Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 16

Posted by admin on July 16th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel

Friday, July 12th, 2013
Freitag, 12. Juli 2013

We took our time getting reading in the morning. Had some instant coffee and what I am going to call camping crepes (gluten-free flour, sugar, eggs, water) with sweetened, steamed apple mash and hazelnut yogurt. We opened up the apartment to enjoy the morning’s fresh mountain air and the gentle clanging of cow bells from an approaching herd. The plan was to visit the Neuschwanstein castle near Füsser, then drive to Stuttgart where we had booked a hotel room near a swing dance.

After packing and cleaning, we returned the key and left the beautiful and quaint Heiterwang am See, running into construction traffic less than thirty seconds outside the edge of town. Thankfully, it cleared up after a few minutes (and was much worse going the other way) and we got to Füsser maybe thirty minutes later.

We parked at the foot of the castle hill, stood in line for half an hour for tickets, then killed time shopping for postcards, snacking in the car, taking photos and walking up to the castle in the time before our scheduled tour. As a teenager, I put together a large puzzle of one of the classic pictures of the Neuschwanstein castle and have wanted to see it in person every since, so today was a bit of a dream come true. The tickets were only 12€ per person and though the tour still wasn’t as cool as was free-roaming inside Albrechtsburg, it was well worth it.

The wiki page for Neuschwanstein gives some background about Ludwig II and the building of the castle. He died (“under mysterious circumstances” while being detained for the depth of his debt) before construction was completed, so I think 2/3 of the castle remains unfinished. Unfortunately, the tour doesn’t include the incomplete rooms. It would be amazing to see those, to see more of the bare bones of the castle, but the completed rooms are, of course, beautiful and fantastic. The bedroom is a flurry of detailed carving. the throne room is a dazzling Byzantine wonder, the kitchen is huge and state-of-the-art for its time (and even competes with some kitchens of today). In its uncompleted form, the castle’s opulence impresses so I can only imagine what the finished work would have been.

Aside from the castle itself, the highlight of our tour was our tour guide. He was slight and androgynous (without the Herr abbreviation on the name tag, I wouldn’t have know his gender) and was also handicapped in some way, but he obviously knew his castle history. What entertained us was his accent and the way in which he seemed to calmly, but barely, hold his patience. Our group was a noisy one, so he would stand stoically, nonspeaking until everyone quieted down, then coolly give his talk about the current room, then go silent and watch all of us return to our chatter before moving on to guide us to the next room. Occasionally he would pause mid-sentence to stare down an errant child or inattentive adult. Laura later described his accent and affectation best as that of an evil mastermind patiently awaiting the use of the tour group for his next experiment.

No pictures were allowed in the castle on the tour, but after we all left the tour guide and main floor, descending one of the tower staircases toward the kitchen, gift shop, cafe and exit, the cameras came out with a vengeance. In the proximity of such a unique castle I think everyone gets a bit of camera fever; you can take the same picture three different times and still feel like you need to get a better photo of that view, even though everyone in your group has taken that same photo and a more professional version is available on a postcard everywhere you turn. It was at least a small consolation that Batman could help set my photos apart. Probably no one in history had taken that particular picture angle with that particular figurine in frame…

After we exited the castle, we walked the path to a wooden-planked foot bridge that spans the adjacent gorge, overlooking several waterfalls and providing a view of the castle not available from the town. The bridge fit two rows of people and was almost completely packed with tourists photographing the castle, the town, the gorge, the mountain, each other, people down by the river, butterflies in the sky, gliders circling above. I joined the chaos, but Mom and Laura (probably prudently) chose to find a less crowded area off the bridge to sit and wait for me and read up on the bridge’s history. When I rejoined them, Mom caught me up on the fact that the bridge was built in Ludwig II’s time – impressive considering that bridge supports hundreds of tourists at a time and thousands over the each day for at least the last century or so.

We took a slightly different route to return to the parking lot, singing songs to enliven the descent, snacked on apples and peanut butter, then departed for Stuttgart.

I drove half the distance, but I was getting tired and on the #7 autobahn, there was the choice between the right lane, doing 60-100 kph, and the left lane doing 150+, with no safe option between. So I stopped at a gas station, we got some coffee & fries then Mom & I swapped so I could pass out in the back seat.

I awoke in Stuttgart, a short distance from our hotel. We took a wrong turn and got a little off course trying to turn around, ending up on an overlook that gave a great view of the city. On the map, several streets appear to intersect, but Stuttgart is built in a valley, so streets wind up and down, tunnel under, fly over, or turn into pedestrian paths but rarely simply intersect. Plus the signage is unclear and inadequate. We found Hotel Pflieger eventually though, claimed our room and freshened up before heading out again in search of a swing dance.

We got a little lost on the way to the dance (again, the highway signs are very poorly laid out), but found the correct neighborhood and parked in a hospital parking garage since all the street parking spaces, and all the spaces that could be made into a parking space, were taken. Since we hadn’t had lunch, we stopped at a German Vietnamese/Chinese/Thai restaurant for dinner, then hunted down the dance, which was on the second story of a four-story Tae Kwan Do building, located at the end of a short alley, behind the front line of the street’s main buildings. (We found the building on a hunch then walked up the stairwell, listening for the source of swing music.)

We had arrived late for the lesson and early for the dance so we went to check on the car and strolled to a nearby cathedral and park where an African festival was in full swing. A maze of vendors covered the church grounds with a live band stage tucked amongst them. The music was great, but had turned into a jam session and wasn’t easily danceable. So we returned to the swing place in time to join the social dance.

We were too shy to ask anyone to dance, so Laura and I practiced our leads on each other and on Mom mostly. One girl asked me to lead her and one guy asked me for a couple of dances which were a blast. The room was not air conditioned and someone had closed the windows, so after several fast dances, we were all too hot to stay much longer. So we thanked Frank – instructor and DJ for the night – and returned to the car.

Of course we got lost on the way back to the hotel, but that’s why we don’t leave home without Laura. Mom and I were completely turned around, but Laura got us back on track and home safely, even without a map. Yay, Laura!

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