A Travellerspoint blog

May 2019

Little Liechtenstein

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

The hotel breakfast provided a wide variety of cheeses, meats, breads, beverages, and cereals. I was pleased to see nut strudel given our failure to find apple strudel last night. It's not the same, but at least we got to try some kind of strudel. My guy really enjoyed their orange squeezer machine that made freshly-squeezed orange juice at the push of a button.
After breakfast, we took off on another drive through the alps, this time headed towards Liechtenstein, one of the handful of European countries I haven't yet visited.
Again, the scenery is breathtaking in a way that neither words nor pictures can describe. Driving through green pastures surrounded by deep pine forests and towering mountains is it's own reward.
scenery

scenery


Without knowing it at the time, we passed through at least part of the Arlberg tunnel, the 4th longest in the world.
We drove right into downtown Vaduz and got a great parking spot near the tourist area. Parking is free on Saturday, so we lucked out.
We picked up a map at the tourist info center and started hitting the museums.
Vaduz church

Vaduz church


First, we went into the Postage Museum, which is free, but where you have to go to buy tickets to the Treasure House and can also get tickets for the National Museum.
The museum is half gift shop, with all sorts of different types and ages of stamps for sale. The displays in the actual museum part mostly had Liechtenstein stamps, but also showed off an impressive collection of space-age stamps from the USSR and USA. The placards were not in English though, only German and Chinese. The Chinese tourists were buying up half the store and going crazy for the postage stuff.
Next, we entered the Treasure House downstairs. The "ticket" is a special coin you insert in order to enter a type of interlock before you can get to the treasure room. Most of the treasures are Easter eggs of various fanciness, although there were a few other items and some wall paintings. The coolest national treasure, in my opinion, are the moon rocks. I guess Liechtenstein did something for NASA, so they received a gift of some moon rocks from NASA.
Liechtenstein building

Liechtenstein building


After we finished the treasure room, we popped over to the National Museum to learn a bit about Liechtenstein. I really liked how they grouped items by purpose and not by age in the historic/archaeology section. Seeing the evolution of belt buckles or of pottery onto glass bottles was much more interesting to me than just looking at a collection of old stuff.
I also really enjoyed the (free) audio guide. I think to listen to it all would take all day and get old, but picking and choosing got me some interesting information without being overload. I particularly liked the description of one of their holiday traditions- the boys mark the girls with black ash and then go steal soup that was made to be stolen. And I liked the traditional "cow decorating." (They decorate the actual cows, not decorate buildings with a cow theme.
cow decorations

cow decorations


When we left the museum, it was raining. Again.
We looked for food near town square, not wanting to wander too far in the wet. We saw a big festival tent containing a live band playing American music, lots of picnic tables, and a bunch of tour groups, but no food. We saw a bunch of restaurants that were prohibitively expensive. At one of the fast food ones, some Chinese tourists had borrowed a table and were eating food they had packed themselves.
We ended up finding a Thai restaurant that was just regular expensive instead of extremely expensive, so we ate there. I really enjoyed the meal as I don't get enough Thai food normally.
Having seen all of the stuff in Vaduz that interested us, we hopped back in the car to drive to our Zurich hotel.
We're staying by the airport as we have to be at the airport in the morning. But after we got checked in, we headed downtown to see a bit of the city.
Zurich

Zurich


We walked around old town and the river in the sprinkling rain. We saw the outside of the buildings and popped our heads into a couple of shops and restaurants. But the food was mostly so ridiculously expensive that we just turned right around. Also, while the shopping street was busy, a lot of the old town streets were pretty quiet and closed since "tourist time" was over.
We grabbed dinner and some food for breakfast at the grocery store and headed back to the hotel for our last sleep of vacation.
fun sculpture in Zurich

fun sculpture in Zurich

Posted by spsadventures 03:39 Archived in Liechtenstein Comments (0)

Ice cave

Innsbruck, Austria

This morning, we woke a bit later than usual, but still with plenty of time for a calm breakfast. I made the spaetzel and cheese that I had bought at the Hallstatt grocery store yesterday. The process wasn't too different than boxed mac n cheese, but the spaetzel had a completely different texture, the cheese was less sharp and more earthy, and the color much yellower than bright cartoon orange.
Today I had to drive again through light rain to get to our destination. It's a pity we didn't pick a more central place to stay in order to cut down on the driving, but we really were hoping to see some amazing sky.
view from mountain

view from mountain


Eisreisenwelt is well-signed from the highway and we had no problems finding it or parking. In order to get to the parking, we had to drive up a mountain road full of switchbacks and hairpin turns. From the parking lot, we had more uphill to walk in order to get to the ticket building. From there, it's another 20 mins of uphill walking to get to the cable car (according to the map, but we found it to be less.)
cable car

cable car


The cable car ride is only a few seconds, but it thankfully saves a bunch of walking. Still, it's another 20 minutes of uphill walking (again per the tourist map but we did it less) to the cave entrance. As it was raining still, we took a shortcut tunnel to shrink the "20 minutes" even more. Still, that's a lot of uphill walking just to get to the entrance. Despite shedding any winter gear, I was still plenty warm when we got to the cave entrance.
Hike to the cave

