The Neuschwanstien Adventure- Schwangau, Germany

After leaving the beyond idyllic town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Julia and I embarked on a quick hour and a half roadtrip to see our second Ludwig II castle, Neuschwanstein. This is the one castle I had heard of before doing any research into where I wanted to visit, as it’s about the most famous of all German castles and arguably the most beautiful. Something I didn’t know before we went is that it’s also one the most visited tourist destinations in all of Europe, which makes sense of course, given it’s accessibility and beauty.

The skies were a clear brilliant blue and I enjoyed the views on the drive- the rolling hills, lush green farms and small towns just off the main highway almost begging for us to stop in and explore them. Finally though, the road curved just right and off in the distance, nestled right into the hills, we spotted the castle.

A 19th century romanesque revival palace constructed for a king who could be best and most kindly described as a social recluse, it was built in homage to the operas of composer Richard Wagner. Neuschwanstein was still incomplete when the king died in 1886 however, and in total he only slept 11 nights there. As the official tourist website for the castle states “the shy king had built the castle in order to withdraw from public life – now vast numbers of people came to view his private refuge. ”  To say there’s something deeply and almost sadly ironic about this would be an understatement.

After catching this glimpse of the castle so near and yet still so far away Julia and I continued on our way and then we ended up missing our turn and would up driving into the outskirts of Füssen, which turned out to be a lucky break as a I had no idea the town was there, nor that it would be so immediately interesting to me. As we made the necessary u-turn to get back on the right route I turned to Julia and said, “We really should see if we can find the time to come back here after we tour the castle, or at the very least stop in for lunch.” She readily agreed and all was well, even as we got behind a long – extremely long- line of cars that were all apparently going the same way as us.

By the time we made it up to the general parking lot at the bottom of the hill from where the castle is situated, we realized that perhaps spending our morning exploring Garmich-Partenkirchen had been a bad call and we should have gotten here earlier. Tour bus after tour bus lined up 6 deep and more people walking around trying to either buy tour tickets, start their walk up the hill to the castle or board a bus than I had seen at any of all the other places I had been to so far. Both Julia and I were caught off guard and we both expressed some version of “holy crap” as we tried to navigate our way to a parking spot.

So here’s something I rarely talk about in my blog posts- heck something I don’t even really talk about in my everyday life- which is the fun fact that I have occasional bouts of sensory overload coupled with social anxiety. As you can maybe imagine, traveling, especially to extremely crowded or busy places… well it can honestly wreak hell on my nerves. I can handle it well enough after years of forced practice and in general, unless you know me pretty intimately, you would just think i’m a bit tense and maybe not having the greatest time. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy traveling in cities or to tourist attractions, just that I need to be prepared in advance for the amount of energy i’ll need to have to find it in myself not to get overwhelmed by everything and everyone.

I work really hard to make sure there’s nothing ever standing in the way of the things I want to do- whether thats time, money or even myself- but of course the other side of that is also knowing when something isn’t quite worth the effort. If I had been by myself I would probably have taken one look at this crowded parking lot and flashed a cheery peace sign as I departed to calmer pastures but since I was with someone else, I took a deep breath and grabbed that extra cord of determination I keep stored at the bottom of my chest for emergencies and did my best to put on a happy face.
Thankfully however, neither of these were necessary as Julia was of the same opinion that really, this didn’t look like it would that much fun. So we talked it over for a bit and came to the decision that we would book it out of that madhouse, head to Füssen for lunch and then go to Linderhof Palace and maybe come back to Neuschwanstien the next day.

We got a bit turned around as we attempted to make our way out back to Füssen and ended up on some quiet roads that provided some really wonderful (and much more solitary) views of the castle and the surrounding hills and really, that just made us feel even better about our decision.

