Storming the Castle

Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
Trip End Oct 10, 2006

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Flag of Germany  ,
Monday, September 25, 2006

MOOD: Sleepy
SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD: "Castles Made of Sand" by Jimi Hendrix
TIME/PLACE: 10:48pm, 9/26, top berth of a "coachette" on a train from Munich to Paris.

Waking up after my day at Oktoberfest was... not fun, It wasn't that I was all that hungover. I really don't get hangovers. (Except for after the Koreatown private karaoke room on Labor Day weekend. Too much whisky.) It was just that I was completely lethargic. I was again awakened by the church enjoining the parishioners to come to worship, and just proceeded to... lay there.

Simon woke up soon after, told me that there was nothing sensationalistic about the time after the beer tent that I couldn't remember, and eventually I got my ass out the door and over to the Hauptbahnhof (train station). My plan was to go to Neuschwanstein Castle, which is 2-3 hours away by train from Munich. I had heard that there was a bus excursion that left at 8:30am, but no way I was gonna make it for that. But when I got to the station at 12:10, it turned out there was indeed a train leaving at 12:51 to Fussen, where I would need to catch a bus.

With 40 minutes until the train, I could have just waited and relaxed, but that's not my style. I'm the barnstormer, the blitzkrieger! I ride the tourist lighting, baby!

So I decided to go to Marienplatz, which is the center of old Munich, and I had just enough time to look around the platz, run to the famous church with the two green-caped towers that I don't even know the name of, watch some Mongolian throat singers who were performing just outside the other subway entrance for 20 seconds, and then back with about two minutes to spare for the train.

Though I was cutting it close, I'm glad I went and did something with that time as the train to Fussen is very, very slooooow. It makes many stops, including just sitting around on the tracks while other trains with more prominence get the right of way. We actually arrived late -- around 3 -- and I was afraid I wouldn't have enough time for the castle. I was also getting worried that I'd chosen a bad day to come as the hilltops were obscured by clouds.

But I needn't have worried. I made it to the ticket office at 3:15 and was told that the next tour in English wasn't until 4:45, so I had time to kill. The tour was slated to go a half hour, and the castle closes at 6. (In October through March, I think, it actually closes at 4pm.) Also, the fog provided an air of mystery that was pretty outstanding.

For some reason, the ticket office is at the bottom of the hill, and you can either take a bus, a horse-drawn carriage or walk up the hill. I chose the latter, having been advised that I had time to make it to Marien's Bridge, where you can get a great view of the castle. So I started up the paved road with all the horse shit, then veered off onto a rocky trail that had a sign for the bridge. The trail was darkly shrouded by forest and pretty steep, and I was reminded of hiking Half Dome in Yosemite in '95 with Uli, Peer, Hisae and a couple of other Germans. "Those Germans really know how to hike," I remember thinking, and here I was in Germany, getting my ass kicked by a hill. But I made it up after about 45 minutes, feeling pretty good about my effort, and I really liked the view from the bridge.

[A quick interlude for some TIPS FOR TRAVELERS: The train from Munich to Fussen is 20 Euros round trip. This also pays for the bus that leaves from behind Fussen station and drops you off at the bottom of the hill below the castle. So don't pay the 4 Euros for the bus, just take out your ticket (it should read "Bayern Ticket") and show the driver. Also, when the bus drops you off, you'll need to find the ticket office and buy tickets first, which will run you 9 Euros, if I'm not mistaken. It's not permitted to enter the castle without a guide, so you need to get that time assignment. Finally, if you're like me and you're trying to save money and yet have really good, authentic dining experiences, don't eat around the castle or at the bottom of the hill. Find an out of the way place in Fussen -- avoid the hotel restaurants.]

From the bridge to the castle is another walk of about 10 minutes. Along the way there was an excellent vantage point of the other castle that King Ludwig built nearby, the name of which escapes me. There was also a running spigot of yummy, cold mountain water which I used to fill my bottle with, and in a few minutes I was there.

For some reason, you're not permitted to take video or photos inside the castle, so I spent my remaining 15 minutes snapping shots, eating and resting. (But of course I did take one illegal shot. It is okay to take photos and video of the landscape from the windows, however, and I did my fair share of that, too.)

I really wish that I had been able to get the tour guide on tape as he had the cutest accent -- an Irish lilt to his German pronunciation of English. As for the tour itself, he wasn't all that informative, but the craftsmanship inside the palace was unbelievable: the windows were all finely decorated; the murals based on Christian and Wagnerian legend were incredible; there was a mosaic floor depicting all sorts of birds and animals that the guide said had millions of stones to it; the furniture was, well, fit for a king, with incredible carved accents like mermaids; and my favorite thing, this stairway that had a gilded palm tree painted at the top of the column. Oh, and there was also a tiny artificial cave that was used for a play that Ludwig apparently had put on in the castle (even though he died before it was completed and never lived there). The "Imagineers" at Disneyland have nothing on this cave. Overall, I was quite impressed, but a little bitter at how quick the tour was and how we couldn't take photos or go at our own pace.

After the tour, I looked around at some of the preliminary sketches for the castle, bought some post cards by a lively old gift shop salesman who enjoys speaking Japanese to all the Asian tourists regardless of where they're from, then I walked back down the hill, listening to mooing and the rattling from the cowbells as they made their way back home.


In Fussen I asked a nice man with a big moustache in the bike rental shop next to the rail station where I could eat Bavarian food on the cheap, and he pointed me to a hidden little cove of shops where I found Roman Keller Restaurant. I have no idea why they have Roman in the title of the place, nor why their logo has a Centurian helmet, as the food was definitely not Italian. I had roast pork with red cabbage and bread dumpling, plus a side of spatzle (noodles) cooked with cheese, brown onions and sprinkled with chives. Unbelivably good. I also had the King Ludwig Dunkel, but as dark beers go it wasn't that good. I asked to have my plentiful leftovers wrapped up, and they gave them to me in a tin, but they didn't have a bag, and of course I forgot the tin on top of the toilet in the bathroom. (Of course, I would have preferred not to have brought my food into the bathroom, but I had already hurried back to the restaurant after making it halfway back to the station for the last train to Munich. My need to get to the bathroom was no reflection on the safety of the restaurant, just the commotion of travel.)

On the platform I briefly met a girl who was from the area around Fussen, and then I met Scott from Vancouver on the train itself. As there was a change of train, we all ended up sitting together. The girl's name is Daniela and she plans on being in L.A. soon so we traded info, and I hope to show her around. Meanwhile, Scott and I hit it off and after getting back into Munich we went to Simon's bar where I had a beer before learning that happy hour was in full effect -- all cocktails 5.50. So I had a beer, then a Bloody Mary, then a Caprianha (?), then another rum-based minty, sugary drink that I can't remember the name of (no, not a Mojito), but I really didn't get buzzed and it was kind of a waste of money. However, I loved the music -- everything from Prince to Dandy Warhols to James Brown to Junior Senior -- and I liked seeing Simon at work, complete with Bavarian short pants.

Scott and I left around 1:30, having missed the last bus, but I knew the way and it wasn't far. I walked with Scott back to the Hauptbahnhof and settled in at the Easy Internet Cafe until 4am.

And now it's after 12 and the conductor's waking us up at 5:30am, so off to bed go I.

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