August 18 - Sunday
This morning we have docked at Basel, Switzerland and we must be out of our room by 9:00 AM with our bags in the hall. Dick and I were amazed at how efficient the checking out process went. We had settled our bill yesterday afternoon, so all we had to do was pack our last minute items, put our bags out, go to one last delicious breakfast buffet, and wait in the lounge area visiting with fellow passengers. Most of the 133 people seemed to be boarding buses that took them to Zurich. Some were flying home from there and others planned to stay a few days. Switzerland will have to wait for another trip for us as we are headed back into Germany. Our plan was to take a taxi to the train station, where we would get a train to Lorrach, Germany. Here we would stay overnight and rent a car in the morning to drive through southern Germany and into Austria. We waited in the lounge chatting with several people and saying good-bye as their transportation came. When our taxi arrived they called our room number and we headed out. We explained to our taxi driver what our plans were and she informed us that she could drive us directly to our hotel in Lorrach for about the same price as driving us to the train station. Well, that made sense. We didn't have to schlep the bags around on the train, wait for the train, or pay for the train tickets. So off we went. The ride took about 30 minutes and cost 50 euros.
We chose Lorrach because of its proximity to Basel and because we needed to rent the car in Germany as it is cheaper to rent in the same country where you are going to drop it off. When we got to the hotel it was too early to check in so we left our bags and took a walk into town. It turns out that because it's Sunday there is very little open. We found a little café and stopped for an ice tea/cappuccino, walked around a bit more and then back to the hotel. Our room was quite comfortable with a large bathroom and an enclosed balcony sort of room that had a desk and wardrobe in it. I checked email and sent one to our girls letting them know we had arrived back in Germany, and then we got organized and read for awhile. Dick took a walk and found the car rental place so he would know where to go in the morning. By this time we were getting hungry for lunch so we headed out. The hotel manager had given us some restaurant ideas, but said they might be closed today. We couldn't find his suggestions, though, so we just kept walking. A few places were open, but were only serving drinks. Where is that lunch buffet when you need one? We were even willing to settle for McDonalds, but even it was closed. Really??? We finally found a place that was very busy. They had a least 10 pages of different ice cream sundaes, but only 3 choices (not pages, but choices) of sandwiches. So I picked the safe ham/cheese sandwich and a coke and I was done. Some of those sundaes though were huge!
We took the long way back to the hotel where we settled in for an afternoon of relaxing. It really was kind of a wasted day as nothing was close by or open. Our hotel also did not seem to be centrally located to the town itself. We chose it because of its proximity to the train station, not realizing we were going to be arriving by taxi. It was also very hot so just walking with no destination was not a pleasant idea.
I like taking pictures of interesting fountains. In the picture on the left you can see there is no one around! The fountain on the right was a moving balancing arm that would fill up and then lower down and dump its water. It was also in a little park with kids play toys and no one was there either.
We spent the afternoon just puttering around and about 7:30 we headed out to find a place for dinner. It has cooled off a bit so more comfortable exploring. We went down a couple different streets and found an Argentina Restaurant. We took one of the tables outside, but just before we were going to order it started raining and the waiter moved us inside. We ordered steak filets which were very good along with fries and shared a salad and a liter of wine. It stopped raining when it was time to walk home, but it has definitely cooled things off a bit. We were back at our hotel by 9:30.
August 19 - Monday
After breakfast at the hotel, we packed up and Dick went to get the car while I waited with the bags. The hotel rooms were connected to the reception area and breakfast area by a little breezeway that was probably at one time a driveway. I waited there sitting on the most unusual seat I've seen. It was like a double seated old fashioned beach chair with an awning over it. It wasn't really all that comfortable, but I wonder why I didn't take a picture of this odd seat. In any case, once he arrived we loaded the bags, hooked up the GPS and took off. Unfortunately, "Agnes" was having trouble finding the satellite and we drove around parts of Lorrach we didn't know existed. It was much bigger then we imagined! She finally connected and led us out of town.
We were headed for Konstanz, a resort town on Lake Constance. There is a lovely old hotel there that sounded inviting for lunch, but we couldn't find it - even with Agnes. We found the town to be large, crowded and little parking available. We did, however, find a parking garage next to a mall and we snapped it up. I had spotted a nice looking restaurant across the street so we walked through the mall, out the door, and over to the restaurant. It was very nice. It was a bit cool and somewhat misty to sit outside so we opted to sit right in front of open windows looking out onto the street scene. I had penne pasta with small pepperoni bites in a light tomato sauce and Dick had linguini with clams. Both came with small salads and bread. I had a coke and Dick a beer. It was quite pleasant.
