Sunday, October 17, 2010

Munich to Neuschwanstein

**photos from our first days in Munich are up now in the prior post**

From Dev:

Sunday, October 10th:
Sunday morning we awoke refreshed, Derek feeling much better, to a wonderfully crisp and sunshine-filled day.  There was certain promise for exploration and beautiful photos as we had plans to wander the town using our public transport passes.  Flipping through the sights on our city map, we decided to check out a huge (over 920 acres) park in town called the “English Gardens.”  We were in our own little Utopia as we strolled hand-in-hand through alternating pools of shade and sunlight along with the locals, and then found a warm bench to read and people-watch.  The backdrop was complete with a mallard-filled brook, toddlers running across the grass, and a variety of dogs playing fetch with their owners.  Yes, we really loved this city.

As Derek and I munched on our bread and cheese we discussed the overwhelming amount we were learning every hour.  There really is more than one way to skin a cat.  We hold our own personal, North Idaho, American cultural views.  Now, being exposed to the culture and values of Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and Japan (wait—Japan…yes, Derek’s reading a Crichton novel “Rising Sun,” richly laden in Japanese culture), we find ourselves feeling more and more confused by which of these practices are right for us.  We concluded, of course, that we can only expect to do our best to make appropriate decisions in the moment, hopefully derived from the accumulation our experiences, reflections, and conversations—not just from our particular North Idaho, American background.   Still, it makes us a little confused, and even more contemplative.

With the sun falling behind a large maple tree, we gathered our belongings from our bench to continue our walk.  Soon we came to a large Chinese tower, a landmark of the park, surrounded by toasted nut vendors, a sprawling beer garden, and a playground.  We were so happy to be in a town full of locals enjoying themselves.  Much of Italy, and especially Florence, was so overrun with tourists that they seemed to make up the majority of the population.  However, this Sunday afternoon in the park we could have been the only foreigners present! In this moment, we were so thankful that we were not in town for Oktoberfest.  It hurts to imagine the happy families who filled the multiple beer gardens being replaced by drunken American tourists. 

Our day of happiness and comfort continued as we made our way to Starbucks.  We excused our visit as an opportunity to use the Internet, but boy, sometimes it’s just so hard to beat a big, sweet, frothy, cup of joe.  Opening our inbox, we discovered that we had a deadline for a big decision, and our time had run out.  I was offered the position of a Youth Counselor at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, MT and was informed that the office needed a reply by the following day… as if the stress of planning our current adventure wasn’t enough.  After several minutes of an elevated heart rate and weighing the pros and cons with Derek, we decided to go for it.  After all, one promised income upon our return was better than two uncertain ones.  The kicker is simply that we will arrive back to The States on the night of December 1st, and then we will move to Montana so that I could report to work on December 3rd… cutting it close.

Time flew by, our cups ran dry, and our tummies rumbled.  So, we made our way to the Viktualienmarkt, an open market place and popular beer garden in the center of the city, to finally enjoy the Bavarian meal we had been craving—Derek especially.  This meal had eluded us for a couple days now, so we were ready and salivating.  Yesterday when we came upon the market we had just eaten, so decided to give it the honor of dinner tonight.  Coming around the corner, it was curiously quiet in the square.  One shop window was closed.  Oh no!! The doors were all locked.  As soon as we had come accustomed to the ridiculously late-dinners of Italy, our surroundings fooled us again.  Realizing that we didn’t really have time (we learned our lesson in Interlaken about missing the last bus to the campsite) or money for the restaurants that were open, we made our way to good ole KFC and enjoyed some greasy fried chicken while we rode the subway and bus back to the campingplatz.

Monday, October 11th:
Monday was also a day to relax and enjoy the city.  We slept in and then leisurely took the bus and subway back to Starbucks.  After all, it isn’t every day that we have power, Internet, and coffee in the same place, and we had fallen rather behind in our blogging.  While Derek filled in the world with our adventures in Venice and first two days in Munich I finished my book, Gulliver’s Travels.  

After a few days of longingly staring at the plates overflowing with sausages, krout, and pretzels in the beer gardens, and being denied last night, we were darned ready to eat.  So we walked back to the main square downtown, Marianplatz, and to the Viktualienmarkt for lunch.  By now we should have expected it, but the shop which Derek had carefully selected several days ago was of course closed for some reason unbeknownst to us.  Fortunately this was not the case with most of the vendors since it was still a reasonable lunch time.  We happily settled for a shop full of locals and did a lot of grunting and pointing to assemble our plates.  Derek was quite satisfied with a plate full of sauerkraut, a decent sized roll, and steaming bratwurst with mustard.  I wasn’t salivating quite as much, but still enjoyed a fresh pretzel and sausage.   

We then moved back to the English Gardens park (although a different section) to walk off our lunch and enjoy the fresh air.  Eventually we parked it at a bench while Derek finished typing, and I watched the dogs of Munich walking their owners.  Before we knew it, the sun had set and we were back at Starbucks to post another blog entry with a smoothie and sandwich. 

Back at the campingplatz, we sat at a table in the warm room used for dish-washing to read before bedtime.  Derek was making quick progress on his Crichton novel, and I was excited to start The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a favorite of my Mom’s.  Just a few minutes into our reads, we were interrupted by a fellow camper we had met earlier.  She walked through the door and said, “Oh thank goodness you’re here! I’ve been so worried about you.”  This woman’s name is Maria, and I had met her earlier in the bathroom, and then later introduced her to Derek as she was happy to give us information about traveling in Germany.  She was also quite pleasant to talk with as a middle school English teacher.  Her husband was an amiable Frenchman who worked as a body designer for BMW.  But anyway, apparently she was nervous for our safety since she hadn’t seen us all day, and it was now dark out.  We laughed together at her needless worry, but also told her that it was nice that so far from home, someone close was keeping track.  After saying goodbyes, we read a bit longer and cozied up for bed. 

