Normally when things are great they are really great and when they are rotten they are really rotten and there isn’t a lot of in between. In my experience, great times and bad times don’t come together. Last weekend’s adventure defied this idea completely. Here’s the story, see what you think:
Recently, my mom was here visiting from America. We set out on a girls weekend, just me, my mom and my Little Mouse. This would be my first adventure in Germany as tour guide, driver, navigator, interpreter and mom. I was a bit nervous because we have an SUV and the parking garages in Germany are notoriously very tight, but I told myself to be brave and we set out toward southern Bavaria to do a little castle hunting.
The world famous Neuschwanstein and its smaller mate Hohenschwangau were our destinations. Our plan was to see Hohenschwangau, the childhood home of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, in the afternoon on the first day and to see Neuschwanstein, the fantasy castle he built for himself, the next morning. This would give us plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery and the food.
Luck was with us as we set out. Sunny skies and warm temperatures were predicted for the weekend and for some reason there was no traffic to speak of. We practically flew down the A7 and when I say flew I mean –without a speed limit we were able to enjoy the open road at 200 km per hour or so (124 mph)–Really a dream come true for an American girl with countless speeding tickets under her belt.
About 2 hours into the 3 hour drive–call it bad luck or rookie parenting– I realized that I had forgotten the baby carrier. Castle hunting is not a stroller friendly activity and Neuschwanstein stands on a pretty hefty hill. (It takes about 40 minutes to walk to the top.) The entire point of our weekend was to see these two castles and they are both filled with steps. I spent the last hour of our drive kicking myself and wondering what we were going to do. To buy a new baby carrier would set us back at least 100 Euros and that was definitely not in the budget.
We arrived in record time and found a parking spot nearby. Having ordered our tickets to the first castle on-line a few days ahead, we booked an English speaking tour at 2pm and didn’t have to wait in much of a line. People were friendly and everywhere had highchairs, places for diaper changes, and nursing. With plenty of time we sat down to a nice lunch at a restaurant nearby. It was fun to use my German and introduce my mom to the food of the Allgäu region.
The walk up to Castle Hohenschwangau was interesting to say the least. It started with a nice curving rise, easy with the stroller, but then we found ourselves staring up at 50 or so steps. Our stroller is not heavy, thank goodness, so we got down to the business of carrying it. Little Mouse thought this was great fun and laughed the whole way up. This lightened our efforts a bit and lots of people asked if they could help. We paused when necessary but all in all it wasn’t the worst. Once at the top we realized there was an easier way –of course there was— so at least the way down was smooth sailing with no steps. We carried Little Mouse through the castle on the tour and thanked our lucky stars that while she was wiggly, she didn’t really make a fuss.
Castle Hohenschwangau (Ho-en-shwan-gao)
In my opinion, this castle is wholly underrated. It is totally original. Every item inside is an item that was actually displayed or used by the royal family. It was built or at least remodeled in the Romantic Period (around 1830) and is ornately decorated with paintings that depict medieval times and stories. It is fancy but small because originally it was a vacation home for the king and queen. There is a cozy feeling, and because of the ornate stories painted on the walls you feel like you are inside a story book- but this was real life for them. King Ludwig updated his room when he stayed there as an adult. Get this–he had small holes cut into the ceiling and had his staff put lamps above the holes on the next floor. The room is painted like a forest in midnight blue and in the evenings when the lamps were lit, the could lay in his bed pretending to look at the stars. He even installed a moon that was able to change phases. Surprisingly, none of the art work has needed to be restored thanks to a specific type of protective paint that the artist used. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition across the valley from Neuschwanstein. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos so you’ll have to visit for yourself to see what I mean.
After touring the castle, we walked down through the woods and then were able to sit out at a cafe in the sunshine by the lake. We didn’t even need jackets. There was a breeze and it felt heavenly. I could’ve stayed for hours but Little Mouse has a limited interest in sitting in her stroller enjoying the breeze, so we headed to Füssen, a town a few kilometers away where are hotel was located.
First things first, as we arrived at our hotel, we drove into the underground parking. As I had suspected, it was really tight. So I was careful, but I kept moving. Eventually I found a row of three spots with only one car in it. This car had decided to straddle two spots, and I couldn’t blame him since it was so tight. I was able to straddle part of his and the other spot, giving us both extra space. We didn’t have to give our license plate numbers at check-in so they had no way of knowing which annoying guest took this parking liberty.
