Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bavaria Part 1: Neuschwanstein

Well it's currently December, and with a week of nothing to do since I finished finals before finals week actually began (magic - I know), I happened to remember that two trips from my long-lost life in Europe remain to be blogged. Actually, I should probably thank my ever-relentless grandmother for reminding me on a regular basis that she would like to read this (or at least acts like she enjoys reading these since she supports me :). So, without further ado, here's the trip that was Bavaria from last August.

Having lived in Berlin for 9 months, it would be innapropriate to say the least with my traveling lifestyle not to visit the other most-prominent city in Germany. This trip was fulfilled toward the end of August. I can't exactly say that I got much sleep before going to Munich - not that I ever did in Europe - but on this account due to the fact that my friends and I had roadtripped overnight back from our day excursion to Prague. Lukily, we got back in time for me to make it to the airport for my 7am flight south. A group of 5 of us made the weekend trip: Aria, Kendall, Amasia, Jonah, and myself. Unfortunately, after arriving in Munich at 8am that morning, everyone felt like going back to sleep instead of hopping on a 2.5 hour train ride. I say unfortunately not for myself and my lack of sleep - by this time I had more than learned how to run on fumes. Rather, unfortunately applies to the rest of the group as I left them behind for a solo day-trip south to the town of Füssen, home to the Disney-emulated Neuschwanstein castle.

After sleeping most of the way and almost missing my regional transfer mid-ride, I woke up to the sunshine flooding over the northern Alps of the Germany-Austria border. Füssen, a beautiful town that I would later in the day explore, was 5 kilometers away from the infamous Neuschwanstein castle, leaving the option of a bus transfer or a hike through the Alps. Easy choice. Who wants to ride in bus when you can wind your way around tree-lined glass lakes that reflect off their surface the most famous castle in German history? After a leisurely hike through destination wonderland, I arrived at around 3pm at the base of the Neuschwanstein-capped mountain. Originally, I was planning to wait in the ticket line in order to tour the inner grounds of the castle, but after learning that the line was an hour wait and then another 4 hour wait until the next tour would be available, I graciously declined. Lukily, it worked out not to be a problem as tourists can still tour the entire exterior of the castle in addition to the inner courtyard without a ticket. After leaving the ticket line and then hiking 45 minutes to the top of the mountain, I was rewarded with one of the most beautiful views I have seen in Europe. Looking out over the surrounding landscape, perfectly green grass with small little towns surrouded a selection of sky blue lakes to my right, and back to my left spanned the mountains I had just hiked through in addition to the lesser known Hohenschwangau castle. If my memory serves me correctly, I'm pretty sure at this moment I didn't even care to go through the castle and was perfectly content just to sit atop the mountain while I soaked up the view. Eventually, after an unspecified amount of time, I made it to my feet despite the tremendous view and began the trek around the castle grounds.
The castle grounds mostly consisted of the castle's courtyard, being that there weren't many surrounding walkable areas due to the castle being atop a mountain. After walking through the massive castle gate and into the courtyard, I wandered about the thousands of tourists with my neck craned in order to see the skyward-bound structure. To be entirely truthful, the castle is more impressive to see from a distance in the context of its surrounding landscape, but still impressive up close nonetheless. After exploring the castle for half and hour or so, I continued on my journey to the Marienbrücke, a bridge spanning two narrowly seperated mountains that looks back on the castle and the surrounding landscape. Unfortunately, as is almost every man-made European icon that can be classified as famous and old, the opposite side of the castle was covered in scaffolding. However, even though I couldn't see much of the castle itselft, it was still a remarkably rewarding sight. After taking a few pictures here and there on the bridge, I descended to the bottom of the mountain and hiked a different mountain route on my way back to Füssen.
Once back in Füssen, I worked my way through the southern German architecture that I had previously experienced on my Bavarian trip to Bamberg. Colorful wooden-trimmed buildings often adorned with paintings lined the cobble stone streets that housed artisans displaying an array of unique crafts. My favorite shop owner, a wood craftsman, owned a shop hidden toward the back of the small town and confirmed what many had previously told me about southern Germans: they are extremely nice. In contrast to Berlin, where people are nice but mostly introverted, southern Germans are much more extroverted and welcome tourists and locals alike with an overflow of warmth and cheerfulness. I spent literally half an hour talking to the shop owner, who had a son getting ready to leave to study abroad in Chicago. He himself spends all his vacation time in New York, Florida, and the Carolinas, and could not possibly understand why so many European tourists flock to the beaches of Spain or Greece for holidays instead of choosing the US. Not a common opinion among most Europeans I must admit, but pretty cool nonetheless. After finishing our debate regarding the best NBA players, food culture, and other odds and ends, I left the small German town and reluctantly made my way back to the train station. Somewhere along the 2.5 hour journey back to Munich, I'm pretty sure I decided that I liked small southern-German towns quite a bit.