In 1971, Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle was completed in Orlando, FL, a landmark inspired by Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle. I have been to Disney World a million times and have enjoyed Disney’s vision more times than I can count. Today, I finally get to check off a key bucket list item by seeing the real thing – today we head to Neuschwanstein Castle!
Before trekking through the Alps to our own fantasyland, Michael and I head downstairs to breakfast in our hotel, the Atlas Grand. As I mentioned before, King Ludwig II stayed in this location many years ago, so it is almost fitting that we stay here before visiting Ludwig’s castles. The free breakfast at Atlas is awesome and includes just about everything – pancakes, grilled tomatoes, a range of fresh breads and pastries, cereals, yogurts with all the toppings, mimosas, freshly squeezed OJ, made-to-order omelets, and, of course, sausages. The best part of the breakfast – the fresh honeycomb. They have a big, huge chunk of fresh honeycomb and you can grab a spoon and scrape the fresh honey onto your plate – so good!
Our bellies full, we head to the parking deck to grab our car and hit the road. Simple enough, right? Not for this dynamic duo. When we arrived at the hotel, the guy at the front desk (who didn’t speak the best English) told us to go to the deck and pay for a full-day ticket in the garage that would be good for 24 hours. Michael buys the ticket from the machine though not a single word of English displays. We then enter the parking deck and don’t think twice when the machine at the entrance spits out another ticket. We are now about fifteen hours after buying that ticket and we want to get out of the garage. I drive to the exit gate, stick our “paid” ticket in the machine and….nothing happens. It spits the ticket back at me, I stick it back in……we continue this cycle for a few minutes until I have an angry Bavarian in the car behind me, yelling things I can’t understand out the window. I can’t go forward because the gate is down….I can’t go backwards because there is an angry German on my butt. A few curse words and hand gestures later, I am backing into an empty parking spot and Michael takes our extra ticket to the no-English, German only parking machine. He comes back with our ticket that now has a new stamp on it. I drive up to the gate, stick in the ticket and…..it spits it back out at me. We go through this again and again until I am pissed and cursing like a sailor. We can’t be stuck in this garage all day….the castle is waiting! As a last resort, I send Michael to the entrance where he hits the button for a new ticket….I then have him go and pay for that ticket (which is two floors above us). This should work, after all, this is how we do it back home. He comes back and I stick the ticket in……ding ding ding…..it works! I am so happy, I forget that the car is in park and I keep hitting the gas pedal but the car won’t move. I realize my error, hit the gas, and we zoom out of town. Lesson learned – be weary of directions given in broken English!
We hit the road and drive about an hour through the Alps. The weather is still cloudy, but we are able to see a little bit more of the colossal, white mountains and we get a bit giddy at how surreal it is to be here, driving through the Alps on our way to Cinderella’s Castle. On our drive, we pass through several quiet little Bavarian towns, we see cows and horses in massive fields of grass, and we drive along many rivers and streams which, we notice, seem to rush along in contrast to the slow pace of everything else in sight.
Neuschwanstein is only one of a ton of huge castles that King Ludwig II had built. This guy probably coined the phrase “go big or go home” because his castles are not only huge, but they are impressive pillars of the Bavarian skyline. Oddly enough, the mountain next to the Neuschwanstein Castle contains another impressive fortress – the Hohenschwangau Castle, which was the home of little Ludwig before he took over the throne from his father. At least he didn’t have too far to travel to check on the Neuschwanstein construction team.
While Neuschwanstein is not that old (construction started in 1869), it epitomizes the romanticism of Medieval castles – which was Ludwig’s goal all along. What really sucks about Neuschawanstein? Poor old Ludwig only got to enjoy it less than 180 days as he mysteriously died long before construction was complete. In fact, he only slept in the castle 11 nights before his death! Almost instantly after his death, the castle became a museum that continues to grow in popularity with almost 1.3 million visitors a year.
As we drive up the hill and park beneath the Hohenschwangau Castle, we see just how many visitors there are on this spring day. We head to the back of the line and, two hours later, emerge with our ticket for the Neuschwanstein tour. A tip for those of you who plan to do this one day – buy the tickets online before you get there. The instructions on the website are a bit weird, but if you go ahead and get your ticket, you can proceed directly to the ticket counter, collect your pass, and head on up the hill with no wait. The rest of us fools will stand in line and wait, and wait, and wait – maybe that’s where Disney got the idea of the fast pass!
