After our successful day at Schloss Linderhof, I had high hopes for our visit to the great castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. These two castles are the stuff of fairytales. I am a huge Disney fan, and the castle of Neuschwanstein was the model and inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland!!
Confession - ok so I didn't take this photo, it's from a postcard. The bridge that offers this perspective on the castle was closed for maintenance, so I cheated and took this snap, but it does show what we were expecting!
Neuschwanstein literally means "New Swan Castle", referencing 'The Swan Knight', a character from one of Richard Wagner's operas. Before coming to Germany, I hadn't really heard of Richard Wagner, but I have since learned that he was a particular favourite of Crazy King Ludwig, and also Hitler.....
This amazing castle was built in Bavaria in the 19th century, a time when castles no longer had strategic or defensive purposes. So this building is basically a giant, lavish, expensive house; built to indulge in one ( slightly insane ) man's ego and artistic flair. He wanted it to be a sort of livable theatrical setting, where he could remind himself of his greatness and pretend he was living in an opera....!?!?
It looks like a medieval castle, but it was built to have all the modern luxuries available at the time - automatic flushing systems, an air-heating system, everything covered in gold and rich paintings.....the usual things that a person needs. Only 17 of the planned 200 rooms were finished and King Ludwig only got to sleep in his fairytale castle for 11 nights before he died suddenly in mysterious circumstances, his body found in Lake Starnberg.
The only way to see inside the castles is to go on a guided tour. And the only way to go on a guided tour is to get there at the crack of dawn and line up for a ticket. We were there right smack in the middle of the summer busy season. We managed to get there not too late in the morning ( this is a small miracle for my family ) and Ross lined up while I terrorized the gift shop owners with my 5 kids. Foreign gift shops are funny places. You suddenly feel like you need to be the owner of a giant traditional German beer mug, or perhaps a chess set made of medieval figurines, lol. Luckily I have had experience with this phenomenon before. Ross and I lived in Japan for a year before we had kids and we came home with two boxes full of Japanese stuff - fans, dresses, stickers, lots of ugly crockery, paper lamp shades that I never used, scrolls, weird little figurines....., and it all pretty much stayed in those boxes for the next 12 years! So I was aware that it is a particular sort of magic spell that overtakes a person when in a foreign country. Also, we had almost no room left in our car, so our momentos had to be pocket sized. I love shopping and I love foreign knick knacks, but its probably a lucky thing that we were fairly poor, if not, I would probably be the proud owner of a giant castle themed beer mug!
Finally, we got our tickets and we set out for the day. Our first tour was Hohenschwangau. This is the 19th century castle where little Ludwig spent most of his time as a boy, looking over the hills and imagining the future fairytale castle that he would one day construct. To get there, we had a fairly decent walk uphill, but the scenery was very beautiful. We discovered stories of King Ludwig, and how he loved to take moonlit sleigh rides in the snow dressed in 18th century historical costume, the pathway lit with modern lamps.
Anyone spot Mr Tumnus??
Finally we made it to the top of the hill, and it was totally worth it! The castle and the view were stunning.
This is where little Ludwig pointed his telescope, dreaming of his own castle.
Spot the swans...!
Our first castle experience on this day went quite well. We had our usual amount of dramas with carrying Bo, plus trying to keep some order with our kids; you know, not let them dive headlong into every fountain, or climb the castle walls, or touch anything inside during the tour....that type of thing, nothing too out of the ordinary, Haha.
The tour was great, and the castle interior was amazing beautiful, a totally different style to the gold 'Louis the XIV' thing going on at Linderhof. Ludwig's Father, King Maximilian II, decorated his home in a neo-Gothic style.
We were on a strict time schedule. We had one hour and a half to get from Hohenschwangau to Neuschwanstein. No worries. Or so we thought....
The problem was, it had been such a huge day already, and we hadn't yet the hit the 'mothership'. We headed back down the hill, Bo giving us a chorus of his displeasure the whole way. We realized that we had to fit in a feed for him at some point. So I found myself a not-so-comfy tree stump in the shade and breastfed my screaming bubba. Now, this photo may look serene, but it wasn't really. I had backpackers behind me and I was trying to maintain some sort of modesty, my back was killing me and it was starting to get really really hot. But of course in hindsight, this is a such a unique experience, albeit awkward and uncomfortable, as to render it special.
We made it down the hill and started up the next one, the one leading to the fairytale castle. This is when things got extreme. There were horse-drawn carriages available to cruise up the hill in style, nope, we couldn't afford that. There were also buses, but that was just too hard to figure out at that point. So we walked.
It was a long and steep walk, maybe 45 mins, and we were already a bit worn out. It was very hot, and crowded, and we had to watch out for passing carriages. Also, one of my children decided that it was the perfect time to relentlessly rail on me about the fact that her life was incomplete because she loved horses, and she never got to ride them. And I had promised that she could ride one for her birthday, and I hadn't yet. How could I be so unfeeling and uncaring of her passions?? I had promised, and so I had failed and dissappointed her deeply....etc etc. Add into this mix a crying baby....and lets just say that my emotions did not hold up all that well. There was a lot of frustrated lecturing on my part, you know the kind when you want to yell, but you can't because you're in public, and so it comes out like quiet fury on your face and you whisper-yell, but you look so intense that you're not really hiding anything from the general public anyway? There was whining or crying from our kids, and general misery all round. Oh, and don't forget that we were on our way the one of the most beautiful sights in Germany, I had built up rather high expectations about how wonderful this experience would be....
It was intense. Intensely miserable.
At the top, we had the not-so-pleasant experience of waiting in the scorching heat in a crowd of people. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I seem to recall that we were crouched on the ground in a patch of shade, but there was a bin near us, and there were wasps buzzing around. Or maybe the kids were picking gum off the ground and eating it...anyway, something gross happened there.
I had a chance to walk around a little bit before the tour and took a few happy snaps.
Well, I can say that even though it was all a bit traumatic getting there, I truly felt glad to have seen both of these amazing castles. We had thought about just checking out the exterior of both castles, thinking that the tours would be too difficult, but I'm glad we didn't. The interior of Neuschwanstein was breathtakingly beautiful, it was worth all that cost. The Throne Room and the Singer's Hall had me with my mouth agape, they were stunning!
After the tour, we still had to make it back down that infernal hill....
But we managed it, and we got back to our car ready to start the 7 hour journey into France. Well, not really ready, but we were going anyway.
See ya later Germany!