Jenny already wrote about the main part of our summer trip to Germany, but the trip there had its own share of adventure. After looking at the map and considering options, we decided that we absolutely had to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, the stunning hilltop dwelling of King Ludwig II, perhaps best known now as the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland. In the planning phase it all seemed reasonable: take the overnight ferry to Belgium, then drive through the day and arrive in late afternoon, given the eight and a half hours of travel time promised by Google Maps. What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, an accumulation of little things led to us speeding down an autobahn in the fading light, afraid that we wouldn’t make it to our alpine hotel before the front desk closed for the night. That, and the fact that what we considered speeding was probably considered too slow by most of the drivers on the road. It all started when we drove off the ferry, not quite as early as we would have liked, but still too early to find breakfast anywhere near the port—the place I had looked up ahead of time was closed—and ended up eating from the back-up supplies that Jenny had packed. We got reaccustomed to driving on the right side of the road, and managed not too make too many bad turns before making the next critical decision: lunch in Luxembourg, City, even though it wasn’t along the shortest route.
From the small amount that we saw of it, Luxembourg seemed like a very nice place. Even though we ended up eating at a burger joint, the central shopping and dining area had lots of nice restaurants and cafes. Elena and Roman had fun dancing to the live music from the bandstand on the squre. We got to see some pieces from a Elephant Parade public art exhibition/charity fundraiser. It was also the first time we saw “levitating” street performers (the secret is a steel frame), which was incredible if only for its novelty. After lunch, we fulfilled our promise to let Elena and Roman enjoy the amazing pirate ship playground we had spotted on our way into town.
By the time we pulled across the border into Germany, we were already aware that there was a time crunch, even though we had hours left to drive. We still had some fun along the way, like when we finally made it to the autobahn and pushed Jenny’s Civic up above 100 miles per hour for what was probably the first time ever, on a long straight stretch with a slight downward slope. Even at top speed, we had to drive in the slow lane and marvel at the speedy cars passing us like it was nothing. We didn’t even stop for dinner; Jenny dug into our supplies and made peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches. When we turned off the autobahn the light was already fading, so we had to wait until the next morning to marvel at the grand alpine vistas surrounding the foothill town where our hotel was located.
We visited Neuschwanstein Castle the next day. It was stunning from the first moment that we saw it, sitting high up on the mountainside, but it became clear that it would take some effort to get up there. Luckily, we had pre-ordered tickets and were able to bypass the long ticket line. With plenty of time before the start of our tour, we worked together to make it all the way up the long hike to the top of the hill. We even had enough time to enjoy the view and share a Bavarian pretzel once we made it to the castle entrance.
Due to King Ludwig’s early and untimely death, only a small number of rooms of the castle were ever finished. However, the ones that are there are done are spectacular. It may have been the first time that Elena really got into examining the walls and ceilings, asking me about the stories that were portrayed in the artwork. Unfortunately, my knowledge of German myths and legends is a bit weak, as I’m not a student of Wagner, but we tried to put the pieces together.
After our tour, we made our way up to the bridge overlooking the castle. It was crowded with people, and for good reason—it was a perfect day for photos. We squeezed our way onto the bridge to take a few snapshots and drop some rocks into the stream far below, then headed back down to the village below. After a lunch of German sausages, Jenny went off to the shops while Elena, Roman and I rested and watched the ducks by the lake. When we saw clouds moving in, we hurried back to the car and made it just in time, before a truly epic thunderstorm began.
That night we had our first schnitzel, dining at the hotel restaurant. The next morning as we packed up, we couldn’t find one of the pacifiers and had to leave it behind. After that frustating experience we instituted the strict pacifier rules—Roman was only allowed to have it at night—eventually this regime helped us to finally wean him from the pacifier for good. But at the moment, it was an unwanted frustration just when we needed to be on our way. Unfortunately, our trip that day took much longer than we would have liked, since apparently a little bit of rain can cause traffic to grind to a halt, even on the autobahn. In the end, it was one more new experience that helped us realize that no matter where we go, everyone is pretty much the same.