Castles, castles, castles…

… and I feel like a princess.

Neuschwanstein Castle. Balvrian Mountains, Germany. June 2015.
Neuschwanstein Castle. Balvrian Mountains, Germany. June 2015.

We went from our hard day out to a day of hard climbs and more Disney views—which basically means we shipped out of Munich on our last day in Germany to go explore the Bavarian Mountains and two of King Ludwig II’s castles, Neuschwanstein and Linderhof.

We took a ten and a half hour tour (who’s itinerary you can see here) in order to see more areas than we originally had planned if we’d stuck to our self planned, single day trip. However, this tour was bigger than all of our other excursions, which meant it was a lot less intimate and much more rigorously scheduled.

But here’s some background to the man and his castles:

King Ludwig is known as the fairytale king, but not because his kingdom was fairytale happy when he was in power, but because he was a king in love with fairy-stories. And because of this love, he basically went bankrupt trying to build the castles he imagined and designed.

Linderhof Castle, Germany. June 2015.

The first visit on the tour is to Linderhof Castle—a French rococo-style castle inspired by France’s Versailles, surrounded by immaculately manicured gardens. Because that is another thing that our boy Ludwig loved: French royalty, especially King Louis IX, a king with absolute power who ruled his kingdom the way Ludwig wanted but was never able to do.

There is really nothing much to say except that Ludwig was a Fanboy (major capital “F” here) to an extent all other fans wish they could be.

If you have been to Versailles, seeing the tiny palace of Linderhof will definitely have you feeling déjà vu.

The interior of the palace is basically a replica of France’s premier palace down to portraits of French royalty adorning the walls. In fact, there are very few spots where you can tell that this is Ludwig’s at all, mostly in the form of the family crest.

What makes this a fan’s dream for me, is that Ludwig was very detailed in his recreation but did not skimp on any modern convenience. My favorite was the table that could be lowered to and raised from the kitchens to quickly and efficiently get food to the king’s rooms.

The palace is surrounded by a great expanse of gardens that I would have loved to explore. However, do to the tours set up, you have no time to explore the grounds. Rather there is a swan pond you get to look at briefly on your walk to and from the palace and the fountains out front, but going up into any of the green spaces is impossible with your time limit.

While the tour is nice for travel convenience, this is one stop I wish we had had more time in and I would have visited by myself for longer, if not hindered by time limits.

Between castles, you get to stop in this tiny village, Oberammergau, for half an hour—this is not a stop for eating!—where you can wander, stretch, take a few pictures, and get an ice cream form on of the many shops. If you are on the tour, quickly head over—first stop—to the shop recommended; delicious, quality, light but large scoops for cheap.

This village is nice for a stroll as long as you eat and walk and keep an eye on your time, but what makes it fitting for this fairytale ride is painted across the town buildings: fairytale murals.

Still, this isn’t what the town is famous for: In the time of the black plague, the town prayed and made an oath that they would put on the Passion Play every 10 years if the town was spared from the sickness. The next performance is in 2020 and if you are planning to travel near that time: BEWARE! All rooms are booked way in advance—like years—and basically everything around it get crazy. However, this is something you may want to check out and, if you are interested, just do your research and no last minute planning.

The last stop is the main point of our day: Neuschwanstein Castle.

The bus gets into the town near the base of the climb at around 1:00 p.m and you have approximately four hours to explore the castle and the surrounding areas.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. June 2015.

This is the castle which inspired the animator’s and designers of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle, but, for me, it is more reminiscent of the Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast. If you decide to hike up the mountain—it’s a good hike up so be prepared with proper shoes— you will get some great shots as you climb. You can also take a horse buggy or a van up. The buggy, however, doesn’t take you the whole way so you still have a bit of a climb, and the van drops you off a bit above the castle entrance so you have to walk back down to it. Both of these options cost you a little bit as well, and, after sitting on the bus all day, the climb felt nice.

If you have time before or after your tour of the castle, there is another vantage point about fifteen minutes above the castle which is spectacular.

We climbed straight to this point, but I’m going to give you the warnings and descriptions we were not told to stop anyone who can’t make it, either because of the time and/or effort to get here.

The vantage point is beautiful, there is no doubt about it, but for anyone who is sketchy about heights, big warning. The vantage point is a bridge over a river and waterfalls which—because tourists are stupid—gets a little shaky. The walkway is made of wood planks which wobble except for the center one, but this isn’t the tricky part. The problem is that people do not walk far enough out, so getting on the bridge and off again is a fight through people who are either oblivious to you or freaked about the heights and bridge shaking, but determined to push and shove for a picture but without going far enough onto the bridge.

My sister is afraid of heights but she came out with us and according to her, if you stay on the center plank and get past the nasty crowd of people, the view is worth it. But, when I say getting that far on the bridge is a fight, please, don’t take it lightly! It was insane.

