My First Eurotrip, Part 5: Fairy Tale Castles and Snowy Mountaintops

This is the long-delayed final installment of my series looking back at my very first Eurotrip in 2007, during which I visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I never kept a journal during that trip so I am writing this mostly from memory. All photos were taken with my old pocket camera.

Neuschwanstein

After spending a final evening in Salzburg we departed early the next morning for Bavaria, where we would be visiting Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s famous fairy tale castle. Along the way I took some photos of the pretty countryside.

River near a rest stop.
Taken from the bus.

We soon arrived at Hohenschwangau, where I took this photo of Hohenschwangau Castle, King Ludwig II’s childhood home.

We didn’t have time to tour this castle.

From here we began a long walk up a steep hill to visit Neuschwanstein. An optional bus or carriage was also available to take you to the top, but most of us chose to walk.

Our first view of the castle.

Here are some more shots of the castle exterior:

Front entrance with coat of arms.
Inner Courtyard
One of the turrets.
A view from the entrance.

Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland, whereas the Cinderella castle in Disney World was based on any of a number of different European castles, depending on who you ask. The castle was already an anachronism when it was built–the first skyscrapers were going up in New York around the same time. Ludwig II was also known as “The Mad King” or the “Fairy Tale King.” He was eventually declared insane and deposed, but now Bavaria makes millions from his palaces.

Ludwig II was fascinated with fairy tales and Wagner operas, both of which feature prominently in the castle’s design. The inside is quite spectacular, and even includes an artificial cave. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside but you can find pictures of many of the rooms online.

One word of advice: if you’re looking buy some souvenirs after completing the tour, avoid the first gift shop–things are cheaper in the second gift shop . . . and even cheaper in the shops at the bottom of the mountain, at least that was the case back in 2007.

Following the castle tour we hiked out to the Marienbrucke, a bridge spanning a large gorge, seen here:

Marienbrucke

About halfway to the Marienbrucke there is a great lookout spot with this beautiful view:

Hohenschwangau Castle is visible in the distance to the right.

From the Marienbrucke you can enjoy one of the iconic views of the castle, seen below. The other famous view, from the front, requires a hike up to the top of a nearby mountain, which we did not have time for.

Neuschwanstein

After our visit to Neuschwanstein it was time to head to Lucerne, Switzerland. Along the way we were treated to gorgeous views of the Swiss countryside.

View from the bus.
Another view from the bus. This huge lake went on for miles.

Lucerne is reminiscent of some seaside resorts in the States, but with more historic architecture. Despite being a major tourist spot (complete with casinos) and one of the more expensive destinations in Europe, it is one of my favorite European cities. The views along the lake with the Alps in the background are simply breathtaking.

Lake Lucerne
A portion of the Lucerne shoreline.

No trip to Lucerne is complete without a visit to Mount Pilatus, the large mountain that looms over Lake Lucerne.

Mount Pilatus dominates the landscape.

To get to the top of Mount Pilatus you take cable cars, from which you can watch the terrain turn from grass to snow as you ascend.

First the grass . . .
. . . and then the snow.

After a while you exit your comfy small cable car and transfer to a large one, where you must stand, packed in with as many people as they can fit.

The larger cable car making its final ascent.

Once you reach the top, the views defy words, so I’ll let the photos do the talking, even though they could never do justice to the sensation of standing there in person.

On top of Mount Pilatus.
Some day I would like to return with a better camera.
I wonder how you get to this church . . .
The views are simply amazing.
I didn’t want to leave.

To get down, we took the same cable car route, though apparently you also have the option of taking some sort of railroad ride down.

On our way back down.

My uncle and I went to a restaurant on a boat for lunch, where we split an order of quite expensive fondue–54 francs for what was basically bread and melted cheese. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Lucerne is expensive.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the city on my own. In my travels I encountered another giant chess board like the one in Salzburg, though I didn’t play on this one.

Giant Chess

I had planned to do some shopping later in the day, but everything in Lucerne closed at 4pm . . . on a Saturday! Instead I just meandered and soaked in the beauty of the city.

Along the lake.
A city square.
One of Lucerne’s famed covered bridges . . .
. . . and another.

At one point I encountered a group of women having some type of bachelorette party scavenger hunt. The bride (dressed as a prisoner) had a list of things she had to do, one of which was to dance with strangers on camera. She tried to get me to dance with her, but I sort of just stood there and talked to her while she danced around me and her friends filmed it. The next guy (pictured with the girls below) was much more game and really got into the dancing.

Somewhere in Europe there’s a video of this prisoner dancing around me.

