After a couple of full days in Munich, we took a break and lounged around the apartment. We did manage to get out and do some laundry, the laundromat being conveniently located across the street from a nice pub. With a full day of rest behind us, we spent our last full day in Germany by taking a day trip to the Bavarian countryside, mainly to see the famous Neuschanstein Castle, along with 5998 other people.
Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II, who was known as the mad king, mainly due to his romanticizing of Medieval life. It was this obsession that led him to build this castle as a mountain retreat/playland for him to hang out in; like a 18th century version of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. It was also intended to be an homage to his friend, Richard Wagner, as the young, gay king was a huge fan of his operas.
The castle perches on a tree-covered mountain in Hohenschwangau, Bavaria, overlooking Lake Fuggessee. It’s a huge hit with the tourists, up to 6000 folks per day during May-August. Ludwig’s boy-hood home is also in Hohenschwangau, along with the Museum of the Bavarian Kings. We fully intended to visit all three, but after spending 2.5 hours in a packed train with 400 tour groups, we decided to relax the plan a little.
With the efficiency one would expect from the Germans, 6000 tourists were shepherded into place via long and very organized lines to the ticket office, where they were presented a multitude of combination ticket options to the big sites. The only way to get into the castle is via a guided tour, which lasts about 30 minutes. After purchasing your tickets, you either walk up to the castle, ride a shuttle bus or get pulled up in a horse and carriage. At the top, you wait in the worlds longest deli-line, clutching your tour number, waiting for your lucky number to be called. About 15% of the average visit is spent inside the castle, the rest of the time you are lining up for various conveyances. All that sounded so delightful, we decided to skip the tour all together, take the shuttle to the view point at top of the hill and then walk back down.
The delicate bridge that provides the above view of the castle was grid-locked with people, which was a bit alarming as the only thing between you and the chasm the bridge spans is 6 rather wobbly wooden planks. We conga-lined over the bridge to a less crowded spot, where I got trapped into taking pictures of people in front of the castle. One couple asked, and then they just kept coming. We finally broke free and pushed back to the other side.
The walk down was very beautiful, providing lovely views across to the turquoise Lake Fuggessee. We decided this was to be our next destination, so we skipped the museum and took the bus back to Fussen.
As we waited for the last train out of town, a thunderstorm rolled across the mountains, leaving us and 400 other people shivering under the station platform. The train was 30 minutes late, so we had plenty of time to judge each other’s bad clothing decisions. It seemed like the only person prepared was our very own John Levy, who snuggled into his Iron Maiden hoody…safe and warm.
2.5 hours later, we were on the metro riding back to our neighborhood. Now, the public transportation in European cities seems to mainly operate on the honor system. Of course, you are expected to buy a ticket for your journey, but unlike the NYC Subway, or any other public transport I have ridden in the US, you are not required to have a ticket to enter the platform area. That is, you don’t have to run your ticket through a turnstyle to get down to the trains. There is always the threat that someone will check your ticket, but having clocked in over 80 rides on trams, trains and buses so far, we have never been asked to produce a valid ticket, and just assumed the majority of the people were riding for free…I mean, why wouldn’t you?
Well, tonight was the night! A couple of stops into our journey, two gentleman dressed in ‘plainclothes’ sat down next to us and chatted away to each other for about 5 minutes. As we pulled away from a station, they jumped up and started asking everyone for tickets. It was confusing as first, as they had no official logo-wear on, but then they pulled out ticket books and started writing people up for fare-dodging! They busted 4 people next to us who didn’t have a valid ticket, and who weren’t taking it very well. An elderly woman approached them, I assumed to show them her pass, but she was in on it too! Three undercover transit coppers in one car staged a swat-team like operation…it was very impressive. One of them did have a large unicorn tattoo on his forearm…people of Munich, you have been warned!
We were sad to leave our little corner of Munich. The flat we stayed in was lovely and the neighborhood was full of pizza joints, bakeries and bars…who could ask for more? However, it was time to journey to Switzerland. Next up…Zurich!