Settle in for a long post! We covered a lot of ground in our two days exploring Bavaria. The highlights include Lindau, Neuschwanstein, accidental Austria and a quick brewery stop in Ettal.
As I mentioned in our last post, I didn’t want to know anything about the trip. I had not yet looked at a map, I didn’t know where in Germany we were, other than the fact that I’d seen many signs for Munich and guessed (incorrectly) that we were south east of Munich by several hours.
The plans for our first full day in Germany took us to Lindau, and a magical medieval port for a boat cruise on the Bodensee. More beautiful than I could ever have dreamed. I was completely blown away that cities like this even still exist, it felt as though we had stepped on to a movie set.
While I was thrilled with this adventure that my in-laws and Seth so kindly planned. I quickly realized my second flaw in the “not planning for the trip”. I had done absolutely no mental prep for the trip whatsoever and was reminded, quite quickly, that at least a bit language prep is really vital. I had assumed that the rest of the family would do all of the talking for me. It was a silly assumption, one that really goes against my personal set of travel “skills”. The main point being “Don’t act like a rude American.”, and was more exaggerated based on an unrealistic view of my travel companion. There is not one person who knows Seth and me that would expect Seth to do the majority of the talking! Now, here we were at lunch time on our first full day, as we talked into the restaurant, I realized that I did not know how to say hello! Luckily, I had taken a few years of German in high school and was able to tap the far recesses of my mind and pull out a vital word for that first meal. Danke/thank you!
As the trip went on, my high school German came back to me, out of wild necessity. By the end of the trip I was able to read a menu just enough to order what I wanted, most of the time. I even understood a conversation between Seth’s German relative and a waiter about how long the restaurant had been in business. I’m grateful that I had some knowledge to lean back on and won’t make the mistake of not prepping on the language side of things again. Luckily, this prep can be as simple as a Google translate search on a train between countries, because last minute adventures are always on my to-do list! See the end of the post for my travel language prep “must-dos”.
The past year has been a long mental health care journey and I’ve learned many new meditating techniques, right before flying I watched a video that taught me to press each finger to my thumb while saying “Peace. Begins. With. Me.” as I started to spiral because I felt the inability to speak with folks heavily on my shoulders. I tried the mantra and realized that it worked in rhythm with the waves on the boat “Peace. Begins. With. Me.”. That moment is still one that I call on in times of stress. I remember the gentle breeze, the warm sun, the movement of the boat and the sound of the waves crashing and saying “Peace. Begins. With. Me.”.
The Lindau boat tour was a 90-minute cruise around the lake, during which we would see the German, Swiss and Austrian coasts. It was a warm sunny day and after the rush of traveling the past two days, it was the perfect time to re-center, breathe, take in the water air, and sights. One of the first port cities on the German coast was Friedrichshafen, which has a Zeppelin Museum, while we were on the water we were able to see a blimp flying. They are such a wonder, everyone stood still to take it in. The Swiss coastline was the least populated of the three countries and the most beautiful. Our love for nature and mountains made the scenic trip all the better. Finally along the Austrian coastline we enjoyed the large “hands” amphitheater.
After the boat tour, we took a few hours to explore the port, climb the lighthouse and enjoy a leisurely afternoon eating gelato and watching the ducks building nests in the bay.
The next morning, Seth and his parents were still discussing our stops for the day. Seth wanted to stop and take a photo of something, since it was basically on the way to where we were going and there was a bit of discussion still around whether to take the longer route for the photo op. In the end, they decided to consult me. I stared at the map, mouth a gape. Neuschwanstein!?!?!?!?!?! Yes, yes we should stop there. 🙂
We packed into our car and headed towards the castle that I’ve dreamed of seeing since I was a young girl. While driving I knew that I would not be happy with simply driving past, I had to see it. Realizing that this castle was likely the root cause of my not wanting to be part of the planning, because I couldn’t bear the idea of being close and not going. I became more and more distraught as we neared the castle. Going in had to happen. Thankfully, once I voiced my extreme distress in not going to the castle, Seth’s parents agreed that we could quickly stop.
There are three ways to get from the ticket office up to the castle; walk, bus, horse and carriage. At first we planned to save a few Euros and walk to the castle. But it was a 45 minute walk, which would get us there right at our entrance time, desperate for a few moments to look at the castle from the outside, since so much of it’s mystic is the location, built right into a mountain and I wanted to take the bus.
This is how we ended up on the second most terrifying bus trip of my life. (This first being a double decker tourist bus in New York, I’ll tell you about it sometime.) We were squished into the bus with roughly an additional 15 people getting on after we were beyond full. Those of us standing barely had to keep our feet on the ground because the pressure of folks on all sides of you kept you upright. Then the bus zoomed up the tiny one lane road with seemingly little care about the 100 people aboard. We bounced off each other and screamed as we neared the edge of the winding mountainous road, thankfully and somewhat shockingly, we reached the top.
