However, we still did wonder...why is Neuschwanstein Germany's greatest attraction? Why does every guidebook have positive things to say about it, even the ones that would honestly warn you if something was overrated? Seriously, what's the deal? Maybe it really is that impressive. So, after we booked our hotel and knew we'd be staying within a reasonable distance of Neuschwanstein, we started asking around.
"Should we visit Neuschwanstein?"
We asked expats from all over and Germans. I expected a variety of answers, but I didn't get it. One person said it was overrated. Everyone else was in agreement: yes, we should go. (In the case of Germans, we, as foreigners, should go.) We should go to say we had, to check it off our list. (Which it wasn't on, or we'd have had no need to ask.) We should go because the area is beautiful. Some said we should go to stand on the Marienbrücke and get the famous picture of the castle that everyone gets. I was tempted to ask, "If I forget my camera, should I no longer go? Does it lose all its value then?" What I wanted was for people to tell me why it's great and I should see it, but no one really did.
Well....people MUST know something we don't or they wouldn't tell us we should go. We decided to compromise and go to look at it, but not bother to pay big Euro to get tickets and get herded through. I had a sneaky feeling my dislike of crowds and photography prohibitions (none allowed inside the castle) would be irritating enough to cancel out the coolness of the interior, especially since no one actually said the interior was cool.
The siting of the castle was unexpectedly obvious. I thought it would be a bit more hidden, but it was right out on the edge above the plain. We parked in a big lot at the bottom of the hill and started to walk up past the ticket booth, a few tourist shops, and the castle Hohenschwangau. There were so many people everywhere. Waiting at the bus stop were at least 5 buses worth of people. It was hot, hot, hot - in the upper 30s centigrade (almost 100F). We were disappointed to realize the way up to the castle was not a forest path but a paved road. A little ways up, though, we discovered a smaller, steeper path and took that instead.
So hot. So, so hot. My husband thought he wouldn't need water, and I had taken a bottle which was clearly not enough, particularly after a salty German lunch. Hot, hot, hot, hot on that steep trail - I started to feel like I might pass out. Thankfully, it didn't take that long to reach an area with a big wooden map, full of huge groups of people from all over the world. Turned out, we were already right next to the Marienbrücke! So, we went there to get that photo.
We fought our way onto the bridge past a busker and through massive crowds of hot, sweaty people. Yup, there it was. The view was pretty nice, but....we'd seen it hundreds of times before in other people's pictures. And, not to be a jerk ass hipster about it, but I actually thought the view we'd gotten of the castle from the Tegelbergbahn was better. And the beautiful area that was supposed to make the castle worth it - we'd seen all that from the Tegelberg too. Maybe we ruined it by going there first?
We fought our way through more crowds from the bridge to the castle. My husband was very uncharacteristically cranky at this point from the heat and dehydration and people, people, people, people everywhere. The castle turned out to be about 50% buried in scaffolding. We had to walk under the scaffolding to get around it, under the scaffolding with so, so many hot, hot, sweaty, overwhelmed, stroller-pushing, tour-group-following people. So many. Everything was hot. We got to the end and stopped to look at the view and couldn't touch the wall; it was too hot. We walked into the courtyard, which you don't need a ticket for. Guess what? This castle is pretty boring from the outside. We found a souvenir shop and got beverages, which were probably the best thing we ever drank.
Then we got the hell out.
From the bridge we'd seen people standing in the stream below, and we wanted to do that! We'd seen a sign from the path between the bridge and castle that said "Pöllatschlucht" and pointed to a trail heading right down into the gorge. That sounded good. Just leaving the main trail meant we were suddenly much freer from the crowds. There were fewer and fewer people the further we went down.
We got to the bottom and there was the stream. It was full of cairns! The water was so cold, it cooled the entire gorge like a natural form of air conditioning. I took off my boots - I'd have been in Tevas, but I found a huge crack in them when I went to pack them - and stuck my feet in the water. It was so cold it almost hurt. PERFECT. Thank you stream, for rescuing the entire afternoon.
|Neuschwanstein & Poellatschlucht Aug 12|
We followed the stream out of the gorge, and there was a path leading back to the parking lot, so thankfully no need to go back the way we came.
Admittedly, maybe we should have gone inside - afterward I looked up pictures and the throne room at least looks pretty awesome. But I'd read so many people talking about the giant tour groups going through and that you can only see 5 rooms and the herding aspect and the no photos, and setting aside a lot of time to deal with that felt like too much of a pain for something we weren't that crazy about in the first place. And, I bet it's a lot nicer on weekdays and on days that aren't 30 degrees. Maybe I'm too easily distracted by crowds. Hey, I'm rural. Or maybe I've gotten to that point I wrote about way back in an early blog post, when I worried that I'd overload on pretty things and start taking them from granted.
I think people were right to give us the advice they did, but in retrospect I now know the correct answer to my question, and I probably should have known before I even went. If you have to ask whether you should go to Neuschwanstein, the answer is probably no.