So, a month out of Surgery and it's time to get back to traveling and seeing sights. For my first long weekend of 2005, I had great plans. Then it snowed. Back in early January, I had plans for each and every long weekend this spring. Then I went into the hospital, and all those plans went out the window. I spent the January 4-day weekend (MLK weekend) preparing for my surgery. I got back to work in February, but didn't get much chance to plan for the President's Day Weekend until it was upon me. Exhausted from my work last week, I took Friday as a vegetative day, just recharging my batteries and figuring out what to do for the rest of the weekend. I planned to get up and go EARLY Saturday morning, and make the trip down to the Bavarian/Austrian border town of Hohenschwangau (more people know about Füssen, a larger town nearby). When I got up Saturday morning, we had several inches of snow on the ground, and more falling. Road conditions were bad, so an early departure was out of the question. I dug out my map and started looking at options.

So, instead of making the 3 hour trip to Füssen that morning, I made more local trips on Saturday - wandering in the snowy woods and fields outside Oftersheim for a while, and then driving up to the Heidelberg Castle to enjoy the scenery from there. It was a nice restful, yet scenic day with heavy snow fall and beautiful backdrop. I wrapped my day up early and planned to head out early the next morning for Füssen.

Sunday, the roads were clear, and I got a reasonably good start. The sky was overcast, but there was not active snow-fall. That lasted about half an hour. Almost as soon as I made the turn towards Karlsruhe from Wiesloch (just south of Heidelberg) snow began to fall. Ahead of me I could see dark clouds. Within minutes it got worse, then much worse. Cars traveling at Autobahn Speeds were caught unaware and were spinning out and off the road. It got so bad I wondered if I was going to make it to Karlsruhe (normally less than an hour down the road from me) let alone my target hours beyond. After about half an hour at a 30kph tempo in an unrestricted speed zone, the knot of traffic I was with cleared the near white-out conditions and I was able to resume more reasonable speeds on relatively dry roads quickly. The sky was actually partially clear and sunny an hour and a half later as I approached the Alps south of Ulm. There were still clouds on the horizon obscuring my view of the Alps, but the scenery was fantastic just the same. Snow in this area had been much more substantial this winter than in Mannheim - at least two feet of snow covered everything, although the roads were clear and dry. Just beyond Kempten, the Autobahn ended, and I had to take local roads that wind through the countryside to Füssen. Seeing cross country skiers and picturesque Algäuer villages made for a wonderful drive. I figured I'd stop for some pictures on the way back, but I had a primary goal that wasn't going to take a back seat to general scenery this day. I passed through Füssen, set with a snow-decked pine covered mountain directly behind and into cloud cover - snow began falling almost immediately. I was in the town of Hohenschwangau when I first caught a glimpse of my target, perched atop a pine-covered mountain outcrop from the mountain behind, the Königschloss Neuschwanstein. I stopped in the first spot I could (and promptly got stuck in the snow off the main road - I realized that there was close to 4 feet of snow on the ground in that location), after getting my car turned around to head back out to the road, I paused and took a picture over and between snow-covered roofs of the castle in the background.

I paid €4.00 to park at the base of the mountain, and realized it was a fair bit colder than it had been in Mannheim, so I had to take some time to prepare myself for the hiking I was planning on doing. Suitably prepared, I proceeded out of the parking lot to take some pictures.

Perhaps I should give some background to the castle. Schloss Neuschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, often known as "Mad King Ludwig." As a child, Ludwig lived in the castle Hohenschwangau - across the valley from the far more famous Neuschwanstein. Ludwig loved the operatic works of Richard Wagner, and the themes of the old Teutonic (Germanic) Knights. Inspired by these fanciful themes and real world historic castles, Ludwig commissioned the building of the dream castle in 1868. It was not quite complete upon his death in 1886. On June 10, 1886, Ludwig was dethroned (his madness driving Bavaria into bankruptcy paying for this and other works of Royal Fancy). He was found dead three days later in Lake Starnberg.