If you can’t do the bridge, there is a stop along the walk to this point that is a great picture vantage point, so if you only make it here, you will be a happy photographer.

If you look around the castle courtyard, this feels more Sleeping Beauty but, if you are a fan of castles (and Disney inspiring one’s at that), the 4 hours is an amazing chance to wander along with touring the inside. We were lucky enough to have the last tour time for our tour so we were able to really explore everything.

Basically, this was a long day out with a whole lot to do but it was a great tour. If you have multiple days to dedicate to these castles, going off by yourself to each location is worth looking into to explore everything to your liking.

But, that’s all for now as we through a little more Disney into our adventure, so until next time:

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Castles, castles, castles…

The Hard Days You Can’t Skip…

… on a World War II tour in Europe.

Dachau memorial. Munich, Germany. June 2015.
Dachau memorial. Munich, Germany. June 2015.

There are a lot of things that can start off a post like thi,s but I think I like the way my mother put it best:

“Today has been a tough but important stop on our WWII sites. At Normandy, we were in awe of the sacrifices made by so many to liberate others. Today has been about the other end of the spectrum, how so few could inflict such suffering and death on the many.”

Whenever I’ve told anyone about this trip, mainly the World War II theme, I mostly get a single reaction: why in the world would you want to go around Europe looking at all the sights where people were killed in mass?   Then there is a quick segue into how nice it must have been to spend time with my family or how crazy it is that we fit so much into this trip.

But, as with most things, most people don’t really want to linger on the harder subjects that we deliberately put on our agenda—yes, this trip covered topics rarely seen as part of polite conversation.

And then again, I’d argue, these are some of the most important parts of travel: going to places and seeing things that force you out of your comfort zone.

So while those first few days were tough, our day in Dachau was something else.

The problem with visiting sites like this is that you can never really express the feelings you get wandering around a place where so many died for no reason. So instead, here’s a few simple facts:

Dachau was the first major concentration camp built during World War II (March 1933) and it was one of the last to be liberated (April 1945). It housed men from 34 different countries over the 12 year span, beginning with political prisoners and then branching out to all other groups deemed undesirable. This was also the testing camp—the place where methods of containment and execution were tested before being implemented elsewhere.

We spent the whole day here between wandering the camp by ourselves and on the guided walking tour, and, if you really want to see everything, it’s a good idea to plan for a long day.

The tour was a really helpful way to see the camp. You move quickly through each location getting a lot of extra information. But when I say quickly, I mean, very. You won’t be able to see or read much while being led, which is why you’ll probably end up spending the whole day there retracing your way through the museums.

My favorite part of this was seeing one particular memorial art instillation. While this piece is great for looking at those who suffered here, what is interesting—and again, you’ll get a lot of this information in the tour—is those who were not represented; who also suffered and died but who, years later, were not deemed worth remembering. While some are debatable, I just find it interesting that we still go around passing judgement on who is owed what and why, while we know nothing about the individuals we judge.

See? This is why we travel.

We ended the day back wandering the Marienplatz and having a well-deserved shandy—a beer and lemonade mixed drink which tasted like neither part—at the Hofbräuhaus, which on a happier note, is well worth a stop.

I’m keeping things short, but this was an experience I had never had in my other adventures, but that I do recommend even when the experience is a hard one to take in.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

The Hard Days You Can’t Skip…

The music in Salzburg…

Is just about everywhere.

Beautiful lake outlook outside of  Mondsee. Mondsee, Austria. June 2015.
Beautiful lake outlook outside of Mondsee. Mondsee, Austria. June 2015.

In fact, one of the things that Salzburg is famous for is being the home of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and, as you wander the city, you are bound to run into his image as well as places he grew up. As one of the major draws, these locals get busy during travel season and they do charge admission.

Mozart, however, did not compose the melodies that dragged the Gallagher Girls to this great and historical city.

No, it was Rodgers and Hammerstein and the “Sound of Music,” the heroic tale of love, music, and trials based on the lives and goings on of the Family Trapp who resided here.

Salzburg is a beautiful city and, the truth of the matter is, you can’t wander through the city proper without running into an area that was glimpsed in the film, especially in the overview of the city and jump scenes during “Do-Re-Mi.” But we’ll hit more of that later.

While Salzburg proper houses many locations to peruse, to hit many of the main hubs, you really have to get out of the city—like hours outside. But fear not! Tours from many companies will take you to these scattered locations so there are plenty of options for you to shop around with.

We used the same company as we had the day before (Viator’s Super Saver) and, just like that tour, I could really recommend this one.

Slazburg Filming in Mirabell Gardens. Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg, Austria. June 2015.
Slazburg Filming in Mirabell Gardens. Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg, Austria. June 2015.

