Castles, Lakes, Oktoberfest & Fall

Posted on / by Alex Berger

All right, I finally figured out what a Czech Kruna is worth, managed to get some food, and have some semblance of an idea what I’m doing. That said, back to it:

Luckily Oktoberfest ended at 11 pm as I mentioned in the previous post. Another bit I forgot – during our walk back around the Cathedral/city on our way back to the hostel we picked up two cigars. For whatever silly reason this added to the ambiance and storybook feeling of it all.

Saturday morning we woke up early, managed to get washed up and collect ourselves all by about 9. We debated what to do and decided that food above all else was the first priority. As we headed out on the town we made our way down to the main train station – about a 10 minute walk – and then poked around the city a bit. We found a tourist info site, and looked into pricing out how to get to Neuschwanstein castle. They had tours for about 35 Euro each, be we figured out that a joint train ticket would cost us 28 Euro total. We booked the ticket, wandered around Munich’s old town a bit more which is absolutely beautiful, then caught the train for the two hour train ride to Fussen.

The German countryside is beautiful. Autumn is here and the trees are all changing color. The weather is still fairly warm but getting colder. The whole weekend was pleasant, with the occasional bit of cloud cover, but mostly sunny. The two hour train ride was chock full of beautiful scenery, from the forests planted with incredibly straight trees, to small German towns and rolling green pastures full of big gray cows. As luck turned out, the 35 Euro tour that we didn’t take ended up being on our same train. It turns out that whole thing was a horrible deal and basically just provided you with a timetable and a chaperon. Relieved not to be on it and to be doing our own thing we eventually arrived at Fussen. From there we caught a bus which as luck would have it was included in our rail ticket. The bus ride was about 10 minutes and took us up to the foot of the castle area. All of the photos just show the one castle, the reality is that its on the larger of two hills. In between the two is a small town, with food and other amenities. On the other (smaller) hill there is another, much less spectacular castle. Beyond the two castles is a large lake. The lake itself has crystal clear water with a light turquoise tint to it.

When we arrived at the base of the two hills there was a heavy mist that hindered viability. In the grand scheme of things, it added a whimsical, fairytale feeling to everything despite obscuring some of the views. It wasn’t until I looked back that I noticed a slight phantom fading in and out of view in the mists up on the hill to our left. That turned out to be the main castle which we wouldn’t see in it’s full grandeur until an hour or so later. We hiked up into the small town, pausing to pick up a brat and some pommes (fries). From there the 2nd smaller castle was readily visible. We decided to start small and began the 5 or so minute hike up winding stairs to the first castle. The castle itself was fairly unremarkable. The view was beautiful, the building looked more like an early 1900s castle wanna-be mansion than a true castle, but was still interesting. We explored the castle grounds/courtyard briefly then noted that a cobblestone street wound down and away from the courtyard toward the other side of the castle. We followed it around and it dumped us out onto the road up to the castle which they used for carriage rides for those who were too lazy or could not tackle the stairs.

The road itself was an incredible sight. The landing was fairly small and had a horse-drawn carriage waiting for customers as well as two parked cars. The road down was a cobblestone affair with occasional classically-shaped lamp posts projecting up from the sides. At the start of the one lane path there was a rock wall on the right which looked out through autumn-kissed trees onto the valley below. The cobblestones themselves struggled against a fresh layer of fallen leaves and on the right the hill that the path was carved from was covered in moss, fallen leaves and vibrantly colored trees. To make things that much more stunning it was humid and may have rained earlier that morning which brought out the colors in everything. As Amber and I started down the path, we paused at the brick wall and looked out. Before us, through the trees, was a patch of forest that eventually opened up into the green fields of the valley below. Immediately in front of us, the hill dropped away at a harsh incline, one that was on the cusp of unclimbable.

From there we continued to follow the road as it meandered down the hill. Each step revealed new surprises and wonders. The view with lanterns, overhanging tree canopy, colors, cobblestone street, etc. reminded me a bit of the Chronicles of Narnia. Eventually the street T-boned into another road that ran around the lake and was a ways up the mountain side. At the intersection though, there was a little pedestrian path 50 feet or so to the side of the cliff leading down to the water. From there, again framed by the yellow, green and gold leaves was the lake that they say motivated Swan Lake. Looking out from that vantage point it’s not hard to imagine why. The trees were reflected in the water, while cloaked in drifting clouds. The forest itself looked like something out of the early scenes in the Lord of the Rings. The water was glass calm and stretched away. In addition to being smooth it had a light blue tint and was crystal clear. Oh…and of course…there were Swans.