Hike to the cave


It's supposed to be 0° F/ 32° C inside the cave, and the entrance is also chilly enough to see your breath. As we waited there a bit for the tour to start, I started cooling down. The seating by the entrance was mostly wet, so I stood around, trying to find a comfortable spot. Periodically, I'd catch a whiff of something that wasn't quite sulfur and wasn't quite strong garlic. We couldn't figure out what it was, but it seemed to us as if the cave had it's own odor. waiting at the entrance

waiting at the entrance


The guide popped out of a little room in the cave. It looked like a lounge of sorts from the tiny peek I got. I find it funny to think that somebody built a modern-style resting space inside a cave.
Once we were gathered together, the guide told us that we'd be climbing 700 steps within the cave. After all the uphill from the previous days and all the uphill just to get to the mouth of the cave (which was about 1500m in altitude), I was not looking forward to more. But, I am certainly willing to do as many stairs as it takes in order to see something cool (pun intended).
The guide also equipped us with carbide lamps-as in small flames with a mirror behind them. Every 4th person was supposed to take one and share. I guess I was fourth, but I kinda wanted my hands free to hold the handrails and already had enough stuff to carry, so I let somebody else hold it. Apparently, they do this out of tradition, and not for any good reason. Also, at various points throughout, we'd stop and the guide would light up a big piece of magnesium wire so we could see that specific area well. Its ashes just fell where it was burnt, and there were piles of ash in the areas where the tour guides regularly stopped. I have to question why they wouldn't just use rechargeable LED lights or something modern that didn't pollute the cave or require burning fuel. I don't think it adds "romance" or adventure to carry the old-style lamps, but maybe that's just me.
In any case, once equipped, we entered into the cave and started climbing the stairs. The guide would stop every few minutes to let us catch our breath and to explain what we were looking at and how it got there.
Basically, water flows in to the cave through holes in the rock, but also as moisture as the wind bows through the cave. The moisture gathers into layers of ice, some of which are 5000 years old and look like sediment layers or tree rings. The condensation of the air moisture also turns to frost on the rocks of the cave, making them sparkle. And some of the water that drips in forms ice stalactites and stalagmites, or freezes in place in what looks like a frozen waterfall. Other features are formed as the winds blow through and carve away at the ice that has built up.
All of these phenomena combine to create beautiful features that change from year to year as the ice melts a bit or refreezes with the seasons. It was worth every one of the 700 steps each way to see the cave features. We even got to walk through a big ice tunnel at one point. And the stairs were surprisingly dry and not slippery, making for an easier climb. We were able to touch the ice, and at one point even get off of the wooden walkway and walk on it a bit.
I'm betting that they have to redo the walkway each season. It looked really new and I would imagine that the ice sometimes forms over the old one and so the pieces have to be replaced. Or maybe they just come and melt the ice from the stairs regularly.
Whatever they do, I appreciated their maintenance. We walked so many stairs that I actually stripped off my fleece and hoodie and hat and just climber in my regular long sleeve t for most of the way. At the top, we were no longer climbing, and I did eventually throw on some gloves and my unzipped fleece, but that was plenty. I didn't feel a coat was necessary at any point.
They wouldn't let us take pictures, but their site has some. Keep in mind, that these pictures are bright for some reason, but it was much darker in the cave.
By the time we emerged from the cave, the sun had come out again and the view was stunning. To extend our enjoyment a bit, on the way down, we stopped at the restaurant on-site. Even though it's clearly for tourists, the food was really good and not ridiculously priced. My spaetzle and cheese was amazing. They had all these little pieces of caramelized onions and chives in with a super gooey cheese sauce. My guy got a goulash that he really enjoyed, although he fed his bread to some crows that had perched nearby. As soon as he started, more came. And he fed them. And more came. At some point, they were all swooping around trying to take the food that we weren't trying to share with them. And they were hopping on our table. I felt like I was in the Hitchcock movie.
birds who want to steal our food

