Monday, December 5, 2011

Germany/Austria Trip, Part 5: Füssen and Mad King Ludwig's Castles

Day 10
On Monday, September 26, we left Rothenburg ob der Tauber early and rode the train to Füssen, the city at the end (or beginning?) of the Romantic Road. We stayed at a small hostel called House LA. This hostel didn't impress us nearly as much as the first one, but it was clean and comfortable.
After checking in, we started on Rick Steves' walking tour of Füssen. Compared to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Füssen isn't nearly as pretty or preserved. But there were still some places throughout the city that offered a peak into Füssen's Medieval past.
We explored the picturesque St. Sebastian Cemetery.
We saw the Basilica of St. Mang and the former St. Mang Abbey.
We walked around the outside of the Hohes Schloss (high castle).  The walls are covered in illusion paintings, making it appear there are shutters, bricks, and balconies where there are none.
Füssen at sunset: a sea of red tile roof tops surrounded by majestic mountain peaks.
Finally, we wandered down to the banks of the Lech River, which was beautiful in the fading sun light.

Day 11
On Tuesday, September 27, we took a day trip just outside Füssen to see the famous castles of King Ludwig II: Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm was the king of Bavaria from 1864 to 1886. He is sometimes called "Mad King Ludwig" because he was deposed on grounds of mental incapacity, although it's not clear if he was truly insane or just eccentric. 

After having breakfast in a coffee shop, we hopped on a packed bus to the castles. Hundreds of people from all over the world converge here every day to tour these castles (up to 6,000 a day in the summer!). It felt a little like going to a theme park. There's nothing in the area immediately around the castles except some souvenir shops and restaurants catering to crowds of tourists. From the bus stop, it's just a short walk up the hill to the ticket counter where we purchased a combo ticket to see both castles. Then we wandered around for about half and hour waiting for our tour time.

We toured Hohenschwangau first. This is where King Ludwig grew up, and it's still decorated and furnished like it was at that time. We enjoyed our tour of this castle best. The group was smaller and it proceeded at a slower pace, so you had a better opportunity to see everything. It was also longer (45 minutes) and included much more information about Ludwig. While it was technically just the royal family's summer home, Ludwig spent most of his childhood here. Knowing that people had resided in this castle and that there was real history in the walls made it feel like we were seeing something special. 
Next we toured Schloss Neuschwanstein. This is probably the most famous castle in the world. It was the inspiration for the Walt Disney World Cinderella castle.
The crowds here were truly insane! Everyone waits in a giant stone courtyard for their tour time to appear on the sign. When we were finally called, we proceeded through the gate and were led around the castle with a group of about 60 people.
King Ludwig II built this fantasy castle basically just for fun. A fan of fairy tale operas, he had the plans drawn up by a theater-set designer first, then an architect. It's designed it in a romanticized Medieval style - it wasn't built for function like castles in the Middle Ages. Ludwig spent his entire family fortune and then some on his extravagant construction projects, and in the end, this played a role in why they had him declared insane and removed from the throne by force. He died the day after being deposed under suspicious circumstances. Ludwig lived in Neuschwanstein for less than 6 months. Construction stopped upon his death and only one third of the interior was ever finished. Knowing all this made the castle feel strangely fake. But the lavishly decorated rooms we saw on the 30 minute tour were certainly impressive! Ludwig's residence included unbelievably ornate hand carved wooden bedroom furniture. Several carpenters worked on it for years!

After our castle tours, we climbed the hill to Mary's bridge for an impressive aerial view of Neuschwanstein.
Mary's bridge - yeah, it's high up there!
Walking out onto the bridge - a little scary!
Looking down from Mary's bridge - yikes!
The view from Mary's bridge - totally worth it!!!
From Mary's Bridge, there's a path you can take to hike up the mountain even higher. We were feeling adventurous, so we went for it. It was quite the workout climbing those steep switchback trails, but we were rewarded with incredible views! We sat for awhile at the top enjoying the scenery. 
We hiked back down to Mary's Bridge, then returned to the bus stop via Pollat Gorge. It's 15 minutes longer than walking down the road but well worth the detour! The path follows a stream as it winds its way through the mountain valley, forming beautiful little waterfalls along the way. Steel walkways built into the rock side allow you to walk very close to the water. 
People had some fun with rocks!
Looking back at Mary's Bridge

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