Things to think about if you decide to make the trip out here:
Just like all the other Ludwig II castles, you can only enter to visit with a tour, and these tours only last 30 minuets. The tickets cost $19 per person and while you can buy them when you arrive, it’s best to reserve ahead of time as they do sell out. Like I mentioned above, it’s an extremely popular destination and it’s probably best to try and make it as early as possible, though tours don’t start until 9am during the summer hours and 10am in the winter. And last but not least, photography is not allowed inside the castle.

On our way back from Füssen (which i’ll cover in the next post), as we headed to Linderhof Palace, we spotted a road that wound it’s way to a very picturesque church so we of course made a quick little detour to snap a couple of photos and check out some pumpkins being sold by the roadside that I had become intensely interested in. The skies had turned grey over the course of the past few hours we had been here but the wind was only a little crisp and with no rain immediately visible on the horizon, we headed on our way to the final Ludwig II castle on our Bavarian agenda.

~m

The Best Views in Town, Courtesy of a Local- Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

The best place to start this post is to state outright and without reservations- I love cows and sheeps. Not in a weird or creepy way, just in a very appreciative I-spent-the-first-decade-of-my-life-in-NYC-and-then-the-next-one-in-suburbia so whenever I’m in what can be constituted as the “countryside”, I get overly excited to see them.

Overly excited to the point where I will point them out when I see them- almost every single time. So by the third day of my stay in Germany with Julia she was very used to this and that morning before we headed out to Neuschwanstein castle she took me on a quick tour to the Garmisch part of her home town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (located about an hour outside of Munich) and started it off with a view that included not only the tallest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze, but also had amazing views of some happy cows grazing in the fields. Needless to say, it was the perfect way to start the day.

After this we drove back into town and found a good parking spot to go on a quick walking tour of some of her favorite places.

We stopped in first at the Parish Church Of St. Martin, which was completely empty that morning and provided an interesting contrast to the vivid colors of that part of town. I wouldn’t call the atmosphere somber though, maybe more just appropriately pious? In any case it’s a beautiful town church and I’d highly recommend stopping in if you’re in the area.

We didn’t wander too far as we still had plans to travel out to Neuschwanstein Castle but that mornings walk provided an over abundance of postcard worthy views and I left with the impression that Garmisch-Partenkirchen was really and truly like somewhere out of a fairytale. Every curve of the road, every street seemed to be filled with charm, color and culture to the point where I almost didn’t want to leave.

(We would be back later that day of course and do some more exploring as well as visit the Partenkirchen part of town the next day but more on that in a later post. )

~m

A Bavarian Versaille and A Monastery on A Lake- Herrenchiemsee, Germany

The day started out rainy, which was a slight bummer considering we planned to be out and walking around that day. Determined to not let it put too much of a dampener on the day, Julia grabbed her very cute umbrella with cats on it and I grabbed the one I had bought that had it’s own cats and dogs design (this goes toshould show you, more than anything probably, why we get along so well) and we headed out to make the hour and half drive to Prien am Chiemsee where we would board the ferry that would take us to Herreninsel where our final destination,Neues Schloss Herrenchiemsee was located on.

If you’re not familiar with Bavarian history or King Ludwig II then all those names up there might have thrown you for a loop and to be honest, just a couple of months before I took this trip I would also have been itching with curiosity. Thankfully not only did I do some research to make sure I knew where I wanted to visit while in this part of Germany, I also had a fantastically nice and knowledgeable local Bavarian friend with me who was more than up for trying to visit all the castles that King Ludwig II had commissioned to be built between the years of 1869 and 1886. These include Schloss Neuschwanstein, Linderhof Palace and the one we were there to see that day, Herrenchiemsee. 

Sprinkling rain and cloudy skies were definetly not going to stop me from going to see a real- life Bavarian palace and so we happily bought our tickets for the ferry and took the short trip over to the island while making idle plans for the rest of the days I would be there. Once we disembarked, we showed our pre bought tickets (Julia had purchased us tickets that granted entrance to all three castles for one fixed price, a genius move) at the desk and reserved our spots for the next the guided tour. Its a bit of a walk from where the ferry drops you off to where the palace is situated but eventually we found ourselves coming out from the forest that lines the trail to look upon what we had all come here to see.