Neuschwanstein itself is perched atop a ridge above the Pöllat gorge, and is perhaps the quintessential image of German Castles - featured in countless posters and guidebooks as _the_ image of Germany, especially Bavaria. It is such a fairy-tale castle, that it was the basis of Walt Disney's castle in Snow White. The fact that it was built AFTER the American Civil War, and not completed at the time of the Franco-Prussian War (which created Modern Germany in 1871), does little to detract from the image.

I walked up the road from the parking lot to the Tourist Info Center, where I could have purchased tickets to tour the handful of completed rooms in this massive castle. I opted to save money, and just tour the outside - which was worth the price of the trip. I also opted to skip the horse-drawn carriage ride up to the castle, and walk the route myself. It was a bit steep, and slushy with the active snow fall and significant foot traffic. I stopped near the base of the castle, to catch my breath and browse the souvenirs at the imbiss there. After catching my breath, I finished the hike up the ridge, and was awe-struck by the view of Neuschwanstein covered in snow. The red stone of the Gate house made a perfect contrast to the grey stonework of the main castle, the green of the pine trees, and the white of the snow covering. It was here that I took perhaps my best picture ever, but with a subject like this, it is hard to go wrong.

The view from the castle along the gorge and out into the valley was fantastic - I could easily see why Ludwig chose to build on this place. I wanted to get some of the views from above, up on the mountain side, but the foot-path from the castle was closed due to the amount of snowfall (there was about 2' of snow on the ground). There is one particular post-card picture I wanted to take, from high up on the mountain across the gorge, looking over the gate house towards the valley behind. Due to the snowfall and closed paths, it didn't seem it was going to happen. About 100 pictures later, I headed back down the mountain. About half-way down, I found an open path up to the Marienbrücke scenic overlook - bridging the gorge upstream.

This footpath seemed to go almost vertical, and I wound up getting a fantastic workout on the climb... having to remove my hat, gloves, and jacket to keep from building up too much of a sweat. It was the ideal of a winter wonderland - peaceful and quiet, snow covered pine trees, the only movement being the occasional branch dropping its accumulated snow, with large heavy flakes of snow continuing to fall. Up at the top, I stopped at a covered bench (it's actually a bus-stop in the right season) and rested from the climb - cooling off enough to re-don my coat and hat. I proceeded about 5 minutes up a closed path to the bridge - it was well tromped down, obviously I was not the first (nor was I the last) to make the trek that day.

Over the gorge Ludwig had built a steel foot-bridge - with a fantastic view down the gorge and across at the Castle. Unfortunately, some American GI's arrived shortly after I did, raising a ruckus and causing all sorts of havoc on the bridge. I made my discrete exit, back the direction I came from. Another 2 hours (in summer - longer in winter) up the trail would be the scenic overlook for the post-card picture I wanted to take, but that was out of the question this day. I slipped badly half way back to the bus-stop, and had to reanalyze my trek back - it was too steep to make it without slipping - and I would likely wind up going over the side if I did. So, I took the longer route down the hill - following the bus route. I figured that if the bus could make it, I could. I only slipped a couple times in the 45 minute hike down the mountain - but I didn't fall. I also had some great views of Hohenschwangau along the way.

Back in the valley, I stopped and picked up my souvenir shot glass, and had a late lunch/early dinner before returning to my car. Mine was one of a handful of cars left in the lot at this hour, making it easy to find. I stopped several times on my way out of time to take some pictures of the surrounding environs and the two castles. I was well north by the time the sun set, and home some hours later. I took Monday as a recovery day, and I took the chance to review my pictures. Some of them are absolutely fantastic, and I am including a thumbnail of one of them - I made it as small as I could. I hope you enjoy. I know I did.

Not sure where I'm going next... stay tuned!
p.s. The picture included in the email is at the top of the page.