Now, I have no huge interest in the castles of poor mad King Ludwig II, but I thought…can we really be this close (30 minutes from Linderhof, an hour from the other two major ones) and not see any of them? I mean, didn’t almost everyone who knew we were coming this way ask, “Oh, are you going to see the castles?”
So today was the day. The journey to see all three of them plus Oberammergau in a single day is beyond the capabilities of public transportation, so I began the day at the local Avis being nicely but firmly informed that I was very lucky they had a car in stock for me, and witnessing the most careful, thorough pre-rental vehicle inspection I’ve ever witnessed in the five countries in which I’ve rented.
But as has been the case in all of those countries, I drove away realizing that once again, I hadn’t bothered to glance at the “road signs” section of the guidebook.
So this was the route. Doubled, because once we got down to Neuschwanstein, we had to return the same way. There’s another route between that area and Garmisch, but it requires you to go through Austria. Germany doesn’t require an IDP (International Driving Permit – easy to get at AAA, but I didn’t bother this time), but Austria does…so I had to stay away from Austria lest there be an International Incident.
First stop, barely 30 minutes from Garmisch, was the Ettal Monastery – an enormous Benedictine structure that now houses a boys’ high school. Our first taste of some hard core Bavarian Baroque.
I particularly liked the images on the penitents’ sides of the confessionals, clearly meant to provoke thought and scrape consciences. Now that I think about it…I wonder if there were also images in the confessors’ sections….
Makes you think…..
The mist was rapidly thickening.
Not far from Ettal, we took the turn to Linderhof, which was Ludwig’s favorite castle and the one in which he spent the most time. We took a tour, which was an excellent decision – the lovely older German guide shifted easily between German and English – plus we all had folders with details about the rooms written in our own language. No photos inside, of course, but Ludwig’s obsession with the Bourbons comes through loud and clear in this (very) mini-Versailles. No portraits of Ludwig or his family, but every room, in addition to crazy layers of gilted woodwork, thick, luxurious 3-d embroidery and porcelain..everything…featured portraits of Bourbons or images of Versailles.
If we’d gone in the summer, we’d have seen the place in serious action, with fountains going and so on, but this is November, so….
….to Oberammergau, where…we hardly spent any time aside from lunch. It was fairly dead. Yes, there were shops open, but most weren’t and neither the Passion Play museum nor one of the major woodcarving exhibits were open, and the one shop we went into had such crazy prices (30 E for a little owl I have no doubt took about 15 minutes to carve), I lost interest.
This was outside one of the shops, evoking, I imagine, the days when Oberammergau folk crossed Europe, selling their town’s work.
So it was on to Wieskirche.
Plopped out in the middle of nowhere, and by the time we arrived, enshrouded in fog – to the extent that we didn’t even see it until we’d walked right up to it – it’s a pilgrimage church built around a statue of the scourged Christ that purportedly wept tears. Another stunning example of Bavarian Baroque.
By that time it was three, and the mist/fog was obviously heavy. Should we even bother with the other castles? I was torn, the rest of the crew was good either way, so I thought, well, what else do we have to do? So we ventured forth.
By the time we arrived, the last tour tickets had been sold, but we decided to hike up the hill anyway just to see what we could see.
You know? It was worth it. No, it wasn’t that perfect Neuschwanstein image we all know and which supposedly inspired Walt Disney, but there was something about it, anyway. There was something about the rather strenuous hike up the hill which we took while everyone else – mostly Asian tourists – were streaming down. And there was something about seeing what little we could make out – we could stll comprehend its massiveness, perched up there on the mountain, and having heard all about the sad, delusional king earlier in the day, we could connect some more dots and ponder once again the selfish folly that we humans are subject to..no matter who we are…building castles in the air…..why?