birds who want to steal our food


The next potential site on our list was the Grossglockner Alpine Road. But, we've been driving and hiking and cable -car-ing through the alps for days now and didn't feel the need to pay $35 to do more of the same.
We did take the scenic route to Innsbruck though. We had a bit of rain, but for the most part, we had bright sunny views of the alps and the verdant mountain valleys.
views

views

In Innsbruck, we wanted to see a traditional slap-dancing show. The hotel reception told us that there should be one in the downtown area and marked the map. She also mentioned street food in a street market, which sounded exactly like what we wanted for dinner.
We tried to find the building marked with an x, but it didn't seem to exist. What we did find was some sort of massive street fair with blocks and blocks of crowds enjoying the entertainment. We decided to check that out instead.
Innsbruck street fair

Innsbruck street fair


We watched groups of kids prepping for their dance routine on one block. On another, a band covered American pop hits. A different corner featured a flamenco guitarist with an accompanying stomper. When we went back around, the entertainment had changed and there were stilt dancers in place of some other performers. My favorite entertainment was the large crowd in one of the squares that was all dancing to Gente de Zona's Macarena. When that song ended, someone said some stuff in German, and then Daddy Yankee came through the speakers and the crown danced again. I feel very connected here because they listen to the same music as me. Even the radio stations I've been hearing as I drive have a ton of Latin American music.
stilt dancers

stilt dancers


The big difference between this street fair and most of the others I have been to is their lack of street food. For a fair that stretches several blocks down the main street and then spills onto several side streets and plazas, 2 hot dog tents didn't seem like enough food. Where are the fried stuff-on-a-stick stands? Where are the people roasting cinnamon rolls or selling cotton candy or pretzels?
Innsbruck street fair

Innsbruck street fair


We ended up going into a shop to get the beginning of dinner, still hoping to find something else on another side street somewhere. We thought we were getting a slice of pizza to split. Technically, we did. This "slice" was about the size of a normal medium pizza- much more than we were expecting. Plus, we didn't just get plain. We got "ruccola" which basically means they take a salad- dressing and all- and dump it on top. I was surprised at how much balsamic dressing improves pizza. So now, we had each had a full meal, while intending to have a snack or appetizer.
We kept walking toward the market hall though. As we walked down the path by the river, looking across at the neat tidy houses in front of an almost too-good-to-be-true idyllic mountain backdrop, we understood why people would want to live here. I'm not sure one could ever tire of looking up at those majestic peaks that are visible everywhere in the city.
Innsbruck by the river

Innsbruck by the river


The market hall was open, but most of the individual stands were closed and covered sheets or tarps. One vegetable stand remained open for late evening shoppers, but the only other businesses not shuttered served prepared foods. We popped into a cute little food bar with a simple 3-choice menu written on a chalkboard. The waiter out front piqued our curiosity with his mention of veggie balls. They arrived on a bed of cabbage that was either caramelized or mixed with caramelized onions, yet was still a bit pickley and under a frothy veloute. The sauce and bed were so amazing that we didn't notice that much about the balls. This is a dish I need to figure out how to make at home. So far, it's the best thing I've eaten the whole trip.
Having wandered circles around old town and seemingly exhausted that entertainment, as well as any street food stands, we went to the mall to see if we could find ourselves some apple strudel for dessert.
As we entered, a DJ blasted pop music as about a dozen kids danced on a marked-off dance floor. I don't mean teenager kids. He was mostly playing to the under-6 crowd. I found it amusing to watch 3-year old children toddle-dance while the speakers screamed "it's Britney, bitch.
In the end, we didn't find our strudel, and walked back to the hotel without it.

Posted by spsadventures 12:45 Archived in Austria Tagged ice cave Comments (0)

Salty + Salzburg

Hallstatt, Austria

We awoke surprisingly early this morning, so we decided to adjust our plans. Today, we will go see Hallstatt and the salt mines there, then some of Salzburg, and catch a Mozart concert before heading back.
When we made these plans, google said it was a bit over 2 hours from Reit Im Winkl to Hallstatt. When we got into the car, the GPS said more, but we weren't worried, based on our earlier experience. We made a stop for an ATM and picked up some kind of pastry right across the street. We stopped for gas. And the time to get to Hallstatt had gone up by way more than what we had stopped for!
rainy drive

rainy drive


It was raining and the roads were wet and curvy, so I was driving somewhat slower. Also, we got stuck behind some slow vehicles that we couldn't pass for quite some time. Still, it seemed like a mighty long drive to Hallstatt. The scenery was nice, but the rain marred it too much for me to consider it a truly pleasant drive. As we got closer, we noticed that the GPS was taking us the long way around the lake, even though the town was right near us. The GPS had decided that the road was closed, even though all the signs pointed to town and parking. So, we ignored the GPS and avoided a long drive, arriving in town earlier than we expected.
Hallstatt view

