The Neuschwanstein castle had been tempting me for a while. So, when the time came to take a break and get out to somewhere far, there was no need for much deliberation about where to head. Down south we went!
An early morning ICE (Inter-City Express) took us from Hannover to Munich in about five hours. The first destination would be Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Eibsee. I would be returning to the place I loved best from my 2017 Europe tour! This time, with a bit more of adrenaline rush thanks to the Zugspitze Cable car, which apart from holding three records in the world of cable cars, gives us one of the most magnificent views of the mountains and the surrounding landscape. Its hard to decide which direction to look! On one side you have the Eibsee showing off its hues of blue, shrinking smaller and smaller as the cable car takes you higher to the grand mountain peak. On the other hand, you watch on as you ease into the clouds of the Alps, down below, the valleys blanketed by lush green coniferous tree tops. I had to remind myself to close my mouth which was agape throughout!
Zugspitze is a much loved destination for tourists in Germany. Displaying the typical matter-of-factness of everything German, Zugspitze tells you that, it is the highest point (Spitze) in Germany where a Zug (train) can get to. Crisp, isn’t it? I have grown to find it cute even.
Atop Zugspitze, amidst clouds tourists from across the world enjoy their experience of the German Alps. The Eibsee is now a tiny circle, still enticing you with her Prussian blue.
The rest of the evening belonged to Eibsee. Words fail to illustrate the visual that awaits one at this gem of a lake at the foot of Zugspitze. For that matter, even a photograph cannot do complete justice to the landscape. Here is my humble attempt to describe it.
Think of a peacock, in all its splendour, blessed with ultimate grace and splashed in varying tones of blue and green. Now imagine that the concept of peacock becomes a panorama, stretched out every which way in front of your eyes. You have arrived at the Eibsee.
The greenery of the woods that line up forming a fort around the lake, the deep blue sky over her, and the gurgling waters present a feast to both the eyes and the ears. You can almost feel a dignity emanating from the mountains behind, standing strong and invincible.
You can walk around the lake as much as you want, but it won’t be long before you give in to the invitation of the cold, crystal clear water. A refreshing dip later, I felt a tad bit more intimate with the lake. As I sat perched on one of the rocks, soaking in the warmth of the evening sun and drying myself in the most natural way, it was one more sense surrendering to the ambience of Eibsee.
The gorgeous Neuschwanstein Castle
One thing I couldn’t help but notice about this trip was how each day was better than or as great as the previous. Each new place we visited stole a tiny bit of our hearts. In its own way. With Eibsee and Zugspitze, it was all nature herself. Soon, we would find ourselves awestruck in front of the beautiful castle, built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
I had been checking the online ticket centre of the Neuschwanstein castle since the day it was decided that we’d come here. But it always showed that no tickets were available for the dates we wanted. The ticket center told us that the queue built quickly for on-arrival tickets, and that these exhausted before 10 in the morning. So, it was with an uncertain heart that we approached the ticket counter, at 9.48 am, arriving from Schongau, where we had camped for the night. The bus from Schongau to Schwangau (apart by two hours despite the similarity of names) runs through some quaint villages with light green meadows on bumpy hills and pretty houses dotting them. This journey was something of its own! We didn’t realize it then, but we were on a stretch of the Romantische Straße, or the Romantic Road, a 413 km long route which is known to be ‘quintessentially German’ and considered a tourist attraction by itself. We did continuously catch sign boards with the name of the road every once in a while, but we were so immersed in the view out of the window, that we didn’t pay much attention to what the signs might be trying to say!
The two hour bus journey left us craving for more. But what lay in store for us would soon make us forget the Romantische Straße. We got an overview while we were still in the bus.
Who doesn’t like fairy tale castles! Out here, in front of us was none other than the real life inspiration for Disney’s fairy tale castles. Balanced upon a tiny hill amidst others, as if built elsewhere and placed carefully by hand, the castle tantalises with its view as soon as you are near Schwangau. But wait, the castle is not the only thing near here.
Half expecting to return for non-availability of tickets, we arrived at the counter, to hear the staff explain to us that the tickets are available ‘only’ for the afternoon. We jumped at the choice, thankful for at least getting a ticket for the day. So we had three hours before we set off to climb the hill to the castle. We walked around to the Hohenschwangau Castle.
Bavarian mountains or Bavarian lakes? I would pick the latter any day. Turquoise blue with a tinge of greenery from the coniferous trees surrounding them, the view they present soothes and affects your eyes in a way that for a long time afterwards the colours remain at the back of your eyelids, blending into each other like on an artist’s palette. Right next to the Schwangau castles awaits Alpsee. A lake which seems to be sitting there quietly, eager to surprise tourists who come for the castles.
