by Colleen Morrow

For our last day in Germany, we went to Austria.

Not far from the border, there's a town called Werfen. And Werfen has the world's largest ice cave. It seemed a shame to not go.

After the drive down to Werfen, we had a twisty & turny drive up a mountain to the Eisiesenwelt's ticket centre. From there, we walked another 20 minutes up the mountain to a cable car.  The cable car took us another part of the way up the mountain and then we climbed for another 20 minutes or so before getting to the mouth of the cave.  By that point, we were about 1600m from the ground.  

The cave can only been seen with a tour guide and there are no lights in the cave. Armed with a carbide lamp, we were taken into the cave to see the first km of the 42km cave system.  It also involved more climbing.  700 steps up and 700 steps down, to be precise. Our guide led us through the cave, pointing out different ice formations and telling us about the history of the cave (including that the scientist that discovered the cave is buried there.) Even though it was a bright and warm day outside, the cave was hovering around freezing. It was nice having a sweater and proper hiking shoes.  It was very different from the ice cave I saw in France, which had LED lighting and carpeting.  

Then, it was back down to the cable car, back down to the ticket centre and the car and back down the mountain to return to Munich for one last night before catching the plane back to Canada.

All-in-all, it was a great trip with lots of delicious food, wonderful castles & museums, beautiful scenery, and fun adventures. But for now, it's out of the land of fairy tales and back to reality.

Partnach Gorge and Kochel Am See

by Colleen Morrow in

With only two days left on the trip, we switched gears from culture to light adventuring. Partnach Gorge.

We reached the gorge after a nice walk from Garmisch-Partenkirchen's Olympic Ski Stadium.  In 1936, the towns of Garmish and Partenkirchen joined forces to host the Olympics - the fourth winter games, consisting of only 17 events in 4 sports.  The gorge is 699m long and is 80m high.  They opened the gorge for tourists in 1912 after some more adventuresome tourists regularly began to use the 1886 passage that was created for woodcutters. Now, there's a passage in the rocks that you can travel through. There's always water dripping and so even on a sunshine-y day, it isn't the driest of activities so we were prepared with our rain jackets. And they definitely came in handy.

The gorge was absolutely spectacular. You could get glimpses of such vivid greenery at the top of the gorge and there were narrow waterfalls tumbling down in multiple places.  We took quite a long time to get through the passage, as we kept stopping for photos.  The water just thundered through and over and around the rocks, it was just awesome.  Once we made it past the gorge, we did a bit of hiking up to the other side of the gorge to get to the two bridges that cross the gorge so we could get a top-down view.  The hike wasn't long but the steep climbs slowed us down, but it was such a great little hike.

From there, it was back in the car to head up to Kochel Am See where we had a little down time scheduled on a lake.  After settling in, we donned our bathing suits and heading to a little beach area.  Of course, it was a rocky beach, since we were in the mountains, but the sun was shining and we had a nice bench so we settled in with our books. EDP went for a swim, putting his head under the water and everything but I felt the water was a touch cold so I just sat in it when I got too warm on the bench.  We also had some wonderful swans to entertain us. They swam back and forth a few times and then came right up onto the beach. The one wanted to have a snack where we were sitting so started hissing at us but EDP stared it down and it settled down and decided we could all be friends on the beach together.  Another one started to do some swan yoga of some kind.  I'm pretty sure I got a good picture of it.  Then, it was on to dinner where I discovered the joy of cranberry sauce and french fries. It wasn't quite cranberry sauce but a very similar berry that we don't get in Canada (that I'm aware of, anyway) so I'm just going to start using cranberry sauce on my fries.  We ended our night with more book time overlooking the lake as the sun set.  Seriously not a bad way to spend a day.



by Colleen Morrow in

Monday was an early start as it was our day for two more of Ludwig II's castles - the one he spent his childhood summers in and the one he never saw completed.  Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein, which are both located in the tiny village of Schwangau, nestled in the Alps.

