September 6, 2014 – Saturday – Castle Day – Bavaria, Germany
We drive back into Germany from our Austrian hotel this morning to see two famous Bavarian castles both near Füssen in Bavaria.
King Ludwig II’s Neuschwahstein Castle is probably the most famous, since Disney’s Fantasyland castles are modeled after this spectacular castle located on a hillside overlooking a beautiful green valley and lake. The crowds here are very bad, especially on Mary’s Bridge, which is above the castle, giving a picture postcard view of the castle with the valley behind. This castle was built in the 1800s, and poor Ludwig only got to enjoy his castle for a few months before he died. When Ludwig was king, his ministers plotted to depose him in 1866 because he was homosexual. He committed suicide in the nearby lake along with his doctor (who had just declared him mad – later disproved).
Heohen-Schwangau Castle is a beautiful castle located beside The Alpsee, a glacial lake. This is where Ludwig’s parents lived, and is where he was raised. His father, the king loved the night sky, and had his bedroom equipped with stars in the ceiling and a Moon, which could have the phase changed as required.
Jennifer and Sylvain have a picnic lunch all ready for us when we return to the parking lot, so we spread out near the Alpsee lake and enjoy ourselves. After getting clear of Neuschwahstein Castle, we take a group photo in the nearby valley, posing with the castle behind us on the hill.
Joe, Greta and Paul on the luge
Next stop is a luge – individual carts run through a metal tube down the hill, slalom-style. Everyone in the group tries it – some go faster, and others take is slowly. The luge is one of the reasons I finally decided to book this Rick Steves tour. I reasoned that any tour operator who includes a ride on a luge as part of the stated itinerary must have something going for them!
September 4, 2014 – Thursday – Bacharach to Rothenburg, Germany
After breakfast in our hotel in Bacharach, we schlep our bags across the street to where the bus is parked. Our bus really hustles along the German Autobahn, passing the ultra-modern Frankfurt airport before arriving at our morning rest stop.
This rest area facility is very deluxe: a nice gift shop with high end stuff for sale, German pastries, Lavazza coffee bar, deli smorgasbord, and wonderful toilets and showers! There is a 0.70 Euro charge to use the toilets, but they give back a 0.50 Euro coupon for merchandise purchases. There is even an adjacent, small hotel for overnight rest stops. Our bus driver tells me he has used the hotel on winter ski trips, and says the rooms are very nice, and quite inexpensive.
We arrive at Rothenburg ob der Tauber around noon, and after some lunch on our own, Jennifer walks us through the main street to familiarize us with this medieval city. It is obviously what Disney uses to pattern their Fantasyland theme parks after. Rothenburg has an impressive wall, towers and gates around the old city, cobblestone streets, quaint shops with eclectic merchandise, and beautiful vistas of the valley below.
As I wander the streets, there is much to see and experience: German confections in a bakery window; castle gates; giant bird’s nests on rooftops; clock towers; churches with flying buttresses; pretty half-timbered houses; endless window boxes sporting Geraniums and other flowers; cobblestone streets; ornate metal signs above all the businesses; huge numbers of hotels, drinking and eating establishments; Christmas shops and other specialty shops.
Then there is the Medieval Kriminal Museum, which I decide to visit. It is filled with masks of shame, executioners costumes, racks and torture chairs, bludgeons, and describes medieval justice in great detail (not all of it gory). The Meistertrunk town clock is very special, since two mechanical figures appear out of two doors beside the clock face once in awhile, and do an elaborate ritual before retreating back inside. I would say, there is something for everyone in Rothenburg.
The city is jammed with day-trippers during the afternoon, however by evening they all leave on the buses they came in, and the streets return to normal. Some of us go to a Greek restaurant across the street from our hotel for dinner. I then grab my camera and take advantage of the beautiful pastel-coloured light as the Sun is setting. The whole city looks magical as I walk along a section of the city wall during “the golden hour”.
Later, I meet up with the tour group in the main square at dusk. We follow the Night Watchman, which is a guy in medieval costume carrying a scepter and lantern. He delivers a humorous historical talk as we wander from place to place through the city. He explains the function of the night watchmen in medieval times: ensuring doors are locked and people are not on the streets as night falls. He describes the city gate system, and how people had to make their way inside the security of the walled city an hour before dark. He does two walks/talks – one in English and one in German.
September 5, 2014 – Friday – Rothenburg, Germany to Routte, Austria
The breakfast buffet at Hotel Gerberhaus this morning is very impressive and quite delicious. The coffee is also the best we have had on the trip so far, despite it being filter coffee. There are all sorts of cheeses, cold meat, pastries, fruit, cereal, and sweets, including chocolate!
We then schlepp our bags out the back door, down the alley and through the doorway in the city wall to our bus waiting for us in the parking lot.