Thursday, September 12, 2013

Passport Update: Munich, Germany + Bavaria -- a surprise birthday adventure!

Once upon a time in a faraway land there was a tiny kingdom, peaceful, prosperous, and rich in romance and tradition."

Those are the opening words to the classic fairytale, Cinderella.  As a little girl, my "princess phase" lasted about 7 or 8 years before I discovered that wearing dresses in an upstate NY winter was neither comfortable nor practical.  After that point, I traded in my dresses for jeans and pursued bike riding, tree climbing and snow fort building with my brother in a vain attempt to win and keep his attention.  I was never super girly in high school or college and I'm still learning how to apply makeup in a semi-competent way.
First grade Halloween party, 1990
But sometimes, old, forgotten about wishes DO come true.  Dave and Joann were in town in April to celebrate Calvin's second birthday when another gift bag comes out of nowhere and Jon tells me to open it.  Inside was a Cinderella DVD and a card telling me to pack my bags because we were headed to the castle that inspired Walt Disney to create his own Cinderella castle.  What?!?! Really!?  I was floored!  I had added Neuschwanstein castle to my "hope to see it someday" bucket list a few years ago after one of my Facebook friends posted pictures of it to her profile.  It's a beautiful, if not crazily inspired, castle nestled within the Bavarian Alps in Germany.  Since it isn't the easiest place to get to, I figured that it was one of those places that I would just never get to see (sigh).  Not only had my wonderful husband planned an amazing trip, but we would get to travel toddler-free (i.e.,  much faster and easier).  Dave and Joann would get some great bonding time with Calvin and we would have a few romantic days to ourselves.  What a great surprise 30th birthday present!

We hopped on a quick plane ride to Munich and rented a car to set out for Bavaria.  Jon was the first to drive on the Autobahn and was a little nervous with the high speeds.  We haven't driven in over a year so getting behind the wheel again on a highway with competent, high performance drivers and vehicles, was a bit daunting.  
I got to drive on the beautiful winding roads through the Alps and we managed to only get lost a few times.  It turns out the signage in the countryside is a bit sparse.

Our first stop was Andechs Abbey Brewery.  It was at the top of a quaint little village and we had a gigantic pretzel (our first) and Jon had a tall beer (they offer 7 different brews).  He was convinced that the price included keeping the glass but when we saw everyone turning theirs in to be cleaned, we walked away with just one drink in our bellies and without a souvenir mug.
our super sweet rental ride and Jon at the Abbey

Jon, don't distract me right now!
After the abbey brewery, we drove down the "Romantic Road" (and it was) through the beautiful winding hills of the Bavarian Alps.  The trees were in full spring bloom and bright green leaves knitted together in a canopy over the two-lane road.  The clutch got a work out as we maneuvered up steep hills and then coasted down the other side.

We checked into our quaint little hotel, Pension Helmerhof, with its sweet latticed roof in Schwangau, the penultimate town on the Romantic Road and just south of Füssen.

View from our hotel
The next day we set out for the tours of the castles.  Our hotel was located directly across from both castles, which made it the perfect location for romantic relaxation.  You can only go on guided tours of the castles and you get both tours included in the price, so we started at the first (and possibly lesser) Hoenschwangau Castle.  This was the location of King Ludwig II's childhood home. It was odd to wander around the rooms and picture children running around and acting like kids -- you know, being loud, playing with toys, etc.  I tried to picture Calvin playing within the castle and just couldn't reconcile the two images. The austerity and serious nature of the castle just didn't coincide with the playful side of children.  It might have been a contributing factor to the resulting "madness" exhibited by both Ludwig and his brother, Otto.  As it turns out, Mad King Ludwig wasn't that crazy - his brother, however, was certifiably crazy at the age of 22 and his elderly uncle served as King Regent after Ludwig died and Otto inherited the throne.  The castle itself was OK. This one was built in the late 1800s so it wasn't that old as far as castles go.  There were murals all over the walls and Jon mentioned, "we need more wall murals in our house."  Umm yeah...I don't think so.  The views of the Alpsee lake was really nice and being placed within the Alps was a very romantic location.

We had 1hr 45 mins until the tour of the Neuschwanstein castle started, so we walked the distance between the two castles (about 45 mins).

