princesses & kings

Aloe and Neosporin to doctor the luge wounds successfully in hand, the next morning we made a quick 5-minute jaunt to Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein.  The castles of the mad King Ludwig II, his Neuschwanstein Castle serves as the inspiration for the renowned Disney logo and the centerpiece of Disneyland.  Ludwig was a Bavarian king who became king at the age of 18 and died just before his 41st birthday (murdered, suicide?).  He was a bit of a recluse and had several castle building projects commissioned throughout the time of his rule.  Dad had, travel genius that he is, ordered our tickets a few months ago online so we were able to bypass the easily two hour line to be the second in the reserved ticket line, collect our tickets for tours of both castles, and spend some time on the shores of the scenic glacier melt lake on the grounds.  The contrasting colors of the light blue of the sky, juxtaposed with the turquoise glacier melt water, edged by the various shades of green was mesmerizing.

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Soon enough it was time for our tour of the first castle – Schloss Hohenschwangau.  The home of King Ludwig II’s mother and father, it was the castle that Ludwig grew up in – although he didn’t care much for the castle he did like the reclusiveness of the area, inspiring him to build his own castle on the opposing hill after he became king.  His parents’ castle was built in the 18th century and was incredibly modern as far as castles and the time period went.  It had a central air heating system and interior passages within the walls so the servants could do their jobs without being seen.  The murals that covered each inch of the walls were done in the romantic style and were evidently the mark of incredible wealth.  The king and queen each had their own floor in the Schloss Hohenschwangau so the married couple could, as our tour guide said, “avoid any difficulties”.  There was however, a secret spiral staircase behind a concealed wall that ran from the kings bedroom to the queens bedroom…oops!

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Descending the hill back to the valley, we next took the “shortcut bus route” (dare someone to ask my parents bout that one 😉 ) up to Schloss Neuschwanstein via Mary’s Bridge.  Offering incredible views of the castle, there were hundreds of people on the aging bridge.  I can tell you with complete certainty was not structurally sound.  We enjoyed the view for a moment and then quickly got back to safe, solid ground.

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The mad King Ludwig II had Schloss Neuschwanstein built in the 19th century, however, he only lived in it for a total of 170 days and died before it was completely finished.  Extraordinarily ornate, it was clear that no expense was spared – or probably even considered.  For example, Ludwig liked the scene in a play where the goddess Venus meets a nymph in a cave, so he had a room built that looked exactly like a cave – the walls weren’t just painted they were textured to be cave walls – and the room was complete with a waterfall, fog machine, etc.  It was incredible.  His throne room was again over the top; opulent murals covered the three story high ceilings and the floor was tiled with over 2 million mosaic tiles.  His bedroom had a running water sink – very modern for the time – and the unfinished parts of the castle included a spa room that looked out over the valley.  Throughout the tour, there was no mention of Disney, however, it was very evident that this was the Disney castle – little girls in our tour were dressed as Cinderella, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty.  We even had a little boy parading as Shrek! 🙂


We grabbed lunch in the shadows of the castle turrets before returning to the car (for anyone visiting, go past the three parking lots directly to lot 4 – great tip we got!  Same price but much closer to the castles).


It was only mid-afternoon so we decided to cross back into Austria and then back to Germany to visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  A traditional Bavarian village, it is the original on which Leavenworth was modeled.  It was fun to stroll through town, get some ice cream, and check out their Beer Shampoo displays (still Christmas shopping, Graham family…).  Back to our B&B in Fussen, we looked for some dinner and went to bed – getting ready to rise early the next day to begin our journey in Switzerland!

IMG_5125{and once more before we go…it was incredibly beautiful}


german clock route journeys + legendary luge runs

We officially begin our tour of the German Clock Route!  The Black Forrest’s claim to fame are the intricate and indescribable cuckoo clocks, which they hand carve within the region.  The complexities of these clocks is simply not to be explained – figurines smaller than my thumb saw tiny blocks of wood and carry pin drop sized mugs of beer through the doors while the mechanical wheel plays its songs.  With their roofs covered with individual shingles and the smoothly moving parts, they were mesmerizing.  Cameron’s favorite even had lights that flickered on when the hour was struck.

Our journey began in Tubingen, a traditional university town that had a lively market in the town square.  I wish we had fresh produce that looked as good as this did!  We walked through the town and got a coffee before getting back on the road to Schloss Lichtenstein.

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Built directly on the edge of the cliff, we ambled along the wooden paths around the perimeter of the castle that wasn’t cliff facing and Cameron was the ultimate daredevil – leaving the safety of the path to stand on the verrrryyyyy edge of the cliff.  Brave, crazy guy!!  Directly behind him is at least a 2000-foot sheer drop, completely down to the valley floor.

