get up early for the morning necessities – have breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and head off to the pick-up point for our tour of southern bavaria and the castles of king ludwig ii (the so-called “mad one”) of bavaria and the inspiration of fairytale castles everywhere. we wonder if we’ve hit that age when bus tours are an option for travel … do read on!
the bus is ultra modern as are most modes of transport in europe… we’ll catch up someday i hope. it is a double decker with room service, and comfortable too. the rest of the passengers cover the world (but heavy on those from the excited states of… and spanish speakers from spain and south america.) our “guide” introduces himself as charles but shortly after we left i decided he was schultz as in the old sitcom hogans heroes. he was a sexist, obnoxious kinda guy who could come across as cutsie, but you knew it was a charade. he operated on the principle of military precision and you were not allowed to forget that such-and-such happens at 9:45 sharp and then the next thing at 9:52, etc.
the cost of all this discipline was high – 49 euro each before the cost of admission to the castles another 14 euro – special deal, a one euro discount as the season changed today. it took about an hour and a half to get to the first castle linderhof, a tiny but excessively baroque jewel high in the mountains near oberammergau and fussen. the tour took a half hour all guided and no time to dilly dally or schultzy would be annoyed. for the euro discount we also did not get to see one of the more interesting toys of ludwig, his man made cavern and theatre set where he indulged in his wagnerian fantasies. tour is over and back on the bus (i must say old schultze must have reminded us at least 10 times on the process, times and departures and damn, we left at precisely 11:00 a.m. – not 11:01!
our next destination was oberammergau and the “designated shopping” stop (do not eat, do not buy this, do not, do not – schultz’s stores are the only recommended places to shop – he must get a good kickback). thank god we were able to wander into the town and take a look around and take pictures. it is pretty but has only one purpose to sell cuckoo clocks, wood carvings and religous symbols. oberammergau has a religious festival every ten years called the passion play and its a huge event with lots of religious types coming to get the fix. back to the bus at prcisely 12 noon sharp. schultz has told us several times when and where we’ll be eating even though there is no meal included in the trip.
back on the bus and off to fantasy island. ludwig’s castle neuschwanstein is a truly magical sight perched on a crag facing his dad’s house (hohenshwangau castle) across the valley. we’re advised to eat at a specific hotel and that we must allow so much time to climb the hill to the castle. we start to follow orders, but once inside we quickly decide we’d like to eat at our own pace and alone, so we wander off in search of other eateries and find the perfect spot, warm and cozy inside the restaurant but refreshing, cool and dry on the patio (did i mention that it has rained all day?) while having a real hearty german meal, the heavens opened more and it came down in buckets! meanwhile i indulged in jagerschnitzel and spatzle and rick had pork and bread dumplings with saurkraut… and a beer of course. delicious!!
schultz has left us thinking that nothing exists beyond his recommendations and we have half bought in; however as we begin our 25 minute hike up to the castle (if you’re disabled, out of shape, or otherwise hindered in your movement – you’re not warned in advance, in fact you are reminded several times not to take the horse drawn carrages which go most of the way up.) we hike in the rain with plastic capes, bought at the restaurant, only to discover that there are other eateries near the castle and other venues for shopping which i think we’d have preferred to do had we known.
this castle is incredibly popular! considering we’re here in mid october there are tons of buses. they use a ticket system that designates your tour time, they leave every five minutes precisely. schultz has us sit in a very hot and steamy bus while he takes care of this – “do not leave your seats until i have given you your ticket” – it has an efficiency that leaves you a bit breathless or dumbstruck.
at last we enter, and our young tour guide is interesting to say the least, knowledgable about the history but very peculiar with his gestures and movements. we think he is on the edge of losing his cool as the groups have to move through each room before the next can begin. we had some cranky kids along, too young to be on such a trip. the poor guide used pregnant pauses and cutting glares to no avail, kids are kids. the tour lasts 45 minutes precisely. luddy was a pretty interesting guy, and lived a solitary life almost in total isolation from society and his servants to the point that his dining table sat over a retractable floor which allowed the table to be lowered to the kitchen where it was set, then raised up to the dining room again where ludwig dined alone. the castle was never completed and only 10 of the 100 rooms were finished. the king lived in the caste periodically. for only 170 days in total.
back to the bus as we leave at 4:30 precisely, everyone is damp and the bus is warm – can you say sauna! schultz says he will shut up so we can nap etc … it is the only factual information he gave all day. the castles and scenery were great, the crowds are unavoidable and though i whinge about them there is no way to avoid them. schultz was a pain but he became my personal joke and eased the tone he used. he chose places where i’m sure he got some sort of kickback and never informed us of options or what to expect in terms of the hike, alternate choices etc. i guess it’s part of the trade.
we’re back in munich and it’s dark and raining. we’re going to settle down for a lazy evening of reading and writing with maybe a light supper along the way.