FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Like father, like son

Posted in Germany, Schwangau by folkestonejack on June 4, 2015

A blisteringly hot day saw us make a return to Hohenschwangau to visit the older of the two castles and take a look around the Museum of the Bavarian Kings, but first we enjoyed a walk to the edge of the alpsee and the marvellous views up to the mountains.

It’s not hard to see why this spot so entranced Crown Prince Maximillian when he first came across it aged 18, prompting him to rebuild Schwanstein castle between 1833 and 1837 (better known as Hohenschwangau Castle today). How striking that both father and son decided to rebuild romantic castles at a similar age.

Hohenschwangau Castle

Hohenschwangau Castle

The similarities between father and son clearly don’t end there. I had imagined Hohenschwangau Castle to be a simple family home, but how wrong I was! On our tour of the castle it soon became clear that Maximillian had as much of a creative vision as his son, with wonderful rooms such as the Hall of the Swan Knight, the Hall of the Heroes and Tasso Room which feature murals painted directly onto the walls and an assortment of neo-gothic elements. The romantic vision is married with a domestic comfort that I didn’t see in Ludwig’s palaces, but there is no doubting where Ludwig’s imagination had been incubated!

The grounds surrounding the castle hold some lovely touches too, including a fountain supported by four water spiting lions, a swan fountain and a replica of the famous Gooseherd fountain (a peasant holding a water spouting goose under each arm).

The nearby Museum of the Bavarian Kings is also well worth a visit, putting the Wittlesbach line into some perspective and treating us to the wonderful Nibelungen centrepiece (commissioned by Crown Prince Maximillian in 1842 to celebrate his nuptuals), the robes of Ludwig II and the 326 piece Royal Bavarian Service created to celebrate the golden wedding of Ludwig III and Marie Therese in 1918.

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Monument to monarchy

Posted in Germany, Schwangau by folkestonejack on June 3, 2015

After waiting for over 30 years to visit Neuschwanstein I wondered whether the reality would live up to my childhood expectations, particularly as so many reviewers on Tripadvisor had commented that they wished they had viewed it from outside and not bothered to go in.

The classic shot of Neuschwanstein Castle from the Marienbrücke

The classic shot of Neuschwanstein Castle from the Marienbrücke

The start of our visit did not begin well – a walk up the gently curving road to the castle might look delightful on the maps but the reality was anything but. The route is plyed by horse and carriage all day long, so by late afternoon on a hot day the streams of urine and other deposits presented quite a challenge. Huge swarms of flies had gathered and the only way up was through them, holding your hand over your mouth to avoid any possibility of swallowing one. Lovely!

Once we reached the castle and joined our tour all my earlier doubts melted away. The palace is incredibly spectacular and quite unlike anything I have seen anywhere else. To my mind is it the most extraordinary of all Ludwig’s palaces. No wonder it sees 1.5 million visitors a year and has already exceeded 60 million visitors over its lifetime (it reached this milestone in 2013).

A view of Neuschwanstein  Castle from the Forggensee

A view of Neuschwanstein Castle from the Forggensee

It is easy to forget that Ludwig began to develop the concept for Neuschwanstein Castle in 1868, at the age of 22, envisaging nothing less than a monument to absolute monarchy. It is a quite remarkable vision that gives us a throne room fit for a Byzantine palace and presents us with Ludwig’s vision of true kingship in the depiction of six holy kings in the abse (including Edward the Confessor). The Singers’ Hall is equally stunning with its depiction of the saga of the Arthurian knight Percival and his quest for the Holy Grail.

However, for me it was the King’s personal chambers that struck me as the most wonderful, with delightful touches such as a small grotto accessed off Ludwig’s study or the quite marvellous neo-gothic state bed which has more spires than your average cathedral! Your eyes hardly know where to alight next as even the smallest details in the rooms are incredible, such as a washstand with water drawn up through a silver plated swan…

A tour of Neuschwanstein might only last thirty minutes, but it is quite an incredible thirty minutes and well worth any hassles along the way. It is a pity that Ludwig did not get to complete his vision – amongst the unfinished projects were the Moorish Hall, the bathing hall with its viewing terrace and the centrepiece of a keep and castle chapel. In a similar vein, many interior fittings were never finished including the king’s throne. Nevertheless, what we have today in the fifteen or so finished rooms is quite extraordinary.

Practicalities

The closest railway station to Neuschwanstein is located at Füssen and it is easy to get reach the castles from here using local buses.

The old rustic station building from the nineteenth century was demolished in 2012 and is currently nothing more than a deep hole, meaning that all passengers arriving at the station have to skirt round the fenced off construction site to get to the bus terminal.

Bus numbers 73 and 78 are the most likely options for the short ride to Hohenschwangau for the castles. Bayern tickets are valid on the buses. If you are staying in Füssen, like us, you may find that your hotel offers free local transport for your stay through the ‘Füssen card‘ which you just tap on the reader when you enter the bus.

The ticket centre at Hohenschwangau had a hefty queue when we arrived and limited time-slots available for tours. I can well believe that in the height of summer there can be days where no tickets are available at all. It is much better to book in advance through their website – not only do you stand a much better chance of getting the time slot you want but you can also use the much shorter queue for people picking up reserved tickets.

Tickets can only be purchased on the day of use and there are a variety of combinations available. The 14 day pass from the Bavarian Palaces department includes Neuschwanstein so we only needed to pay the reservation fee (you should indicate on the reservation form that you will have this pass).

You can reach the castle on foot, by horse and carriage, or by bus. We opted for the 40 minute uphill walk and arrived in good time for our slot (a digital display indicates when visitors with each tour number should scan their tickets to enter the ‘cattle-pen’ before being led into the building by a tour guide).

Tours take around 35 minutes and you don’t always get the chance to stop in each room so you need to be quite alert to take in everything around you as you pass through. Our tour guide told us that every group from the start to the end of the day was of the maximum size, so they really are operating at full capacity.

If you wish to visit Marienbrücke, the bridge over the Pollat Gorge that Ludwig constructed to offer the best view of the castle, this is a further 15 minutes walk up from the castle terrace (if you take the bus up to the castle it will drop you off close by). It can become incredibly packed, particularly after a new busload of visitors has been disgorged. A notice posted nearby indicated that the bridge will be closed for renovations this year (since we visited the closure dates have been revised to 3 August 2015 until mid November 2015).

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