Hallstatt view


We got tickets to the salt mines and headed up the walkway to them. It's an uphill hike to the entrance, and there were no non-hiking options as far as I could tell. The rain was still falling, but not heavily, so we bundled up and walked it.
The mines have their own free audio tour app (and wifi to download it) so we listened to the audio as we hiked up and passed the various "stations." The audio guide was interesting and explanatory, although each portion was much longer than the amount of time it took to walk from station to station. On a nice sunny day, I probably would have lingered at each station for the full duration of the audio guide, enjoying the amazing view. In the rain though, we skipped about a third of them. The app is on my phone, so I can go back and listen to them later. I really found the information on the archaeological finds there fascinating and want to hear the rest.
The top of the path is marked by a building that is the start of the guided mine tour. Everyone stows their bags and puts a special pajama-like suit over their clothes. They don't fit well on anyone, but are necessary.
Despite already having hiked up to the building, climbing stairs to get to a small museum display and the "gowning room," we still had more up to go. The tour guide introduced herself and then took us to more steps outside that we needed to climb to get into the mine itself.
mine entrance tunnel

mine entrance tunnel


We entered single file, walking down a long tunnel, tight enough that we needed to walk single file, and some taller folks had to duck a bit. Eventually, the tunnel widened out to a chamber where we could all stand and hear the tour guide. The tour guide was fun and not as dry and robotic as the castle tour guides yesterday. But most of the information about the mine came from a few videos and light shows that played at various stations. I also noticed audioguide numbers, although there wasn't really time to stop and listen, so again, I'll listen later.
We learned how the salt deposit was formed, how the precious salt shaped the lives of the locals for millennia, a bit more about what the archaeologists found here (including the oldest wooden staircase in all of Europe), extraction techniques, and the activities of the mine today. (It still employs miners and produces salt.)
Europe's oldest wooden staircase

Europe's oldest wooden staircase


The really fun part was sliding down the miners' slides though. These large wooden slides are how miners got from horizontal to horizontal (floor to floor) within the mine. I think the reason we wore the pajama suits was so that we could slide smoothly down these slides and not catch on anything. Riding them feels a bit like riding an amusement park ride, just without the safety harness. The second slide has a camera and speedometer to take your picture and tell you how fast you were going. While some people only reached 15 km per hour, we reached 34. That's faster than bike fast!
Miner slide

Miner slide


On the way out, we had to climb a bunch of stairs to make up for all the sliding we had done though. But there was also another amusement-park-style ride: a "miner's train." Again, there were no seatbelts, but this was much slower, more like a kiddie park ride.
The rain had stopped at some point while we were in the mine, and the sun was shining over the mountains and lake. We walked back down the mountain to where the audio tour started, this time stopping to see the "UNESCO world heritage viewpoint." In the rain, the scenery is impressive. In the sun, it's amazing! We admired the quaint little villages dotting the smooth lake, the thick green forests covering the mountains, and the snowy mountain tops.
view

view


Across the lake, I spotted a castle. Actually, many of the small towns that we drove through had their own castles of varying magnificence. I'm wondering if the reason that Neuschwanstein is so famous is just because Disney modeled Cinderella's castle based on it, or just because it's accessible to the public, or if there is something inherently special about that specific castle over all others. I would imagine that many of these other castles are probably just as opulent inside (although maybe I'm wrong).
castle view

castle view


We tried to eat at the restaurant to enjoy the view longer, but they had run out of about a third of the menu- pretty much all the good stuff- so instead we took the funicular down to the town and hunted for food there.

We found a map of the town and headed towards the ossuary I wanted to see, although really, there is one main street in town, so you can't get that lost anyway.

All of the residential buildings in town shared the same architectural style- wooden houses with decorative windows and balconies. Several had posted signs in German, English, and Chinese telling tourists to be quiet because people lived here. They started with "Hallstatt is no museum..." Except, it sort of is. The houses certainly belong in one. The old town square does. They're just lucky to live in a museum. Although I have no issues with tourists also recognizing that people live here and keeping the volume down.
Town square of tourists

Town square of tourists


The town was quite alive- with tourists roaming the streets. I didn't see too many people that didn't have their cameras out except shopkeepers. Tourists laughed as swans in the lake snapped up tossed bread pieces. Tourists strolled the streets. A lot of women were dressed as brides and getting what appeared to be their bridal photos done.
feeding the swans

feeding the swans


The town almost felt more like a movie set than a real place where people lived. The town square just added to that feeling. Small quaint restaurants lined the square. We stopped in one for lunch, getting the daily specials- goulash and curry rice.
I find it amusing that German/Austrian culture has really embraced curry and the British haven't. Curry rice, currywurst, curry sauce are all now "traditional" foods here, but the Brits are still making everything "traditional" without spices. They're like drug dealers- get everyone else hooked on your goods, but don't ever use them yourself.
Hallstatt

Hallstatt


After our meal, we continued on to the church. The graveyard is small but beautiful, with dense floral arrangements on each grave. According to what I watched before the trip, the people here pay rent for the grave sites, up to 10 years at a time. When the rent stops being paid, out you go. So, if you have somebody paying rent, they're sure to keep the grave nice and pretty.
Once evicted, some people's bones end up in the church ossuary. Somebody paints the person's name and some symbols on the skull, and it gets added to the collection.
painted skull

painted skull


On the way back to the car, we picked up dessert. From a food stand, we got some sort of pastry that tasted like a croissant stuffed with marshmallow fluff, and from the grocery store, a chocolate cherry ice cream pop. Both were absolutely delicious.
The drive to Salzburg was a nice and sunny drive, but as we neared, we needed to stop for directions. It is not possible to drive to the fortress, and also not possible to drive directly to the funicular that you have to take to the fortress. We parked nearby old city with the intention of getting directions from a tourist information center for how to get the funicular up to the fortress.
In the end, we ended up hiking uphill the whole way to the fortress instead. This isn't the first time I accidentally hiked a mountain, and I'm sure it won't be the last. And, even with all the uphill and stairs we've done in the past couple of days, I'm pretty sure it's still fewer stairs and less uphill than I did in San Marino. At the entrance, the ticket lady asked us if we knew that our concert tickets included the funicular ride. Yes, we knew, but we couldn't find the bottom funicular station and were given bad directions. She gave us a round-trip ticket for the funicular anyway.
Salzburg fortress

Salzburg fortress


We wandered the castle a bit, quickly realizing that we had a lot more time before the concert than we could spend in the fortress. We used half of our round trip ticket to descend, making note of where the bottom side of the funicular was. I do not want to get sweaty climbing this mountain again just before the concert.
view from the fortress

view from the fortress


In the city, we ducked inside a really neat cathedral. This one was covered in religious art, like any cathedral, but it was also very different. The artwork was outlined in such a way to almost seem like a cartoon or drawing. I loved the uniqueness of the style.
cartoon-style church

cartoon-style church


While a lot of the architecture and statues were intricate and interesting, I particularly loved one fountain near the church. Merhorses spouted water that filled the basin below. I suppose that it's just as reasonable to have merhorses as merpeople. Although now I want to see statues of mercats, merdogs, merrabbits, and other merpets.
Merhorse fountain

Merhorse fountain


For dinner, we stopped at what appeared to be a local burger chain. They had a very interesting "apple" barbecue sauce that tasted strongly of cinnamon and tasty food, but generally nothing super special.
The rain had restarted while we ate, so we took the fastest way back to the funicular and rode it back up to the fortress. The concert was on one of the higher floors, requiring more steps, as if I hadn't already done enough uphill over the past couple of days. When I saw a sign indicating that the bathroom was a floor lower than the concert, I made sure to use it before going up to the ticket area. I was not going to do more steps than I had to.
concert room

concert room


The concert space is somewhat intimate. It looked to be an old dining hall or ballroom that was converted into a concert space. The orchestra sat up on a small platform while the audience sat only a few feet away. I suppose that when there are more people, they add more audience chairs, but for tonight, there was some open space around the comfortably-spaced chairs.
The orchestra of 8 was half violins. The instrumentalists were all about 30-70 years old and each had their own style, making the concert somewhat visually interesting as well as auditorially. Some of the musicians were clearly concentrating on their music. Others looked like they were really enjoying themselves. One violinist was almost dancing with her violin. And the cellist looked like he was falling asleep whenever it wasn't his turn to play. The pianist came on for a couple songs and was playing really fast. I bet he could type at least 150 words per minute.
All in all, they seemed professional and like they had been playing for a long time, which I'm sure they had been. I enjoyed the music, and it was cool to hear Mozart performed in the city he wrote some of it in.
The sun went down during the first few Mozart songs, changing the concert backdrop. It also signaled to my brain that it was bedtime. Having hiked so much uphill during the day, my body was ready for sleep. The darkness outside and soft lamplight inside didn't help me stay awake. And while some of the music is a bit upbeat, most of it is what I would classify as "lullaby music." I didn't doze off at any point, although it took some effort.
Fortunately, I was able to doze a bit on the ride back since it wasn't my turn to drive. When I awoke, we were out of Salzburg and back on the country roads towards Reit im Winkl. The sky was pitch-black. In many places along the road, out headlights were the only break in the darkness.
This is actually why we had picked this location instead of staying more central to the activities and sights. This area is a dark sky zone. When planning the trip, I had figured that we'd stay here the 2 nights that they do dark sky tours. Even if it was a bit cloudy for one of them, surely it would be clearer on the other and we'd get to see tons of stars with our bare eyes.
Alas, it was not to be. Both nights had intermittent rain and plenty of cloud cover, preventing star gazing of any sort. We could only enjoy the darkness as there were no streetlights or industrial lights pointed upwards to reflect on the clouds.

Posted by spsadventures 12:11 Archived in Austria Tagged concert mine mozart Comments (0)

More castles- Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangu

Hohenschwangu, Germany

Part of the modern "going to bed" ritual is plugging in your phone for the night. But when we went looking, we found that we were one short. My hypothesis is that it is still at the rest stop. I gave it back after taking the pictures of him drooling over the meat, but he says he never got it back.
Good thing I have a reecipt from there. The front desk was able to help us locate their phone number, call them, and confirm that they had it and we could come pick it up.
So, instead of a leisurely morning loafing in the huge castle bed or even touring around the village, we were going to drive backwards to get the phone.
view from our room in the castle

view from our room in the castle


First though, we had breakfast. They were set up inside as it was brisk with a threat of rain outside, but we felt it was too pretty to not eat outside. We had a great view of the back of the castle as well as some of the nearby grounds. The breakfast foods were simple- eggs, bread, jam, cut veggies, cheese, and such, but it was presented elegantly and tasted delicious. We especially liked the juice and the jam.
At some point, it started to drizzle, probably hinting that eating outside wasn't as smart as we thought, but it was light enough not to bother us too much.
We didn't have time to stick around and linger anyway. As soon as we were done eating, we packed and left.
Even though our time at the castle was cut short, it was totally worth it.
My guy drove on the way back to pick up his phone. He marveled at how smart our rental car was. Apparently, the cruise control automatically slowed you down as you approached other cars.
Driving through the countryside

Driving through the countryside


We headed back to the rest stop and were able to claim the phone. They made us describe it before they even let him try to unlock it, and confirmed that it unlocked it before they would give it to us. Impressive security.
We then drove back exactly the way we came, passing the same hills, forests, and villages that we already passed twice. That didn't detract from their beauty at all.
More mountain driving

More mountain driving


It continued to drizzle lightly the whole way to the castles we were due to see today, but let up just about the time we spotted them up on their hills off in the distance.
First, we parked and went on to get our tickets. Even though we preordered them, we still had to show up at least an hour before our entry time to physically pick them up. The tickets confirmation said they'd be cancelled with no refund otherwise. Personally, I get wanting people there somewhat early so that they have time to get up to the castles, but demanding an hour seems a bit unreasonable. One thought is that they want you hanging around, buying things from the variety of souvenir shops and food vendors. But there's time for that anyway.
First view of Neuschwanstein Castle

First view of Neuschwanstein Castle


Instead, we drove back to a cute little town we passed through on the way here- Fussen.
Fussen

Fussen


Fussen has its own castle, albeit much less majestic, mostly because it's in town and not up on a hill. Nearby, we had spotted a cobblestone pedestrian old city area, which is what we wanted to check out. Many of the shops sell tourist souvenirs, but many also sell regular clothes and items that would be of interest to non-tourists. My favorite was a clothing store that had many more modern clothes, but also lederhosen. You know- just in case you need something for casual Friday at the office.
lederhosen for sale

lederhosen for sale


Meanwhile, my Guy was attracted like a magnet to every store selling any kind of beer paraphernalia, which seemed to be every third store. He also ogled the food in the various shop windows, planning where he wanted to come back to.
The old town was small and quaint, replete with traditional Bavarian architecture. I could imagine that the buildings may have been painted the exact same way for the past few hundred years.
Fussen

Fussen


I enjoyed strolling through it, feeling put back in time a bit. I saw a shop selling some sort of traditional pastry, which of course I had to try. It wasn't that great. It seemed like they took the extra pieces of cookie dough left over from using cookie cutters, threw it in a ball, and deep fried it, except that they forgot to put the sugar actually in the dough and put it on the outside to make up for it. Also, the dough was a bit dry, so it wasn't chewy or soft when fried, mostly just crispy. But not a sharp potato chip crispy, more of a stale bread crispy. I ate half of it anyway, but wouldn't order it again.
What I did enjoy was the lunch we ate at a deli in town. In addition to their cold cuts and uncooked meats, this deli had some delicious prepared foods. I had some super fluffy potato cheese patties that were just heavenly as well as some spaetzle with cabbage that had just the right amount of tang and bite to it.
After lunch, it was time to return to the castles. The tour starts at the Hohenschwangu castle. This one was built by the non-Hapsburg Austrian royals and used as a summer palace. We saw the floor used by the queen, and the separate floor used by the king. I guess in an era of political alliance marriages, one of the best ways to keep happy was for each to have their own space and household.
Both floors of the palace are amazing. All of the walls are covered in elaborate murals that would hold their own in any major museum, except they're painted on, so they're not easily transferable. The ceilings are decorated beautifully. The stained glass is extremely detailed, giving the impression more of a lighted painting than normal stained glass. It's unfortunate they don't allow pictures as the postcards in the gift shop don't really capture all the interesting bits inside the castle.
Outside Hohenschwangen Castle

Outside Hohenschwangen Castle


The tour guide shared information about the castle- Wagner played on this piano, the chandelier is made of pure silver, this bust is the queen at age whatever- but told very few stories. For example, she pointed out that one of the large murals is a scene from the story of the swan knight. But she never bothered to tell us the story or what it was even about. I can tell she does this many times per day and is super-efficient. But really, she could have been replaced by a recording for what we heard.
The one more storylike description she gave was that the servants had to duck through tight holes carrying wood for the fireplaces. She also could have expanded on the story of one of the presents.
Many of the rooms had some present the king was given featured on a table in the middle. He received sculptures and dishes, items of gold and silver, and they were all crafted with extreme effort. He also apparently received a loaf of bread from some Russians. And the original loaf of bread is still sitting there, under glass, waiting for us to come look at it. I want to know why the Russians thought bread was a gift for a king when everyone else was giving gold. I want to know why the king saved it instead of eating it, and how it isn't moldy.

The tour of that castle finished with enough time for us to hike over to the next castle- Neuschwanstein.
Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle


The tourist map said 40 mins, but again we took much less time. It is still quite an uphill hike though.
This castle was never really lived in. The prince who grew up using Hohenschwangu castle as his summer home became king and decided that he wanted to build his own castle nearby. The castle was never finished, but within a week after he moved in to part of it, he died. The internet had a lot of information about the suspiciousness of his death- the people were unhappy at financing the castle, it was ruled a suicide despite him not leaving a note, someone else died with him- but the guide seemed to be sticking to some script. He said it was a suicide under somewhat suspicious circumstances, and when some other tourists in the group kept asking, he really didn't elaborate much. Like the guide at the other castle, we would have been about just as well off with a recording.
Neuschwanstein courtyard

Neuschwanstein courtyard


The castle itself was just as impressive as the first though. The walls were again completely covered in paintings. Even though it's newer, the king had it designed in a medieval style with ornate detail. He even put a cave room inside the house because there was some story he liked that somehow involved a cave.
For me, one of the cool parts of the tour was the restoration. The castle is getting old, and apparently needs some repairs. The people who were touching up the paint were not hidden from our view. We actually got to watch as they dotted and touched up the walls. What a fun job!
View of Hohenschwangu from Neuschwanstein

View of Hohenschwangu from Neuschwanstein


By the time we finished our castle tour and made it down to the Museum of Kings, we only had about a half hour to browse before the museum closed. I didn't need the whole half hour. The museum contained a single large room of displays. Half of it showed some objects they used and the other half was a long family tree explaining who was in charge of the area when and who married who. It was interesting enough, but just not expansive.
In our half-panic about the phone this morning, I had forgotten to go over the information about our apartment for tonight. I knew there wasn't 24 hour reception, but until we connected to wifi at the grocery store, I didn't know how much time we had. Seeing that the car gps told us it was 3 hours away (although google had told us 2.5) and that check in ended in 3 hours 15 minutes, I started panicking a bit and called the hotel owner to make sure we would be ok. He told us that things here run on German time, but he could have them wait 5 minutes, if needed. I promised we'd be there and scrambled to finish picking up supplies and check out.
Alpine View

Alpine View


Fortunately, the car gps time was less accurate than google. As we drove, our estimated arrival time crept earlier and earlier, until we had over a half hour to spare. I wasn't driving particularly fast, but my guess is that since much of the way consisted of back country roads where it was easy to get stuck behind a tractor for miles and miles, just not getting caught and driving a normal speed was probably enough to make good time.
The apartment was very cute. They had turned the top floor of a ski lodge style building into a hotel room. It had small but sufficient kitchen with a little eating nook, wood cabinets, and a nice view of the village.
One view out of our apartment

