Friday, August 31, 2018

Rainy Days & Fridays

FRIDAY, 8/31:

I'm thinking that after just one day we've gotten our money's worth out of our new rain jackets.

Greetings once again from Fussen,where it did nothing but rain again today. And I'm not talking a gentle little mist or the delicate pitter-patter of a few drops here & there. Nope: I'm talking full on downpour almost from the moment we woke up until the time I type this a whole bunch of hours later. In fact, the German national Weather Service says over two and a half inches of rain has fallen. And it's still only 5 pm right now, so who knows what the total will be before the day is through. Before we came over, we both bought some high-tech rain jackets from Getz's for the hike we have planned for Sunday, a hike that will take us up a gorge with a big waterfall in it. Little did we know that they would actually come in handy for several straight days before we actually planned on using them.

Oh well. At least the rain is supposed to end, with any luck, some time tomorrow. So if you have an “in” with Mother Nature, can you put in a good word for us? Thanks in advance.

I'm actually writing this a whole lot earlier than usual, and it won't contain all of our day's activities. Why, you ask? Well, I answer, because of this--

That's right—we're getting dressed up & going to the theater tonight, to see a musical based on the life of the slightly uncommon King Ludwig II. Sure, the show's all in German, and sure, we'll have no idea what's going on, but we're going out to see some thee-ah-tur with a thousand of our closest friends. And Loraine's already folded the tickets exactly the instructions said, so with any luck, they'll actually let us in.

Come back tomorrow to find out if they did.

Our big task for today was the tour of Ludwig's castle masterpiece, Neuschwanstein. This is the world famous castle, the fairy tale castle, the one that was the inspiration for the Cinderella castle at Disney, the one with all the hype. And I have to admit something—it didn't disappoint. You're not allowed to take pictures in there, but I'm sure if you Google “Neuschwanstein” and then find interior pictures you can see for yourself what I'm talking about.

The most magical part of the day, though, occurred even before the tour began. There's a pedestrian bridge across a gorge near the castle, and if you walk the hill up to it and then onto the bridge, you're supposed to see the castle in all of its glory. Well, between the rain & the fog, when we got there this is what we saw--

It was a disappointment, not only to us but to the other dozen or so other couples & families who had walked up there to see the castle. As we were standing there, wondering if there was anything else to see, I started listening to the dozen other couples & families, all speaking different languages. You could hear German, French, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, and a bunch I didn't even recognize, but all probably saying some variant of what we were saying.


Then, if by magic, the wind picked up & started blowing the fog away. Soon, you could see this--

And then this--

And then, finally, as if Ludwig himself had decreed it, you saw this--

And those dozen different couples & families, all of whom had been speaking a dozen different languages just seconds before, all of a sudden found they had at least one word in common--

“Eeeee”, shouted in delight and almost in unison as the castle finally pulled back its curtain of fog.

Even an overly sarcastic smart aleck like me had to admit it was kind of a cool moment.

Since the fog had lifted momentarily, we tried to recreate one of Loraine's favorite pictures of her favorite king, this one--

We came up with this--

which I know isn't an exact copy but I didn't have the original as reference. I'll do better next time. I promise.

The other thing we had hoped to do today was climb up a hill right outside of Fussen called the Kalvarienberg (Calvary Hill), which is supposed to have a great view of the town. But with a rainy & slippery climb like this ahead of us--

we decided that being responsible adults was the prudent thing to do, and gave up. After all, we have theater tickets tonight, and would much rather be there than in an emergency room in Fussen.

That's about all I have time to write today. You'll get full details on the theatrical experience tomorrow, along with the story of King Ludwig's very mysterious death. Oh—and you'll find out if it ever stopped raining, too.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

They Don't Call Him "The Swan King" For Nothing


I think before today I've only seen a swan two or three times in my life. That total was easily tripled today.

Hello today from Fussen, a German town at the foot of the Alps that's home to two of King Ludwig's big castles and, as it turns out, a tradition whenever Loraine and I come here. You see, whenever Loraine and I come here it turns rainy and cold. It doesn't matter how warm it was the day before, but whenever Loraine & I come here it turns rainy & cold. I have no idea how the tradition started, nor do I have any idea why it keeps going, but the residents of Fussen can thank us for breaking their summer-long hot spell.

No, that's okay. It's the least we could do for you.

I hope you've read the blog I wrote before we came over about the slightly off-center but now highly beloved King Ludwig II of Bavaria. If you haven't yet, may I suggest you do so, so that we're all on the same page?

Go ahead; click here & check it out. I'll wait.

(this is just me waiting)

Okay, we now all on the same page about the slightly out-of-the-ordinary King Ludwig? Well, today we visited one of his childhood homes, where he spent summers before he became slightly out-of-the-ordinary, Hohenschwangau--

This might be the one major castle associated with Ludwig that he himself didn't build. It was his father's project. He took the ruins of an older fort and built his family's summer home there, where he did kingly things and the rest of the family hiked in the mountains and fed the swans. When he died, Ludwig inherited the place, and actually lived in it before starting to build his dream home, Neuschwanstein, a castle we'll be visiting tomorrow, made world-famous as the model for Cinderella's castle at various Disney theme parks across the planet.

