Saturday, June 4, 2011

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I am determined to get on with things.  I pack up my bags, order a cab to the train station, and settle in for the journey south to Füssen and the Hotel Sonne.  It’s a charming place awash in salmon pink, where the corridors are lined with costumes and memorabilia from the local stage production of a musical based on the life and death of “Mad” King Ludwig II.  I settle into room 212, but then immediately hop onboard the #78 bus to Hohenschwangau.  The town of Füssen can wait.  Above all, I want to see Neuschwanstein Castle and I will not rest until I do.  My reservation to tour the interior isn’t until tomorrow afternoon, but since the sun is shining brightly today, I think of this afternoon’s exploration as a prudent insurance policy.

As I peer out the window of the bus for my first glimpse of the castle perched high on the hill, I feel a welcome stir of anticipation, the first I have felt for days.  I walk through town, past a line of souvenir shops selling postcards and beer steins, to the shuttle bus stop and ride the rest of the way up a long and winding road to Marienbruecke.  Mary’s Bridge hangs suspended above a deep gorge and looking down gives me an unsettled feeling in my still fragile stomach, especially since the narrow planks are crammed by hoardes of tourists, but the view between the mountains and out across the valley towards Neuschwanstein Castle is nothing short of spectacular.  I snap away on my Nikon D5000 and when I’m through I inhale deeply and relax.  It’s hard to put what I feel into words, but I am grateful to be here.  Perhaps it is as simple as that.  No matter what happens next, I have been here.  I have at least done this, and perhaps it is enough.

Back in Füssen, I build on the afternoon’s success by visiting the opulent Baroque interior of St. Mang’s basilica, and then walk up gingerly to the Hohes Schloss, or high castle, once the summer residence of the bishop of Augsburg, to see its whimsical tromp l’oeil decoration.  I have a quiet dinner in the restaurant of the Kurcafe Hotel, and then stroll through town under damp and darkening skies, all the way to the banks of the River Lech and back.  Later, when my head hits the pillow and I fall off into a well-earned slumber, it is with a contented heart.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

After a cheerful breakfast at the Hotel Sonne, I stretch my legs by wandering down through the cemetery of St. Sebastian to the Franciscan Monastery, which provides a lovely view of the town of Füssen.  I head back up the hill just in time catch the bus to Hohenschwangau, retracing the steps I took yesterday afternoon.  This morning, however, I have to keep my eye on the time because I have reserved tickets to tour the interiors of Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein

Hohenschwangau Castle, with its tangerine façade and blue and white striped awnings, was the childhood home of King Ludwig II.  The original castle on the site was built in the 12th century, but later destroyed in war.  The ruins were acquired by Ludwig’s father, King Maximillian II and the castle was rebuilt according to the original plans between 1833 and 1837.

It’s high on a hill overlooking the village, so when I see a sign outside the ticket office advertising a horse drawn carriage ride to the top, I seize it. 

Tour 152 doesn’t depart until 12:20 PM, so while I wait I admire the view from the castle gardens out across the valley to the foothills of the Alps, and then turn my attention to the castle itself. 

The lavish rooms inside, covered by murals of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, confirm what I already knew.  Namely, that while there are turrets and battlements and coats of arms here, this is clearly a 19th century romantic vision of a medieval castle, which is more than all right with me. 

I make it to the 477 tour of Neuschwanstein Castle at 2:25 PM with little time to spare.  Here, much of the interior was left unfinished when “Mad” King Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances in 1886.  Only fifteen rooms are complete, including the Throne Hall, decorated in elaborate Byzantine style, the Singers’ Hall, intended for banquets and musical performances, and Ludwig’s bedroom, circled by wall murals depicting the story of “Tristan and Isolde” from an opera by Wagner.  It’s quaint and charming and sad, all at the same time. 

I would take pictures, but our tour guide is a young man with a chilling demeanor who promises to escort anyone who does into the eager embrace of castle security.  No one dares try, and although I am tempted to ask where Hitler and the Nazis hid their hoard of stolen art during the war, I don’t have the nerve.

All in all, though, it’s been a satisfying day.  I collect my luggage from the lockers at the station in Füssen and head back to Munich on the train, where I check in to room 519 at the ultra-modern Fleming’s Hotel across the street at Bayersraße 47, tuck in for dinner in the restaurant downstairs, and then shuffle off to bed.