From there we wound down to the small town again, then began up the other side. The walk took a good 30 minutes and was brutal on the legs, but again the entire time we were bathed in mist as we made our way up the mountainside. The air was fresh and clean. About 2/3 of the way up the forest was broken by several small buildings and a few food stands. I grabbed a second brat while Amber picked up some ice cream and then we continued our climb. Five minutes later we arrived at an overlook just before the castle. The castle itself is located on an outshoot that juts out from the main mountain. On one side the mountain slopes away somewhat gently (this was the side we’d climbed up), but on the other side it falls away crashing down hundreds of feet to a small gorge. Hidden in the mist we could hear a large waterfall and the sound of water below us. The castle itself juts up from the mountain top and sits majestically on the top of the hill surrounded in trees. We walked up to the front entrance and passed into the central courtyard. While it was plain, it revealed a beautiful stone area packed with tourists. From there we walked back out the front and began to wrap our way around to the other side of the castle. At which point in time we heard the noise of a plane which came out of the mist and did a close fly by…one that for a few seconds had my heart pumping as it flew directly at me…and the castle…before turning and making its way away from the castle.

As we wrapped around the castle the steep drop offs, beautiful architecture and towering castle walls were incredible. We had seen the flash of cameras in the mist from a bridge up the gorge a bit, located above the waterfall, and found a path to it. Another 10 minute walk took us to a small pedestrian bridge that spanned the gorge hundreds of feet in the air. The castle itself was barely visible in the fog, giving it a hauntingly beautiful aura. I got several pictures, but I’m not sure they’ll do it justice. Below us turquoise water crashed into two huge pools before winding down and away. The height and build of the bridge meant that most of the tourists stayed on one side not daring the venture out into the middle. Built in the 1800s it was iron with wooden boards creating the walking portion. These boards were wet and they bent slightly as you walked upon them. Despite my fear of heights I forced my way out onto the bridge fighting off an initial wave of dizziness. As time passed I got more comfortable, comforted by the fresh crisp air and the view. On the far side of the bridge I could not help but smile as I watched a man propose subtly. It was truly incredible and so subtle that I think everyone else on the bridge missed it. Of all the places in the world, that was definitely an incredible choice.

From the bridge we returned past the castle and down the mountain constantly surrounded by falling leaves. We boarded our bus back to Fussen where we explored the small town for an hour finding food and water before making our way back by train to Munich. There we unwound a bit, rested our aching feet and then set out toward the town. By then it was getting fairly late – around 8:30 if i remember right. We found ourself back at Oktoberfest where we wandered into a beer garden and found a space by a young german guy in Leiderhosen and an older man who turned out to be his father. We asked to join and they happily made room. From there we ordered our steins and chatted with the two of them in Oktoberfest fashion toasting every few minutes and raising our steins in cheers as everyone sang drinking songs. It turned out that they were both from Munich. The father was starting to gray, the son was 19 and an apprentice engineer. He spoke limited English while the father’s English was decent. With Amber’s limited German and my ability to read conversations despite not knowing the language we all conversed until last call at which time we asked them where to get food. They volunteered to join us and led us to a fish stand which normally serves whole smoked fish on a stick. They were closing down and out of fish, but had great seafood sandwiches for 2 bucks. I got a shrimp one, the others all got various mixes. From there we stood by and ate while surrounded by a sea of flowing people dressed in traditional garb and tourists from every part of the world.

As we finished our meal it turned out the young guy had several ride tickets from friends working at the fair. From what I gathered his fiance had stayed at home and so it was probably the last chance he’d get to use them. He asked if I was up to riding a spinning contraption that had a lot of flashing lights, went in circles really fast, and blasted old American music. Only 1 stein in and feeling like it would be rude to say no, I agreed. We rode the ride, and both ended up dizzy as hell but had a blast. As we stumbled around he pulled out 4 more tokens and this time the four of us made our way to the bumper cars and all rode them. After that they were pumped and asked if we’d ride the roller coaster “five loops” with them. It was 6.50 each and a great ride, not super high but fast with five loops and an incredible view of Oktoberfest. We rode it and had a wonderful time. As things wound down, he was eager to get back to his fiance so we said goodbye. Amber and I made our way home and crashed exhausted.

Will continue with the last day of Oktoberfest and the trip to Prague soon!