Once Upon A Time....

Trip Start Jun 09, 2010
Trip End Dec 31, 2015

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Flag of Austria  , Austrian Alps,
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Today we visited two spectacular sights in the far south of Germany.  First was the storybook castle of Neuschwanstein.  Second was the little town of Oberammergau, which hosts the Passion Play every 10 years.  This was my first time to each sight, and I can’t believe I’d never been to either spot before considering how close I’ve been on several occasions.

Neuschwanstein was a castle built by the “mad” Bavarian king Ludwig II.  Just to give you an idea, Walt Disney used this castle as his inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle at Disney Land.  The castle itself is built on an imposing mountain overlooking a wide valley and lake.  Though the rain that has been following us took a short break, the mountains surrounding the castle were draped in flowing clouds that gave a mystical atmosphere.   To actually get up to the castle, you have to trek uphill for about 20-30 minutes on a paved path, but it’s worth every step.  Once you arrive at the top, it’s like being suddenly transported into the middle of a fairy tale.  I’ve heard this before about Neuschwanstein Castle, but I can tell you it’s really magical.  It is everything you would imagine straight out of a story book.  I took several pictures of the structure from below, from the main gates, and of the inner palace (below).  Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to take pictures inside the castle, but it’s worth doing a little google image search to see if you can find some official photos from the inside.  I was stunned.  As much as the outside conjures up childhood story book memories, the inside was like walking into an old Disney cartoon.  Every inch of the interior is decorated with swans (the king’s favorite bird and the symbol of the royal family there) as well as dragons and paintings from such a fairy tales as Tristan and Isolde.  The king’s bedroom was really cool, no pictures of course, but it was really amazing.  The bed canopy was an amazingly intricate wood carving that took artisans over 4 months to complete.  The king had fashioned a plumbing system that allowed cold water to come directly into his room from the mouth of a silver swan.  The walls were covered in storybook paintings and there was a secret door leading directly into his reading room.  Other rooms of the castle were impressive, but one of the really unique things was an artificial cave that the king built in the middle of the castle.  From the reading room, you walk through what looks like an ordinary door into an impressively realistic looking cavern.  Just a small room, but really cool.  The king modeled the cave room from the folk tale of Barbarossa.  So, why did Ludwig build the castle, and was he really mad?  Great questions, answers hard to come by.  Ludwig grew up in a smaller castle just below  the mountain (photo below).  He love the area and was always fascinated by stories as a child. He had a playwright design the castle instead of an architect.  Even though he was king, he was unusually shy, preferring solitude to social affairs, often hosting an entire orchestra performance in his castles with him as the only audience.  In addition, he wasn’t interested in the ladies so much, so that also contributed to his reputation as being a bit strange.  Throughout his reign, he fell out of favor with his people who considered his behavior to be very unkingly.  He was declared insane and had a doctor as a chaperone full time.  One day, on a boating excursion with his doctor, both men mysteriously drowned in the lake below the castle.  Strange considering Ludwig was a strong swimmer and he drowned in a calm freshwater lake.  In the end, we’re left with what is now my favorite castle.  I’ve seen dozens in my travels and each is special and spectacular for different reasons, but Neuschwanstein evokes childlike sentiments that are refreshing and invigorating. 

After touring the castle, I had a crazy idea.  From the main gate, I saw a beautiful bridge in the distance (pictured below).  It looked like if I could get up there, I would probably get some spectacular photos.  The problem was we didn't have all that much time to get back down to the bus before we had to leave.  After asking a the gift shop, I was told that it takes 20 minutes of steep hiking to get to the bridge, 15 minutes to return to the castle from the bridge, and then 20-30 minutes to get down from the castle to the bus.  Why not?  I love a challenge!  So, along with Joe, Ambery and Cynthia, I literally ran/jogged/huffed and puffed my way up to the bridge, making it up there in about 7 minutes.  I spent about 5 taking pictures and looking around (see photos below), and made it all the way down to the bus in another 15-20 minutes.  I was exhausted, but made it down with more than enough time to spare, ate a quick lunch of venison goulash and we were off.  I don’t regret a single step, even though my feet are quite sore today. 

From Neuschwanstein, we made our way to the beautiful town of Oberammergau.  Honestly, I’d never heard of this town before our tour, but before we left I had done a little research  to see what we would be getting ourselves into.  The story of the town, and it’s present fame, is quite fascinating.  In 1633, most of the town was devastated by both the Thirty Year’s War and the plague.  It was custom for survivors of a town or village to show their thanks to God for sparing their lives by commemorating their survival with a church, or holding a festival.  Oberammergau decided to put on a play.  Not just any play, but the Passion Play telling the story about the death and resurrection of Christ.  And not just once, but they made a vow to present the play for an entire summer every ten years from then on.   They’ve done so every 10 years since 1634.   At some point along the way, they decided it would be easier to do the play at the onset of each decade, so this year, 2010, happens to be the year of Passion Play.  Another interesting tidbit:  only residents of the town are allowed to perform in the play, which includes a cast of 2000 and lasts over 5 hours long.  Tickets are really hard to come by, so there was no chance of us seeing the play, but we got to visit the town nonetheless.  It was pouring rain the entire time in the town, but we were able to see many of the famous painted buildings (photos below). 

From Oberammergau, we made our way to the hotel for the evening.  I say hotel, but this was no standard EF tours hotel.  It was a home run Alpine chalet in perhaps the most dramatic setting I’ve ever spent the night (pictures below).  Just as we came into the Austrian valley of Innsbruck, the clouds cleared, the sun showed its face for the first time, the vista opened up with startling drama.  It was breathtaking.  But our hotel wasn’t in the valley.  Our bus made it’s way slowly up a narrow winding, switchback road to the top of the mountains.  There, at the end of the road was the coolest chalet overlooking the entire valley over Innsbruck.  My room had a balcony overlooking the valley and both sunset and sunrise were among the best that one could ask for.  Unfortunately, it was only for one night.  Tomorrow, we are off to Lucerne, Switzerland via the Principality of Liechtenstein.
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