All of this would’ve seemed like a fantastic stroke of luck if minutes before I had not managed to wrap the passenger’s side of the car around a cement corner. It was an absolute nightmare. I had been nervous as I attempted the turn but I trusted that the space was big enough. Then came a terrible scraping, a curse word from me and a scared cry from Little Mouse. Literally between a rock and a hard place, I couldn’t back up and I couldn’t move forward. Finally, scraping all the way, I was able to inch forward and go down the ramp. After putting the car in park I lamented that I my nightmare had come true and talk about ruining our trip budget…
After regaining my composure, we were able to walk from our hotel to the pedestrian zone and enjoy a dinner sitting outside at a restaurant featuring local Bavarian fare.
I highly recommend Tafelspitz, a thin, tender cut of beef with a creamy horse radish sauce. In the south always order Wheat Beer or Russ’n (a wheat beer with lemonade). We had an ice cream cone to top it off at a local gelateria and then headed back to the hotel. If only I hadn’t smashed up our car in the parking garage, the evening would’ve have been perfect.
The fun of traveling with a baby is that they don’t always adjust well to sleeping in a strange place. Back at the hotel after dinner Little Mouse had no interest in going to bed and basically wiggled around, crawled around and played around until 10 pm when she literally ran out of energy and passed out. Then she gave us a 4:30am wake up call. It’s fair to say that no one got very much sleep and I was beginning to wish we could go back and start the weekend over again or better yet–just stay home.
After a quick breakfast we asked if the hotel had an experienced employee who was willing to get my car out of the parking garage. They were used to people crashing into the walls it seemed. A very friendly man appeared and was able to drive the car out like a champ. Well– not really like a champ. He drove it better than I did but after watching him I came to the conclusion that our car was not made for this garage. He said he had been practicing for five years and that he had crashed his own car in the beginning. Somehow knowing that seemed to help.
We arrived early to stand in line for tickets at Neuschwanstein. Their ticketing system is really not very good for such a famous landmark. Expect lines and get there early or purchase online at least two days or three days ahead of time.
Pushing the stroller up the hill to Neuschwanstein gave me a back ache that lasted more than a few days. But they had somewhere we could stash the stroller and before our tour we were able to construct a baby carrier out of our scarves. Creativity grows from adversity, right?
Castle Neuschwanstein (noi-shwann-shtine)
It’s truly like a fairy tale being retold every morning. The day starts with a totally white sky. You can see some trees in the vicinity and then slowly, the castle appears out of the mist, looking like it’s floating on a cloud. In a few minutes the majesty is fully revealed and the sun is shining. This is not an exaggeration. I have been to the area four times and each time it started off misty and foggy until, as if a cinematographer planned it, the castle emerged. Enough cannot be said about the beauty and the lush detail of this castle. There are post cards that you can buy in the shops depicting the rooms inside the castle but they do not come even close to doing justice to the actual color or grandeur. Crazy or not, King Ludwig II of Bavaria was visionary and his work speaks for itself. He may have done nothing much for the kingdom at the time, but now nearly 200 years later it is safe to say that he has been more influential than any other ruler. I highly recommend seeing it in person as they don’t let you take pictures inside the castle.
After the castle tour we had lunch at a restaurant half way down the mountain. The weather was so nice that we were able to eat outside again.
We then headed back down the mountain to sit out and enjoy the sunshine for the second day in a row. We admired the mountains reflecting on the lake while drinking a coffee before heading home. We didn’t run into any traffic on the way back and we were home in time for dinner. We seemed to have gotten our luck back and then I remembered that I left my favorite earrings in the hotel bathroom.
So to tally up, I had a busted car, a sore back, a sleepless night, a crabby baby, a long drive, and lost earrings. This was a recipe for statements like, “I am never doing this again.” How could I come out of this and say it was a great weekend?? But it was a great weekend–because we also had no traffic, no speed limit, sunny weather, a nice hotel, time together, magical sights and great food. You see, it was the best of times and the worst of times.
After I forgot the baby carrier and around the time that I smashed the car I really just wanted to drive home and start over again. It’s difficult sometimes to accept the fact that we can’t re-set the clock. We only have this day one time and even though every day is a new day we will never actually get a chance to do this day over again and do it better. Maybe its parenthood or maybe its nearing 40, whatever it is, time is flying and I’m trying to soak up every minute.
The point of telling this story to display just how very mixed the highs and lows of life are. We can aim to be more perfect the next time but that doesn’t help us salvage our time right now. It seems we need to be able to recognize and enjoy the good even in the midst of the bad. We need to be able to basque in the sunshine when it appears and appreciate the beauty around us even when there is ugliness too. I think this takes practice. I’m hoping life doesn’t give me too many opportunities for this kind of practice, but you never know.