The road (or mountain) less traveled
Trip Start Apr 20, 2013
13Trip End May 04, 2013
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We started with a brisk hike from Klause Valley Fort Museum up a steep paved road to see the ruins of Ehrenberg castle (billed in the guidebook as a "13th century rock pile"). During our ascent, we were joined (and passed) by some locals who appeared to be on their morning workout. They all had hiking sticks, which we greatly envied by the time we made it to the top. The 11 degree ramp to the 3rd tunnel at the DMZ had nothing on some of these roads to access the castles
For a rock pile, Ehrenberg was one of our favorite castles on the trip. It had stunning views of the surrounding Alps. Although no roofs remained, enough of the walls were intact to provide a pretty clear picture of what the structure and layout had been. (According to the guidebook, the roof was intentionally removed in the late 19th century to make the abandoned structure less appealing to vagabonds. Personally I would think the hike to reach it alone would have been enough of a deterrent.) The castle was also considerably smaller than the others we had seen, a placard (in English, whoo hoo!) indicated that at its busiest, the castle only house 12 people.
At one point during our sightseeing, a man walked by with a pickaxe. I'm hoping he was involved in the restoration that was going on, but just in case he was a mad serial killer, I took his picture so the Austrian police would have something to go on if we disappeared and I was able to drop my camera.Luckily he appeared to mean us no harm, other than shooting me an annoyed look when he realized I took his picture
We hiked back down the path, and decided to forgo hiking up to Schlosskopf in favor of the path to Fort Claudia, which descended, crossed the highway and then ascended another mountain. We were delighted to find snow on parts of the trail (we've had the AC on at home for past 2 mos). Upon our first encounter with a snowbank on the path, my husband stopped, carefully removed his gloves from his pockets, put them on slowly, then madly dashed down the path, scooped up a snowball and threw it at me. I tried to retaliate (despite my lack of gloves), but without much success due to my pitiful aim and throwing abilities (Our dog has the same complaint when we visit dog parks with acres of land to run and I only manage to throw the ball 20 feet.)
We really wanted to get to Fort Claudia, as the picture map at the museum showing all the local castles made it look like there would be a breathtaking view of Neuschwanstein (Disney) castle from Fort Claudia. Unfortunately our initial attempt was thwarted, as we encountered a gate and a sign in German that probably said something like "All who enter here will be dispatched by the mad pickaxe killer"
A few hundred yards later, we arrived at an extremely large pile/hill of mud blocking the entire road. Having visions of both of us completely covered in mud and snow (and being attacked by pickaxe man when we finally reached the top), I announced I was not climbing that. So back down the trail we went, where my determined husband asked at the museum information desk if there was an alternate route to Fort Claudia. A lovely older woman with long brown hair in a braid and a pleasant German accent advised there was, but it was "complicated". (I've since decided she was probably the witch from Hansel and Gretel in disguise.)
She drew 2 options on a map, and off we went. We chose option 1, which involved parking in a small lot on the other side of the highway, then hiking (climbing) about 30 yards what seemed like straight up through a heavily wooded area to a farm road. (That pickaxe would certainly have come in handy.) From there it was a deceivingly lovely walk in a flower covered meadow until we reached a sign pointing to Fort Claudia, but once we followed the direction the sign pointed and entered the trees (where I'm relatively certain the Blair Witch Project was filmed) it wasn't so lovely anymore
The thick trees blocked most sunlight, and the steep path was muddy and full of brush, tree limbs, leaves etc. I never really saw anything I would consider an actual path (my sense of direction is about as good as my throwing skills), but my husband expertly navigated the terrain by spotting red dots painted on trees, and the occasional sign. At one point we encountered a huge pulsing mound of ants about the size of a file cabinet, straight out of Indiana Jones. Which of course didn't add to the creepiness factor at all.