Walk to Pindarplatz viewing point for a very generous scenery. You could also catch some swimmers jumping off nearby cliffs into the clear waters.
Whats a visit to Bavaria without a typical meal from the region? I have lived in Germany for more than a year now, but I never got around to having the Sauerkraut, despite recommendation from several friends. In Schwangau, before going uphill to the Neuschwanstein, I had a full fledged German lunch : “Schweinbratwürstel dazu Sauerkraut und hausgemachtes Cremepüree” (Sausages with Sauerkraut and mashed potatoes).
It was time to start walking towards the Neuschwanstein castle, that which had primarily attracted us to Bavaria in the first place. A twenty five minute walk uphill, and we are outside the grand entrance to the castle. The guided tour of the insides of the castle lasts only thirty minutes. But in so little a time, you get a full picture of the luxurious life King Ludwig II led within the castle that he built as a tribute to his favorite music composer, Richard Wagner. The curtains and upholstery were all in, guess which shade, turquoise blue! I realise how much of that trip was in turquoise blue, but man, what a perfect colour to have your days dipped in!
If the insides of the castle do not impress you, no problem. I can take you to the ideal spot to have your heart stolen : Marienbrücke. If you have to wait a bit for your turn to get on the bridge, listen to me, do it gladly! As you step on the bridge and walk on, a spectacular view begins to unfold in front of you.
After gazing at this fairy tale castle to heart’s fill, we went down to take a dip in the Alpsee. The hot weather called for it. Minutes into entering the lake, it began to rain! Have I told you how much I love to be inside water when it rains? Watching the raindrops hit the surface, jump up, and return to the little circular boundary of wavelets, from up close, I could stay in there forever.
We spent the third day exploring the city of Munich. A rainy day awaited outside. But at first, we indulged in a simple, delicious breakfast where I discovered the wonderful combination of bread, butter and honey. I would urge you to try it out, carve a hole inside your bread roll, coat the insides of the crate thus created with a layer of butter. Pour in honey as lavishly as you can, close the opening and simply bite into it.
The Alte Pinakothek museum in Munich is home to some of the originals from maestros like Da Vinci and Raffaello, I also ended up getting acquainted to some other European artists from various era. Sundays are One Euro days in the museum, meaning the entry ticket costs only 1 Euro! Coupled with brilliant audio guides, we delved into the museum and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. With two hours in hand, it would be impossible to look at all the work displayed. Thankfully I had done some research prior to the visit and identified ten must-see paintings housed here. We directed ourselves through the museum pausing and listening to the audio guide for these top paintings, which included a self portrait of German painter Albrecht Dürer, and a gorgeous portrait of Marquise de Pompadour.
But what stayed in my heart were the works of Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. When most of the art were centred around Christianity and the Bible, or portraits of influential persons of various times, Murillo chose to depict the life of the common man, turning to the streets for inspiration. This was a refreshing change. His portrayal of poverty will touch you for several reasons. His choice of scenes is noteworthy. For instance, beggar boys engaged in a game of dice, their faces devoid of any signs of grief that would arise from destitution, although they are clad in rags and are barefoot with grey soot on their soles. The people in these paintings are full of life, expressive of their joys and pains, even their eyes carrying a cue to their current state of mind, much unlike the solemn beings in scenes pulled out of religion. If I could do one thing differently, it would be to spend a larger fraction of time in the room dedicated to Murillo in Alte Pinakothek as compared to others.
Munich is one of the liveliest cities in Germany. A rainy Sunday did not stop us from enjoying it. We walked along Marienplatz, as we waited for 17.00 to strike, when the Glockenspiel would come alive with music and a puppet show of some of the brave stories from Bavaria.
I watched as a crowd began to gather below the clock. With a sea of heads upturned under it, the clock broke into a musical chime and little figurines appeared, to enact the victory of Bavarian Knights in Blue and White against the Lothringen. Wait for the enemy to be thrown off his horse by the mighty Bavarian soldier, and the crowd erupts into cheers and applause as if the historical event was actually occurring then and there. Soon, in the second row, puppets of joyous men and women twirling to celebrate come to entertain you.
Content and refreshed from three days spent in the lap of Bavaria, we took the ICE back to Hannover.
If you come to Germany, don’t leave without seeing Bavaria. It is a lot more than just the Oktoberfest, the Bier, the football and the freaky Deutsche that you can’t follow. It is also, pristine lakes exposing their bottoms, picturesque countryside of unending greenery, a whole little treasure trove of experiences for you to indulge in, for a good break from daily life.
Now, it is a couple of weeks later. Yet the turquoise blue and the tinge of green still lingers in certain corners of my mind.