Unlike our recent trip to Barcelona, the first day of our Bavarian Blitzkrieg was quite a success. The wife and I had early morning arrival in Munich on our first day. We then managed to successfully navigate the mass transit system, scored an upgrade to a suite when checking into the hotel, enjoyed a magnificent two-star Michelin meal, and toured the beautifully decorated winter wonderland that the locals call München. Not a bad day at all, if you ask me!
After enjoying some of what Munich had to offer, we were ready to sample a bit of the Bavarian countryside on the second day of our little adventure. While doing the preliminary planning for our Munich trip, the wife and I planned a train journey into the countryside of Bavaria to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, which served as inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Our locomotive journey began as we strolled down platform 28 at Munich’s Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) towards the Regional-Express train headed for the small town of Füssen. Having pre-purchased tickets online, we jumped aboard a second class railcar and hunted for a place to set up shop for the long trip ahead. Finding the train to already be close to full, with many passengers still flooding in, we quickly realized that we were not the only tourists trying to visit the castles without shelling out an extra hundred euros on an overpriced guided coach tour. Moving from one passenger car to the next, just as we began to realize that we might have to split up to find seats, we found a perfect pair of seats. Two adjacent seats directly across from a woman using her hiking pack to “reserve” the seat next to her for a traveling companion that would never show up. Thankful for the extra space, we snatched up the pair of seats, greeted the woman and her ghost companion with a quick “hello” and settled in for the ride.
Looking outside through the railcar window, I could watch the clock on the platform as our scheduled departure time approached. Immediately after the clock struck 10:05, the train’s steam whistle let out a pair quick hoots and we were off, exactly on schedule. I later came to find out that the trains in Germany are some of the most punctual in Europe, second only to those in Switzerland.
In fact, it’s due to this famous punctuality that we were able to witness one of the cliched scenes imagineable. As we slowly rolled out of the station, in the distance we could see a man running down the platform in a last ditch effort to catch the departing train, but missing it by mere seconds. Just before disappearing out of view, the gentleman could be seen stomping his foot in disgust and throwing his now worthless ticket to the ground. Classic! Horrible, but classic!
Our two hour ride aboard the Regional Express to Füssen was mostly enjoyable. Aside from a few overly pungent backpackers and a handful of extra loud “ugly Americans”, the ride was very agreeable. As the train neared the foothills of the Alps, fields of brown and green slowly gave way to thick blankets of white. Moving ever closer to our destination, even the air turned a ghostly pale as we gained elevation and found ourselves in a thick bank of dense fog. It was at this point that I was thankful that I had spent so much time carefully packing my camera bag. Thick fog always makes for great landscape photographs! (sarcasm)
Arriving in Füssen, we found ourselves with just over an hour to find a quick lunch before we needed to board a regional bus that would take us the rest of the way to Neuschwanstein Castle. After a quick evaluation of our dining options, the wife and I settled on a small Bavarian restaurant a few blocks from the train station. We both indulged in a couple of beers and enjoyed a feast of spätzle, pork stew, knödel, and pork knuckle. Whilst savoring one of our finest German meals of the trip, the wife and I decided to take a look at the schedule to check how closely we were following our tour plan. After a brief perusal, I realized that in typical “Patrick Mogridge” style, I had made a slight mistake. The bus for Hohenschwangau, the village where the castle ticket office is located, was scheduled to leave Füssen at 1:05 PM. I immediately realized this would be a problem, as our reserved castle tour tickets had to be picked up no later than 1:05 PM, one hour prior to the 2:05 PM start of the tour. Not good. Meal over. Time to go!
We rushed to the bus and took off for Hohenschwangau, hoping for the best. As we made our way to the ticket office, we were informed that although we would still be able to take the tour, we would not have time to wait for the carriage that typically takes guests up the mountain to the castle. We had 30 minutes until our tour was scheduled to start and a steep hike ahead of us. Setting out with the best intentions, it wasn’t long before the reality of the situation set in.
You see, I am a bit (a lot) out of shape. Speed hiking up a steep mountain road in 25 degree weather at high elevation is a skill that is not exactly in my wheel house. In a scene out of every war movie ever made, I had to utter those helpless words, “Go on without me…”. It was unfortunate, but I didn’t think I would make it in time for our 2:05 tour and I didn’t want to hold the wife back. There was still a chance that I would make the tour, but I wanted to be 100% sure that at least one of us would get to see inside Mad King Ludwig’s mountain home. Hesitantly, the wife set out ahead of me, and I continued to trek up the mountain alone. Needless to say, I was not in the highest of spirits.
Fortunately, as the castle grew nearer, I began to think that I might just be able to make the 2:05 start time after all. I approached the foundations of Neuschwanstein Castle steadily increasing my pace up the mountain as it became clear to me that I was going to make it!
As I stepped through the gates of the pre-tour waiting area, I felt proud of myself for not giving up, for not letting anything stand in my way. I had reached my goal. I had successfully made it up the steep mountain road to the entrance of Neuschwanstein Castle. The wife was going to be proud of me!
Noting an odd lack of people in the pre-tour area, my field of vision quickly closed in on a solitary monolithic clock standing between me and the entrance of the castle. It read 14:06. I was one minute late. I had missed the tour. German punctuality.
I had to take a photo.
Putting the disappointment of missing the tour aside, I was able to spend some time taking a few photos Neuschwanstein Castle. The castle is the epitome of “fairytail fantasy”, something Mr. Walt Disney clearly understood. The fantastical nature of the castle is more than skin deep. The castle itself isn’t even of the age that it so well embodies. Neuschwanstein Castle was constructed, not during the Middle Ages as it’s appearance would suggest, but rather by order of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the late 19th century. Designed to serve as a romanticized replica of the German castles built during the Middle Ages, Mad King Ludwig’s fairytale castle wasn’t even finished until 1892, almost 30 years after the end of the American Civil War and just eight years before the beginning of the 20th century.
Hrm… I am feeling a lengthy history lesson coming on, so I’ll stop myself before I eat up another three pages taking about Mad King Ludwig and the finer points of Romanesque Revival architecture. How about you just enjoy these photographs that I took of the exterior of the castle.
After meeting back up with the wife, we decided to take the carriage back down the mountain and head back to Munich.
Making the best of a bad situation, we decided to continue our day without letting earlier defeats get in our way. In high spirits, the wife and I marched forward.
While the castles of Hohenschwangau had made for a nice afternoon, it was time for some rest and relaxation in one of my favorite Munich landmarks.
Well, there is not much needs to be said about this legendary beer hall. It’s everything you’d imagine a German beer hall to be.
Traditional Bavarian decor? Check
Huge pretzels the size of a human head? Check
Barmaids carying liters of beer by the dozen? Natrually.
Really, I don’t see much sense in spending too much time describing the place, so I wont bore you… Perhaps a few photos may do the place more justice.
Now that I think of it, I did want to offer one quick historical item of note: The Munich Hofbräuhaus was, in 1920, the place where a young thirty-something Adolf Hitler proclaimed the twenty-five theses of the National Socialist program, effectively creating the Nazi Party. Yeah, I thought it was kind of creepy, too. The Germans don’t really like to talk about that little nugget and I can’t really blame them. Sorry to bore you with my little sojourn into late-night History Channel territory.
And now for the pièce de résistance! To congratulate you for making it this far, I’ve provided a series of photos I took of a drunk guy getting kicked out of the Hofbräuhaus. Prost!
Alrighty, next time we’ll visit the Christmas Markets and wrap things up.
As always, prints of many of my travel photographs can be found here: