Bavaria II: castles in the clouds

We travelled by Flixbus again when leaving Munich, but thankfully the bus arrived this time, although it was several minutes late. Our next destination was Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the Bavarian Alps.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

An interesting town, created by Hitler for the winter Olympics of 1936. (The IOC said that there were no towns with sufficient accommodation, so Hitler compelled two adjacent towns to become one).  An interesting feature is the paintings on many of the houses: some religious, some illustrating the occupation of the owners, some just pictures of everyday life.  We had an apartment for three nights, effectively the top (attic) floor of a private house.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Painted house in G-P (1)

Painted house in G-P (2)

Painted house in G-P (3)

G-P is now Germany’s top Alpine ski resort, but hiking is a major attraction in summer, and the purpose of our visit was to do some walking in the mountains.  Our hiking boots came out of the case for the first time since Slovenia!  We planned to go to the top of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain.  But when we arrived, on Tuesday 11th July, our host advised us to wait until Thursday, since the weather forecast for Wednesday was not good. The lady at the tourist office agreed, and so did the forecast on the Internet.  We adjusted our plans accordingly.

On Tuesday afternoon we walked through the Partnachklamm Gorge, a short way outside the town.  It is only 700m long, but very narrow and quite spectacular.  On our way back, there was a sudden downpour: we were equipped with rain capes, but the roads became flooded and our legs got soaked every time a car passed.

Partnachklamm Gorge (1)

Partnachklamm Gorge (2)

Partnachklamm Gorge (3)

On Wednesday we chose an outing that we could complete in the morning, before the rain started (as forecast) at 1pm.  We took the cable car up the Eckbauer, which was itself an interesting experience.  The gondolas were the smallest we’ve ever ridden in: open-topped and seating only two passengers, they looked more like swinging boats at a funfair.  From the top, we walked back down: we had a choice of routes, and decided to return via Wamberg, where there was a pleasant café.

In a gondola made for two!

The hills are alive …

Alpine meadow

Wamberg

We arrived back at our flat about 1pm, and had lunch, but there was no sign of the threatened rain.   So we decided to go for another walk in the afternoon.  Our accommodation was close to the ‘Philosopher’s Way’ path, so we followed that for a while.  By chance we found ourselves at the station for the cable car up the Wank (yes, it really is called that) so we decided to explore another mountain top.  The Wank is higher than the Eckbauer, but we did not have much time there.  We walked round at the top, enjoying the wonderful views in all directions, and then took the cable car back down.

On the Wank cablecar

Alpine flowers

View from the top

Ian decided not to buy this t-shirt

Thursday was supposed to be the best day for going up the Zugspitze, but when we got up it was so grey and murky we could not even see the mountains.  We stayed in our flat, desperately hoping that it would improve.  We thought at least it would give us an opportunity to catch up with things we needed to do on the laptop, but the wifi was not working properly.  Finally we decided to make the journey anyway.  They are building a new cable car, but that will not open until December.  At present it is necessary to take the cog railway up to the Zugspitzplatt (finally going through a long tunnel), and then a short cable car to the summit.  The cog railway trip takes 75 minutes, so we hoped the weather would improve while we were en route.  But no such luck!

The cog railway train

The cog rail it runs on

Emerging from the tunnel

At the Zugspitzplatt it was very cold and grey.  We had some thick potato soup for lunch, and ventured out to see the glacier and the chapel.  Then we took the cable car up to the summit.  This was like a construction site, with men working on the new cable car. Not very exciting!  There is a gold cross on the very top of the mountain, the so-called ‘top of Germany’, but the way to get there is very precarious and we didn’t risk it.  We enjoyed some glühwein, and then wandered around the shopping/restaurant complex.  We suddenly noticed a sign saying ‘Tyrol’.  Hang on, we thought, isn’t that in Austria?  We hadn’t realised until then that the Zugspitze is right on the border, and you can ascend by cable car from either country. You just need to make sure you take the right one back down!

The glacier

The chapel at the glacier

The Zugspitze summit

Gluhwein at the top

On our way down, we got off the cog railway at Eibsee, and had a short stroll along the lake before taking the next train back to G-P.

Eibsee lake

Farewell to the mountain

Next morning we had some time to spare before catching the bus to Füssen, so we walked up to the pilgrimage chapel of St Anthony, not far from our flat.

St Anthony’s chapel tower in the mist

St Anthony’s chapel

Inside the chapel

Füssen

Like G-P, Füssen is close to the Austrian border, and the main road between the two goes through Austria.  Not that you would notice – apart from the occasional road sign – that you are in a different country.

Füssen is an attractive town, and we enjoyed wandering around.  We visited the parish church and the castle, and walked along the river to the Lech Falls.  The waterfall is hardly spectacular, but the river at that point goes through a small gorge which is quite picturesque.

Füssen

In the parish church – a refugee from Star Wars?

Füssen castle

Lech gorge

But the main reason for staying two nights in Füssen, was so that we could visit Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle built by ‘mad king’ Ludwig II.  This has long been on our bucket list – if you’ve seen photos, you’ll understand why.  (If you haven’t, think Disney – the princess castles were modelled on Neuschwanstein.)

Neuschwanstein is now the most popular tourist attraction in Germany; you are advised to book tickets months ahead, to avoid ridiculously long queues on the day. There are actually two castles to visit: Hohenschwangau was built by Ludwig’s father, and Ludwig lived there in his childhood, and also while he was building Neuschwanstein. You have to take guided tours of both, and photography is not allowed.  We found the interiors somewhat depressing: lots of painted walls, but rather dark and gloomy.  It is the exterior of the castles, particularly Neuschwanstein, and their dramatic setting, which makes them a photographer’s dream.

Unfortunately, the weather was against us – it was grey and miserable all day, with rain on and off.  Not the ideal background for the castles!  So our photos do not match up to the pictures we’d seen, and hoped to replicate.

Neuschwanstein, as we first saw it in the morning

Hohenschwangau Castle

Knights above the gate at Hohenschwangau

Neuschwanstein, as it appears on a poster

Neuschwanstein, as we saw it from the viewpoint

Castle courtyard

View from the castle

After visiting both castles, and the Museum of the Bavarian Kings (included in our package, but not very exciting) we went for a stroll along the Alpsee lake, and looked in some souvenir shops.  We debated whether it was worth going up to Neuschwanstein again, in the hope that the weather might improve. And when we emerged from a shop, the sun was actually shining, so that settled it.

Alpsee lake

The sun’s shining on it!

But…  it takes some time to get up to the castle.  We took one photo each (with telephoto lenses) of Neuschwanstein in the sun, and then hurried to the stop for buses going up to the viewpoint, from which you walk to the castle itself.  But the first bus was full, and by the time the second arrived, the sun had disappeared.  We took more photos, but they were not much better than those we’d taken in the morning.  So in some ways our visit to Neuschwanstein was disappointing.  The next morning, when we left Füssen, it was all blue skies and sunshine.  Aargh!!!

Second attempt to photograph the castle

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