Hello ladies and gents, and happy Thursday!
I’m not actually going to do a Throwback Thursday this week given that I have so much fresh and new material to talk about–namely my trip over the weekend/early part of this week to visit a good friend of mine, Mista Sean Shanley, from all the way back home in Indiana who is an au pair this year in Ulm, Germany. Given that my birthday was Monday (23, getting up there little by little!) and that French schools are currently on a 2-week break, I thought it would be nice to spend it with a friend, and so Saturday I hopped on the TGV (France’s mega-fast train system) for a five hour journey to Ulm/Neu-Ulm.
The ride was pretty uneventful, I brought entertainment but as per usual just ended up staring out of the window, lost in thought and enjoying new scenery. (As a sidenote, for anyone under 27 in France, be sure to get a “Carte Jeune” for all of your tickets-usually up to 25% discounts on your trips, lasts a year, & you just have to print and bring the ticket with you on each ride. 🙂 ) Sean was magically awaiting me on the platform when I arrived and I couldn’t help but laugh at how bizarre it was to be meeting someone from small-town Indiana in the middle of southern Germany, but it was amazing to see him at the same time.
Before heading back to the home where he is living we took a quick trip around Ulm, although it was all closed down given the late hour (8:30ish…apparently shops and most other things close around 5:30 there), and then journeyed across the Danube to the sister city Neu-Ulm where Sean actually lives. My immediate thoughts were that everything was so damn quaint (albeit with smatterings of hyper-modern buildings) and also that apparently Germany, if not France, had correctly received the message that it is FALL, and there were beautiful trees shedding leaves everywhere! (Continuing theme for the trip: my fascination with fall foliage.)
By the time we arrived home his host family was asleep, minus the father who I met later in the evening. We had a nice stereotypical European meal of bread, cheese, and meat while catching up, and then went to bed knowing we had an early start in the morning to go to Füssen/Hohenschwangau, Germany where one can visit the famous Neuschwanstein and (less famous) Hohenschwangau castles, which is exactly what we did.
Sean is pretty much a master at the German regional train system now (note: buy a regional ticket and take as many trains within that region as you want, all day. Buy two at the same time and the price is 26 Euros instead of 22. Boom.) so he had our schedule all worked out, and we shuffled off to the station in the morning for roughly a 2.5/3 hour journey with a stop here and there to switch trains. Our arrival put us right by the bus we needed to take the 5 kilometers towards the castle visitor’s center, and there we entered the line to end all lines. In fact, there were several tours open for the afternoon, but before we even got to the front, all of the Neuschwanstein tours were COMPLETELY sold out. So, hint, buy online ahead of time, or don’t arrive at noon on a Sunday. We were a bit bummed, but I was comforted by the fact that I couldn’t take pictures inside anyway…so we settled for viewing it from the outside and going touristy-photo-nuts. We DID, however, go in the Hohenschwangau castle (11 Euros for students/children, 13 for adults I think), which is slightly older and was home to the family responsible for both, the Crown Royals of Bavaria (both castles are from the 1800’s-not exactly ancient.) We had a while to burn before our tour, so we grabbed ourselves some hot bratwurst on some truly fresh, delightfully crispy buns, and then strolled around a local lake called the Alpsee (Alp Sea. Get it?) It was absolutely BEAUTIFUL, with bright trees everywhere, the sun shining down, children feeding ducks, etc. We then took a leisurely stroll on an equally beautiful wooded path to get up to the castle for our tour.
Photos were also forbidden inside Hohenschwangau, but I’ll just say it was designed to be very warm and cozy, and the kings were quite good at spoiling themselves–one loved astrology so much that he made the forerunner of ceiling sticker glow-in-the-dark-stars in his room by drilling tiny holes in the ceiling for oil lamps, which he could even switch to show different constellations or phases of the moon, I believe. (Also, he had a hidden door in the room leading to the Queen’s room. I see what you did there, sir.) Everything in the castle is authentic, including a moving-in present of 200+year old bread (I kid you not) so touching was obviously a no-no. The tour was rather short, but that was acceptable, because we had much more exploring to do!
We wound our way back down the wooded trail and then across the tourist-filled street to the path leading up to Neuschwanstein, which is a rather long hike uphill. It’s not terribly steep, but it just NEVER seemed to end…luckily it did, finally. Before arriving at the castle there’s a bit of a photo-op platform set up, so we took our time snapping shots of the castle and the gorgeous valley of farmland, rivers, and lakes spread out before us from our vantage point in the mountains. We then entered the main courtyard of the castle…filled with tourists as well, but what can you do? 😉
To be honest the castle looks much prettier viewed from afar. Up close, you can see that in spite of the many arched windows and turrets, the castle is not at all ornate and frankly almost crude–every stone has straight vertical lines (I presume from cutting) that really contrast with the romantic ideals of stone castles of old. However, it was all neat and tidily done, in spite of the bare and empty appearance. (Having seen the first castle, I am willing to bet the inside MORE than made up for it.) To get that far-off view, we followed the walkway behind the castle–past a jaw-dropping view of the valley, mountains, other castle, and lake–to the famous bridge spanning a canyon above some waterfalls. By famous, I don’t really mean the bridge itself–the view, however, is the one from which you will almost ALWAYS see pictures of Neuschwanstein, as it shows the castle perfectly perched upon its tiny mountain in front of the valley, surrounded by forestland and just far away enough to get amazing shots of the whole.
Our visit concluded with a bit of ice cream while waiting for the bus back to the train station (ironic given that the weather had gone from sunny to slightly rainy and cold) and then, once back in Ulm, we stopped at a Turkish kebab fast food restaurant for dinner. The Turkish and Germans have a reasonably long relationship with one another (Germans needed workforce back in the day=waves and waves of Turkish immigrants) and thus there are more fast food Turkish restaurants than just about any other kind, I think. I had a tasty bit of gözleme (essentially a pita filled with cheese and whatever else, mine had spinach) and then we ambled on back home JUST in time to collapse in to bed.
Stay tuned for the other two days of my trip, including exploring Ulm itself, Munch, and a trip to the Dachau concentration camp. Apologies for the length of this post! If you’d like to hear Sean’s version of the events, check out HIS blog at –wait for it– bropair.blogspot.com. TELL ME THAT NAME ISN’T THE BEST.