Where we didn’t hit as many sights as I had thought we would—this is a half day tour—we hit the big stops that we could, were highly entertained between stops (beware there are long periods spent on the coach!), and very educated on both the film, issues of adaptation, and the true history behind the Trapp’s story.

WARNING (this is one of the things we were told on the tour as well): there are a lot of people who are hung up on the idea that the events of this musical are facts, or at least, close enough to fact to accept them as life affirming truths. If you think I’m exaggerating, the tour guide explained that he has been told on multiple accounts that he had “ruined” people’s lives by talking about these changes, so again, be warned.

If you realized that the story changed (after all, this is Hollywood and based on an extravagant musical—neither of these forms take accuracy over flash and story potential, nor should they necessarily!). But alas, to the tour.

There are three major stops on this tour as well as an optional quick stop after the drop off if you are so inclined, and going back by yourself is an option I wish we’d had time to consider.

Our first stop—in the rain, obviously, was the backyard of the von Trap house where many scenes were shot, but, most famously, the capsized boat scene and, just down the road, the children playing in trees. This stop is actually not at the house—buses and the like aren’t allowed in, however, you can apparently walk or bike in and take a look around—but across the water from it. This gives you a great look at this famous spot and is great for photos if only show how beautiful it is, if not for cinematic reasons.

Trapp's back garden. Salzburg, Austria. June 2015.
Trapp’s back garden. Salzburg, Austria. June 2015.

But now onto some Hollywood trickery: this house is the backyard and river front of the house, however, that’s all it is. A different house is used for the actual house front and back (you can imagine how many scenes had to be done over and over in multiple locations!) because they couldn’t get permissions in time to use any of the actual house. But you’d never know watching the film, would you? Oh, the magic of Hollywood!

After this stop, you clamber back on the bus to head out to Schloss Hellbrunn which was built as the summer day palace of Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. We had visited this site earlier in the trip and, Sound of Music fan or not, it’s a spot you can’t miss and will have to stop back at.

The major draw of this sight is the water gardens. You see, the archbishop was a tricky fellow with a very interesting sense of humor. He’d have high class friends come over for food or events in all their finery and the turn up the taps in these trick fountains. This is really notable in the chairs set up around the outdoor table all of which (except the Dukes, of course) have water capabilities which shoot out the middle of the chairs seat. And, remember, you couldn’t stand if the Duke wasn’t standing, so you can imagine that party…

All in all, take a tour of the gardens when you go back without the tour, but stay alert and be prepared to get a little bit wet!

But the reason we mention this stop on the “Sound of Music” Tour is this is the current location of the official gazebo replica featured in both “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and “Something Good.” The fact is, you can’t see the original—it’s gone—so this is a great substitute. Unfortunately, after an incident with a woman in her 80s trying to recreate “sixteen”’s more challenging dance steps which ended in injury, you can no longer go inside the gazebo, but seeing the size of it is worth it for a fan of the film.

One other extra, if you take the bus to the end of the line away from Salzburg from this point, you’ll be able to take a cable car up to Untersbergbahn which is the mountain that Maria claims to have grown up on and, therefore, where she could never get lost. The views are great (when it’s clear!) from the top and, if it’s a little gloomy, the views from the cable car will help rectify that loss. This isn’t the mountain where the scene is filmed—you can apparently take private tours to that location and run around singing, however—but another bit of Hollywood magic happens here which isn’t hard to track: Maria really couldn’t have heard the bells and run from the mountain tops to the abbey in Salzburg in the course of the song—in my judgement, that would have been almost a day’s trek, but, for cinematic and tonal reasons, this all make sense.

Monsee filming locations. Monsee, Austria. June 2015.
Monsee filming locations. Monsee, Austria. June 2015.

The last major stop is to Saint Michael’s church where Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer “married” in the film. This, however, is not the real location of the Abbey or where Maria and the Captain were wed. Once again, the Hollywood crew was not given permission for those locations, so the movie simply made do. The strange thing about this location was the sense of size. To me, the church and the central aisle felt so much smaller than it appeared in the movie which was disorienting. Still, this is a lovely location and you can take pictures inside of the church at least when service is not ongoing.

Once you are dropped off, you have the option of going across the street with the tour guide to Mirabell Gardens where much of “Do-Re-Mi” sequence was filmed from the ivy archway to dwarf statue to the stairs where the song finishes. But beyond the park, there are many view and filming spots to be accounted for just wandering the city, but to give you a better idea of what to look for here is a list of locations.

If you love the Sound of Music and want to learn more of its history and stories around the adaptation process, this is a great tour. But one last warning, you will have this soundtrack stuck in your head for days to come, so make sure you can live with that!

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

The music in Salzburg…

It’s on to Salzburg

and we just keep flying through.

View from lower part of Eagle's Nest. Eagle's Nest, Germany.  June 2015.
View from lower part of Eagle’s Nest. Eagle’s Nest, Germany. June 2015.