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Continuing our drive through the scenic heart of the Black Forest, we stopped to get a delicious lunch before continuing on to our Hotel Lindau in Donaueschingen.  Our hotel was a B&B run by a darling mother-daughter team that was very sweet.  Cameron and I wandered the postage sized town and then met up with Mom and Dad for our 2 hour Italian dinner 😉

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The next morning, we awoke to a fantastic breakfast – complete with scrambled eggs and ham.  ‘merica breakfast baby.  Happy bellies, we headed out into a beautifully crisp morning to continue our Black Forest exploration in Triberg.  Boasting the largest cuckoo clock in the world, we stopped at the house of 1000 clocks and met the third generation owner who was very persuasive but not quiet enough to convince daddy to shell out 600 euro for our favorite clock (that’s an average price to give you some idea for how intricate they are – truly works of art).  We skipped the Black Forest cake but did hike up through Triberg Falls.  At 163 meters, it was a spectacular view of the valley below.

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We trekked back down the mountainside and moved on to Fieburg.  A university town with the river routed to run in streams along nearly every street directly though the town, we stopped for lunch here.  Mom and I got Panini’s while the gentlemen ate at the recommended beer garden.  They ordered sausage salad and like the reasonable restaurant patrons they are assumed it would be some sorts of sliced sausage atop a bed of greens.  Nope.  It was about one pounds of bologna on some onions.  Yummm 🙂

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After more shopping and exploring, we headed back to our home base in Donaueschingen to rest up for more German Clock Route adventures!  After another delicious breakfast, our next morning began in the lakeside town of Lindau.  We explored, shopped, climbed to the top of the lighthouse, and got some sushi and apple strudel (different people, not a new inspired combo).

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Next up was a definitive highlight of the trip so far.  The Biberwier Luge Course was epic – exactly what I imaged for a quintessential alpine summer experience.  Rick Steve’s explains “operating the sled is simple:  Push the stick forward to go faster, pull back to apply brakes.  Even a novice can go very, very fast.  Most are cautious on their first run, speed dons on their second…and bruised and bloody on their third“.  Bingo!  That progression was definitely true for us!  Beginning with a gorgeous chair lift ride to the very top of the ski run, the Austrian Alps laid out like a patchwork quilt below our toes.  The tiny delicate wildflowers, expansive trees, and jagged rock cliffs reminded me a great deal of Mt. Rainer except the Alps peaks are more “dense”.  It was a beauty that couldn’t be adequately captured in photographs.  Once we got to the top, we scanned our passes and grabbed our luge sled.  Making sure to the give the person in front of us plenty of time so as not to be slowed by catching up with them on the run, we were off!  The route was a maze of crisscrossing back and forth and was So. Much. Fun!!  The first run we figured out how to accelerate and slowed into the corners, wind blowing my hair out of my face.  The second run we all were a bit more adventurous, not bothering to brake into the corners and really flying down the mountainside.  The third run Cameron and I went up by ourselves.  This time we accelerated into the curves 🙂  Not surprisingly, our wild guy really got moving.  The video does not do justice to how fast he was going – but sometimes when you go that fast you flip over the edges of the corners and run your arms, hands, and knees over the concrete.  He emerged with some sweet battle wounds.

**Video coming soon.  Our Internet right now is just too slow to upload it! 🙂

Update:  Check.  It.


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As the air began to get chilly up on the mountain, we got back in the car and drove back into Germany to our B&B for the next couple of nights in Fussen.  We ate a great meal at Bar Ari on their heated patio with live jazz music, waiting out a warm summer thunderstorm before walking back to the hotel.


We asked for their first aid kit to bandage Cameron’s wounds up but they only had disinfectant spray and bandages so we tried to find any apothecary (where you have to buy behind-the-counter Neosporin in Germany) but nothing was open on Sunday within driving distance so we got it clean and bandaged for the night – ready and waiting for the apothecary to open at 8:00 the next morning before we visited the actual castle that inspired Cinderella’s in Disneyland!

imagining the magic

After Edith made us breakfast the next morning we walked down the block to the local bakery to pick up a fresh Snowball – a Rothenberg specialty that bakers have been creating since the middle ages.  Bits of pastry dough bundled into a crisscrossed ball and rolled in powdered sugar it was a deliciously dry treat to enjoy with the morning coffee.  Mailing Justin a letter, we headed out of town to…Starbucks in Heilbronn!  It was on the way anyway, promise.  We drove around the Neckar Valley next to the Neckar River, just before it empties into the Rhine.  Our first stop was Burg Hirschhorn, a medieval castle that was in complete ruins but was undergoing reconstruction.  The views over the Neckar Valley were incredible.