Back on the road we were on our way to our hotel, just over the boarder into Austria. We thought Agnes would take us south to connect with a highway we could see on the map, but instead she took us to a ferry. Actually, that was rather nice as we had a nice view of the lake.
This afternoon's drive was slowed at times by driving rain and traffic stoppage due to something going on in one of the tunnels we had to drive through. As soon as we crossed the boarder into Austria we followed suggestions to stop at a gas station and purchase an Austrian sticker for 11 euros. Apparently, if you don't have one and you are stopped it can amount to a hefty fine. We never were stopped, but the 11 euros were worth the piece of mind.
Just a few miles across the boarder we arrived at our hotel in the little town of Ehbenichl. We were staying at the Hotel Maximillian. It is a family run hotel of 30 rooms with a nice restaurant. They seem to cater to families and offer table tennis, foosball tables, children's playground with a trampoline and little kids were all around. Our hostess was dressed in traditional Austrian clothing and was very friendly and helpful. She was clearly a member of the family as we could see her picture in the large family picture hung behind the front desk. Their brochures show that they also are open in the winter and offer skiing, sledding, horse carriage rides through the snow and ice skating. They have a large restaurant and we decided to eat here tonight. I had perch, mashed potatoes, and beets. Dick had sausages with sauerkraut and fried potatoes. We were back in our room about 9:30.
August 20 - Tuesday
On the agenda for today are the "King's Castles" (Konigsschlosser). It was pouring down rain when we got up and didn't look good for a tour. Nevertheless, we had made reservations before leaving home and were committed. As we weren't sure how long the drive would take, how to find parking and the ticket office we got moving early. A quick breakfast at the hotel and we were on our way. The rain had stopped, but we had on rain jackets and umbrellas in the backpack. The drive didn't take long and we found the ticket office quickly. Dick dropped me off to go pick up and pay for the tickets while he went in search of parking. We had reserved tickets for both castles and for the museum. They assign you a time for the castle entrances and you must be there when your time comes up or you lose your chance. It didn't take long for me to get the tickets and I waited outside for Dick to come back. Then we began the climb up to Hohenschwangau Castle.
This castle was first built in the 12th century, but it was ruined by Napoleon. Ludwig's father, King Maximilian II, rebuilt it in 1830 and it was used by the family as a summer hunting lodge until 1912. As Ludwig was born in 1840 this was his boyhood home and he later lived here for 17 years while he built his dream castle, Neuschwanstein Castle, just up the mountain. The Wittelsbach family still owns the castle and the annex is now the gift shop. The annex was lived in by the family until the 1970s.
It's a bit of a hike up to the Castle, but we were there in plenty of time to take some pictures of the outside of the castle and the gardens.
From here one can also get a good view of the hotels and gift shops down below - even better with a zoom setting on the camera. We are much higher up then these pictures indicate.
From Hohenschwangau Castle we also got a view of Neuschwanstein Castle shrouded in fog.
We didn't have to wait too long for our number to be called. We went through the turnstile and up the Castle steps for our tour. It was very interesting. The Castle was furnished as it would have been when the family was living in it and the tour took us through many of the rooms. No pictures were allowed inside the Castle.
The tour took about 30 minutes and then we walked back down the mountain to the little town to wait in line for the bus to take us up to Neuschwanstein Castle. They booked the tours about 2 hours apart and the bus is supposed to run every few minutes. So, no problem, right? Wrong! The line was very long and not moving. The sun had come out and it was getting hot. Our ticket was for 11:55, and remember, you have to be there or you don't get in. There are no refunds. I looked at my watch after about 20 minutes and it was 11:10. I kept looking at my watch and there was no bus, therefore, the line was not moving. Finally at 11:30 a bus came and we were able to move up to the ticket booth to buy a ticket. A tour group guide was in front of us and when it began moving she yelled at her group who had been shopping rather then waiting in line. They tried to jump the line and everyone who had patiently waited stopped them. The guide was saying they were a group and others were saying they didn't care. We were able to get our ticket; but, of course, that bus was full so we had to wait for the next one. When the next bus came we got on, but the tour group behind us crowded on so tight that it was ridiculous. It was quite a ride jostling up that mountain. I literally had trouble moving my foot to a more comfortable place and I really felt sorry for the little girl who was stuck staring at some stranger's behind. The bus left us off near Mary's Bridge from which it is reported to be a wonderful view. Sadly we didn't have time for that, though, and kept on trudging down a steep 10 minute walk and then up another hill. When we finally reached the Castle turnstile our number was still flashing. All the other people were already through and gone, but we made it! Now we had to race up 3 flights of stairs to catch up with the tour group. By this time, my legs were like rubber, but we found the group and the tour had not yet started.