Neuschwanstein is one of the busiest tourist stops in Germany. And that's because everyone knows it as Walt Disney's inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castles.  It's one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, as a result.  And so, it's pretty busy.  We booked our tour times for both castles well in advance so it was an early start on Monday so that we could make our 9:00am tour.  Sure, it doesn't sound like it would need to be an early day but you have to pick your tickets up at least an hour ahead of time (since there's about a 40 minute walk from the ticket office up to the castle) and we were about an hour's drive away.  The drive was smooth so we made it with plenty of time and soon were starting the walk up to Neuschwanstein.

You can only go into the castle with a tour, though you can wander around the grounds as much as you like without one.  The tour was a bit like being part of a herd of cattle.  It was a group audio tour so about 30 or 40 of us were given audio guides that were automatically started in each location as we were herded around the castle.  Neuschwanstein was nothing like Linderhof, the palace that Ludwig II had completed and lived in before his death.  Linderhof has been aptly described as a mini-Versailles and while Neuschwanstein did have a bit of that vibe in a few places, mostly, it felt more like a traditional Bavarian castle - with dark wood and heavy furniture. Building on it started in 1869 and still wasn't finished when Ludwig died in 1886.  He had spent so much money on the palace that he was heavily in debt when he died and it was opened for the public to see just months after his death.  It have never been completed.

The exterior of the castle was far more impressive.  Sadly, the famous Marienbrücke bridge is closed for renovation work so we weren't able to see the most famous view of the castle, which is the one from the bridge.  We did get pretty good views of the other three sides, though.

After we were done at Neuschwanstein, we headed into the Museum of the Bavarian Kings to learn more about the Wittelsbach family, which ruled Bavaria as Dukes, Electors and eventually Kings (when Napoleon elevated Bavaria to an independent kingdom.) Then, it was time for lunch, overlooking the lake and basking in some rare sunshine before heading to Hohenschwangau for our tour there.

Hohenschwangau is a fairly small castle.  It was built as a hunting lodge so only has apartments for the King, Queen and their children.  Ludwig's father, Maximilian II had rebuilt the castle before Ludwig was born so he grew up spending his summers at Hohenschwangau.  It's a pretty sweet summer home.  It's still owned by the royal family and they still use it from time to time.

After that, we headed back to our hotel, with a quick detour to a summer toboggan thing, very similar to the old ride up at Collingwood.  It was a nice little diversion and change of pace from all of our culture and walking.  Then it was on to dinner and a good sleep to be ready for the following day's hike!


by Colleen Morrow in

If the Romantic Road wasn't scenic enough for us, on Sunday, we took an incredibly scenic route to Ettal. We had plans to see Schloss Linderhof and Ettal Abbey. So we set off. And our GPS asked us if we wanted to avoid a road that was closed. And we said yes. She apparently didn't care.  

We ended up driving along this incredibly picturesque road, winding around in a valley along side a gorgeous lake with mountains looming up all around us. We stopped so often for photos, we probably could have walked faster. But it was gorgeous and we didn't really have to be anywhere by any time so we kept stopping. Then, when we were about 3km away from Schloss Linderhof, there was a road block. The road was closed. So we reprogrammed the GPS and got sent on an 86km route for something that was literally minutes away. ARGH! It ended up taking us nearly two and a half hours to make what should have been a 45 minute drive but the mountain/lakeside road was probably worth it.  

Eventually, we made it to Linderhof. It's the only palace that Ludwig II had built that was finished in his lifetime. And it was a palace for one. No guest rooms, only one chair at the dining room table.  He was very shy, becoming more so as he got older, to the point that he didn't know want servants around so his table was built on a platform that could be lowered into the kitchen, loaded up and sent back up to Ludwig without him having to see anyone. His fireplaces weren't proper fireplaces. They were actually vents for hot air to be pushed up to him from below - no servants needed to tend to the fires that way.  Ludwig also had a secret grotto built where he could go and chill out, listening to opera music and having servants row him around his artificial lake in a sea shell boat. Seriously. It was heated and had a waterfall and had coloured lights. It was something else.  

From there, we headed back into Ettal, where Schloss Linderhof is closest to and after lunch, we wandered around the abbey where the big claim to fame is the liquor that the monks make. They make several kinds and I believe the monk we spoke with told us the recipe they use dates back to the 12th century. The basilica was also a sight to see, there were even trees growing under the dome. But really, the liquor is the big draw.