Mad Ludwig vs. Mozart Tag Match

Despite the cold weather and rain, we made our way up the narrow main street in the village to the bus stop for the trip up to Mad Ludwig’s Castle.  The crush of tourists had not shown up yet; they were still having breakfast in Munich, Salzburg, and Innsbruck, and their bus drivers were beginning to idle their engines on the huge touring buses.  The bus ride was short, zig-zagging up the mountain, but I wouldn’t have wanted to walk up that incline for very long.  The bus stopped at Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge), a bridge across a steep and deep valley that overlooks a waterfall and the castle.  It is a great spot for taking photos of the castle and viewing the surrounding valley and Alpine lakes.  Unfortunately for our photos, today is grey and dark.

We walked down the path through the forest to the castle.  In the front courtyard, groups of tourists were already standing in a crowd waiting their turn to get in for their tour.  I had read that there were very few finished rooms to tour inside this castle, and it wasn’t worth the wait.  It took 17 years to build the castle for Ludwig, and by the time it was (almost) finished in 1888, he was considered insane by the other leaders and deposed.  He only lived in the castle for a few months.  It is a magnificent ideal of a castle though, built from white stone, with towers everywhere.  We had a walk around the two courtyards, and then headed back to the village via horse wagon with a group of Japanese ladies.  The youngest woman, about 18 or so, was fully equipped with all of the gadgets and baubles of the young Japanese rich, including not one but two cell phones, cameras, music players, designer purse, and fake nails an inch long.

A dreary day at Neuschwanstein Castle

Ludwig lived most of his life in Hohenschwangau Castle.  It looks like a small castle from the outside, but really is more of a country mansion/hunting lodge built on the hill overlooking the Alpsee (another Alpine lake).  We had a tour of the king and queen’s rooms by an English speaking boy who told the story of Ludwig’s life.  The guy explained how there was a heater in each room, fed with wood or coal by servants in the hallway so the servant didn’t have to go in the room and disturb the royalty.  The living rooms had fantastic views across the surrounding mountains, lakes, and valleys.

We left the crowded village and drove to the neighboring town of Fussen for lunch.  After some more Italian food (there are a lot of pizzerias in this part of Germany, because of the proximity to Italy?), we briefly wandered the pedestrian area of Fussen.  Peter wanted to visit the local skate shop.  The proprietor had recently been in Canada, and even had been to Portland to skateboard at the semi-famous skate part under the Burnside Bridge in downtown Portland.

With the exception of the cashier at the Burger King on the Autobahn on the first day of our trip, everyone we have come into contact here has spoken English.  Even at a gas station in a small village near the Austrian border, an old woman running the cash register spoke a little English.  Unlike the snooty French, who don’t want to speak French to you, in Germany everyone instantly speaks English to us.  On a couple of occasions, someone has asked me if I speak English.  That question made me feel pretty good, that I wasn’t so obviously American.  Although every other time, it’s not “Gutan Tag”, but “Hello, how are you?”

The drive through the Alps was very beautiful, despite the cold and dreary weather.  We were looking for another alpine slide in a small village off the highway.  We found the place, nestled at the bottom of two mountains.  There were many ski runs on the mountain.  Just then the sun came out for our ride up the chairlift.  This luge is the longest in the area, at almost a mile long.  We had a great and fast ride down.  I had to keep breaking or I would have flown off the track and crashed in the meadow.

Stopped in time on the Alpine slide in Austria

No matter where you drive in the world, in the summer there is road construction.  On our drive from Innsbruck to Salzburg, we must have hit a dozen construction sites.  At each one, the lanes narrowed to barely the width of the car.  This delayed us, so that by the time we got to the hotel in the old part of Salzburg, we had to rush dinner to get to the theater in time for our show.  The show was our attempt at being exposed to some musical culture while in Salzburg, a city famous for Mozart.  This show was a little less cultured, consisting of several singers and a piano player playing music from “the Sound of Music” interspersed with video clips of the real Maria von Trapp telling her life story, plus Austrian folk songs, and famous opera parts.  A little too “touristy” for my taste, and I am not an opera fan by any means.  Plus I was tired from the mountain and autobahn driving.

Tomorrow we’ll do some more walking around Salzburg, before driving to Vienna.