King Ludwig II began building Neuschwanstein Castle in 1869 and 17 years later, when he died, it was still not finished. It was built and furnished in medieval styles, but was equipped with what at the time was the latest technology. He was a huge fan and friend of Richard Wagner and he decorated the walls of his castle with murals that depicted scenes from Wagner's works. I found the Throne Hall (minus a throne) and the Singers' Hall to be very light and bright and very ornate. The rest of the rooms I found to be somewhat dark and depressing. Ludwig never really lived in the Castle so it isn't as "homey" as Hohenschwangau Castle.
King Ludwig became King at the age of 18 (1864), but two years later he was forced to become a constitutional monarch and no longer was a sovereign ruler. Nevertheless, he chose to carry on as if he was the King and attempted to live like one, building several castles. As we were told by our guides, in 1886 the government was no longer able to control his spending, but they couldn't get rid of him, so they had him declared insane and removed him from Neuschwanstein. Two days later he was found dead. People still speculate if it was suicide or murder or accident. Our guide told us that Ludwig suffered from gout and at the time opium was the treatment of choice. Both he and his physician were found dead, so was it murder, suicide, or an accidental overdose followed by the suicide of the physician? Another question remains, was he insane or simply a very eccentric King with an obsession to build castles? Ludwig was 40 years old when he died.
Again, you cannot take pictures inside the Castle, but you can do so out the open windows. This view shows Hohenschwangau Castle in the distance and the little village perched on the banks of Lake Alpsee all surrounded by beautiful Bavarian mountains.
Feeling we had earned it, it was time for a well deserved break and lunch. We walked down the trail a little further and found a delightful restaurant just waiting for us. We each had potato soup along with bratwurst, cold potato salad and shredded white radishes. It was very tasty, even the radishes which I'm not usually fond of. A beer for Dick and ice tea for me worked their magic and we were ready to carry on.
A short walk further down the hill and we found the spot for the horse carriages to take us the rest of the way down the mountain to the little town. By the way, it's not my picture - the horses had very short legs.
Back in town we went to the Museum of the Bavarian Kings. Long ago this was where the guests of the royal hunting parties would stay. Later turned into a hotel it has now been reopened as a museum. It is a history into the Wittelsbach family, one of the oldest dynasties in Europe. It shows pictures of those family members who came both before and after King Maximilian II and King Ludwig II, with a special wing designated to these two builders of the local famous Castles. Besides pictures and family trees, also on exhibition are many artifacts such as jewelry, sculptures, personal possessions, and even a velvet coat decorated with silver leaf. By 5:00 pm our energy was spent and we decided to head back to our hotel.
After resting a bit in our room Dick decided he wanted Chinese food. He had spotted a Chinese Restaurant in the town of Reutte, Austria that we pass through on our way to our hotel which is just a couple miles beyond Reutte. It was pretty good with large spring rolls, chicken fried rice, and a cashew chicken and shrimp dish. It was way too much food, but tasty. Rose wine and water hydrated us.
Back at the hotel there were guests playing the piano, others playing cards, on their laptops, and kids running around. Our hostess stopped us and asked if we had gone to the festival. We hadn't known about a festival or perhaps we would have gone, but told her we had gone to the Chinese Restaurant. She smiled and said "I didn't hear that." Apparently, Chinese food is not her favorite. She doesn't know how funny that was; as two years ago when we were in Italy our host had told us the Chinese Restaurant in his town was "the second worst Chinese Restaurant in the world." (We had been there twice and enjoyed it.) Our hostess did tell us to make sure we came down tomorrow evening for the concert they were having in their restaurant. We were back in our room and reading by 10:00 pm.
