A Day in Southern Bavaria- April 19th: Oberammergau and Schwangau (pt. 2)
Since my last post was getting to be long, I decided to cut this day into two posts. After our little self-guided tour of Oberammergau, we headed to Schwangau. Schwangau is famous for Neueschwanstein Castle aka the Disney Castle. It’s a small town about 45 minutes from Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps.
Bavaria! Beautiful mountains, lush green valleys and friendly people. So as we left Oberammergau, we passed by Kofel mountain pictured above. You cannot see it from this picture, but there is a cross atop the summit. This mountain is famous for it’s unique white pointy head as you can see in the picture.
Although it should have been a short drive to Schwangau, there was construction along the way, so we arrived much later than expected. When we got to Schwangau, we first went to Mount Tegelberg. I wanted to take the cable car to the top to see the beautiful view of the valley and castle as well as to eat lunch at the mountaintop restaurant. The cable car was really expensive, 20 eur round trip. It was cash only, which we didn’t count on. On the way up we shared the car with several young guys with their paragliding equipment. They bought one way tickets, since they would be jumping off the mountain. A lot of people actually hike the mountain as well.
As we traveled up the mountain, we went from green foliage to snowy mountain tops. The views were breathtaking.
Although we had planned to eat lunch on top of the mountain, it took so long to get to the top, that we didn’t have time to eat and get back down to the castle before it closed. So, we took lots of pictures and went back down in the cable car.
We drove to Hohenschwangau, which is the sister city to Schwangau to park and get our tickets to the castle. We rushed to find a spot and half ran to the ticket booth. Christian and I beat Ivan and Nathan, and then realized the tours were later than listed. It turns out that they weren’t closed, even though the site says they close at 5 pm.
There was a Spanish couple at the ticket booth trying to ask questions of the attendant, but they could not speak German or English. Thankfully, Christian can speak Spanish so he had to translate into English, since the ticket booth attendant could speak English. By the time they finished, Ivan and Nathan had caught up and we purchased our tickets. The ticket entry time wasn’t for another hour and a half, so we decided to finally go have lunch.
We walked back down the hill to a very Bavarian-looking restaurant, Allgäuer Stüberl. We needed to eat pretty quickly, but the waiter took forever, so I went in to let him know that we needed to hurry. He was not happy, but I showed him our castle tickets, and he calmed down. After that, we got pretty good service. The food was good, and Ivan thought the beer was even better.
We finished eating, then hurried to the shuttle bus. It turned out there was only one last bus going to the top and it’s a 40 minute steep walk. So, we got in line with lots of other tourists and we all packed onto the bus for the 10 minute ride. From the point where we were dropped off, it was still another 10 minute very steep walk to the front of the castle! It is not a walk for anyone in poor health!
As you can see in the top picture of Neueschwanstein Castle, there is a long asphalt sidewalk leading to the castle. The bottom picture is as we passed by the southwest side of the castle. So, we finally got to the side that we thought was the front of the castle, but it wasn’t. We were on the north side, but the castle gate is on the northeast side facing the Pöllat Gorge, carved out by the Pöllat river.
So the actual entry is below:
We had tickets to go in with a specific group, but we still had plenty of time before we were to queue up, so we walked around the courtyard taking pictures. Since Christian had just come from four months of study abroad with Semester at Sea, he had his Texas A&M flag with him for pictures. If you pose with it in various places around the world, the Study Abroad office will tweet your picture to its alumni. Christian got tweeted quite a few times, and he loves the spotlight, so he brought his flag with him to the castle. There were quite a lot of Chinese tourists, and when they saw him posing with it for a picture, they asked if they could take pictures with him! Christian, not being shy and loving the attention, took several pictures with them. Oddly enough, Christian had been in China just a few weeks before, posing with it on the Great Wall.
They took pictures with their iPads and had no idea what the flag meant, but they were still excited to ask him to let them take pictures with him and it!
We decided to take one last family picture before we went to line up for our tour. Unfortuantely, Marienbrücke (Mary’s bridge) was closed, so we could not walk to it and take the incredible shots that so many people get of this huge castle. It just does not fit into a full shot, unless you’re far enough away, but not too far away (like when we were on Tegelberg).
