I think my brain is full by now. I have seen so many extraordinary things that they now all seem ordinary. Every day, a new city, a few hours of sightseeing, and then the show (if it hasn't been cancelled). After Worms, we got up the next morning to drive to Fredrichshafen (Literally Fredrickport). We had elected the day before to take the slightly longer route through the black forest (Schwartzwald) and take a longer lunch break at a little mountain lake town called Titisee. On the way out, we followed the Rhine river south on the French side to aviod the traffic around Mannheim, making this perhaps the first time I've ever taken a shortcut through another country to skip a traffic jam. We started our ascent into the mountains just before lunch, and the scenery changed abruptly. The Rhine river vally reminded me of the Central Valley in California...a wide, flat farming region, flanked by mountains. Suddenly, we started going what seemed like straight up, over numerous switchbacks climbing in altitude. (This did not sit well with rob whose stomach was still churning from the stop and go traffic getting out of Worms earlier). The views, however, were magnificent, and BA was reminded of Colorado, I of Vermont. While not the jagged peaks of the alps, these mountains were certainly very rugged and were already covered in snow. We passed several ski resorts already in operation this early in the season.
For lunch, our driver, Ervin, had arranged for us to stop in Titisee, a quaint little mountain town on a small lake of the same name. Obviously, this town was a major tourist destination, for the main street was lined with Hotels, Souvenier shops and restaurants, and not much else. We were hoping to take a boat tour of the lake, but the season was over for that. We instead entertained ourselves by finding the kitchiest souveniers we could find. An anotomically correct pig lying upside down, the hall of 1000 cuckoo clocks, "typical" bavarian hats, clothing, and accessories (although, I've never seen a bavarian actually wear any of this stuff unless they were being paid to do so). I don't think I've seen such a collection of kitch since I left New York.
After a light Italian lunch, we headed into Fredrichshafen, and abandoned ourselves to the somewhat elaborate pool/spa complex at the hotel.
Fredrichshafen is somewhat of a harbor town on the Bodensee (Lake Constance) -- which I believe is about the same size as Lake Champlaign in NY or Lake Winnepesaukee in NH, but is mostly known as the place where the Zepplin was designed and built, all the way through both world wars. Consequently, the allies bombed the shit out of the place in the war, and virtually the entire town has been built in what I call "Post-War Hideous". On top of that, it was Sunday, and nothing at all was open. So when I rose around noonish, I went with BA, Michael, Patrick, Angela and Mayumi to Konstanz, to go to the Christmas Market, and explore the town.To get there, we took a bus out of Fredrichshafen to Meersburg, a ferry across the lake, and then another bus into town.
Konstanz, in contrast is a university town that has been so far untouched by fires or wars, therefore some of the original Roman settlements and fortifications are still intact, as is virtually everything built since then. Many of the houses in the old city have their construction dates proudly painted on, most from the 14th through 16th centurys. Konstanz is only famous for the Council of Constance, where the pope was chosen in 1388, ending a division in the church which by that point had three rival popes in different cities. However, the most interesting "sight" in the town is the statue of Imperia, a prostitute who lived in this time period. In one hand she holds the king, and in the other the pope, and her smirk indicates that she knows she controlled both. Her statue is on a revolving pedestal in the middle of the harbor, watching over the Lake, the mouth of the Rhine, and the city itself.
In Konstanz, the Christmas market was very large, and very crowded. Booths everywhere selling everything imaginable - hats, food, leather goods, produce, Christmas ornaments, and there were small rides to keep the children entertained. We browsed for a while, and then went aboard a large boat tied up in the Harbor adjacent to the Christmas market for what ended up being a delicious Fondue dinner. After that we walked a little more before travelling home. We all made it an early night since the next day we were getting up very early to go the the Castles of King Ludwig II.