August 21 - Wednesday
This morning as we were getting ready I noticed Dick standing at the window laughing. He was watching the cows and three horses going across the road to the pasture for the day. We're not sure where their barn was, but each morning the farmer would bring them down the hill next to our hotel and then he would stop the traffic on the road. The horses came first and a few minutes later the cows. They had no lead and just followed one another. The next morning as we watched them the horses started chasing the cows all around the pasture. That was pretty funny to watch. One evening when we returned, the horses and cows were all crowded around the gate, waiting for the farmer to take them back up to the barn.
The breakfast in the hotel was pretty much the usual European fare that included breads, fruit, cereal, cold meats, etc. They did have one very unusual thing I will try to explain. It was an egg cooker that was shaped much like a rectangle toaster. It had boiling water in it and different colored long handled wire things like we use when we color eggs at Easter. You took an egg from the bowl, put it in the wire holder and then lowered it into the hot water. Next to this were several egg timers. You could take one of these back to your table and when the desired time had passed you went back and got your egg. Then you put the egg into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and then put it into an egg cup. I tried this once, but it was way too complicated for me and I stayed with the other offerings.
Today we were headed to Linderhof Royal Palace, another of Ludwig's palaces. Our drive was very scenic along Lake Plansee. One thing we found very interesting was that many people were camping all along the road. Anyplace there was a widening of the road they would just pull off and set up camp. Some were in trailers and some in tents. Later the drive became very curvy and somewhat narrow. I wish I could have marveled at more of the scenery, but I felt I had to "help" Dick watch the road.
Linderhof Palace is small in comparison to Ludwig's other Castles. He built it as a private retreat and only he and his servants ever stayed there. He was so reclusive that his dinner table was set with dishes and food and then it rose from the kitchen below into his dining room, so he could eat alone. The Palace was completed in 1878 and the style was influenced by French architecture (think of Versailles). It was the only one of Ludwig's castles that was ever completed before his death and he spent much of his time here. I even read that he loved to take midnight sleigh rides through the snow covered forests accompanied by only his horsemen and servants. As we approached the Palace we saw a serene and lovely little pond that was the polar opposite of the opulence and luxury we were walking towards.
The front of the Palace is white with gold trim.
The steps lead down to a long pool with golden fountains. Unfortunately, the day we were there they were cleaning the pool and had emptied the water and shut off the fountains.
On the other end of the pool is a terraced garden leading up to a rotund temple with a marble Venus statue in the center.
On the west side of the Palace is a garden complete with a shady area at the back with corridors and pavilions. The golden winged fountain is flanked by stone figures that represent the seasons.
At the back of the Palace water tumbles down more than 30 marble steps into a pond with a fountain dominated by Neptune figures.
After wandering these grounds our number came up for the tour inside the Palace. Once again, no pictures were allowed inside. When you first enter, the large vestibule is dominated in the center of the room by a statue of French King Louis XIV on a horse. The ceiling has a huge golden sunburst, again in reference to the "Sun King." Ludwig felt that Louis XIV was the "perfect personification of absolute sovereign power." Beyond the vestibule are two-sided staircases which lead to the upper private rooms. Upstairs there is a music room, audience room, bedroom, dining room (with the dining table that would lower to the kitchen), a mirrored room, and cabinet rooms; all lavishly decorated with gold, crystal, painted porcelain sculptures of peacocks and swans, and paintings on the walls and ceilings.
Following our guided tour of the Palace, we were once again outside in the beautiful park grounds that Ludwig had designed for him by many different landscape architects. The east side of the building was designed as a lovely French garden with statues of Venus and Adonis. The steps at the back lead to the Moorish Kiosk, the Hundings Lodge, and the Grotto. These are all set deep into the woods and up hills. We did not visit the Moorish Kiosk (in which, I understand, Ludwig would read and drink tea while his servants were dressed in Oriental costumes and would smoke water pipes to add authenticity) or the Hundings Lodge (which was decorated like a stage set for Wagner's music drama "Die Walkure." Here Ludwig would read German and Nordic legends and his servants would dress in Germanic clothing.) We did, however, set out for the Grotto. The path eventually became very steep and not knowing how much further it was, I spied a bench and told Dick to carry on. He wasn't gone long before I realized I had the ticket. He said later, though, that he just faked holding up a ticket when they let the crowd in and no one noticed.
