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Cars and Castles: Lots of Both!

You would think road tripping with navigation is easier when we used maps back in the day. But I don’t know. We are constantly flummoxed. Why are we going this way? What is she thinking? We frantically look at the map trying to determine whether or not “she”–our GPS navigator-knows what she’s doing. This is a useless exercise because the map of Germany doesn’t have the detail we need. Is she routing us around roadwork? Or an accident? But when we’re inching through traffic that rivals LA we doubt any other option could be worse. Much of our road time has been consumed with such rhetoric. We’ve come to the conclusion that the economies in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria must be doing extremely well.

This is a nice introduction to a beef we have with the rental car company. When John rented the car he was asked if we were entering any other countries. He replied we were traveling to the Czech Republic and Austria. They charged us a $50 service charge per country. Several days later when friend and tour guide Zoe met us in the Czech Republic, she was curiously examinimg the windshield and asked if we had a permit to drive in the Czech Republic. We didn’t know what she was talking about. She patiently explained that the rental car company should have given us a permit for driving in the Czech Republic and Austria, and without them we would most certainly receive a ticket, probably multiple tickets! Consequently, we spent some time stopping at numerous filling stations until we found one that issued the permit.

When we entered Austria, we were on high alert! I imagined there would be a sign “WELCOME TO AUSTRIA” with an information center and kiosk to purchase driving permits. NO. There was nothing. We drove aimlessly until we stopped to ask for help no less than two times–which is a lot when a male is driving. Finally, after 45 minutes getting nowhere, we found a station to purchase the ticket. We can’t wait to be notified by the rental car company to see if or how many tickets we received. As I’m writing this, John announced a new speed record, 193 km per hour.

Neverthless, driving through idyllic pastures with grazing cattle has been like salve for the eyes. I want to drink it up! The velvety green meadows are punctuated with alpine chalets, geraniums spilling from the windows and wood artfully stacked alongside. The dark forested hills appear above the valleys and finally, the Alps magically ascend above it all like a stage backdrop. They remind me of the Idaho Sawtooth mountains, jagged and craggy.

Yesterday we visited Herrenchiemsee, one of King Ludwig’s castles. King Ludwig II was crowned at only 18 when his father died suddenly. Everyone’s heard stories of his unconventional behavior. He had an unquenchable thirst for planning and designing grandiose projects, several of which were not finished in his short lifetime. Herrenchiemsee was built as an homage to Louis XIV, the Sun King, who built Versailles. A short ferry ride takes you to the island where the royal palace sits. It’s a fraction of the size of Versailles, however the rooms are actually more sumptuous–if you can believe it! Ludwig, who had a repulsion for humanity, had an elaborate table designed like an elevator, to appear through the floor so he could eat alone. He only spent ten days at this palace before meeting an untimely death at age 40. Speculation centers around whether his advisors may have been party to his murder because of the enormous financial burden his extravagant taste put on the country.

This morning we found ourselves at the foot of Castle Ehrenberg, built in 1293 to establish the northern border of Tyrol. It was significant because it was situated on the medieval salt route. We hiked–straight up–to explore the ruins and admire magnificent views of the villages far below. Then we walked across “highline179”, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge of the world! It made my knees ache and my sister’s fingertips tingle. Looking down was risky–but what a rush!

Then we made our way to Neuschwanstein, the most famous castle in the world, another project of King Ludwig II. It is also called the Disneyland castle, which is apt because it has turned into a business proposition rivaling Disneyland! Views at the top of lakes below are phenomal, but honestly, we didn’t think it was worth it.

So many castles, so little time! We’re crossing the Rhine River heading toward the “Romantic Rhine Region”, so there’ll be more castles to come.

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