While this trip both felt and really reads quickly as a whorlwind adventure, I will admit I’m glossing over some of our longer travel and slightly more restful days. Our first day reaching Salzburg was one of them.

We spent the day wandering the town, hitting some of the local sights from the famous fortress to the many horse statues to the shop and water spectacle-clad side streets.

Gherkins by Erwin Wurm. Salzburg, Austria. June 2015.
Gherkins by Erwin Wurm. Salzburg, Austria. June 2015.

This really is a great city and well worth a day to wander. Alas, I’ll cover some more of these sights next week when I talk about the hills and music—if you can’t guess where this is going, you’ll just have to tune in next week!

In your wanderings, don’t forget to take a selfie with whichever Gherkin most looks like you (this is an art exhibition by Erwin Wurm)

But moving on to another active day on the road.

Salzburg is an Austrian city closely bordering on Germany which means it is the hub for many tours between the two countries and, as our travels centered around World War II (another hint for next week!), this was one of the many reasons we stopped here.

Our big tour for this destination went through Salzburg Super Saver, which, throughout the course of one day, let us visit Eagle’s Nest, the Durrnberg Salt Mines, and the Bavarian Mountains.

Eagle’s nest

If you don’t know what Eagle’s Nest is, here’s a little back ground. This was one of Hitler’s bunkers which he apparently did not visit often as the man was afraid of heights. It’s located on the peak of a mountain, meaning that, on a clear day, you feel like you can see the whole world.

But since this was a Gallagher girl adventure on a mountain, we got rain and fog. Still, this was a cool but very quick stop on our tour and, since it was first thing, there was no time for the gloom to burn off.

Since this is a major attraction, the bunker gets busy and everything is highly scheduled whether you are on your own or in a tour. You have to schedule leaving on the bus down the mountain before you head up into the bunker but they tell you you’ll need no more than two to two and a half hours. For us, the tour stop was quick but much easier than doing it on your own.

However, be aware when you are scheduling this tour: There is one tour which says you’ll go to the Eagle’s Nest and another says you’ll get a great view OF Eagle’s Nest—Huge difference. We met a couple who got confused by this so it’s very easy to do. You have been warned!

Slat mines:

This was a fabulous stop and there are a lot of different tours which will let you explore these once-working salt mines.

With lots of history, tools to look at, interactive areas, and slides and trains to get you down to the various levels, this was easily one of the highlights of the trip. We were shocked we didn’t have to stop my mother from licking the walls!

You are outfitted with a jumpsuit as you enter the main building and these women are magic—they never seem to get sizing wrong! It can get cold down in the mines but be careful of layers that night bunch up as you don’t want to spend your tour trying to readjust your outfit at every turn. There are also lockers in the main building to store your personal belongings—just don’t forget to get your money back from the locker once you are finished!

A warning must be issued: when you are given your jumpsuit and you are on a tour, don’t mess around! If you miss the train you are supposed to be on and end up on the next one, you will miss your bus and, therefore, miss out on some of the exploring you are paying for! Not to mention, you are wasting everyone’s time which ends with you being the people everyone glares at on the bus.

One other warning: Be ready to get up close and personal with strangers. This is mainly for the train ride in where you are in a single file train car, sitting by straddling a cushioned pole, sandwiched between your fellow adventurers. It’s a quick trip, so it’s really not much of a struggle and well worth it.

Bavarian Mountains:

Well worth the short hike. Bavarian Mountains, Germany. June 2015.
Well worth the short hike. Bavarian Mountains, Germany. June 2015.

This whole areas is breathtaking.

You are surrounded but mountains on all sides and faced with a huge serene lake which reflects the sun in an indescribable way—the whole view is really indescribable.

To get to where you can really appreciate this, however, you have to make it through the long row of tourist traps—ie. shops and stalls full of overpriced wares.

You can stay down by the lake’s edge and get a great view, but I highly recommend a short walk through the greenery to the left; at a mild walk, this will take about 15 minutes (you’ll pass a trail up to a building but keep going) where you’ll see some steps down to a quiet lookout point. We spent half an hour out there in the quiet and only a few people came by so it really is a great place to take a break and relax.

There are other tours to the mountains which give you other perks, such as a two hour trip on boat to middle of lake where they apparently blow a horn and let you hear the echoes from all the surrounding mountains (this could easily be something I do the next time around).

I love the tour my mother picked and I highly recommend it but, again, there are many to choose from so shopping around is a great option. This tour gave the perfect amount of time for us to explore, relax, and enjoy every minute. The tour guide was great, entertaining and helpful. So, if you haven’t guessed, this is another tour I would definitely recommend if you are anywhere in this region.

Next week, we’ll talk a little more about Salzburg and hill and music, but until then,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

It’s on to Salzburg