Eschen, Liechtenstein

Eschen, Liechtenstein

We left early this morning (8/2/13), in order to have time to drop down into Liechtenstein and still make it to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein early enough to get a tour. We opted not to go to the capital of Lichtenstein, but rather to just cross over enough to say we’d been there (country 22!) We arrived in Eschen and stopped at a gas station to ask where we could find some souvenirs.

Both gas station attendants recommended the capital. Alas. Mom pressed a bit more to see if there was any place we could get something that said Lichtenstein just to prove we’d been there, and he recommended the Post Office. The Post Office happened to be right across from the church, so we stopped in to pick up a bit of information and a pocket rosary. Then, we headed over to the post office. The gas station attendant was right about it being a good place to stop. While we still didn’t find anything with Liechtenstein obviously displayed on it, the man behind the counter gave mom two Eschen carabiner key chains (normally 2 Francs each) and two Eschen pins (normally 1.50 Francs). But, she had asked him how much and he’d said free—Maybe they don’t get a lot of tourist traffic in Eschen. It’s a shame, as it’s a cute little town.

Gifts from the Eschen Post Office

Gifts from the Eschen Post Office

From Liechtenstein, we headed to Schwangau, found our gorgeous apartment for the evening, then set off for the castles. We procured our tickets, after a 35 minute wait. We chose to get a combination ticket that grants us visits to a number of different castles all over Germany and is good for 2 weeks (though we’ll only be here for one.) This combination ticket costs 40 Euros and covers two adults’ entrances to 62 different locations (including Neuschwanstein.) (“Children” under 18 are free.) Since entrances to most museums and castles are 10 Euros or more, this is an excellent deal. It does not, however, cover Hohenschwangau, which is privately owned by the family (Not like Neuschwanstein, which opened as a museum a mere 7 weeks after the prince’s death, having been sold to the Bavarian Government to pay off his debts—With around 3,000 tourists a day in the summer, I think they’ve more than recovered their money.

Hohenschwangau

Hohenschwangau

Tickets in hand, we began the steep climb up to Hohenschwangau. We had planned to walk to this castle because it was closer and a less challenging climb, then hike back down and take a bus to Neuschwanstein. The hike wasn’t bad—a zigzagging ramp until you hit the stairs. The thing you have to watch with each tour is that you cannot be late. The tickets get scanned without human intervention, so if you are not there to scan your ticket when the number of your tour comes up, you are out of luck—and out of about 11 Euros: No refunds or exchanges. Knowing this, we made sure we were there in plenty of time, so we had ample time to stroll around the garden and fill up our water bottles from the fountains. The well up the mountain supplies the water for the castle—cold and wonderful.

"Water fountain"

“Water fountain”

Once again, we were in a “camera free” zone, and like everyone on our tour, I decided to honor that. Hohenschwangau is King Ludwig’s boyhood home. It was originally built in the 12th century, but had been ruined by Napoleon. Ludwig’s dad Maximilian II rebuilt it in 1830, and it has remained with the Wittelsbach family ever since. Construction took only four years, but this castle is beautiful without being ostentatious. The furniture is all original from the palace and the 1830’s. It even contains a piano where Wagner composed some of his music (He and Ludwig were apparently good friends.) In addition to seeing the reception room with the most amazing guest book of visitors (I’d like to read some of the names in there—Martin Luther is said to have taken refuge here when he was hiding from authorities, but in that case, maybe he wouldn’t have signed the book…), we also see the queen’s quarters, the king’s quarters, and a guest room for Wagner (everyone had their own rooms here.) There were a few things that stood out to me here. First of all, there is a huge painting of a battle scene in one of the rooms. What is unique about this scene is that there is not a trace of blood, despite the brutal weapons and obvious conflict.
Knights at Hohenschwangau

Knights at Hohenschwangau

It is a romanticized view of the world. The king’s quarters, however, were the most interesting to me. First, he had a wall painting with several naked women in it which the tour guide informed me was the Liberation of the Turks. Whatever you call it, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be okay with it if it were my husband. Let me clarify—there are a number of houses we’ve seen with nude paintings, but they are throughout the house. In Hohenschwangau, the other paintings have almost all the people entirely clothed—mom said she saw one other naked person—I saw none…Then, suddenly there’s a painting with 6 naked women, and in the king’s bedroom? It makes me question. You can be the judge by checking out the painting (“secret” doors are right of the table) and other items in the castle at: http://www.google.de/imgres?q=painting+in+Maximilian%27s+bedroom+at+hohenschwangau&start=173&sa=X&biw=1269&bih=512&tbm=isch&tbnid=-PxgMv42OrddTM:&imgrefurl=http://webspace.webring.com/people/kg/germany2u/hohenschwangau.html&docid=xYPeDb9OQx7m3M&itg=1&imgurl=http://webspace.webring.com/people/kg/germany2u/kingsroom.jpg&w=374&h=205&ei=wln9UcvQGoOC4gSxjIC4Cg&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=864&vpy=47&dur=3764&hovh=164&hovw=299&tx=199&ty=106&page=9&tbnh=134&tbnw=242&ndsp=20&ved=1t:429,r:91,s:100,i:277 The king also had the night sky painted into the ceilings and little crystals installed that would let light through, so he had the illusion of sleeping under the stars. The other interesting fact is that the wall painting (of the “Turks”) contains two “secret” (entirely visible) doors. The right one leads to the bathroom, while the left one leads to the queen’s bedroom, since they lived on separate floors.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

