Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What Families Should Know About Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle

It is the number one tourist attraction in Germany and a beautiful sight to see, set in a ruggedly spectacular landscape in southwest Bavaria.  Neuschwanstein Castle and its surroundings are a highlight destination.

Let me immediately dispense my advice, however, for families with young children.  If your children are age 7 or younger, I would suggest you skip the guided castle tour.  The ticket lines are long (although you can purchase them online now), the wait times for the assigned tour times are long, and the tour is long and crowded.  In the summertime, over 6,000 people a day visit Neuschwanstein Castle.  For those with older children, a tour of the fairy-tale palace is worthwhile and leads through the Throne Room, the Drawing Room, the Dining Hall, the king's bedroom, and more.  The consummation of King Ludwig II's obsession with swans, art, and Richard Wagner's operas result in a rich, ornate interior of eccentricity.

Regardless of whether you have purchased a tour ticket or not (tickets must be purchased in advance at the ticket center in the village of Hohenschwangau below the castle), you can, and should, still venture up to the castle.  Access to all exterior areas, courtyards, the Marie's Bridge (named after Marie of Prussia, Ludwig's mother) over the stunning Pöllat Gorge, the forest trails and waterfalls is free.  Views of the Tegelberg mountain, the Alpine foothills, the bright orange Hohenschwangau Castle, Alp Lake and Schwan Lake are breathtaking from all directions.

Marie's Bridge over Pöllat Gorge.

View of Hohenschwangau Castle from the walking path up to Neuschwanstein.

Views of the castle from all directions.

The walk from the village all the way up to the castle takes about 30 minutes, is steep, and is partly loose gravel, so it's not stroller friendly.  If you have the time and energy it is a beautiful hike, but otherwise, transportation options are available.  I have done the walk, but when we took the kids we opted for the 2.60€ per person shuttle bus.  Maybe some day I'll try the horse-drawn carriage for 9€ roundtrip.  Note:  even if you take the shuttle bus or the carriage there is still a 10 minute, steep walk from the drop-off location to the castle!

King Ludwig II of Bavaria built Neuschwanstein on top of a cliff ridge beginning in 1869, overlooking one of his childhood homes, Hohenschwangau Castle.  He meant to reside in Neuschwanstein and financed its construction with his own personal fortune, but sadly he died after having lived in the palace for only 172 days.  But what he left us to enjoy today is a fairy-tale castle with towers and turrets, gables and balconies in an idyllic Alpine setting.

Tourist information:

•  Neuschwanstein Castle is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from April 1st to October 15th, and 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from October 16th to March 31st.  Closed on January 1st and December 24th, 25th, and 31st.

•  Admission is 12€ for adults, all persons under 18 are free!

•  Tickets must be purchased in advance at the ticket center in the village of Hohenschwangau below the castle.  Tickets for the shuttle bus to the castle can be purchased here as well.

•  If you take a tour, there are public bathrooms inside the palace near the kitchen, which you will see at the end of the tour.  There are no restrooms in the courtyard where people wait (sometimes for a long time) for their scheduled tour time, nor anywhere else up on the hill.  Down in the village, there are pay restrooms (drop in a coin to unlock the entrance turnstile) across the street from the ticket center.

Courtyard where you wait for your tour to begin.

This is my Photo Friday link-up post for DeliciousBaby.com.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Photo Friday: Palace of Charles V in the Alhambra

Entrance to Palace of Charles V.

Among the four major sites to visit in the ancient hilltop fortress of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, the easiest to access is the Palace of Charles V, as it is free.  The Palace Nazare and Generalife Gardens require an advance ticket purchase (months in advance during high season!), and the Alcazaba fort requires a combination ticket with either of the two.

The Renaissance architecture of the very large Charles V Palace looks a little out of place among the 10th century, mostly Islamic Alhambra complex.  That's because the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V,  decided in 1527 that he liked the Alhambra so much, he wanted to live there, and so built himself the grand palace right smack in the middle of the grounds.

It's an unusual building.  The exterior is square, but upon entering, the visitor finds an open air, enormous circular patio.  It is used today mainly as a theater, and was set up for the International Festival of Music and Dance when we were there.

This is my link-up post to Photo Friday at DeliciousBaby.com.

Read Alhambra Part 1:  Generalife Gardens here.
Read Alhambra Part 2:  Palace Nazare here.

Read Alhambra Part 4:  Alcazaba Fort here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Bunch of Bull

The Swiss love their cows, the Portuguese have their rooster, and the Spanish display their bulls.  Bulls are everywhere in Spain.  Most famously, there is the Osborne bull.  Osborne is the name of a brand of Spanish sherry, and back in the 1950s an advertising campaign for the company placed enormous, black, metal, bull silhouettes along hills and roadsides throughout the country.  There are at least 94 Osborne bulls still remaining in Spain.  Very few have the Osborne name or anything else printed on them.  