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Bavarian Mattresses and Bathtubs

We drove south out of Munich this morning about one hour to the town of Garmisch.  It is the start of the Bavarian Alps.  The mountain drive was beautiful, although the skies were overcast.  There is a mountain outside of town called the Zugspitze that is about 10,000 feet tall.  It is a ski town, the Aspen of Germany, that has a lot of mountain chalet houses, fancy shops, and a nice pedestrian street.  The skiing portion of the Winter Olympics was held in the town back in the 1930s.  We walked around the town and had lunch.

After lunch we drove to a nearby village called Oberammgau.  This town stages a famous passion play every ten years.  Several houses in the town are painted with elaborate scenes.  There are many shops selling carved wood items, such as nativity scenes, nutcracker soldiers, and crucifixes.  After a brief walk around, including a stop for a gelato, we continued on our way into the next valley to Hohenschwangau.

Painted house in Oberammgau, Germany

At Hohenschwangau, we carefully crawled up the main street of the village.  The village is at the base of the mountain that is the site of the Neuschwanstein castle, and it was packed with tourists.  Big tour buses from all over Europe filled the parking lots.  We checked in to the Hotel Muller and were delighted to find that our rooms had a magnificent view of the castle.  Since we had some time before dinner, we drove back up the valley to the Tegelberg alpine slide.  We each had three exciting and fast runs down the mountain.  Unlike concrete tracks in the US, this slide had stainless steel surfaces.  We were able to go up three times in a row without waiting.  We were lucky also to get our runs in, because by the time we got back to the hotel, it was raining.

The rain had stopped by dinner time, which was nice because we had a table in a glass covered terrace area of the hotel restaurant with a good view of the castle.  We leisurely enjoyed our meal, periodically talking with our entertaining waiter.  Our waiter told us about visiting the US in January, when he went to Virginia, Maryland, and Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He complained that it was too cold in Wisconsin.  I have no idea why he was visiting there in the middle of winter!  He was very funny, teasing Peter and Allison all the time…

Our plan for tomorrow is to tour Neuschwanstein castle first, tour Hohenschwangau Castle, and then move on down the road to Salzburg.

But first, a side note about German beds and bathrooms…

We’ve slept in three different hotels, and the bed in each was as hard as a rock!  Even the Hotel Muller, a nice establishment and a very nice suite, the beds leave something to be desired.  I admit I am partial to my pillow top, and I am not as young as I used to be.  When I was younger, a firmer mattress was fine by me.  But now I am (relatively) old and spoiled, and I want to be comfortable.  Especially when I am tired from the 9 hour time change and all the walking (I know, I am whining).  These beds, however, are beyond firm.  They are like marble, like concrete, like pine boards, like sleeping on the sidewalk… Are middle-aged European’s backs so tough that this is not a concern to them?

It’s not so bad when you first go to sleep.  But getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night is next to impossible.  For Lisa, she has had a lot of trouble sleeping.  Whether it’s getting comfortable, falling asleep, or getting back to sleep, she’s had a hard time.  Most nights she has ended up on the couch, which is noticeably softer (but doesn’t work for me, because I am way too tall).  With my ribs about 90% healed after seven weeks, I still couldn’t sleep on my left side or my front side at home for any length of time, and on these kryptonite mattresses, forget it.  After a few hours of tossing and turning, I have to get up.  Which I did early this morning, and went to soak in the bath.

Which brings me to my next topic.  Why is it that the shower in these European tubs is on a hose over the bath tub?  Whenever I use one of those things I always end up spraying the whole bathroom, and my wife will comment on the fact that I cannot rinse my hair without getting the floor wet.  I managed to squeeze into the bathtub.  It was very narrow and short. Made for skinny, short Europeans I guess.  I did manage to lay down in it, but wasn’t sure if I would make it back up.  Which got me thinking about the fact that over 60% of American adults are either overweight or obese.  The typical American adult would plop into this bathtub, get hopelessly stuck, and the hotel management would have to call the fire department or the ambulance or somebody to get a small crane to wedge their fat naked body out of it.  As I am sitting here typing in the hotel lounge, an American couple has walked by on their way into the restaurant.  First I see the woman walk by.  She must weigh 180 to 200 lbs.  Then the man walks by; he must weigh 280 to 300 lbs.  Close to 500 lbs of American meat ready to be stuck in the bathtub!

This makes me not want to eat breakfast, but I must, in order to have the energy to climb the steps at Mad Ludwig’s castle.

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