That last night was freezing.  Derek and I both slept horribly as we were quite cold all night, despite our warm sleeping bags, and me in my long underwear and wool socks.

Tuesday, October 12th:
After waking every hour or so, I couldn’t stand being cold, so at 5:20 I got up and went to the shower room to get warm and ready for the day.  It was still black out, but Derek and I had a busy day ahead of us.  We planned to travel south to Fussen to see Neuschwanstein castle, before heading north to Rothenburg for the night.  We packed up our belongings by the light of our headlamps and used our slow, numb fingers to dissemble the tent in time to catch the 7:03am bus and the 7:51am train to Fussen.  Our plan was working smoothly until we got on the subway to take us to the train station.  The ride which had been taking about 15 minutes was stretched to about 40 due to the excess of passengers traveling to work and school.  We arrived at the station 10 minutes after our train had departed, and we were forced to wait another 50 minutes for the next.  Downtrodden, we grabbed some breakfast and waited, knowing that our time today was precious as we had to go from Munich to Fussen back to Munich, then on to Rothenburg before the camping offices close.

The train to Fussen turned out to be in slight disrepair, but altogether peaceful as it hugged the curves of the misty farming hills.  The town itself was small, but clean and charming with a large tourist information center.  An English-speaking girl inside gave us the bus and ticket information to get up to the castle.  Fortunately, this time we didn’t have long to wait for the bus.  At the bus stop nearest Neuschwanstein, the cute town of Fussen became an International tourist center, and the line for tickets into the castle looked like it could have rivaled those in Disneyland.  After weaving through the ropes to the ticket counter we discovered another setback.  It was mandatory to accompany a tour group through the castle, and the next group with available places was a good hour away…ugh.  We began the hike uphill to the castle.  Just when we started to think that luck was certainly not on our side today, the thick veil of clouds parted and we caught a glimpse of the fairy tale building of royalty and imagination.  Little did we know, this was the best view of the complete building we would receive today.   Soon after snapping a photo, the clouds resumed their former positions.  We continued trekking up the hill (just a couple kilometers), passing horses burdened with carriages of tourists, until we reached the final landing at the castle.  There we had our lunch of English muffins with jam and hazelnut spread until it was time for our tour group to meet in the courtyard. 

Walking into the courtyard, we had to admit that this was pretty darned cool.  The stone work was smooth and immaculate; the building one big work of art.  Finally our number came up, and we scanned our tickets to move through the turnstiles and into the castle.  Moving with a herd up some stairs and through a corridor we came to a room where we met our tour guide.  The young man (probably about our age) had androgynous facial features and physical gestures, and he very much reminded me of an elderly woman-librarian, shuffling through the rooms hunched, wearing an over-sized sweater.   He was very informative and showed a deep reverence for the castle’s history. 

The inside of the castle matched the exterior in artful elegance and lavish details, however we (Derek especially) lost some of our enchantment when we learned that “Mad” King Ludwig and those in his company only actually lived in the castle for about 70 days.  Further, only a few days after the death of the King, his house was opened to the public.  This castle has seen far more tourists than actual inhabitants, and really served no use as a protective fortress.  Bummer.  What this castle did have going for it was the thoughtful execution of King Ludwig’s artistic vision.  The interior of the castle was entirely themed by the operas of Wagner.  There was even a “Grotto” room which had the appearance of a cave complete with shining stalactites.  Generally, painted operatic scenes covered the walls and ceilings of every room.  The throne room (complete except for the throne itself) depicted scenes from the lives of the saintly kings of Europe, including the struggle between St. George and the dragon.  The floor was a mosaic of the flora and fauna of the world.  Each piece was about the size of my fingernail, and took a few artists several years to complete.  The most interesting room to me was the king’s bedchamber.  The awe from this room came from the intricate wood carving atop his bed and throughout his dressers and desk.  In his room he also had a silver swan sink that ran with fresh water, due to the pressure from the natural spring at its source.  Other cool furnishings included a telephone which would have been able to connect to the main building downtown, beautiful reading nooks, and toilets with running water. 

Exiting the castle, we made our way back to Fussen as quickly as we could to figure out our itinerary to Rothenburg.  Our fate for the remainder of the day was to be stuck on a handful of trains, arriving in Rothenburg around 7:45pm.  This was way too late for our liking, but in order for our railpasses to serve us as we desired, we had to make it their in one travel day.  Rothenburg was dark and quiet upon our arrival.  There were no information centers open, so we bopped in to the nearest café for some food and to ask directions to a camping.  We knew from prior research that there was at least one open campingplatz, but it’s always helpful to have a local point us in the correct way.  The gentleman in the café did not speak very much English, but when we showed him the name and address on a piece of paper, he was able to give us at least our first couple steps.  From there, we followed the handy dandy signs.  After a 3 kilometer walk, we arrived at our campingplatz around 9pm. Fortunately, the office was open until 10pm, and we had no problem paying and setting up our tent.  We went to sleep, excited to awaken with the morning sun to reveal our surroundings. 

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