So, the tour– we were not allowed to take pictures of the interiors, but you can go here to see them and to read the history of the castle. It’s quite fascinating. But the most fascinating part of the tour–besides King Ludwig II’s mysterious death and his romantic obsession with Richard Wagner (which should be made into a movie)–was the tour guide. When he began the tour, I thought we were being punked. He looked very skinny and frail (but healthy, not sick), probably about 30 years old. First, he very gingerly lifted the velvet rope that indicates where we were to start the tour, then very deliberately, turned and placed it back into the ring behind him. He placed his hands together, like a man praying and closed his eyes and said, “Good evening,” like a 50’s caricature of an Austrian tour guide in a haunted castle. I almost started laughing–I think everyone did– but we weren’t sure if he was serious. He was.
He then began his tour speech and each time he pointed at some object of interest, he used his whole hand like an overly dramatic frail waiter. Not only was the tour guide odd, but so was King Ludwig (he had swans painted on almost everything, and had lots of swan-shaped items because of his obsession with Wagner), and two of the people in our tour group were a bit off too. There was a dark-haired tall guy and his girlfriend, who chose to wear his sport jacket on his shoulders with his arms not in them (called shoulder robing) and an ascot (yes, an ascot). He looked ridiculous. He kept trying to get to the front of the group even though he and his female escort were the last to run in and join the group. Turned out he was not only pretentious, he was rude. He kept making fun of the odd mannerisms of the tour guide when the guide’s back was turned–at first–then as we continued he just did it in his sight. No one laughed, because we were all just embarrassed for him– wearing his jacket robed and his silly ascot as if he were famous or rich (but wearing pants and shoes that indicated he was not), pushing past everyone in the group each time we stopped, and making gestures that poked fun at the weird tour guide.
When we got to throne room (which was being refurbed), we had been at the front of the line, and of course this guy pushed his way to the front with his girlfriend. Being the type A person I am, as the guide spoke, I slowly made my way to the back of the group. I knew that I would then be at the front and he would now be at the back once the guide began leading us back through the door we had entered. Sure enough, as we started to leave through the door, Mr. Ascot realized he was going to have to start pushing people out the way to get to the front. I just stood with my hands on my hips as if admiring something, so that he would have to push me to get past, but of course he didn’t. I did the same thing to him as we left the King’s bedroom. I can’t stand jerks. When we finally came to the end of the tour, we were standing in the Singer’s Hall. The guide explained the history of the hall and its acoustics, and that’s when Mr. Ascot decided to coax his girlfriend into singing!
We were all looking at each other feeling awkward for both of them– and then the guide announced that the tour was over. He motioned towards the far wall, telling us that we would find the exit to our left. So we left Ascot and his girlfriend– him making ‘directing’ gestures while she sang (not terribly, but not wonderfully either). At this point, everyone in the group just wanted to get out of there, but since the exit was not marked and the guide did not lead us to it, we all wondered around kind of aimlessly looking for the door he said was ‘over there.’ He did say we would go down some stairs and through the kitchen, and that’s what happened. We went down a winding stairway and then into the kitchen, then through a tunnel (pictured below) out to the gift shop.
While I was buying some souvenirs, we realized that we did not have much time to make it to the bus and it was the last one for the evening! We would not make it to Stuttgart until very late if we had to walk down the mountain to our car. So we started hurrying, but on the way, we needed a shot with Christian and his Aggie flag to post to the Texas A&M Study Abroad twitter feed. So I told Ivan and Nathan to keep going so they could hold the bus for us. We took the picture below and caught up to Ivan and Nathan as each of us alternately ran-walked our way back to the bus stop. The path back winds upward to the bus stop, so it was impossible to run the whole way. Each of us had to stop several times to catch our breath. We did make it to the bus just in time though.
When we got back to the bus stop at the bottom of the mountain, we wanted to see more of the town, but it was so late (in small towns in Germany many shops close around 6 pm) that everything was closing up. We got to our car and drove down the wrong road to get out of town, and came across a cross at the edge of a field. As pictured below, the castle can be seen nestled in the forest on the mountain in the distance.
Once we turned around, we headed to Stuttgart, our next stop on this awesome European vacation road trip.