In fact, it was so close to Hohenschwangau that you can see it wherever you look--

Heck, you can even see it from our hotel, and that's six or seven miles way--

Enough about that castle; after all, that's one of our main projects for tomorrow. Like his slightly whistling-to-his-own-tune son Ludwig, King Max II--

Who's the dude pictured with the mustache (that's a teenage Ludwig on the left), sometimes whistled to his own tune, as well. For instance, Max liked swans. Max really REALLY liked swans, and when he built Hohenschwangau he put them everywhere. One room of the castle? Painted with swan murals. All over the castle grounds? Swan fountains--

Don't believe me? Here's another one--

Max, in fact, passed his love of the birds on to Ludwig, who then combined his father's love of swans and his love of the Wagner opera “Lohengrin” (which has, if I remember correctly, a giant killer swan leading Bavarian soldiers to victory in battle, a tale I'm surprised Hollywood hasn't milked every single possible cent out of) to become known as, among other things, “The Swan King”.

Besides the painted swans, the sculpted swans, and the swans vomiting water out of their mouths, there were also real-life swans on the lake across the road from the castle--

I'm sure they were put there for the benefit of tourists. At least it seems that way based on the hordes of people feeding and photographing the beasts. And yes, I guess I have to count myself among the hordes; after all, I did take that picture of the swans to show you. But how many other people, I wonder, would also take a picture of a swan's butt?

This is probably just me. In fact, I KNOW it's just me. But when I first saw the picture back at the hotel tonight, the first thing that popped into my head was that the swan on the left was looking at the other swan and thinking to itself, “Hey—nice...”

You're right. It is just me.

After a very informative visit to the Museum of the Bavarian Kings (where Loraine was able to get quite the King Ludwig fix), our other task of the day involved driving up a long and winding road to the ruins of an old castle, a location on which Ludwig had hoped to build a dream castle that would allow him to get away from his other castles.

In fact, it's these ruins you see off in the distance, on top of the mountain--

This is a slightly better view of Falkenstein, Germany's highest castle at almost a mile in elevation. So high, in fact, that it was above some of today's clouds--

But I guess I can kind of understand why Ludwig would want to build a castle at that location, especially with views like this--

Of course, he ran out of money and was mysteriously killed before all that could happen. That, however, is a story for another day (Saturday, in fact). So details then.

I realize this is starting to ramble a bit, so I'll wrap it up for now, but not before I leave you with today's animal picture. We did see lots of creatures...cows, horses, sheep, and, obviously, swans. But aside from the swans, the only other picture I was able to take was this--

That's a slug bigger that a tree leaf. You don't see that every day. Or at least I don't see that every day.

Tomorrow, like I said, it's another castle. And we're also doing something we've never done before, at least in Europe. In fact here's a tease, a picture of a girl and her (faux) king--

The who, what, where, and why tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Von Der Schuhe (And A Few Eternal Mysteries)


One of the most glorious things in life is taking your shoes off after wearing them for 36 straight hours.

Greetings from Munich, Germany, where we have finally decided to call it a night after one full day spent stuck in airports and airplanes (sadly, though, not traipsing around Chicago as a thunderstorm there caused us to sit at Sawyer for four hours before we could leave Marquette Tuesday) and another full day traipsing around in 80 degree heat trying to find everything we could here about Loraine's pal, the slightly uncommon King Ludwig II. It's funny; when we started planning this trip I had much trepidation about driving around in this city. I've watched our old friend Tony the Tour Guide try it with sometimes limited success, and he went to college here and actually knows the place. However, GPS is a wonderful thing, and driving here was no problem. What did surprise me were the problems we had trying to find things on foot around in Munich. Sure, the streets go every which way and change names every few blocks, and sure, we hadn't slept since 5am yesterday morning, but I sure would've thought we wouldn't have had as much trouble as we did today. However, we crossed just about everything off the list Loraine had for today, and that was a LOT of stuff.

And that was a good thing.

What did we look for? Well, places where the slightly off-center Ludwig lived when he reigned over Bavaria, as well as all the weird little things, like a statue of him on the side of the “new” Munich city hall--

His head stuck on a pole in a park--

And his head again, this time on a piece of chocolate--

Believe it or not, that wasn't the strangest piece of chocolate we saw all day. More on that in a bit.

Munich is Germany's third largest city, and sometimes it feels like it, especially when you're in the Marienplatz, which is basically Munich's town square. There are people—mostly tourists—everywhere, and sometimes it can get to be just a bit much. But then that's also the cool thing about a city like Munich. If you can get away from the tourist-y areas and have a chance to see how the people who live here spend their time, you get to come across sights like this--

A park in the middle of a roundabout called Gartner Platz, which is where the local college students hang out on a warm summer night. Believe it or not, this was just a few blocks away from the roar of the Marienplatz, but because you have to cross a busy street to get there, no one ever does.

Trust me—cross the street next time you're in a place like Munich. You could really like what you might find!

