It was a very sad moment as we left the charming town of Hallstatt behind us, but we took heart in the knowledge that our vacation wasn't quite over yet. We wound through the mountain roads, and are pretty sure we even caught a glimpse of Hitler's Eagle's Nest tucked high up in the Alpine slopes. We had a long drive ahead of us to get back to the Ramstein area in Germany, but we had carved out enough time to visit quite possibly the most well-known attraction in Germany--Crazy Ludwig's Schloss (Castle) Neuschwanstein.
We arrived in the small village of Fussen around noon, and felt as though we were driving onto a Disney park. There were hordes of tourists on foot, a huge fleet of horses and carriages waiting to whisk people up to the castle, and restaurants and souvenier shops dominated the streets. After a teensy road sign misunderstanding which led to us attempting to drive up a pedestrian only walkway (oops), we found parking and then waded upstream through the crowds to find the ticket shop. The next English speaking tour wasn't for another few hours, which gave us plenty of time for lunch and a leisurely hike up the hill to explore the area surrounding the castle. We found the Marienbrucke (Mary's Bridge) overlook which gave postcard worthy views of Neuschwanstein, and also had a view of the mustard yellow Schloss Hohenschwangau where Ludwig grew up, dreaming of building his fairy tale castle in the mountains.
We showed up for our tour time and laughed at the military (Disney?) precision with which tours were conducted. We were issued a time and a number, and a few minutes before each tour began the number would flash up on a lightboard at the head of a very Disneyesque roped off holding area. From there we filed into the castle and were taken on a 30 minute tour of the partially completed interior. Neuschwanstein is most famous for being the castle from which Walt Disney took his inspiration to build his own park castles. And between the turrets, charming mountain setting, stunning views of nature, and opulent interior, we certainly felt as though we had stepped into Sleeping Beauty's castle.We made it back into Ramstein that night and went to bed shortly after arriving, in preparation for our 4 am wake up call to head to the terminal and attempt to Space A home. Unfortunately, incompetence reared its ugly head, and the two flights that we should have been able to get on took off without us. I could go into a long diatribe about this and how angry we were, but after a few hours of steaming over other people's screw ups, we put on our big boy/girl panties and decided to make the best of things. Nothing was going home the next day, so we were left with one more day in Germany. And we decided to spend it in beautiful Heidelberg.
Our first order of business was a leisurely outdoor breakfast in the quaint Marktplatz (Market Square), then we toured the mostly ruined Heidelberg Castle. The castle was begun in the early 1200s, and added on to over the centuries by the various rulers. It went from a fortress in its early life to a pleasure palace in the 1600s. Unfortunately, between invading armies and natural disasters, the castle was left in ruins on three separate occasions and has only been partially restored since the 1800s. Still, it is easy to imagine how impressive this castle must have been in its heyday, and the ruins are quite lovely in their own right. And of course, one of the most famous residents of the castle is the Heidelberg Tun--the wine barrel capable of holding 220,000 liters of wine and hosting a small party on the small dance floor constructed over its top.
Our next stop was at the University of Heidelberg, where we explored the beautiful Great Hall where students have historically defended their theses, and then the old Studentenkarzer (Student Jail), where from 1778-1914 students were imprisoned for infractions such as carousing in the streets and disturbing the peace. Over time, it became something as a badge of honor to spend time in the jail and leave your mark through humorous cartoons, poems, and diatribes graffitied onto the wall.
Finally, we headed across the river for a cardiovascular workout on the Philosphenweg (Philosopher's Walk), named thusly because the stunning views of Heidelberg are said to inspire philosophical thoughts. We were mainly inspired to sweat, but there were some beautiful views as well. The walk took us back into the center of Heidelberg through an old city gate, and after a quick stop for a sandwich, we were in the car and once more heading back to Ramstein. A friend was kind enough to drive us the hour and a half to Spangdahlem Air Force Base that night so that we could be there in time for a very early morning flight the next day. Happily, we were boarded on that flight, and after a nap on our air mattress and a gas stop in Newfoundland, we landed in Charleston.
Thanks for humoring me as I recapped our trip! We had such an amazing time, and I can honestly say that this was my favorite trip abroad that we've taken together. It was the perfect combination of relaxation and sight-seeing, and I can't believe how much of western Europe we were able to experience in just a couple of weeks. Now, more than ever, we really hope that some day we'll get the chance to live in Europe, but until then, we'll enjoy these memories and hope to make it back again some day soon!