Just by looking at the front of this beautifully grand building- never mind the fountains that encircle the front- you can easily get an idea of what the king was going for. As quotes from the official tourist info website state (seriously this website is great if you’re planning a visit):

“King Ludwig II’s original idea was to have a copy of Versailles Palace built on the Herreninsel as a “Temple of Fame” in honour of the Sun King Louis XIV of France.”

One thing to note, if you do plan to visit, is that you can only go inside by a guided half hour tour. Also, photography is strictly prohibited inside. As much research as I had done on where I wanted to visit, I had apparently missed this rather important bit of information and was subsequently more than a little saddened at not being able to 1. Tour the palace more freely and 2. Photograph any part of the interior.

The tour itself was really informative and fun though, and as a bonus our group was pretty small as it was the English language tour and the majority of the tourists here were German speaking, so it was a more intimate experience. It’s hard to describe the opulence of the palace, mainly because the word “opulent” seems lacking- enchantingly lavish is perhaps a better descriptor. From the entrance staircase that seems to fairly shine with a fairytale sort of grandeur to rooms covered in the kind of craftsmanship that has you leaning forward just to get a better look to a copy of the Versailles Hall of Mirrors, it almost leaves your heart aching at all the beauty you wish you could linger around.

Thirty minutes is all you’re given however, and after the tour was done we headed back to the front of the palace where we had lunch at the cafeteria thats just off the lobby and decided on the rest of our plans. The tickets we had bought back at the ferry point allowed us to not only visit the island the castle was on but to also take a trip to Frauenchiemsee (also know as Fraueninsel) where a monastery is located. And of course, if you’ve been reading any of my last few posts, you know if there’s a monastery or church nearby , Julia and I will probably go visit it.

The rain let up for a while as we explored this smaller island and there was a bit of a surreal-ness to the experience of coming from one of the most ornately decorated palaces i’d ever seen to a quiet and almost homely island that was centered around a monastery. Also, we got a bit of a kick out of being probably the youngest people touring the island who weren’t there with their parents- the average age of most tourist we saw seemed to be fixed firmly at around 50, and we had this fun moment where we looked at each other like, “wow, we really are very nerdy people aren’t we?“.

Our feet were pretty tired from the walking we had down around the other island and we weren’t too keen on exploring the museum here, mostly because all the placards were in German and my reading comprehension in anything other than English, Spanish or Italian is not so great. The area is full of beautiful houses and gardens though, and being a car-free island we had a nice time just leisurely taking a walk around the winding paths before heading back to the ferry docking point.

Hands cold and feet a little sore we headed back to the mainland on our last ferry ride of the day, talking about all that we had seen and making plans for the rest of the day- which included heading back to her apartment to pack an overnight back as we would be going to stay in her hometown of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, to make our trips to the next two castles a little bit easier and also so I could finally meet her bunny rabbits (yes you read that right, it’s not a typo). As we drove back the way we had come, the large lake fading in the distance behind us, I really wondered what the other castle we had yet to visit would have in store for us.

~m

A Church By the River – Ramsau, Germany

well I don’t know if we will make it before dark… but we’re already on our way so…

might as well try!

That’s the exchange Julia and I had as we drove from Salzburg, Austria to Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden, Germany while we were trying to decide if we would make it in time to see the church she was taking me to or if we’d arrive after dark. After getting turned around twice while trying to navigate our way out of Salzburg, it was anyone’s guess at this point. The postcard worthy scenery as we made our way- tall lightly snow dusted mountains, lush green valleys and a winding road that showed it all to the best advantage- had already made the drive worth it to me though.