One view out of our apartment


We settled in quickly and splayed our groceries out over the kitchen table. We had picked the most exciting basics we saw. Of course we had bread, but to go with it, we had found mango chili sunflower something-or-other. It ended up being almost like hummus with a sweet and spicy kick. We had picked up Limburger cheese. All I knew about it was that cartoons always showed it with stink lines. It was actually more mild than many of the strong blue cheeses we like, but the flavor really was like stinky feet. (Later in the trip, my guy asked me to close my eyes and try to guess if what I was smelling was cheese or his dirty socks. I declined that game.) We had picked up buratta, which went much better with the sun-dried tomatoes and salad. Overall, it was a tasty dinner and promised to be a tasty breakfast for tomorrow.

Posted by spsadventures 09:42 Archived in Germany Tagged castle alps Comments (0)

Pretty pretty princess

Isny im Allgau, Germany

I had fortunately read the reviews online for multiple car rental companies and so when we went to the counter, I was prepared. First, I made sure to get instructions on how to get a "vignette" for the car for Austria. Basically, you need a special sticker on the car to drive in Austria, and since we were renting in Switzerland, it only came with the sticker for Switzerland. (She suggested the gas station before the border.)
While I raised that point, she made sure to raise the point about damage. She showed me all of the places on the car that were scratched or dented and told us to check the car and come back if we saw something else.
In the poor garage lighting, we couldn't even find the ones she said were on the car, much less additional ones. I had heard that the Swiss were super-picky about rental car damage, and that was no joke. We looked at the car, but quickly realized we weren't going to be able to add anything, so we hopped in and were on our way.
As we drove past Winterthur and St. Gallen, I smiled, feeling as if I was in the middle of Ticket to Ride Switzerland. One day, I'll come back here and see the country by rail. For this trip though, we only flew into Zurich because it was cheaper than any other city close to where we wanted to be.

The sun set as we headed toward some snow-capped mountains, making them difficult to see. Still, I appreciated their presence.
Just before the Austrian border, we pulled off at a gas station. The thought was that we would pick up some food as well as the car sticker. We were successful at getting the sticker and I got some delicious cheese to go. My guy on the other hand, decided that he didn't want to pay almost $20 for a Buger King burger and fries. So, we got back on the road to look for another rest stop.
It was worth the wait. The next stop was the border again, this time Austria and Germany. (It was actually a very short drive through the corner of Austria, much of which seemed to be taken up by a long (~7km) tunnel. Here, the restaurant wasn't really open, but the deli/bakery counter was. I was actually ok, having noshed on the cheese I got at the last stop, but that didn't stop me from a cheese-covered pretzel anyway. And my guy practically drooled over the huge loaves of pork behind the glass. (Later he said they were just mediocre, but at the time, his face showed how excited he was to try them, and I made sure to get a great picture of that.)
We drove on, eventually leaving the highway for back roads that passed through adorable villages. I remember passing through villages like these between Vienna and Bratislava, and am really excited to be back to get a closer look than what I was able to see from the bus.
As we passed through numerous forests filled with super-tall, super straight trees, my Guy commented that Germans are so strict that even their trees grow straight. The forest just had a different feeling than where we usually hike because there wasn't a lot of underbrush or short trees or trees leaning, growing outwards, or near each other. There were neat clear spaces between trees that could be easily mistaken for telephone poles. Later, we'd see neat clean wood piles, both next to residences and on large trucks.
Castle/Schloss

Castle/Schloss


We arrived at Schloss Neutrachtberg- a castle- that is also where we are staying. It is not as large and grand as ShoenbrunnPalace, but it does bear a resemblance as a miniature version. Because we were arriving so late, the reception was closed. They had told me via ail how to access the key so we let ourselves in like we owned the place. It's a bit of a heady feeling to "live" in a castle, even for a night. However, the email didn't say what room we were in. And we didn't have a wifi password for me to connect and make calls. So we decided to just try all the rooms.
Our key didn't fit into a few doors, and quietly fit, but wouldn't turn in others. Fortunately, we were in the 5th room we tried, so we didn't have to try them all.
part of the room

part of the room


The room is gorgeous, and is decorated in what is either well-maintained antiques, or really good replicas. Either way, I certainly felt like a princess or honored guest. I'm really happy that we chose to splurge a bit on this.

Posted by spsadventures 09:26 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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