After all this climbing and navigating treacherous passes (more than once we had to drop to our hands and knees to better keep our balance) I was thinking that view of this Disney castle had better be amazing. I'm talking clouds parting, angelic light from above shining down on it, and maybe some cartoon birds flitting about and singing. I was starting to get worried the only thing we would find at the top would be pickaxe guy and the Blair Witch waiting for us in the candy house from Hansel and Gretel. It occurred to me more than once that while I did have a working cell with me, service had been spotty at best so far in Europe, and even if it did work and we had some kind of emergency, I had no idea what the 911 equivalent was in Austria
With each step (which was getting harder the higher we climbed as the fallen tree limbs got considerably thicker) and stumble, I started to develop a growing terror about what it would be like on the way back. Up was hard enough, but I was very worried down would likely be alot faster and more painful, as I pictured us sliding all the way down the muddy trail, bouncing off various trees and landing squarely in the ant mound.
We finally reached the top and found.....Fort Claudia. And stunning views of the Alps and Ehrenberg Castle. What we could not see, from any angle, on any of the surrounding mountains, was the Disney-like Neuschwanstein Castle. But at least the welcoming committee straight out of Grimm's fairy tale from hell that I had pictured was nowhere to be seen, either.
We explored the Fort Claudia ruins (which like Ehrenberg were mostly intact except for the missing roof) and after a brief rest decided to brave the descent
My husband obliged by driving us to a guidebook recommended restaurant at the Moserhof Hotel, where we got a patio table that afforded that view of the Alps that never gets old. I acquired said vin and we shared a huge platter of what had to be every form of meat generally served in Germany, and potatoes fixed in every delicious way possible. Everything was very tasty. We were also treated to a decanter of tap water, which was a bonus, as everywhere else when we'd tried to order tap water, we were given bottled water. Since this added around $7 to each meal, we'd stopped trying, especially after my friend MB who lived in Germany for several years and now lives in the Netherlands, advised tap water wasn't going to happen in German restaurants.
While enjoying our meat, potatoes and drinks we were gazing out at the Alps when we noticed a very young boy playing alone in a field about 100 yards awayManneken Pis fountain in Brussels. :)
Revived, we headed off to see Neuschwanstein Castle up close, since our efforts to view it from afar had failed. We arrived at the Kings Castles area and parked in a lot in town. We then acquired our tour tickets and learned that getting to the castle involved a 15 minute walk up a fairly steep incline. Even though it was paved and luxurious compared to the morning's trail of terror, our legs and feet were done for the day, so we instead opted for riding in a horse drawn carriage up to the castle. If this morning was a Grimm's fairy tale, the afternoon belonged to Disney, as the castle did indeed look like Cinderella was going to walk out onto one of the many balconies at any moment.
While approaching the castles, we saw a sight near the top of the surrounding mountains that caused me to blurt out a phrase usually reserved for watching Shark Week episodes or political debates on television: "He's an idiot!" There were multiple para gliders that had literally jumped off a mountain
We waited in the courtyard until our tour number came up (or so we thought) and then proceeded in an orderly line with the hundreds of other tourists to insert our ticket into a turnstile machine. Which wouldn't let me pass. So I tried again, no luck. A kind soul behind me pointed out our tour wasn't up yet, this was a different tour that was 4 minutes earlier. I quickly thanked her, apologized and moved out of the way. My husband commented on the German efficiency, I commented on the communication. :)
A few minutes later our tour came up and we were treated to the inside of the fairy tale castle, where we climbed up and down over 300 stairs (a reoccurring theme of the trip) and saw lavishly decorated rooms exactly like you'd picture in a castle. Several of the rooms were decorated in the themes of Richard Wanger operas. The extravagant castle was built by "Mad" King Ludwig. Sadly, his life story is not a fairy tale, as he spent years building his dream castle (after growing up in the starter castle Hohenschwangau on a neighboring mountain), but lived in it only a few months before he was declared mentally unfit to rule and then died under mysterious circumstances a few days later. The Neuschwanstein castle was opened for tourists just weeks after that. To me, this sounded like a medieval Law and Order plot, where someone decided the mad king had wasted too much money building the castle, and decided killing him and trying to cover the losses with tourist fees was a good plan.
After the tour and lots of picture taking, we rallied enough to walk down the hill back to our car (having learned this morning that down is easier than up!) and returned to our hotel for another fabulous dinner (at this rate we were going to need even more spiral staircases.)