Of castles and fairytales | SunStar

Of castles and fairytales

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Of castles and fairytales

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hohenschwangau Castle, King Ludwig II’s childhood residence, rising from a sea of green.

“I THINK she deliberately refrained from giving me a heads-up that she’s vacationing in Europe, as if I couldn’t accommodate her in Belgium,” friend Rina jokes after I introduce her to travel companions Nancy and Zhia. “We could have met there instead of me coming here (Munich),” she continues.

I struggle with my reply when she pipes up to inquire where we wished to go; “Neuschwanstein Castle!” We load into the car the next day packed with excitement, the summer air cool and the sky somewhat grey.

The inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty castle sits on a mountain, over 100 kilometers from Munich and near the Austrian border. History goes that King Ludwig II of Bavaria had it built as a tribute to composer Richard Wagner, whose operas the king admired. Neuschwanstein, which means New Swan Stone, is inspired by the Swan Knight, a character in one of Wagner’s operas. The castle’s overall design is meant to reflect medieval architecture, as the king was said to be a fan of medieval history.

On the two-hour drive, Bavarian houses give way to rows of corn, rolling green hills speckled with grazing cattle and horses, and farmhouses. Both sides of the road are sprinkled with wildflowers of various shapes and hues. If only we could stop in the middle of the Autobahn, so-called because one can drive without a speed limit, I would pick some blooms and arrange them in an improvised vase back at the hotel. I eagerly urge my companions to look out the window and check the multicolored carpet before us when Rina, obviously amused, interrupts, “Those are just weeds.”

A few kilometers away from our destination, we pull into a meadow, hurry out the car, and breathlessly admire the castle above. I drink in the verdant mountains surrounding it, the wildflower-drenched field, and a few farmhouses which I think are only found in movies.

We reach the village of Hohenschwangau at midday. The cool morning air is replaced with a stiff noontime breeze. Since there’s a long queue at the ticket booth, leaving our excitement levels a bit depleted, we decide to leisurely hike the meandering trail towards the castle sans tickets—ice cream in one hand and a camera in the other.

Up ahead, we see groups of tourists huddled in a corner. We discover that a bus is available to take people to the top for a round-trip fee of a few euros. The road is steep, the bus is crammed with visitors, and there’s a cliff on one side. This scene does not play well with those who have a fear of heights, me included. I keep my gaze ahead, sometimes watching fellow tourists furtively, to distract myself.

We thank ourselves for taking the bus, as the road is long, winding and narrow, and the drive a bit tricky, with only one bus allowed to pass at a time.

Neuschwanstein Castle is a few minutes’ walk from where the bus drops tourists off. The white façade towers above us, imposing and impressive in equal measure. Since we can’t join the tour (the castle is unfinished anyway), we stand transfixed at the sweeping vistas before us—the travel-brochure-beautiful valley below; alpine lake Alpsee glistening in the distance; Hohenschwangau Castle, the king’s childhood home, jutting out from a sea of green.

The ride down the mountain is akin to being on a roller coaster, with the plunge-downhill feeling minus the screaming part. Nancy worries that the bus would hurtle down the cliff. Zhia, her voice motherly, jests that there are enough trees to cushion the fall. I peer outside and imagine a thousand pairs of outstretched arms forming a railing, but quickly chide myself, “That’s crap, those trees would break and we’d plunge below.” Willing myself to banish negative thoughts, I opt to occupy my eyes with the vast expanse of green I seldom see in Dubai.

To Linderhof Palace

The drive to Linderhof Palace crawls at a snail’s pace, the road full of homebound families back from their long summer holiday.

Everyone at the backseat falls into a silent reverie, occasionally broken by the talking GPS. I doze in and out of consciousness, perhaps, ironically, lulled by the beautiful scenery.

We briefly pass through Austria. Gradually, the landscape shifts. There is less traffic and more nature—pine trees high up the slopes looking like long emerald curtains hanging from the sky (It feels eerie to travel in the middle of too much foliage, dwarfed by giant trees.); the deep green-colored Lake Plansee…

We reach the area in three hours instead of one. Linderhof is small, but inviting. Considered the tiniest among the king’s three palaces (Herrenchiemsee being the third), it is the only one fully constructed before his death. It has massive well-manicured gardens and exteriors showcasing elaborate design elements borrowed from French architecture. They say the palace served as the royal’s refuge in the latter part of his living years. Here, he was in a world all his own; thus the extravagant furnishings, décor and textiles inside.

There is so much to see outdoors that we do not bother to go inside. I take my time savoring the visual treats when Rina abruptly appears, beaming, “Next time, inform me ahead of time so I can plan well.”

Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on September 14, 2017.

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