Gay Kings and Fabulous CastlesDate: Tue, 18 Aug 1998 12:57:40 -0700 (PDT)
From: k p firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Up the Alps into Tourist Hell
As promised, I have nothing else to do but litter your inboxes with emails that you're probably sick of reading. Sorry, but I got nothing to do except wait three hours for my overnight train to Prague. He, he, he!
So my adventures in Munich continued today when I embarked with Wendy from Connecticut, Lilliana and her son Ivan from Moscow, and Japhed our driver from some Arabic country that speaks little German and even less English. (Foreshadowing: "Yes, I to meet you at 4:00 p.m.")
We embarked from our hotel to visit two castles built by Ludwig II. The first was a small castle called Hohenschwangau in some German city I don't remember. The second was a huge castle called Neuschwanstein in some German city I don't remember. The important thing for Americans to know about Neuschwanstein is it's the castle that Walt Disney based Cinderella's castle on.
The Germans don't have much love for L II because:
a) Ludwig I, his grandfather, single handedly saved Munich from every invading army--including the martians--the plague, spoiled beer and every other bad thing in Germany in the 1700s. That's why there are approximately 1,500 statues for LI in Munich and exactly Zero for LII.
b) Ludwid II was crazy. K-E-E-R-A-Z-Y. He bankrupted all of Bavaria by building too many castles. He never married and pretty much ended the German monarchy in the late 1800s. (And we should all realize the seriousness of this, because less than 50 years later the Germans "elected" a new king-like figure in 1933 who got his start in Munich.) Finally, he never married and was close personal friends with a famous German composer named Richard Wagner. I'm not judging the relationship here, except to say that two tour guides I had in two days winked when they said "close personal friends." (One of them also made the International Symbol for "gettin' some," so it's pretty clear what was going on in Ludwig II's room when Wagner slept over in one of Ludwig's castles. Or to put it another way, if the German Office of the Independent Counsel had investigated Ludwig II's sexual activity while in the Oval Office, the intern would have been named Marvin Lewinsky.)
Anyway, enough history. You can read more about Ludwig II in your local library. Or you can visit all three of them currently interred at the Munich Psychiatric Hospital.
So the first castle was pretty much a copy of Versailles. It was adorned almost entirely in gold-plated, overdone Sun King style overdoneness. My feeling from the castle was that Ludwig II, in addition to being a nut, was probably also a bit of a back-woods hick who thought he could be a real king by adorning himself in the garb and castles of the French King Louis XIV.
There was a very cool Opera House in the woods, however. I would have thought that Walt Disney built it. The Opera House was carved into these stone caverns, very cool and damp, and was lit with candles to create an other-worldly atmosphere. In the main chamber was a little pond, upon which this ridiculous looking boat floated. (It was something like the large palm leaf that the little animals excaped from their pursuers in Disney's "The Rescuers.") The occupants in the boat would have been well protected from prying eyes. My guess is that Ludwig took his favorite composer into the boat to learn more intimately about the particular opera they were listening to.
As we were leaving this castle, we noticed that the 100 or so tourists in attendence when we arrived had grown expodentially. An ominous sign.
Japhed drove with the speed usually reserved for escaping prisoners and Daytona 500 drivers to the next castle. Repeated questions to our "tour guide" about the name of this charming Bavarian town or that majestic Alpine lake were met with either "I don't know" or some mumbled germanenglish name that could not be found on the Michelin map we were looking at. In my head, his tip was reduced from 15% to 10%. More on that to come.
So we arrive at the castle, and we confront our first line. It was cars waiting for the parking lot. Japhed insists we should get out and walk the last 100 meters while he parks the car. I badgered him for a good 10 minutes trying to agree on a place and time to meet. Finally, the four of us are in agreement with our driver that we will meet at that particular cafe on the map right by the bus stop. We pointed to the cafe.
Excited to see the Fairy Tale Castle, as it is called, we walked briskly up a tourist road past Ye Oldstrasse Souveire Shoppenhart shops to the bus. 6DM to board the bus. Wait 20 minutes. We ride the bus up a terrifically windy and wet one-way road, making me wonder what happens when the other bus comes down. Finally, the bus lets us off. Signs pointed in all directions with indecipherable German words. The castle was clearly to the right, up that big hill, so we started climbing. 10 minutes later, and we were at the foot of the castle! It's truly beautiful and does look like someone will let down her hair.
We scamper toward the door, then Wendy sees a sign pointing the other way. This one, the Rosetta Stone of signs, has "Tickets This Way" written every language spoken since the beginning of time.
So we walked "This Way," only to be confronted with a twisting line accompanied by a sign saying "Tickets 11DM. 90 Minute Wait." Clearly, Walt Disney didn't only imagine his castle from this vantage point. He cleverly stole the idea of fooling thousands of people each day into waiting on 90 minute lines because going back at this point would be foolish.
Maybe an hour and fifteen minutes later, we purchased tickets and excitedly walked to the entrance, only to find....Yes, another line!
This one was split into 4 fences, much like a corral. But instead of Bulls, Calfs, Cows and Sheep, there were 4 flags: Germany, France, Spain, and Great Britain. Figuring we had more in common with the Brits, we joined that line. About 1/2 hour later we as a group moved into the castle. Only about 15 minutes of waiting on a claustrophobic spiral staircase and we proceeded into the castle proper. No cost for climbing the stairs.
It was exquisite. Poor Ludwig II never got to see it completed because he died of "mysterious circumstances" at only 40 years old. He drowned in a creak with his doctor. Nobody saw what happened. The Doctor's name was Dr. HomophobicStrasse, so take a guess.
Anway, the walls were painted extravagently in all sorts of patterns and colors. Just imagine a castle as Disney would do it, and you get the idea. Throughout the castle were scenes from Wagner's Operas surrounded by windows with beautiful views of the Alps. It wasn't worth waiting for my grandchildren to be born, however. And the German guide took us through the castle at a pace usually reserved for German drivers.
I'd recommend seeing the castle if you ever get to Munich, but make sure you go early in the morning.
So we walk down the mountain, fearing what will happen to us on the bus, but looking foward to a meal and meeting Japhed. We ate a great meal served by the most surly waitress I've ever had. She was a big German Frauelein in a bavarian farm girl mumu dress. It was very entertaining because she managed to throw each of our food dishes and hot drinks down on the table with such gusto without ever looking at us. And the amazing thing is she did't spill a drop! Amused and releived that we would be driving home soon, I tipped her well.
So we waited for Japhed. And waited. And waited. And waited. It wasn't too bad, because we had lots of experience waiting all day. Finally, the four of us split up to look for him, agreeing to meet back in 1/2 hour. Hopefully with Japhed. Ivan found him, though Japhed was blaming each of us for not being in the right place. I was tired. I was pissed. I had a train to Prague that evening. Driver Tip=5%
I told Japhed to take us right back to the hotel. He drove with amazing speed on wet curvy roads. I told him to slow down. "It okay! I drive dis roads every day!" he said as he passed a truck in the oncoming traffic lane then jammed the car back into the right lane as a honking BMW missed us by inches. Tip=2%
Back in Munich finally, and Japhed decides to give us a tour of all of his favorite restaurants. "I show you eat place!" he says. I explain I'm taking a train out of Munich in 2 hours, and I don't need any eat place. He insists for "other guests" who moan and begin praying we'll make it back before they have to leave later in the week. Tip=1%
We finally pull into the hotel parking lot, and Japhed cheerfully opens the door, holds out his hand and says "Don't forget my tip!"
I walked right by him, outstreched hand still empty, picked up my backpack and ran to the station.
See you in Prague!