While in the castle, we also heard a bit about the story of Ludwig’s life. His story is tragic to say the least. His father died suddenly when he was 18, making him the new ruler. He had been engaged to his cousin—an arranged marriage for political reasons, but he broke off the engagement just weeks before the wedding, and never asked anyone else. Interestingly enough, he had his own castle, Neuschwanstein, designed by a theater set designer. Having worked with some pretty amazing set designers, both in high school and college, I can understand why he chose an artist first and then an architect to design his home. Unfortunately, it seems he was more interested in hunting and fishing than politics, so the nobles were upset with him. We also learned there is a great mystery surrounding King Ludwig’s death. Historians have questioned whether his drowning was suicide, murder, or accidental. His death should have allowed his brother the throne, but his brother was declared mentally ill, though it sounds like he had PTSD as a result of the war. Thus, the throne went to another relative.

Neuschwanstein

Nueschwanstein

When we finished our tour, we had a little over an hour to make it to Neuschwanstein. For those unfamiliar with the castle, it is the one the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disney Land/World is modeled after. The castle also has historical significance. During WWII, the Nazis used the castle as one of their secret hiding places for stolen art. After the war, it took authorities a year to sort through all the pieces and determine where they came from. Just the art stored at this castle was enough to fill 49 rail cars! Incredible!

View from Mary's Bridge

View from Mary’s Bridge

To get to Neuschwanstein, we first had to walk back down the hill (this time on a ramp through the woods.) Then, we waited for the bus (Super packed). We got to the top with twenty-five minutes to spare, so we walked up to Mary’s Bridge where you can see the gorge on one side and a lovely view of Neuschwanstein on the other. Finishing that, we walked down the road to the castle. This was a lot farther than we intended, and we had to really hustle up the last steep incline and stairs to get there, so we arrived out of breath, but with two minutes to spare.

Going in, we were immediately greeted with an immense spiral staircase—the kind that are about three feet wide and circle around a center pole. After walking for at least 100 steps, we arrived to be greeted by the tour guide who informed us we had 63 more steps to get to the first floor (we were seeing four!) Alas, our poor legs were dying! Neuschwanstein is definitely not for the weak! We started with the servant’s quarters, then went up (many more stairs) to Ludwig’s rooms. We entered his throne room (sans throne as he died before it could be finished, so they canceled the order.) One neat feature of this room was the two ton chandelier. Made in the form of a crown, this 4,000 plus pound beauty is an amazing sight to see. This castle is obviously a reflection of the dreams of Ludwig, for it has such lavish grandeur it is almost overwhelming.

Imagine climbing this much and more--the whole thing won't fit in the frame!

Imagine climbing this much and more–the whole thing won’t fit in the frame!

Here, we heard more of his story. What we had not heard at Hohenschwangau is that Ludwig had also been declared mentally ill. The declaration was signed by a doctor who was forced to do so without examining Ludwig. Apparently, the nobles didn’t like Ludwig spending so much money or time at Neuschwanstein, so they had an easy way to get him off the throne if they could declare him unfit to rule. The fact that he was a bit eccentric—stayed up all night, slept during the day, was reclusive—coupled with the fact that mental illness ran in the family (a result of too many cousins marrying, in all likelihood), made it easy for the community to believe. An interesting fact we hadn’t heard at Hohenschwangau is that Ludwig went for a walk in the woods with the doctor who had declared him mentally ill two days after he was informed of the decision. Neither man came back. Both bodies were found drowned in the lake. Definitely adds more intrigue to the question of whether his death was murder, suicide, or accidental.

Farewell to the castles

Farewell to the castles

We concluded our tour in an elaborate room designed by Ludwig to host concerts (which it still does on various occasions.) But, the room was only finished three days before Ludwig died, so he never got to enjoy it. One incredible feature in this room is the painting on the back wall by the set designer who designed Neuschwanstein. This glorious outdoor scene makes it obvious why Ludwig chose him. The only complaint I have about the tour was how rushed we were. Thirty minutes really is too short to see such incredible beauty. But, apparently Ludwig’s time here was also rushed. He only spent 172 days here before his death. (I just realized he was my age when he died. Interesting connection.)

Our apartment

Our apartment

So, we climbed back down the million steps (what it felt like) to the kitchens and headed out. We had followed Rick Steve’s suggestions to take the bus up and the horse drawn carriage down. We ended up in a carriage with a family from Israel, a couple from Russia, and a couple with a French husband and a Chinese wife who are living in the United Arab Emirates. It definitely is a global place. Finally, still exhausted from the stairs, we grabbed an incredible dinner at a hotel by the castle (which had the best Caesar salad with turkey (that tasted like grilled chicken) and homemade croutons), and called it a night. Who knows what we’ll find to see tomorrow (provided we can still walk after all those stairs!)

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