In the morning, after getting the bus stuck in the narrow streets of Fredrichshafen, roughly 2/3ds of the cast piled onto the bus for the trip to Neuschwanstein Castle. After about an hour, we crawled out of the Bodensee area and up into the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, and as if on a cue, the sun immediately came out (It remained foggy in Fredrichshafen the entire four days of our stay). At one point our driver pulled over to let us stop and take in the vista of the foothills, with the jagged peaks in Austria just behind. (Ok, so there were more than a few people doing their best Maria Von Trapp impersonations.) We were in Schwangau, where two castles are on opposite sides of the valley by noon.
King Ludwig II was a Queen among Kings. Perhaps it was easier in that time to say he was mad than what he really was. He was a patron as well as "an intimate friend" of Richard Wagner, and sold away his political power to Bismarck in order to keep building his castles. He ordered Neuschwanstein (Translated: New Swan Stone - it was built on the ruins of another castle called Schwanstein) castle to be built within sight of his bedroom window in the summer home (yelllow castle) of his father (Ludwig I) and would supervise construction with a telescope. The first rooms to be completed were the King's apartment and Ludwig moved in and lived there for 171 days, until the time of his mysterious "drowning". Construction stopped almost immediately, and since then the family has used the castle as a tourist attraction to try to pay off the enormous debt that the castle had put them in.
The castle itself is breathtaking. Walt Disney used it as his inspiration for the castles in his amusement parks. The way it is perched on a ridge, halfway up the mountain and everything about it is just right. Inside, the kings apartment isn't exactly gorgeous, but it certainly is elaborate. Most walls not covered in gold leaf are painted with scenes from Wagner's operas. Just off the bedroom is a "Grotto" with fake stalagtites and stalagmites, leading to his balcony with a sweeping view of the valley. Inside the actual throne room (where the throne itself was never completed) the huge chandelier is shaped like a crown and covered in jewels. The excess is unbelieveable and unending. There are stars painted on the ceilings, and a swan motif prevails. This was a palace of fantasy --Liberace would be proud.
On the way back down the steep trail into the town, a few of us rode a horse and carriage to get down more quickly (and therefore stay warmer). There wasn't enough time to eat and to go into the other, older castle, but we were assured that the other one was far less interesting on the inside...typical fake medieval. So we grabbed a quick bite (which in Germany means slightly less than an hour) and got back on the bus, since our driver had another side trip planned before the sunset.
In the mid 1700's, a local farmer witnessed what he believed to be a miracle: His statue of Jesus in his fields was crying. News of the miracle spread quickly, and within a month, the town was flooded with people making pilgrimages to his field. A new church was quickly built to house the statue, and completely done in Roccoco excess...so much so that to the casual observer, the actual statue of Jesus looks forlornly out of place in this palace. We were there just as the sun was setting, and the golden sunset glow streaming through the windows catching all of the gold work inside looked luminescent. The painted ceiling, showing man's passage from the temporal world to the gates of heaven has mouldings that extend into the third dimension, so that the wings of the angel, for example look like they are about to fly across the room as soon as one turns away.
We left the church just as the sun slipped behind the mountains, and made our way back to town. We thanked our bus driver profusely (he had planned the entire excursion, and spent his day off driving us around the country side) and tried to tip him, but he wouldn't accept any money beyond the expenses.He just said that he is proud to show all of us his country.
The next day in Fredrichshafen was wet and grey (again - I think it's because of the lake there), and in the afternoon, I went to the Zeppelin museum itself, which was entirely uninteresting. Perhaps if I was obsessed with air travel I would have found all of the navigation and technical information interesting, but there was very little about the actual use of the Zeppelins both during peace time and the wars (There was a very brief mention of the Hindenburg disaster, but it was extremely underplayed as if they didn't really want you to know about it).
That night at the show, our audience was extremely enthusiastic and it was nice to to the show again after 3 days off. Although I enjoy having the time off once in a while, I would rather do more shows than we are...especially since we get paid by the show, and this week there were only three. But, I'm not really here for the role, I came because I wanted to see Europe...and I'm getting a lot of that!
Next up: Basel, and the City of Light.