And what were we on our way to see? Why, another church of course! The Parish Church of Saint Sebastian( if you haven’t read my previous post on all the churches we visited in Salzburg- here it is – , which might give you a greater insight into why we both enjoy visiting these places and how truly worth the visit they are even if you wouldn’t normally be interested in these kinds of places)

The town of Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden is a small one, and one I had never heard of before Julia mentioned it. She told me the area was very popular with tourists though, as they liked to photograph the church, which is situated by the lovely Ramsauer Ache river, with the surrounding mountains rising in the background. It just sounds very picturesque, no?

The gently curving road eventually deposited us outside the town and I can say with full honestly the first words out of my mouth were a solid “wow”. The town is like something out of a fairytale, nestled right into the valley, with the main street tucked next to the river. There were also plenty of hotels and Gasthäuser in the area, not to mention a few tour buses and vans spotted here and there so it’s definetly popular with tourists of all kinds.

After finding a lucky parking spot just by the river and walking across the bridge to take a couple of photographs of the church opposite the other side, we meandered around the streets there for a bit and then made our way back. We crossed the surprisingly busy street (well, busy for the small town atmosphere) and found ourselves looking up at the church. “Should we go inside?” Julia asked and why not? We’d come this far, it would be almost silly not to really take it all in.

We encountered a group of German tourists at the entrance and they asked Julia to take a photo of them- coincidentally, they both had the same camera model after which they headed off and we looked around to realize we had been left with the whole place to ourselves.

The inside of the church was modest, at least compared to some of the other splendorous insides we had seen that day, but there was a really wonderful intimacy that was unique to the space that still stands out to me when I think back on it. We stayed inside for a bit and then quietly made our way back outside, where we took the path just next to the church that leads up to the cemetery.

Is it in bad taste to comment on the aesthetics of a cemetery? Maybe, but that doesn’t stop me from saying this was one of the loveliest cemeteries I’ve ever visited. It’s situated right behind and slightly above the church, which means it overlooks the valley, river and surrounding mountains, providing a really unexpected kind of view. We walked through the area there before heading back down and then taking another path around the side of the church through what ended up being a historic graveyard.

What I can most easily remember as we walked there in the town and around the church was the gentle smell of burning firewood somewhere , something heady and slightly sweet that wafted over us and made everything seem that much more idyllic.

Eventually though, true darkness began to settle in the valley and we decided it was probably high time to make our way back home to Julia’s apartment- especially since we wanted at least a little bit of an early start the next day when we headed to Herrenchiemsee, to see the palace built by King Ludwig II that was intended to be a Bavarian Versailles.

~m

A Sunset Walk Goodbye- Salzburg, Austria

There’s very few times where i’ll recommend visiting a cemetery, but St. Peter’s Monastery and it’s accompanying cemetery is easy to recommend given it’s history, location and general beauty. One of the highlights of the cemetery (which btw, is the oldest cemetery in the city) are the accompanying catacombs which are carved out of the Mönchsberg itself. They’re open year round and if you’re interested in going up into them, the entrance is located at the graves of Mozart’s sister Nannerl and Michael Haydn. Julia and I of course decided to go up and take a look.



After coming back down from the catacombs we walked to some other churches in the area and then sat on the stairs of the Kollegienkirche for a while, just people watching and wondering where everyone had gotten the delicious looking ice cream cones they were walking around with. Eventually we found ourselves heading to the river to cross back to the other side as the sun climbed lower in the sky.

And whats that in the background? Another church of course. In front of it is the hotel i’d really love to stay at the next time I visit( because yes of course i’m already thinking of when I can visit again). 

Walking back through the gardens of Mirabell Palace, we ended up right back to the first view where we started that day and looked out across the landscape and up to where we’d been just a couple of hours ago.

We eventually made it back to where we had parked the car and the plan had been to head back to Geretsried since its about a 2 hour ride back but, Julia had a suggestion for another place to visit that was hard to resist. So with a roadmap out between us and some fruit snacks ready to be chewed on, we headed on to the last part of that days adventure.

~m