The grotto is an artificial cave made by pouring concrete over an iron frame. Here Ludwig would enjoy Wagner's operas. The painting on the back wall shows the Venus mountain scene from Wagner's opera "Tannhauser." The first electricity in Bavaria was generated here and used to change the colors of the stage lights and to power the fountain and wave machines. The cave and the water in the pool could also be heated and Ludwig would bath in the pool. A golden shell shaped boat floated in the pool. Dick said Wagner music was playing loudly during the entire time he was in here.
During the time Dick was gone I watched many people (young folks too) struggling to get up the path. Several people stopped for a breather and I shared my bench. Dick seemed to be gone for a very long time, though, and I began to worry. Well, he wasn't stressed, just lost. He took a wrong path (they were all over) and did find himself with a vantage point for an interesting shot of the main Palace grounds. This view would be from the top of the marble steps where the water flows down into a Neptune fountain. Looking down you see the back of the Palace and beyond that the terraced gardens and the Venus Temple sitting atop the hill.
He finally found me, he came from a different direction, and we walked back the way we came. I did find another lovely garden spot that I couldn't resist taking a picture of.
Once again, though, I had to consider the question. Was Ludwig really insane and deserve the nickname of "Mad" King Ludwig, or was he just a very reclusive eccentric fellow with a lot of money and a heritage that encouraged him to spend it?
While there were more buildings we could have toured on the estate, such as the before mentioned Moorish Kiosk and the Hundings Lodge, and also the Moroccan House and the Hermitage of Gurnemanz, we decided to call it a morning and seek some lunch. A restaurant on the grounds was near the exit and we took a rest. We each had some herb soup and then we shared a salad and a dessert cake. Beer for Dick and coke for me and we were ready to go on.
We did have a small problem in the parking lot. People had parked very tightly and when backing up Dick found himself wedged where he was having trouble getting the car in first gear and it kept rolling backwards. Luckily a man and his teenage son came along and gave Dick a small push while it was in neutral and then he could straighten it out and get the car in gear to go forward. People all over the world seem to be very helpful when they see you are having a problem.
Out of the parking lot we headed to Oberammergau. This small village of 4,000 residents is known for its Passion Play held every 10 years and for its woodcarvings. Finding a parking place was not easy, but we finally got lucky with a small one hour spot in front of the tourist information center. I went in there for a map of the town and any information they could share, but they were not overly helpful.
Following some verbal directions into the center of town, we found several shops we wandered into and some gaily decorated buildings. Many of the buildings were painted with frescos of both secular and religious themes.
Many of the shops we went into sold lots of small Christmas ornaments and also very large woodcarvings, both religious and secular. I read somewhere that the region was relatively poor with no industry or agriculture so they used what they had and that was wood. Carving both secular and religious themed items became a way the locals could earn money. In many of the shops I saw many life sized carvings of a religious nature. This carving was outside a shop. In the past, peddlers would carry their wares on their backs all over Europe trying to make a living.
Having gotten the flavor of Oberammergau we headed back to our hotel for some rest and rejuvenation. Upon entering the hotel our hostess once again reminded us of the concert tonight, so we decided to eat here and stay for the concert. We went down for dinner about 7:45. I had cordon bleu and it came with a salad of mixed greens, beets, carrots, and other things. Dick had a pork chop with mashed potatoes and cooked cabbage. Dick had apple strudel with ice cream and I had chocolate and vanilla frozen mousse along with a dish of cooked sour apples for dessert. I liked his better.
About 8:30 the band began to set up. We really hadn't had any idea of what to expect, although, I think we both thought it would be a small group. It turned out to be a group of about 30 musicians all dressed in full Austrian costumes. The band included full brass, woodwind, and percussion sections. Because of all the diners sitting in front of the group it wasn't possible to get a picture of the whole band. They were quite good and played marches. They all seemed to be having fun. The patriarch of the family hotel/restaurant even took the baton to lead a couple of songs, but I don't think he knew what he was doing and just waved his arms around. All his family had gathered around and were laughing and taking pictures. This picture is the true band director.
They also had a young lady that circulated through the crowd selling schnapps from a little keg and she would then pour it into little pewter shot glasses (in her left hand). We left the party about 9:30, but the band played on!
Coming up: Salzburg and Hitler's Berchtesgaden