What else did we see today? Well, since it IS Munich, a beer garden--

A fountain with a fish on it, a fountain where members of the Butcher's Guild would get dunked in a public ceremony (the Festival of the Metzgersprung) before they actually became journeymen butchers--

Why they dunked butchers in a fish fountain and not, say, a cow fountain is something about which I'm curious. It just seems logical. Butchers should get dunked on a cow fountain, and not a fish fountain. And speaking of cows, since we're in Bavaria and expect to see cows everywhere, but because we're also in Munich and really didn't really expect to see them, this picture from the side of a bus--

Don't worry. I may have pictures of real cows beginning tomorrow.

Okay, now the story of the weirdest flavor of chocolate in the world. When we were in Germany for a few days on our jaunt last year we came across a Lindt store in Heidelberg. They had a chocolate flavor there that was so out there, so counter-intuitive, that Loraine and I just kind of laughed when we saw it. But then as we were about to walk out the door we tried a sample of it, and wished we could've brought some home with us.

Well, guess what was part of our dinner tonight?

Don't laugh. Don't even think about it. I know that no one in their right mind would think of putting dark chocolate and pink grapefruit together, but you know what? It's an amazing flavor combination. There are even little chunks of pink grapefruit in the bar that just beings the whole thing over the top. So if you're ever in Germany and ever see one of those bars, pick it up and try it.

Hopefully you'll be amazed too.

(And if you're REALLY serious about your chocolate? Skip trying the Cadbury Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Oreo bars they're selling in England. They were as underwhelming as the Lindt bar was amazing. Just too many things going on at once.)

Tomorrow, unfortunately we won't be out playing in the 80 degree sunshine, of only because it's supposed to be a dozen degrees colder and about 100% more rainy. But that's okay—we have a castle to go to.

Details then!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

2018--Bavaria, Here We Come!

So—was “mad” King Ludwig actually mad, or just a little misunderstood? That's why we're going to Germany this year.

To find out.

Welcome to another season of Jim & Loraine trip blogs, as we're heading to Bavaria for a crash course in the “hows” & “whys” of King Ludwig II, a reluctant king who'd much rather be left alone with his music, his swans, and his castles. He died under mysterious circumstances, but not before leaving behind the foundations of what became the Bavarian tourism industry. For 12 days we'll be visiting the places he lived and the places where he sought to escape humanity, aided by Loraine's voluminous research on his life and times. Add in the usual—stops for chocolate and a bunch of off-beat sights—and it should be an action-packed two weeks (minus a few days).

The entire trip this time will be in a relatively compact area based in and around Munich; I think the longest drive we have planned is less than two hours. We'll pretty much be making a big circle, starting in the Bavarian capital--

A city where Ludwig was supposed to spend most of his time. However, he really preferred being away from the trappings of power, which means we'll be visiting places where you get to see things like this pretty much every time you drive around a corner--

We'll be staying in places like Fussen--

Our old stomping grounds of Berchtesgaden--

And on the shores of Lake Chiemsee, as well--

All as we explore the life and times of the misunderstood ruler. Loraine became interested in him back a few trips ago, when we discovered that he was kind of like a 19th century Brian Wilson, someone with a few emotional issues but someone with an immense talent and wealth of imagination. As I mentioned before, the castles he left behind—castles over which he was tossed off the throne and (probably) murdered—are now the most visited tourist sites in Bavaria, bringing in hundreds of millions of Euros of revenue each year. Yet because he didn't follow accepted societal norms and protocol—he didn't act like everyone else thought he should--he was ostracized for decades following his death. It's only been in the last half century or so that his reign and lifestyle has been accepted, and now you can find statues and plaques dedicated to him all over the region.

And we'll try to visit most of them.

We also have a couple of unique adventures we're planning. While in Fussen we'll be going to a musical based on Ludwig's life, which is put on there every summer. Sure, we won't understand a word of what's being said on stage (it is, after all, in German, which neither of us speaks), but everyone says it's an amazing show. That, of course, is assuming we fold our tickets correctly and we're allowed in the theater. If you haven't heard THAT story yet, just click HERE.

A few days after that we're also going to try something quintessentially German—we're going hiking. We're actually going on a day-long hike to what was one of Ludwig's hunting lodges, just outside Garmish-Partenkirchen. We'll basically go through a gorge, up one of these mountains--

And then hike for several hours to see what there is to see. We even bought special rain jackets, just in case, but Germany has been (for the most part) very hot & very dry this summer, so with any luck, we won't need them. Of course, when we went over with our parents three years ago Germany had a very hot & very dry summer, and that, of course, was why it was 45 degrees and raining the day we visited Garmish.

But hopefully not this time. Keep your fingers crossed.

That's a VERY brief overview of what we'll be doing. Each day's trip reports will, of course, provide full details on what kind of fun, informative, and/or weird things we get ourselves into. And who knows—maybe we'll make some new friends this time around. You know, kinda like the friends we made last time we were in the area--

It all starts Tuesday, August 28th with the flight over. The first blog should be posted the next day. We hope you'll join us for what we hope should be an amazing and unique adventure!