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Thursday, May 22

Castles worth visiting

In every guidebook and on every travel website one sight that is recommended for American visitors is Schloss Neuschwanstein also known as the Disney Castle. When a friend visited she wanted to go to this castle. And then again when family visited recently, “seeing German castles” was on the list.

The brief history is King Ludwig (the crazy one that splurged on castles) built this as a vacation home. If time permits, also tour Schloss Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig spent his childhood summers. Due to Neuschwanstein’s high percentage of visitors each year reserve tickets in advance or you will find yourself waiting in long lines, especially in warmer weather.

When I went with my friend on a winter weekday, we took the train using the Bayern pass. And we learned Bayern pass can only be used after 9am on weekdays and anytime on weekends. We had multiple transfers. 2 stops before our first transfer the ticket checker explained the pass rules and asked to deboard the train at the next stop. The next train arrived after 9 and we boarded. Few transfers and a short bus ride from Hohenschwangau’s main station to the castle’s ticket office, we arrived. Smooth sailing, right? Wrong. We bought our tickets and walked to Hohenschwangau Castle for the first tour. The tour is brief and in it includes royalty’s bedrooms, living/dining quarters. In my opinion, the best part of this tour is the view of Schloss Neuschwanstein. Check in advance or contact the castle because English tours aren’t offered daily. Then we hiked up the hill in snow to the Neuschwanstein’s entrance. By 2pm, we were cold, starved and almost ready to go home. The tour details the king’s life and his mysterious death. The chandelier in the dining room is elegant. The castle is large however only few rooms are open for visits making this also a short tour.

For GPS directions, both castles are in the town of Hohenschwangau. Park the car in one of the lots and claim the reserved tickets at the office. There are three options: walk up (the hill) to Neuschwanstein, take the horse carriage for small fee or take the bus for even a smaller fee. The bus is only available in late Spring, Summer and early Fall. My mom, sister and nephew horse rode the carriage while the husband and I hiked up on foot.

Even walking down the stairs inside the castle to exit on that cold day was so bone chillingly cold and our toes felt like they would fall off. The walk down was worse due to the snow. At the bus stop we learned the bus had departed and the next would arrive in 30 minutes. Instead of waiting we started walking to the main train station. On our way a car stopped to ask where we were going. The man and woman offered to drive us the short distance. Without thinking twice we both hopped in and were grateful for the kindness of strangers. Thank you! (Normally I say don’t get in cars with strangers but not that day!)

The Winter visit was a very different experience than the Spring; don’t make our mistakes and visit in cold months. If using the Bayern pass depart after 9am. More importantly plan ahead and book advance tickets. Traveling by car is more convenient and with the Alps as the backdrop a visit is a must on a clear day.

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