Monday, June 18, 2007

Day Eighteen – Sunday, June 17 – Oberammergau to Munich via multi-castle tour

Today was mostly “King Ludwig II” day, and the weather cooperated to give us a perfect day for castling. We had been told that it was best to get to the Neuschwanstein Castle as close to opening as possible (9:00AM), so we’d set our sights on an early get-away. The Hotel Antonia didn’t start serving breakfast until 8:00AM, but we were all packed with car loaded and were in the breakfast room at 8:01. We had a good breakfast, and Paul packed a liverwurst sandwich for the road (liverwurst at breakfast?). We made pretty good time to the castles; getting there around 9:30.

As it turned out, the tours of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles both required guided tours – spaced a minimum of two hours apart, and we were booked onto a 10:15 tour of the older castle, Hohenschwangau. This gave us enough time for the short walk up to the castle, which is painted in a pale saffron color similar to the “Habsburg” color used at Vienna’s Schonbrun Palace and Salzburg’s Schloss Hellbrunn. We had been told that this was a color that was exclusively used in the Habsburg Empire for imperial residences, but clearly the color (or a similar shade) was popular with the Bavarian royalty as well.

Hohenschwangau was the castle of Crown Prince (later King) Maximillian II, and the summer childhood home of the future King Ludwig II. Hohenschwangau, like the later Neuschwanstein, is a relatively “new” castle, having been re-built by Crown Prince Max in 1832-1837 after the previous castle on the site was destroyed during the Napoleonic wars. The interior is troubadour style, with wall-paintings of Bavarian knights, folk heroes and other romantic figures. The rooms were surprisingly small, for a royal residence, but there were some stunning views of the surrounding lakes and Bavarian countryside (especially the guest bedroom which was occasionally occupied by the composer Richard Wagner, who Ludwig later patronized). Our guide gave us a quick primer on the family of Max and Queen Marie (a Prussian princess), and their sons Ludwig and Otto. After the mysterious drowning death of “crazy” King Ludwig II in 1886, younger brother Otto never was able to serve as King, since he had literally been declared insane and governance was turned over to their uncle, the Prince Regent Leutpold.

But before he was forced to step aside and met his tragic fate, Ludwig II commissioned the building of Neuschwanstein castle on the double crested hill about a kilometer from Hohenschwangau – a “true Medieval castle” as he put it. We decided to pass on the horse drawn carriages and walked up the path for our 12:15 tour – a nice walk slightly marred by slaloming through the fly-covered piles of horse poop. Only part of the castle was finished before his death, at which time all construction stopped, but what a wonderful and bizarre anachronism it is. It is really a giant fantasy structure, and was actually designed by a theatrical set designer. Too bad that it and Ludwig’s other palaces like Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee almost bankrupted the Bavarian state, leading to Ludwig’s ouster, or who knows what additional self-indulgent stuff he might have built! The floors that are finished include a throne room with an amazing mosaic floor, the “singers room” and royal bedroom.

After the castle tour, we headed up another path to the Marienbrücke bridge over the Pöllat gorge. The bridge was constructed at around the same time as the Neuschwanstein castle, but based on the number of tourists simultaneously on the bridge, I certainly hope it’s been updated and inspected over the years….it’s a long way to the bottom. After a “did that” trip to the center of the bridge for the scary look down and requisite photos of us with castle in background, we descended for some lunch (and the essential beer or radler) at the HB restaurant part way up the hill. We went for Nürnburg sausages –which turned out to be identical to Jones or Jimmy Dean breakfast sausages…but still delicious, of course, and spätzle with cheese and onion – an encore from last night’s dinner in Oberammergau.

After lunch we hiked down a steeper path to the parking lot – much quicker than the hike up and mercifully free of horse droppings and flies. And also better done on the descent than it would have been to climb. At around 2:30PM, we hopped into the car and headed off to Schloss Linderhof. The Nüvi initially told us that Linderhof was about 12 miles away, so we were surprised that it took us over an hour and after about a half hour of traveling, we still had 11.5 miles to go. Thus we learned the difference between the initial calculation (as the crow flies) and after “calculating” mode – as the BMW drives. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem and we had plenty of time.

When we got to Linderhof, we were able to get onto a 3:50PM tour. In the same way as Neuschwanstein was Ludwig’s take on a romanticized medieval ideal, Linderhof was a petite homage to French royalty. From the architecture to the paintings and wall-hangings, it was all about emulating the Sun King. On the tour at Linderhof, there was more emphasis on how solitary Ludwig’s life had been, with little socializing and no lasting “love interest.” We had determined back at Hohenswangau that Ludwig was probably gay and unquestionably a private and shy person.

Although the “Moorish kiosk/pavilion” was quite wonderfully peculiar – a freestanding little structure that looked like a mini-Moroccan riad in the midst of the Bavarian alpine landscape—the “bizarro-world” highlight of the Linderhof estate is the Venus Grotto. The grotto was inspired by the Act I setting in Wagner’s Tannhäuser and features a shell-shaped boat in a man-made lake in a man-made cave where Ludwig would attend elaborate theatrical productions, often as the sole audience member. Makes Michael Jackson look down to earth!

When we’d finished the Linderhof tour, it was time to head back to Munich…but we were still hoping to squeeze in one more thing! Trusty Nüvi told us that it wasn’t that far out of the way to go via the Andechs monastery /brewery on the way. So we went for it, figuring that we didn’t have too much to lose if it was closed…a distinct possibility on a Sunday evening.

We got to Andechs at around 6:00PM, after almost settling for another nearby biergarten in the town. Not wanting to re-live the ‘almost, but not quite the real thing’ experience we’d had at the Café Central annex in Vienna, we consulted a picture and said “this can’t be it!”. We found the real place, hiked up the hill and found they were still open and serving until 7:00. However, they didn’t take credit cards and we were now woefully short of Euros, so with a quick run back into town by Paul to hit the ATM, we were up and running with a masse and a biggie dark Radler. This was GOOD (and strong!) beer! We got a pretzel to snack on, but since we were planning on eating in Munich, we passed on the great looking fresh radish bunches, sausages and other options. As we’d found in Oberammergau and other places, there were a lot of men who were dressing in their traditional “drinking clothes” – lederhosen (shorts or the mid-calf variety favored by some of the younger guys who might otherwise opt for capris!), Tyrolean sweaters or loden-wool blazers with bone buttons and green lapels. Paul fantasized about extending his hat purchase into a full-on Oktoberfest rig!

We bought a couple of souvenir mugs, and found ourselves getting sentimental, counting down the hours to the end of the Euro-vacation! After enjoying the sunset over the fields below the Andechs biergarten, we drove the last half hour into Munich and the Marriott. The Marriott was another Priceline auction booking, and we were willing to overlook its lack of charm or “local color” in favor of a wonderful King-size mattress and soft towels. It turned out that there was safe, on-street parking about a half a block away, so we went for that instead of the garage for the evening.

By the time we arrived and emptied out the trunk in preparation for tomorrow’s “turn-in,” we were too tired to head back out for dinner. The Champions sports bar on the ground floor of the Marriott offered a bit of the USA in Munich – complete with hamburger (good), chicken sandwich (not so good, dry) and the US Open golf finals on multiple TVs.

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