Our Golden Ticket in hand, we head over to the bus stop for a short, 15 minute wait to hop on the bus up the hill. There are three ways to the top – 1.) on foot up a steep hill (um…..no), 2.) horse drawn carriages (romantic and fitting for the fairy tale, but the line is long….nah), or 3.) city bus (not charming, but the line is short….sounds like a winner). As we head to the front of the line, we see people packed into the bus and assume there is not room for us. Bad assumption – the Bavarian driver crams us and six other people on the bus – glad we are in Germany and not France because I could not handle being this close to stinky French arm pits! The drive up the hill is much like a roller coaster. The road is a steep incline that snakes through trees and steep cliffs. The driver puts the pedal to the metal and, only by an act of God, we make it to the top of the mountain rather than the bottom of the ravine.
As we explode out of the bus, I see the sign for the panoramic viewpoint and Michael and I hike up the short, steep hill to the bridge of impending doom. As we near the viewpoint, my stomach plummets to my feet as I realize that the panoramic viewpoint is not a nice little railing on the side of the mountain…..it is a skinny “bridge” comprised of ancient wooden planks across a metal frame that connects parallel mountains over a very, very, very deep ravine. If that weren’t bad enough, there has to be at least a hundred tourists on the bridge elbowing and pushing each other to try to get the best view of the fairy tale castle. Crap – I am afraid of heights and the only way I am going to get the “picture of a lifetime” is if I quickly overcome my fears. To put my fear of heights into perspective….I have a hard time going out on the balcony of a 3th floor hotel room, much less walking across a few toothpicks spread over a ravine that could send me plunging to my death. Michael isn’t much better with heights, so I know there will be no help there. We look at each other and put our left foot on the closest wooden plank. A few steps in, the boards start sagging when you put your feet on them – crap…..I’m gonna die trying to get a dang picture. I refuse to look left or right, up or down….I just inch forward very slowly, keeping a death grip on the railing and keeping my eyes straight ahead. I hear Michael say, “I can’t do it,” and he is gone. As other people shove and shift around, the boards wiggle and wiggle more. I make it about a third of the way across and I turn the camera towards the castle, which I refuse to look at because then I will realize how far off the ground I am. A few clicks later, I try a few selfie shots and inch my way off the bridge.
Finally able to breathe, I check my pants to verify that I did not crap myself, then I look at the pictures and they are a disappointment. I can’t go out like this. I have to get this picture – I may never be back here! I find Michael away from the crowd and we try to get each other psyched up with a “One for the Gipper” speech. Our gumption renewed we confidently stride over to the bridge and start inching towards the middle, no less scared than before, but definitely more determined. I still don’t look down, but this time I do look at the castle – it really is something to behold. We get some good shots and even snap a couple of selfies before we inch our way back to safety, feeling accomplished and full of adrenaline.
We head back down the path and over towards the castle itself where we will have a tour of the inside. It is everything it is cracked up to be though, sadly, no pictures are allowed inside. Ludwig had a massive bedroom complete with a small, personal chapel and a crucifix made of ivory. The dining room and entertaining areas were as grand as I had imagined and the views of the countryside and neighboring castle below were amazing.
Our fairytale day complete, we head back to the car and drive back to Garmisch through the lovely Alps. On the way home, we see a grocery store and decide to stop and grab some mustard for the folks back home. As I pull into the parking lot of Aldi, Michael reminds me that we have these back home and I instantly remember the discount food store and my big brother Peanut’s love of places like this. I cringe as this is really not my kind of place. As we walk in, I know we won’t find the variety I am looking for and I am not wrong. Would you believe that this “grocery store” does not have mustard??? Nope, I didn’t stutter…..we went to a “grocery store”, in Germany, and they did not have a single drop of mustard in the store. That’s like walking into a Krispy Kreme and finding that there are no doughnuts! Ridiculous!
We return to the Atlas Hotel with a bucket full of good memories and no mustard. Famished because we did not eat lunch, we walk down the street for a bite of Indian food at the Taj Mahal. The food looked great but was not flavorful, and not spicy at all. I guess that’s why they named it the Taj Mahal and not the Taste of India, because they forgot about the taste. Nonetheless, we end our meal, and our day, and live happily ever after – The End