While we mostly went to Germany for personal reasons, such as family bonding and revisiting places we loved when we lived there, we also went as tourists and made sure to hit some of the big tourist spots.
First was Heidelberg, where we went the same day my sister and I and our husbands took an unscheduled side trip to Kaiserslautern, so we got there later than everyone else. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day and Heidelberg was packed. We met up with the rest of the family in the main market square, where there was a gin-tasting festival going on. So it was pretty lively there. My parents had staked out a table in the square for refreshments and people-watching and a central meeting place, and just for enjoying the lovely day and the beautiful surroundings.
Of course, in Heidelberg, the thing to see is the castle. Throngs of people were making their way up the steep path to the castle. I wasn't feeling up to that, especially after walking all over Kaiserslautern earlier that day. There's a tram that goes up to the castle, but it was out of order. So I decided to forgo seeing the castle. I told my husband to go up and see it even if I couldn't, but he assured me he'd rather stay with me and just enjoy being in the city <3 We had a wonderful lunch (it was so warm we decided to go inside one of the restaurants instead of eating out in the square), then walked across the bridge and enjoyed the view of the castle from the other side of the Neckar River. There are also some really nice big houses on the other side of the river. My husband works in real estate law, so he was just as interested in the houses as he was in the castle.
The next day, after our night in Karlsruhe/Durlach, we headed down into the Black Forest and the Vogtsbauernhof Museum. This is an open-air museum where a number of old Black Forest farmhouses have been moved and rebuilt. You can go in the houses and look around; there are some museum-type displays in them about different aspects of farming and life in the Black Forest, but my favorites are the rooms that are set up the way they were when people were living in those houses.
The way the houses are set up, the people live on the first and second floors on one side, the other side of the house is the barn. Or on some, the barn is on the bottom level and the people live on the next floor up. The houses are built to butt up against a hillside (the valleys in the Black Forest are very deep and narrow), and there's a driveway that goes up to the top floor so they can put the wagons up there. The houses look quaint and pretty on the outside, but inside they're low-ceilinged, dark, and cramped. And they don't have chimneys, so all the smoke from the fireplaces and stoves in the kitchens (some houses have two kitchens) would go back out into the house. But then you come to the room in the corner, kind of a parlor with benches to sit on and a big table and windows all around the two outside walls, and that was very pretty and cozy. I don't think I would have liked to live in one of those houses, but I'd love a room like that.
There weren't just farmhouses at the museum. There were cows, a breed found only in certain parts of the Black Forest that nearly died out but are being bred again at the museum, some geese, and a goat that was kneeling on its front knees to get at the grass. I don't know if that's a goat thing in general or just a quirk of that particular goat.
We ate lunch at the cafe at the museum and, of course, being in the Black Forest, had Black Forest Cherry Cake. Made the authentic way, with kirsch. We're not drinkers, and it was a little too boozy for me. @_@ On my to-do list now that we're home: make a non-alcoholic Black Forest Cherry Cake.
Of course, tourists gotta buy souvenirs. So we stopped at this veritable palace of souvenirs, House of Black Forest Clocks. And we bought stuff. Lots of stuff. (The store doesn't just have the expensive handmade wood items that are on the site; it also has t-shirts and dolls and toys and stuff like that.) I didn't buy as much stuff as some people did (R&C even got one of their handmade cuckoo clocks), but I still bought stuff for the kids and grandkids. Bonus: the shop will ship your purchases for you, which was great because in order to fit 10 people's luggage in two cars, we were restricted to one carry-on size suitcase each, just big enough for two weeks' worth of underwear and enough clothes to get by.
A couple of days later (yeah, I know I'm skipping some things; I'll come back to them in a later post), we went to what is arguably Germany's biggest tourist attraction, "Mad" King Ludwig II's fairy-tale castle, Neuschwanstein. Built 1869-1892 (Ludwig died in 1886) as an idealized, romanticized version of a medieval castle, Neuschwanstein is also very much a tribute to the operas of Richard Wagner; Ludwig was a patron and ardent admirer of Wagner. My dad, a huge Wagner buff, opined that Ludwig (who never married) was in love with Wagner, while Wagner was in love with Ludwig's money.
Even though it isn't authentically medieval, the interior of the castle is filled with breathtaking, lavish art, including murals of scenes from the medieval legends that inspired Wagner's operas and a wide variety of other cultural influences, like the Byzantine-influenced throne room that looks more like a cathedral interior. It also had a state-of-the-art (for the time) electrical system for summoning servants to and from various rooms, hot and cold running water, and the first (or one of the first) telephones in Bavaria. And the physical setting can't be beat.
I wasn't up to the hike up the hill to the castle, so we caught a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. That was fun :) I don't know much about horses, but I could tell these were some very powerful, muscular horses. Writing note --> The Uurikhani horses in The Lost Book of Anggird are very much like these horses.
The tours of the castle are very scientifically scheduled every five minutes. You get your tour number and time on your ticket, and there are kiosks on the ground outside the castle that show which tours are coming up next. When your tour is coming up, you get in line before it starts and scan your ticket to get through the turnstile. I suppose if your miss your tour time, they might still let you in, but I wouldn't want to test it.
The tour involves hundreds of stairs (not all at once, thank goodness). I didn't know if I would make it; after almost a week of traveling and sightseeing, I was feeling pretty worn out by this point. But I made it. I was pretty proud of myself :D We did take the carriage back down, after a stop at a snack stand for some "quark balls," fried donut-like balls of dough made with soft quark cheese. (My dad is a physicist, so to me, the word "quark" in the context was kind of funny.) They were so good. Worth the drive to Neuschwanstein and the journey up the hill just for those.
Ludwig didn't live to see Neuschwanstein finished. More and more he retreated into a fantasy world, sleeping at day and living life by night, alone in his castle. After a series of financial and political disasters, he was found dead at age 40 in a nearby lake along with his doctor. Only seven weeks after his death, the castle was opened up to tourists. Which seems really sad to me. He's called "Mad," but maybe he was just a dreamer born into a position where dreamers didn't fit in, longing for a beautiful world at odds with the real world. Schlocky and touristy, maybe, but Neuschwanstein is definitely worth seeing for its own beauty and the story behind it.
Next time: Going for Baroccoco *rimshot*
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