Today we decided to take an organised tour and see the famous Neuschwanstein castle - the one that Disneyland castle is based upon. The tour also included a visit to the Winter palace of Ludwig II (who had Neuschwanstein built) and of course some gift shops....
The first stop was the Winter Palace, which is quite small but fantastically designed and decorated. After a short tour of the palace, it was back on the bus and off to the gift shops, in some remote village in the mountains. I always wonder what percentage the tour guide and the driver gets. Given their efforts to 'help' you in the isolated shops make expensive purchases, I think they do quite well.
Nicole was quite annoyed... As we drove out of the little township, she spied a Christmas shop that she has thought about mail-ordering from. (This large Xmas shop had a few stalls at the Xmas Markets in Berlin last year). She was spewing that she didn't spot it earlier and get the chance to visit it rather than cruising the local dust-collector shops. On the other hand, the credit card was probably quite happy...
When we arrived at the base of the castle (at a pre-determined restaurant for lunch, you know how these tours go), we had lunch, then set off up to the castle itself. It was a good 30-40 minute walk up the hill, and quite steep. It was possible to get a horse and cart ride up about 2/3 of the way, but the line was about 100 people deep (and with 8 per wagon, it was going to be a while). It was a nice walk, and we got up to the castle in plenty of time for our designated tour.
Ludwig was as mad as a hatter. He did, however, build a pretty decent castle. Heavily inspired by the operas of Wagner (by the sounds of it, his only mate), he designed and decorated Neuschwanstein based upon these themes. Although only 30% of the interior was finished, it was very impressive. The interesting thing is that the castle is so young - only 150 years old - and hardly lived in (he only lived there for 175 days) - so everything is really well preserved. It all looks like it was painted and decorated last week compared to the other palaces and castles in Europe. The government of the time realised Ludwig was spending too much money, and getting into so much debt (he had plans for another castle as well, that never got built). The only way the government could stop him building and getting into more debt, was to have him diagnosed as mad. He was declared mad by a doctor, and he was removed from the castle. The following day the doctor and Ludwig were found dead in the lake. To this day it is not known how they died...it adds to the mystery of the castles.
The boys loved the castle - in fact, they were right up the front with the tour guide, looking around whilst Nicole and I were stuck in the middle of the 'herd'. They were off looking at everything having a great time, and although we could see them, it was good to see how well they went being independent and being able to discover and see the stuff for themselves. They were obviously listening to the tour guides as well, as they were able to rattle off facts about both castles afterwards!
After our castle tour, we headed back down to the bus and a drive back to Munich. A quick dinner and back to the hotel... getting ready for LEGOLAND!