25 December 2015

A Crazy King's Castle

Füssen is a small, relatively unknown town so far south in Germany that it's practically in Austria. We got there by flying into itsy bitsy Friedrichshafen airport, then taking trains through Bavaria.

I wish we had known to stay longer in Füssen, or that area at the least. It was beautiful and quaint. Everything looks like it belongs in a fairy tale. The "downtown" area of Füssen looks like Belle's town in Beauty and the Beast. Every building is painted a different pastel color, the streets are well-worn cobblestones, and there are colorful shutters on every window.

My first visit to Germany (in 2008) was to Berlin. I thought I'd "been to Germany". Ha. Berlin has massive streets and felt like a generic city--I wasn't terribly impressed. But Füssen. Ermahgerd, Füssen! The people are generous and nice. If you un-focus your ears (kind of like letting your eyes fall out of focus), German totally sounds like sexy English gibberish. Or Sims-speak, but better.

The nearby castle that Füssen is famous for isn't actually in Füssen. It's in Hohenshwangau, about ten minutes toward the towering Alps if you grab a car or bus. We got packed into a bus with a heck ton of Asian tourists--you know you're going to a popular destination if there's a flood of Asians around you.

In Hohenshwangau, i learned that Germans are really nice about you appealing German to them. And if you happen to, say, form a somewhat logical sentence, they think you speak German. I asked the ticket lady for three tickets for three people, and she started giving all these instructions in German....I know my face looked awesome because once she looked at it, she stopped herself and asked what language I'd prefer. We skipped Schlöss Hohenshwangau and the kings museum, which ended up being a really good thing. You see....there's no supremely easy way to get up to the tour area for Neuschwanstein. Either you climb a mountain, pay 6€ for a horse-drawn carriage, or pay 1,80€ for a shuttle bus.

Our tour wasn't supposed to start for over an hour, so we wandered past the town center to the lake, took pictures, wandered some more, then headed back to the horse carriage line (because CASTLE, people)....and realized that with the line in front of us and the total of one carriage on it's way down the mountain, we were going to miss our tour.

Missing the tour meant buying tickets and waiting all over again, and we didn't really have time for that because we had a 16:06 train to Stuttgart to catch. We walked over to the shuttle bus line...which was packed with about three busloads' worth of tourists and no bus in sight. We had 40 minutes to get to the castle, but the bus would essentially get us there 5 minutes too late. So, we did what any sensible Colorado girl would do: hike the mile up the mountain.

Everyone we had talked to said it takes 30 minutes to hike just to where the horse carriage drops you off (although "hike" is generous...the path is a paved road, really is just that it's super steep). THEN, there's still a 15-minute hike to get to the courtyard where tours begin. With all that in mind, we essentially ran up the mountain.

We arrived in the courtyard with 7 minutes to spare. It almost killed Briele and Steph and I felt gross with sweat, but we made our tour. Of course, the first thing they had us do was walk up a few flights of staircases. It was a good day for exercise.

Neuschwanstein castle was the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. It's tall and skinny, with all white and gray stone with huge turrets. Everything about the outside screams YOU ARE IN A FAIRY TALE. But what I loved about the inside was that it just felt like a big house. Wood and plush fabrics create a cozy, almost cabin-like feel. It's designed with hallways around the rooms in the center, so as you walk down the hall you can either look out over the valley (gorgeous) or into the rooms of the castle (homey).

King Ludwig, the guy who designed and built the castle, may or may not have been crazy. He actually built a bunch of castles--Neuschwanstein is simply the most famous. Just before he turned 40, the court declared him insane and arrested him. A little while later, he died in really mysterious circumstances.

If there's anything that helps prove he really had lost a few marbles, it's his bed chamber at the castle. Not gonna lie, it was pretty cool. Intense, but cool. Imagine every aspect of Gothic architecture and design shrunk down into a space about 20 feet square. I wish we'd been allowed to take pictures. He literally topped his bed with an itsy bitsy Gothic cathedral (or castle, it was kinda hard to tell). Towers, buttresses, pokey details...the whole thing. He was definitely a nerd. Gothic bed. Gothic chairs. Gothic carvings. Gothic ceiling. AND he had a grotto built just outside his bedroom. That's right. A GROTTO. As in, an actual cave with actual stone walls. Just so he could end a particularly stressful day by saying, "If anyone needs me, I'll be in my grotto."

He had to have been a little off. He wanted to live like "the kings of old", but it's almost like he went for the look of that kind of King and then forget about the rest of it. While visiting another castle, he saw a beautiful singing/performance room that he later replicated in Neuschwanstein. Except he didn't design the acoustics for performances. He just liked the look of the room. Kind of like buying a bottle of wine for the look of the label, but never actually drinking it.

So, that was the awesome castle. We rode the horse-drawn carriage back down the mountain because it was closer than the bus (Bri was nearly dead by then) and only 3€ to go down. We even had time to stop at a restaurant for lunch (mmm bratwurst and fries) before we caught a bus back to Füssen.

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