Later in the day, after I rejoined my group, we bumped into the wedding girls again. They said hi to me and then shouted “he’s a great dancer!” Everyone in my group gave me a look, like “just what have you been doing today?” So I had to explain it, a bit embarrassed, but it’s precisely these types of unexpected moments that add richness to your travel experience and provide you with unique stories to tell. I mean, anybody can tell anecdotes about visiting castles, but how many people can say they danced with a bride-to-be dressed as a prisoner in a public square in Switzerland? 😉

As the day wound to a close, we visited the famous weeping lion monument and posed for our final group photo.

Weeping Lion Monument

We had to wake up at 4:15 the next morning to hop on the bus to Zurich for our flight out, so we called it an early night. I got searched again at the Zurich airport (seemed to be a theme on this trip) and then we flew to Frankfurt for a five-hour layover before finally boarding a plane for the States. I had come down with a cold on my last day in Europe, which did not make for a pleasant flight—apparently my inner ear passageways swelled up and prevented my ears from popping—my left ear still hadn’t popped a week after I returned home.

Despite the dubious ending to the trip, it was a life-changing experience, and the travel bug bit me hard. Prior to this trip, the idea of traveling the world had never even been on my radar. I spent the first 36 years of my life barely venturing from the east coast of the United States, but in the 7.5 years since, I’ve embarked on three more Eurotrips, as well as trips to Peru, Mexico, and California . . . and it all began with this trip back in 2007.

So ends a story that has taken me nearly eight years to tell. 🙂

Lucerne at Night

View more photos from this trip.

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Photo of the Day: On Top of Mount Pilatus

This is a view from the top of Mount Pilatus in Lucerne, Switzerland, taken on my first Eurotrip back in 2007. I’ve traveled to the top of Pilatus on two separate occasions; it’s a view that never gets old, simply breathtaking.

Mount
Date: 4/6/2007
Camera: Panasonic DMC-FX8 (pocket point-and-shoot)

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Eurotrip 2009: The Movie

I finally got around to compiling the little videos I shot during my 2009 Eurotrip into a movie.  These were shot with my old pocket camera, so it’s not HD video quality and I didn’t have the ability to zoom in and out during shooting, but it’s still a decent companion piece to my journal.

 

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Eurotrip 2009 Part 4: Lucerne

This is the fourth part of my Eurotrip 2009 Revisited series, a special edition of sorts in which I have divided the original post into smaller parts while incorporating minor copy edits and a few new (and reprocessed) images.

Flash Forward: Lucerne, Switzerland

We left Innsbruck after lunch for a very long bus ride to Switzerland. On the way we stopped briefly in Liechtenstein, the world’s smallest principality, basically a tiny independent kingdom complete with its own royal palace:

Liechtenstein Palace

Our guide Keith pointed out that Liechtenstein has three political parties: the conservatives, the more conservatives, and the ultra conservatives. I thought to myself: sounds like some places I know in the States. 🙂 We didn’t have time to tour the palace, so after taking a few photos and getting our passports stamped, we were back on the bus.

On the way to Lucerne we passed by some of the most beautiful scenery you are likely to gaze upon, including giant lakes surrounded by tall mountains and rolling green hills like something out of The Hobbit:

Large Swiss lake (taken from bus)
Swiss countryside taken from bus.
Bad window reflections but I wanted to get a shot of the rolling hills.

Right outside of the city we got stuck in a traffic jam due to an accident that had people rubbernecking, so it took us a little longer to get in. After finally reaching the city we were dropped off in the town center for shopping. I bought lots of chocolate and picked up my free souvenir spoon from the Bucherer. I also picked up another t-shirt and a postcard, which I had been collecting from every country for a friend of Jen’s.

We later checked into a very nice hotel right along the lake, of which I had a nice view from my room when I stuck my head out the window. The room had motion sensor lights for the bathrooms that I thought were pretty cool until I realized that the lights would often go out when I was in the middle of doing something like brushing my teeth. The hotel served a good dinner that night: a cheese ravioli appetizer followed by a beef dish with hash browns. The dinner portion was a little on the small side, but I’m used to gluttonous America where everything is supersized. 😉

That night we walked to the Lion Monument, and then around town and the lake, which is all lit up at night:

Lucerne at night
The covered pedestrian bridge in Lucerne

We ended up at a cafe where we sat in the outdoor balcony overlooking the lake drinking a beer that cost 8 1/2 franks. One thing you learn about Lucerne is that it’s kind of a tourist trap; everything is very expensive. Nevertheless, of all the cities I have visited in Europe, it is one of my favorites.  The views of the massive lake surrounded by the Alps (especially Mt. Pilatus, which towers over the city) are phenomenal, and the town itself exudes old world charm with its pedestrian streets, old buildings, and covered bridges.

