When we wake up, it’s raining steadily. The temperature makes the rain feel bitterly cold. Up in the surrounding mountains, it’s snowing. But we will not be going that high. I layer up with silk long underwear under my jeans and an extra warm Underarmour shirt under my sweater. I put on my thin leather jacket and then pull my rain jacket on–loose enough to fit over everything, it will keep me dry as well as help trap my body heat. I even dig out the thin pair of Windstopper gloves I shoved into my bag just in case. We all pile into the mini-van and we are off.
First stop is Neuschwanstein, the castle started by King Ludwig II of Bavaria intended to capture the opera The Rings in architecture. However, the castle was only 1/3 complete when Ludwig died mysteriously by drowning in a lake with his psychiatrist at the age of 40. He had been declared insane and removed from power only days before. We came to this castle years ago, but had taken the German tour. I’m happy that this time, we will take the tour in English. First, we must park. Then, we must walk part way up the mountain to buy tickets. Then, we must get ourselves from the ticket office to the castle, which is estimated to be a 40 minute walk up a very steep incline. There are three choices: walk in the rain, ride a bus, or take a horse drawn carriage. We head for the bus, but the line is so long to get a ticket that Dieter and I (at the head of the pack) think we must walk. But, a chorus of protest rises from behind us and we turn and go back to get a horse drawn carriage instead.
We start off in front of a couple walking arm in arm. Two average-sized horses pull the wagon loaded with 10 adults slowly up the steep road. The couple falls slightly behind, but when we are halfway, we pause to give the horses a short break and the couple nearly catches up with us while we wait. But then we are off again and either the horses are so revived that they move faster or the couple is so fatigued they move slower, but we leave them far behind.
When we arrive at the end of the wagon ride, we are told that the walk to the castle is 15 more minutes. But it is not too strenuous and we make it in less than 10. We are 15 minutes early for our tour. We stand under the arch of a giant gate leading to the courtyard, huddled together with about a hundred people from nearly as many different countries. When it is time for our tour, a lighted sign in the courtyard displays our tour number and we move back into the rain briefly to walk through the cattle gates with the rest of the English speakers on our tour. The girl who leads our tour speaks loudly and slowly, over enunciating each word, but in the first room, her voice bounces off the tiles and echoes so that it’s nearly impossible to understand what she says. The Germans in our group do not think she is German, as her accent sounds so strange. I ask her where she is from originally as we walk to the next room and she tells me she is from here originally; I assume Schwangau, the small village near the castle. That doesn’t explain her strange accent, though.
We learn a bit more about the crazy king who wanted his life to be a fairytale. We see rooms on two floors, starting in the servants quarters and ending in the concert hall. Unfortunately, there was an actual concert recently and the floor is completely covered to protect it. We did get to see the mosaic tile floor in the receiving room–we’re told that there are over 2 million tiles that were individually laid in the floor. The crazy pattern has a mixture of animals I can’t make sense of, but perhaps if I were an expert on Wagner operas, it would all become clear to me. Our tour guide offers no explanation for the decor choices and is too far away with nearly 50 people on the tour for me to ask. We are told that the tour is over and we should check out the kitchen on the way out.
A narrow spiral staircase takes us down four floors to where the king’s meals were prepared (with a detour through the gift shop, of course) and we wonder if he ever had a hot meal given that his dining room was at the top of the stairs. The kitchen is enormous and, apparently quite modern for the times. After looking at the signs, trying to figure out the layout, we return to the cold and rain outside.
Next, we walk back down to the drop off point to take a wagon back down. We are shoved into the back of the wagon with a strange man between me and Giesala who clearly doesn’t understand English or German. Then, three more people join. The four are all Asian, but the strange man is Japanese while the other three are Chinese. The strange Japanese man introduces himself to Giesala, but then keeps repeating her name. He won’t look up and remains in a hunched position, eyes on the floor. Then, when no one is talking to him, he starts muttering to himself. I don’t know lots of people from Japan, but I’ve never seen anyone act like this from any country that didn’t have some kind of problem going on. In any case, we are distracted by the group from China. They tell us they are from the Tsing Tao museum and the man produces many beer labels and gives them to Pat after Pat tells him that be likes Tsing Tao beer. We really aren’t sure if there is a museum or if they were from the brewery, but we laugh with them the whole way down the mountain. The man and Pat got into a beer belly contest with each of them pulling up their jackets and extending their bellies to show . . . well, I’m not sure what they’re trying to prove. Pat won in any case. Then, the man’s cell phone rings and his conversation has the two women he is with in stitches. One of them explains that the person on the other end of the phone had told the man to hurry up and he replied, “It’s not up to me, it’s up to a horse.” We all laugh, too. Pat asks if he can buy the man a beer since he’s given us so many labels, but he and his colleagues have to rush off.
We decide to wait to eat lunch until we got to the second castle on today’s itinerary–Linderhof. We walk back to the mini van and take off in the rain.