The image is so popular it has become a Spanish emblem and is even printed on postcards, souvenirs, and merchandise.

We photographed this Osborne bull in Andalusia.

Rarely does a bar or café in Spain not have a mounted bull's head or two on the wall.

And bulls are favorite characters for kids:

But my personal favorites are the real McCoy . . . the ones lazing around the fields that I photographed at rest stops and outside of town.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Old Wooden Shoe Carver in Gouda

My family loves to watch craft demonstrations, and what could be more culturally relevant and fun in the Netherlands than observing a wooden shoe carver at work?  This old gentleman at the cheese market in Gouda kept us entertained for at least an hour watching his skill with ax, chisel, and file.  In his perfect English he told us he had been making Dutch wooden shoes his entire life, and now, in his retirement, he likes to demonstrate the centuries-old handicraft at fairs, markets, and international shows.

Wooden shoes are called klompen in the Netherlands (because of the klomp-klomp sound they make when you walk) and are still worn by many people in the lowlands of Europe even today:

Starting with a block of soft but strong aspen wood, the friendly shoe carver in Gouda roughly shapes it into a shoe with an ax.  He then continues to file and chisel the shoe into its final shape.

Later it is painted and/or etched with wood-burned designs.  Wooden shoes in all sizes are one of the most popular souvenirs purchased in Holland!

Finished and unfinished klompen.

Related posts:
Chocolate Making in Broc, Switzerland
Cheese Making in Gruyères, Switzerland
Violin Making in Mittenwald, Germany
Glass Making in Murano, Italy
Porcelain Making in Delft, the Netherlands, and in Oberschliessheim, Germany

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Travels With My Mom

On this Mother's Day,
some memories of travels with my mom:

My brother, mom, and I in Wüstenzell, Germany, in 1966.

My kids, mom, and I in Wüstenzell, Germany, in 2005.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Photo Friday: Torre del Oro

Torre del Oro in Seville.

There are much more grandiose and better known attractions in the ancient city of Seville, but we really grew to like the peaceful river walk around the Torre del Oro, or Tower of Gold, beside the Guadalquivir River.  

The twelve-sided military watchtower built in the year 1220 was designed to protect the city from invaders, served as a prison in the Middle Ages, and is now a small naval museum with lovely views from the top.

Torre del Oro at night, with Isabel II bridge in background.

This is my Photo Friday post link-up to DeliciousBaby.com.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Village of Rimpar in Germany

Okay, so we went to the village of Rimpar for a beerfest.  Sans kids.  That doesn't mean I can't recommend it as a family destination, does it?

Hubby and I in Rimpar, Germany.

It just means I'll have to import some photos from Google since most of mine are not particularly family-friendly:

German children would not, however, find this photo unusual.

Amongst all the festing, we did take the time to take a short look-around at Rimpar in the district of Würzburg.  The most notable sight is Grumbach Castle, built in 1347, with its small historical museum and lunch tables on the grounds perfect for an afternoon picnic.

Photo credit:  Reinhard Kirchner at Wikimedia.org

Rimpar also has several clean and modern children's playgrounds and might be the perfect rest stop for a family traveling the Autobahn 7 through Franconia.

Playground Scheuerberg in Rimpar.
Photo credit:  www.rimpar.de

Friday, May 3, 2013

Photo Friday: Playing Dress-Up

My kids are both teenagers now, and yes, they occasionally still like to play dress-up when we travel:

My son as Spanish matador.

Cordovan hat.

Flamenco hair flower.

Just like when they were younger:

Royal orange cowboy hat in Amsterdam.

Bavarian carnival hat.

This is my link-up post to Photo Friday at DeliciousBaby.com.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mary's Day

Although it originally began as a pagan festival, May 1st, or the celebration of May Day, was Christianized during the process of conversion in Europe and continues to be observed by some in Europe and America.  In the Roman Catholic tradition the entire month of May is dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and in Catholic school when I was growing up we held May Crownings with crowns of flowers placed on a statue of Mary.

In honor of May Day today, I find an excuse to post photos I've randomly taken in Europe of various Virgin iconography.

Tile mosaic on the streets of Seville.

Virgin and Child by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano at the Louvre.

Mary painted on the Renaissance vault of the Seville Cathedral.

Stained glass window in the Mesquita in Córdoba.

Virgin of the Navigators in the Alcázar, Seville.
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