After our beer we walked to McDonald’s to quell the late night munchies (sort of a tradition in that we did the same thing two years ago), where I had a Cheeseburger Royale (for you Pulp Fiction fans). During the long walk back to the hotel we bumped into a few less-than-kind locals. First, an older guy cut in front of our group, holding his hand up like a stop sign as he crossed in front of us. Later, a young guy with his friends mocked us for having cameras. Oh well, it’s all part of the travel experience. That night I finally got to bed around 1:30am.

The next morning the hotel served a nice breakfast that included bacon! Most of the breakfasts on the trip were more of a continental style, so this was a treat. After breakfast we hopped on the bus for Mt. Pilatus. To get to the top of the mountain you take two sets of cable cars. The first is a small four-person car, then about halfway up you transfer to a large car that holds roughly 30 people standing. At one point, the land along which the car is skimming suddenly drops away and you find yourself dangling over nothing but air—this always elicits a “whoa!’ from the crowd. On the way up the mountain you watch as the terrain gradually changes from green to snow.

The top of the mountain is breathtaking; no picture or description could ever do it justice, but here are a few:

At the top of Mt. Pilatus
View of Lucerne from the top of Mt. Pilatus
Gazing at the Alps from Mt. Pilatus

That afternoon I had some time to myself so I walked along the lake toward town taking photos. I stopped for a Doener, a popular Middle Eastern sandwich similar to a gyro, and decided to join the other lunching Europeans by eating it down by the lake with my feet hanging over the edge, enjoying the beautiful day and the incredible view:

Mount Pilatus over Lake Lucerne
Lake Lucerne

After lunch I walked into town to take out more francs in order to pay for the boat ride our group was supposed to be taking that evening. Unfortunately, the boat ride would later be canceled, so I ended up with a bunch of extra franks. Anyway, I went to a place called the Tea Room and ordered a cup of green tea for five francs. As I mentioned, things are expensive in Lucerne: I had earlier bought an eight-franc Fanta on Pilatus, and two years ago Uncle Kipp and I shared a cheese fondue lunch that cost around 50 francs.

While in the tea room I bumped into Keith and the adults from the Virginia group, so I sat with them. I decided to go up to the bakery counter and order a chocolate mousse cake to go with my green tea. About halfway through my delicious desert, one of the store employees came up to the table and asked me to come to the cashier at the bakery counter—I had left my wallet, passport, and return plane ticket (which had been inside the passport) on the counter!!! Everything that identified me as me was sitting on that counter for anyone to take. I would have been stuck in a foreign country with no money or identification, so I was eternally thankful for the honesty of the cashier. That was the second time I had misplaced my passport on the trip, so lesson learned—I’ve used one of those around-the-neck portfolio wallets for every trip since then.

After dessert I made my way back to the hotel following a quick stroll through the underground pedestrian mall. After getting back to the hotel we had about an hour before dinner so I decided to take a walk along the other end of the lake taking more photos, with Amber and Sam tagging along:

Amber and me
Lake Lucerne
Amber and Sam looking over the lake
Sun setting over the lake

Dinner at the hotel that night was roast chicken with french fries and ice cream for dessert. I also had some white wine. That night the students decided that they didn’t feel like going out; they just wanted to hang out at the hotel, so I took Amber out and we walked around the town:

Lucerne at dusk

We stopped at a small bar off the beaten path and I bought Amber a radler, though when I ordered the drinks the waiter looked at me like I had two heads because they call it something different in Switzerland. At this point I still had 20 francs left and since it was our last night in Switzerland, I needed to blow through them. Sure, I could have exchanged them later, but where’s the fun in that? So I decided to take Amber to her first ever casino since the legal age there is 18.

We had to pay a cover charge to get in, which left us each with only five francs, but that was fine, because I’m not a gambler myself, and it was enough to give Amber a taste (and bragging rights to her friends who still had to wait three years to legally enter a casino in the States). We stuck to the slots, and needless to say, we lasted about 15 minutes before running out of money. A guy from the New York group named Mark had actually won $200 the night before, but no such luck for us.

After leaving the casino we went back to the hotel. Amber went to bed while I stopped in the hotel bar, where I bumped into Mark, and we hung out for about a half hour talking before I finally went up to bed myself. The next morning we would be heading back to Germany for the final leg of our trip, which will be covered in the next installment.

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