Day 8 - Friday, September 23, 2005

Bright and early in the morning, we pack ourselves up and leave Austria for Bavarian Germany. The main reason we had to leave so early was our first stop, the fairy tale castle of Ludwig II, Neuschwanstein.

Some of you may know this castle from the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I recognized it more from a 3D puzzle my sister got several years ago and we put together. I suppose I always knew the castle was real, but I didn't know anything else about it.

When you first arrive you see the castle way up high on the mountain. Though it is possible to walk up the hill, the tour arranged for us to be taken up by horse and carriage. My father and I got to sit on the front seat with the driver so we had a good view of the path and the horses' back ends. The woods were filled with birch and pine trees and little streams pour down from the peaks.

We are let off in a little area where there is a restaurant. It was a little chilly so we go inside and get ourselves some hot chocolate. We still had some time to spare before our tour started. But we couldn't stay too long, for we had a bit of a climb to do by foot before reaching the castle itself.

Our first close up view of the side wall of the castle. A beautiful and fanciful structure, Ludwig had purposely designed it to be a kind of fairy tale castle, it was never meant to be a fortress. It took 17 years to build what we see today, and it was far from finished when Ludwig II died under mysterious circumstances in 1886. Inside, only some of the castle rooms were completed, though those that were finished were covered in paintings, pattern, sculpted wood and molded details. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but trust me, there wasn't even a tiny patch of wall or ceiling that was not covered in images or patterns.

Here is the view of the surrounding regions from the castle.

And now the front gates, which are quite distinctive, being this red brick colour rather than the white-grey of the rest of the castle.

We now find ourselves in the main courtyard on the other side of the main gates. We wait here for our tour number to come up. Already there are hundreds of tourists here, and guided tours take about 100 people each. They have to do this because they can get 30,000 people a day passing through the castle.

The following picture is taken with my back to the front gates from down the bottom of the courtyard. The second picture is taken after I've climbed the stairs to the second level. (And no, I don't know who the Japanese tourists are, though they are posing nicely for the picture)

Now I turn around and face the gates, only on this side, instead of being the red brick colour, they are a creamy stone.

I go back down the stairs and wait with the rest of the group. Noel has joined us now, and to get our attention, stands on a low stone wall. Behind him is a sheer you can see he's lived in the Alps for some time now and has no fear of heights. We decide he must be part mountain goat. Finally its our tour to go in, and we pass through turnstiles that can be a bit tricky. If you don't pass through quickly enough after your ticket goes in, you're stuck. Fortunately our entire group makes it through. We are led inside to a dark room in comparison to the beautiful sunshine outside.

From here on, until we get back outside again, you'll just have to rely on my descriptions.

Ludwig had a great love for architecture and the arts. He also had a great love for Wagnerian operas, and he became a close friend and patron of Wagner. This castle was partly a tribute to the composer, most of the paintings in the halls depict scenes from his operas. Ludwig also loved swans, the national symbol of Bavaria, and throughout the castle one could find swans in all forms.

First we climb the staircase (actually one tour member decided not to join us when he found out how many stairs we would be running up and down during the tour), where at the very top there is a guardian dragon and a column that reaches up and turns into a palm tree as it meets the ceiling. We then enter the hallway painted with scenes from the "Ring of the Nibelung." Then we enter the throne room, a room filled with gold and religious paintings, but no throne. That most important chair was not completed before the King's demise. However, the huge 2000 pound chandelier, and the animal mosaic on the floor were finished.

From there we enter the dining room and then into his bedroom. The bed was the most amazing piece of woodworking I'd ever seen. So much tiny detail, I wonder who the poor person is who has to keep it dusted. The King was also a fan of new technologies, so he had running water in his castle. For a faucet on his washstand, there was a silver coloured swan from whose mouth would come the water. We then pass through the dressing room into the living room where there is a small alcove called the Swan's Corner where the King liked to read. This living room was filled with depictions of swans, unfortunately I can't find the exactly count anywhere, but if I recall what the tour guide said, there are about 70 of them in various forms. The paintings in the room depict the Lohengrin saga.

We pass next into what is called the Grotto. It was fashionable in his time to have a kind of fake indoor cave. Looked like something from a movie set, it was a pretty strange thing to find in a castle. Across the hall from the Grotto was the Winter Garden, a balcony with a glass door.

Next is the King's study, where we again see his interest in all things modern. He had a telephone connected to another of his castles.

We climb some more stairs and are now on the fifth floor. There is a gallery leading up to the Singer's Hall. On the walls are paintings of the Parsifal saga. These paintings were particularly beautiful and the horses on them very life-like. We then enter the Singer's Hall, the room where the King would have liked to have had Wagner's operas performed for him. When we were there the room was filled with seats, because every now and then they do put on performances there. But these performances are rare.

This is the end of the guided tour and we are shown the way back down the stairs. Then we pass through the kitchens, which had all the modern amenities of the time. And of course, we come right out into the gift shop, where I pick up a puzzle with a nice winter scene of the castle, and my mom the guide book I was using just now to describe what we saw. (Remember, I'm now writing this over four months after the fact! You didn't really expect me to remember all the opera names, now did you?)

We then take the horses back down the path. My father and I again in the front seat with the same driver, my mother in the back with a group of Japanese tourists. Near the bottom, our team of horses is switched with a new pair. We calculate that they only have to work the difficult hill for about two hours before getting a rest.

On the way back down to the where we are to meet the bus, I was able to get a good picture of the castle. I know I said earlier that my computer desktop has that Innsbruck mountain picture, but I've since changed it to this one