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We ventured up the river valley, making a quick stop at a road side restaurant – reminiscent of the coffee stands I miss back home – for some juicy, fresh raspberries, three plates of schnitzel, one cheeseburger, and a basket of deliciously salty pommes frites.  Trekking up the hill we visited the first of two ruined castles that perch on the cliff, standing guard to the Neckar Valley of days past.  I think ruined castles are equally as entertaining as those that remain intact – it’s great fun to grab the torches (British English name for a flashlight) and explore the dark crevices, water droplets hitting the stone, and mossy covered walls that demonstrate the lifecycle of a ruined castle.  There is a strange kind of magic in imagining their former glory days when the walls were foreboding and there were medieval Germans residing within the stone.  The first was the Back Castle, which was built around 1100 while the second was Schadeck Castle, christened by locals as the Swallows Nest.  A peaceful wooded trail connects the two and was a picturesque hike.

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After exploring the castles, we headed into Stuttgart where we would be staying for the night.  We settled in, investigated all the grocery stores around the area to see which could offer us the best breakfast the following morning, and got a 30 cm Subway each (yep, that’s how the foot long comes round these parts).  The simple comforts of home :).  The next day we were off to begin our tour of the German Clock Route!

medieval walled cities

Our first stop this morning was in Nordlingen – a medieval German city where the entire city wall remains intact – and “walkable”!  20 feet above the city, with a tiny rail and a low eves (we are traveling with someone tall now!! 🙂 ), we walked all the way around Nordlingen along the actual medieval wall.  Peering into people’s backyards and admiring the moat gardens, it was an entertaining walk in the crisp morning air.  We climbed off the wall and did a bit of shopping, collecting another knob to add to the collection.  The plan is to “create” a piece of furniture from this trip by buying knobs from various cities we visit – many of the gift shops have them – and then switch out the standard drawer pulls of a serving cabinet we got specifically for this.

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Now it was on to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of the more complete medieval cities and a simply darling town.  Checked into our B&B by Edith, both of our rooms were adorably decorated and (I thought) hysterically matchy-matchy.  We were all craving some decidedly un-German food for a change so we walked the streets to a recommended Chinese restaurant for some lunch.  It was delicious food and Cameron found a hot sauce he loved – success!  We started walking and shopping a bit before a thunderstorm rolled in forcing us to hustle back to the hotel to dry off, take a bit of a nap, and let the storm pass.

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Soon enough the sun was back so we took to the Rothenburg streets – streets that truly look to be out of a fairytale watercolor – to do some sightseeing and shopping.

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We stopped to eat dinner as the sun began to set; ready to begin what was the highlight of our Rothenburg adventures – the night watchman tour!!

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Best described as a German Jerry Seinfeld, the night watchman tour was simultaneously hilarious and informative.  In medieval times, the night watchman was, obviously enough, responsible for keeping watch over the city streets at night while also sounding the alarm in case of fire.  It was considered the third lowest job on the social food chain – the only townspeople with professions less desirable were the gravediggers and the hangmen (but they had the same clients, so dem were friends anyhow).  He took his job very seriously and was a hoot.  Navigating between witty and dense, the night watchman took us around the streets of Rothenburg explaining the history of the town.  The largest home in the town is still owned and lived in by the same family who owed it 500 years ago; the only time the town of Rothenberg was ever taken was during the 30 years war when they accidentally blew up their own gunpowder tower; how chamber pots were traditionally emptied out the front windows in the morning into the streets – they gave a warning call but that typically just made people look up…oops; and how when tourists ask locals for a good recommendation for dinner and the local tells them to “go to hell” they aren’t being rude, it’s a fabulous restaurant we walked by!  One of my favorites was the (completely true!) tale of how the town was saved from complete destruction during WW2 by both a kind American general and courage German general.  The American general’s mother had visited Rothenberg before he was born and had a painting she had done of the city hanging above the mantel in his childhood home.  He hadn’t yet had the chance to see the beauty of Rothenberg first hand and after the first bomb dropped on Rothenberg he asked permission to save the city.  He was given 24 hours by Washington D.C. until he must move forward as Germany was sheltering several units of troops within the city walls.  The American general contacted the German general in charge of the troops within the city, however, he was out of town for a few days – leaving another general in charge, a general whom had strict orders to not sundered the city under any conditions.  However, the German general also didn’t want Rothenberg destroyed and saw realistic truth of where the war was headed (Germany surrendered ten days after this story happened).  He ventured down to the American general’s post outside of the city and promised the city would be emptied of soldiers by morning.  He made good to his word and Rothenberg was saved.

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Also fun to note, we mentioned Seattle at some point, talking amongst ourselves, and a family next to us on the tour swiveled their heads around:  “Seattle!?  We are from Bellevue!”.  Turns out, my dad and their dad went to high school together!  All the way on the other side of the planet, it remains a small, small world.   As the sun slipped fully beyond the ornate church steeple and plentiful slate tiles, our tour came to an end – for anyone going to Rothenberg I would highly recommend the night watchman tour!!  Back to the hotel, via the gelato shop of course, and finally to bed.