Sunday, July 7, 2013

vacation 10: Bavaria

We had a 1:55 tour scheduled for Neuschwanstein, Ludwig's castle in Bavaria. They wanted us there by one to pick up the tickets. Despite congestion at the toll plaza, construction, and slow moving vehicles on narrow Alpine roads, Tammy got us there just after one. We parked at one of the well-advertised parking areas I followed the signs at a run to pick up the tickets. Then we found out why they wanted us there an hour in advance: the buses run late and it's about a 30 minute fitness hike to the top of the hill where the castle is. We jogged in, panting, with almost 5 minutes to spare. Tammy wanted to take photos of the exterior beforehand, but I didn't want to miss our slot.

The tour was fascinating, but again--no photos allowed. Really? They let Wim Venders film the place for a 3D tour in the Gabriel Knight video game, which featured Ludwig as a werewolf.
One of the guys from Iowa kept asking if Ludwig was really crazy. I explained that the king was gay, not intending to produce an heir, and starting on his fourth(?) flamboyant castle after burning through 500 years worth of royal savings. The tour took less time than the round trip walk. We spent longer in the two gift shops: postcards, swan knick knacks, knights, and princess figurines.
Then we hiked to Mary's bridge over the chasm above the castle. Breath-taking views but so windy I thought we were going to lose a kid over the side. The cataract below us literally made a corkscrew shape. We took a tons of photos of these incredible vistas, and then set about documenting the exterior of the castle itself.
Because of it would take us an extra hour on twisty Austrian roads, and we hadn't allotted time for bridge and gift shop, we skipped Linderhoff, as it only  imitated Versailles and we were going to the real thing in a few days. Plus, the castles tend to be expensive. We ate German fare at a local restaurant. Because Tammy had a caterpillar still moving in her salad, the waiter treated us to a yummy Austrian apple dessert. I don't think I've heard the kids laugh that much in years.
Most Germans seemed to speak English as a second language, and the autobahn was free! Tammy reached 170 km/hr while I napped. We used the "spare" time that night to wash clothes in Munich. One of my favorite moments in the trip was when I struggled to ask the janitor at the laundromat how to pay for the machines in my pitiful German. When I berated myself in frustration, the Ugandan perked up. "Thank goodness you speak English," he said. "My German is not too good."

The next morning, we drove to Dachau. I include no photos because so many people died there, it's really a big grave. We unintentionally took the two mile Remembrance walk because it was the only labelled thing near the information building. We should've taken a map first. Our feet were tired when we actually returned for the bunk houses. The new, super-sized gas chambers were the most dramatic exhibit.
From there, we drove to Bingem-am-Rhine so we could visit the river where our family took its name. A cabinet maker came over to Philadelphia about 8 generations ago, and my Grandparents still spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. I touched the water and so did the kids. There were swans, grapes, and castles everywhere. The local bike path was under a meter of water as many German towns flooded this summer. We chatted with some natives in English and got directions to a local food place they recommended. Even though we had planned to drive to Koblenz and through the Luxemborg mountains, I had my doubts about how much scenery we'd see from the road or how well we could navigate in the dark. Since this was my tourist site request, we skipped the second town and went to our hotel just over the border in France.

The Formula 1 chain is clean, small, and dirt cheap--30 Euros a night per room. We had to get two rooms, because in France, anyone over the age of 4 counts as an adult. The toilets and showers are down the hall, and the beds are queen on bottom with a bunk over top. But I've lived in worse dorms. When you just want to crash for the night, it's fine.

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