mountain in Germany (perhaps unsurprisingly named the Zugspitze). As soon as we crossed over into Austria we were greeted by a snow covered field (moonlighting as a golf course in the summer). The frosted trees framed an awe inspiring view of Zugspitze. Locals were headed out onto the snow-covered golf course for a morning ski. In the distance you could see a town where the ski area literally ran all the way into the streets (the slopes and houses were pretty much merged together).

Eventually the road turned back into Germany and onto Castle Neuschwanstein. I pretty much started jumping up and down like an excited child at the first sight of the castle (which I hope amused the dour parking attendant). The castle is absolutely gorgeous, and the path to reach it takes you through a picturesque Bavarian town (filled with shops containing the exact same set of tourist-centric products. So many beer steins).

Seeing Neuschwanstein has pretty much been a life goal of mine ever since I knew it existed, and the experience was one of those rare cases when reality lives up to expectations. It is in almost every sense a storybook castle: never built for war or defense, Neuschwanstein is the product of a romantic king’s idealized version of what a medieval palace should be like. The castle also has a bittersweet history, as the king never saw it finished (most of the rooms are still not completed) and he died in mysterious circumstances after being declared mad and dethroned.

Neuschwanstein’s sister castle, Hohenschwangau, is a more practical sort of place. Several generations of royal families actually lived there, and as such it has a more utilitarian demeanor. Of course, this is only in comparison to the fairy-tale quality of Neuschwanstein. Hohenschwangau is a magnificent structure in its own right.

After soaking in as much castle-majesty as possible (seriously I feel like I am being a little excessive with the adjectives here but just trust me the views were good), we headed to our hotel for the night. This was an adventure in itself, as we ended up driving down what appeared to be a sidewalk in a park (story for another blog post).

We spent the next day doing a little off-the-grid exploring on our way to the final scheduled castle stop. Naturally, we went off-grid to explore another castle. Driving down the road we saw signs for something called the “Wasser-schloss”, which means “Water-palace” in German. We looked at each other, said “that sounds amazing!” and then promptly veered off the road in pursuit. We began to have second thoughts right around the time a large tractor was bearing down us on a one-way mountainous road but we eventually found the Water-palace and it was charming.

Our final castle of the day was Burg Hohenzollern. You may recall the German word ‘Schloss’ from the previous paragraph as meaning ‘Palace’ in English. ‘Burg’ in German is roughly equivalent to ‘Fortress’. As such, Hohenzollern was not a place of fairytales. Battles have been fought on its grounds, and it has been razed twice and rebuilt three times. Its current aesthetically pleasing incarnation belies the bloody history it possesses. Some savage mystique must still lay about the grounds though, as we saw not one but two impromptu snowball fights break out in the courtyard.

That night, our castle-lust fully sated, we drove down the cobbled streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber to our hotel. Rothenburg is a remarkably well-preserved medieval village, all the more interesting because people actually still live there. The entire thing looks like the backdrop of a movie, but when you peek around the edge and expect to see cardboard, you get more movie. We spent a night and a day there, walking the town walls, exploring the tiny twisting streets and marveling. We weren’t even marveling at anything in particular, we just floated around in a general state of marvel. It was great.

Alas, all things must end (Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof, as the Germans would say). On the upside, our following stop was Switzerland, which will be the subject of our next blog post…

PS: Like the photos? There’s a LOT more where they came from. Check out my photos, and Carol’s photos on Google+.

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