But this does not mean I have become a sedentary being. Far from it. Another reason for my absence, has been a hectically busy work schedule, one that has taken me on a number of journeys to places both new and familiar. Among those stops, way back in May, was an extended stay in one of those familiar places, Kaiserslautern.
I say it is a familiar place for a fairly obvious reason: it is a place that I have been to before. However, I think anyone who steps foot in K-town, as it is dubbed by the ubiquitous US military personnel stationed there, with 30 minutes to kill and a halfway decent pair of walking shoes can make a similar claim. There truly is not much to see or do in this small quiet town. It is the kind of place, geared mainly towards the tastes of its middle American residents, that has more fast food and pizza places than actual German restaurants. While the mountainous area where we stayed in quite lovely, an afternoon's stroll in town is sufficient to experience every one of its three streets and then it is time to look a bit further out for some entertainment.
After four water-logged days, we did just that. We decided that if we could not beat the crap weather (note: we couldn't), perhaps we could outdrive it. We set our sights on the famed Neuschwanstein Castle in sunny Bavaria, some four hours away.
For as long as I can recall, I had been hearing about this castle built by Mad King Ludwig and how it was the inspiration for Disney's Cinderella Castle. The fact that it didn't look much like her fairy tale abode, one that as a child raised in Florida I was pretty familiar with, did little to deter me. It was pretty, it would be sunny and we would get out of Kaiserslautern. I didn't care if it was the inspiration for Shrek's hovel, we were going.
A look at the brochure we were handed at the castle's ticket office offered a vague sort of explanation for the discrepancy. It boasted that Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castle. Of course, that then raised the question: since when does Sleeping Beauty have a castle? Is it behind the Hall of Presidents, the one area of the Disney World that my childhood self fastidiously avoided? Actually, it turns out that this attraction only exists in Disneyland, the west coast counterpart, but this did not curtail much discussion amongst our group relating to fairy tale characters and their real estate holdings.
I should mention that the ticket office where we received the brochures was, fortuitously next to a gift shop. This certainly came in handy when we all had to buy ponchos and umbrellas to defend ourselves against the impending massive downpour that had somehow pursued us, 100+ mph on the autobahn, from one end to the country to the other.
I'm going to assume that the 20-30 minute walk up to the castle would have been lovely. We thought the world was going to end so we took the bus, instead.
Luckily, the drop off point was a few feet away from the Marienbrucke (or Mary's Bridge), the sight of the every single tourist's Neuschwanstein photos. It is from here that you get the best view.
I quickly realized that maneuvering a camera and an umbrella simultaneously is no easy feat, but faced with such an impressive sight, there was no shortage of people attempting it. Personally, I ditched the umbrella, snapped away and marveled at the fact that finally I was seeing this spectacular place.
The ticket that you purchase provides you with a timed entry tour to the castle itself. Unfortunately, photos are not permitted inside, but the walk up to the tour's starting point did provide many a (soggy) photo op.
Once inside, we were met by a guide whose exuberance and theatricality made Elton John seem staid by comparison. He led us around the rooms, many of which were completed after King Ludwig somewhat questionable death and explained the many references to Wagner and his operas contained therein. The feeling that I got was that perhaps there was some (possibly) unrequited love thing going on between Ludwig and Wagner, but this was never explicitly stated. Then again, when you have a passageway done up as a faux cave, complete with a waterfall and 'rainbow machine', representing the setting of yet another one of his idol's works, one can come to their own conclusions.
By the time we concluded the tour, the rain outside had slowed to a slight drizzle, which, given what we had experienced all week, was the equivalent of 'the best weather ever, ever'. We took our time and walked down the hill towards the smaller and decidedly less dramatic Hohenschwangau castle, built by Ludwig's father, King Maximilian.
By the time we reached the bottom, it hit us that we had actually achieved our goals. Not only had we seen Neuschwanstein Castle, both inside and out, we had also managed to outdrive the rain. There was this crazy non-wet thing happening. The sky had stopped leaking and we were basking in Bavarian sunshine. And, not only that, we had managed to escape Kaiserslautern.
This was a success worthy of celebration. We pointed the car in the direction of Austria, which due to a quirk in the road leading to the castle, we had already passed on our way up and found the nicest, non-Kaiserslautern-ish restaurant we could for some spatzle and local beers. We remained there until the sun had set, enjoying ever last moment of its appearance before embarking on our triumphant four hour return.