At the bus drop off point, there is a path with signs pointing to a nearby look out. Seth went ahead of us to grab some photos of the castle, my in-laws and I chatted and wandered behind. When we got to the end of the path, it became apparent that the only way to see the castle was via a terrifying suspension bridge over a massive rocky gorge. I pressed past my fear to follow Seth across the bridge, finding out the hard way that being on the bridge was worst than it seemed. It was basically a two lane walking bridge, full of tourist taking selfies and clumped on the end of the bridge nearest the entrance. In order to cross the bridge, one has to push past the hordes of people, while stepping on boards that are actively bending with the weight of all of the selfie stick masses. Instead of stopping to take in this life long anticipated view I held my breathe, clenched my eyes and pushed as quickly across as possible. By the time I got to the other side, Seth was no where to be seen.
There was no other option except to follow a rough path up the side of the mountain, in some places having to climb on hands and knees. Eventually, I came to the top of a small cliff where there were a few other tourists. After calling for Seth, I realized that the he was even further up. This had turned into a full out off-trail mountain hike.
Perched high above the crowds below we were on the same level or even above the various details of the castle. This aerial perspective provided dizzying views of the the castle with the distant valley below.
Having been to many castles, one could assume that I’ve tired of them. I don’t know if I ever will. While there are many similarities in the interiors, each has it’s own special charm. During our English language tour, we were followed closely by a French language tour. Since both groups were overwhelmingly large, Seth and I tended to stay at the end of our tour, just ahead of the French tour. Which worked out nicely, since I was able to catch snippets from both guides. It was also comforting to me to hear the French, the backdrop of my study abroad experiences. On one of the floors, there are a series of the king’s living chambers, there are doors between each of the small rooms, which never felt cramped for the windows were all open letting in the crisp spring air.
We’d just walked out of the King’s bedroom and into an airy study when a gust of wind came and slammed then rattled the door between the two rooms. Everyone on both sides startled. Our tour guide joked that the king was making his presence known while the French tour guide slowly creaked the door open. Seth and I turned to the wide-eyed stares of the tour guide and the whole tour peering out the crack in the door at us. I was mid-laugh when another gust of wind jiggled the nearby window, relieving the fears for the terrified faces of the 25 French youth and their chaperones.
Though we had paid for the bus trip back down to the parking area, my father-in-law wisely decided that we should take the foot path. It was much faster and likely much safer as well. While I could probably have spent a whole week exploring the castle grounds and nearby village, we were off to a mountain top dinner in the Alps!
Roughly 10 minutes after departing the castle we passed a sign welcoming us to Austria. We had a rather frantic few minutes before realizing at the we were on the right track. This hour and half long drive was one of my favorite drives of the trip. It took us on winding mountain roads in the Austrian Alps with scenic views in every direction.
One of the things we realized that we had not planned for is lunch. We were driving on mountain roads with really no good options to stop and a pretty tight deadline to get to our next activity before it closed. Eventually we needed to stop at a gas station and I ran in to grab some of our essential travel snacks. While I pursued the selection of Austrian beers and gathered up a few to sample back at our hotel.
We finally pulled up to the Alpine vernacular and it was a construction zone. Apparently the Zugspitze closes twice a year for maintenance and it was closed the whole week we were in Bavaria. There is a small train that takes you nearly as high, but arrived too late for the last train. I felt awful! Not only we were all disappointed, we had all been looking forward to this all day, but we would have been able to take the train had I not made us go into the castle. This was Gary’s number one item for this trip and I’d contributed to ruining it. Another item to add in the “pro” column for knowing more about the trip.
On our way to our next stop, a brewery in Ettal. We drove through Grainau and decided to get out and explore the church. I’ve since learned that the church is of a Bavarian style, it felt like we had stumbled into yet another country. The steeple seemed almost Russian to me.
Just before sunset we arrived in Ettal, a charming monastic village and home to our first brewery stop of the trip. Since my study abroad program in France was housed in a similarly sized village in an 12th century abbey, Ettal had a rather homey feeling to me. You’ll hear more about our visit in the what we ate and drank post!
Here are Allison’s travel language “must-dos” before arriving in a new country:
- Hello (Don’t forget to check for dialect subtleties in the regions you are visiting)
- Thank you
- the word for toilet/restroom/loo
If you are a picky eater like me, you’ll want to learn the names for foods that you like and dislike, it’s also important for foods you are allergic to. This is my go to list in a pinch:
- Still water
- Counting to 10 (or more!)
- Where is the toilet?
- How much?
- I would like….
- Directional words – right, left, north, south, etc
Extra prep/learning is super helpful and will help deepen your interactions with folks in many cases.