Hoenschwangau Castle
Neuschwanstein castle from Hoenschwangu castle

View from Neuschwanstein -- you can see Hoenschwangau in the distance

Looking down is not recommended

I could've stayed on that bridge for hours - didn't want to leave
What a beautiful view
King Ludwig was eccentric, obsessed fan of Richard Wagner (the composer, not the actor), and a little obsessed with constructing this castle.  We weren't allowed to take pictures of the interior but you can find those on Wikipedia here.  It had weird rooms that were all adorned with swans, the family animal, and a Grotto-hallway which could have been romantic but came off feeling creepy instead.  The main dining hall was beautifully ornate and all gold.  He had a scenic wall painted to depict woodland creatures in a fantasy world and it comes as no surprise that this castle was the inspiration for Disney's castle.

Probably the funniest part of the castle tour was when the very stoic German tour guide said, "The tour is over now. Good bye."

Driving along the "Romantic Road"
We headed out of Füssen and drove down the Romantic Road on our way to Munich.  We passed through the Austrian Alps and took a rest stop in the small Alpine village, Mittenwald.  Here you can find lederhosen to buy, tasty sausage to eat and lots of beer to drink.  We just kind of wandered through the little town and relaxed by the babbling brook.
Coffee in Mittenwald - a little village in the Alps

A shirt, apparently, is optional


A babbling brook in Mittenwald



Driving on the autobahn
After Mittenwald, Jon fulfilled an item on my bucket list that neither of us knew I had -- driving on the autobahn!  I didn't know I wanted to do it until it was happening and then I was like, "I've always wanted to do this! This is awesome!" 
Hofbrauhaus, Munich
We stopped at the Hofbrauhaus for Jon to drink some massive beers, more sparkling water for me, and some massive pretzels with mustard.
Hofbrauhaus beers
and pretzels bigger than my head
We had no idea but the little bed and breakfast we were staying in was located across the street from the fairgrounds where they hold the famous Octoberfest and lesser-known Spring fest.  Spring fest is essentially the same thing as Octoberfest but with a lot less people in attendance.  They have 2-3 tents as opposed to 10 tents but the prices and atmosphere are the same.  Actually I might argue that for us, the atmosphere was better.  I was pregnant and therefore not able to partake in any debauchery, so it was better that the energy was a little less "amateur-hour" and a little more "just here to have fun."  For the most part, it was just some Munich-locals and Germans from other parts of Germany just hanging out and drinking beer -- not too many tourists from the rest of Europe or from around the world were there that we could see.  It was a popular bachelor/bachelorette location and we saw plenty of groups who looked like they were enjoying themselves.

Everyone was super friendly and we learned a few German drinking songs that involve bouncing up and down on the bench.  If you've seen what the women's dresses look like, you can understand why this is a popular addition to every drinking song :-)
Springfest! A mini Octoberfest - drinking gross Schweppes

The beer hall tent

Wait, it's a carnival too?

Everyone was very friendly

Couldn't leave until we danced on the benches
By randomly discovering Spring fest and Munich's hidden beauty, we really lucked into an awesome time.  I figured that the castles and Alpine villages would be beautiful and romantic but I had no idea for how much fun Munich could be.  It's definitely one of my favorite cities thus far from our travels.

The last surprise of the trip was when the band began to play Country Road and all of the Germans around us starting singing, "Take me hoooommeee, to a place I belooooong. West Virginia! Mountain Mama! Take me home, country rooooooaad!"  I've never seen so much enthusiasm for West Virginia by people who have never been there in my entire life.  It was hilarious and the band played it twice while we were there.

Not a costume - this is what they wear here

Enjoying his last German beer at 9am
By far, this was the best birthday surprise I could have ever hoped for.  My husband still manages to surprise me with things I never even knew I wanted.  We are so lucky to be able to take advantage of our European location and jet away on amazing excursions like this.  It is just something that would have been beyond reach before but now it's the equivalent of a plane ride to another state.  I hope to return to Spring fest when I'm not pregnant and when the kids can be left on their own so that I can sing Country Road with a bunch of Germans and a large and overpriced beer in my hands.

1 comment:

  1. I wish you a very very Happy Birthday to you and Birthday Wishes fill the life with joy and blessings.


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