This photography challenge comes from Nancy Merrill Photography. The challenge was something fun. My contribution is a photo of Hogwarts castle, from Harry Potter, which I took in 2019 at Universal Studios, Japan while I was pregnant last Spring.
Japan was so much fun. I think Japan and South Korea were my two favourite countries to visit in Asia. I would definitely like to spend more time there one day.
By all accounts, Ludwig II was a mad king. Of course, madness is subjective, but most people agree that it’s a bit off the wall to build yourself a fantastic fairytale castle, then spend your kingdom’s vast fortune to build another one across the way, just so you have something nice to look at from your own, fabulous castle. It’s even more ridiculous to hear that Ludwig II married a girl, then moved her into the other castle. I’m sure that made for interesting sex, sending a messenger on the forty minute walk to ask: “Your castle or mine?” Only to receive a reply, eighty minutes later: “Oh, not tonight darling, I have a headache.” May as well save oneself the effort and grab a villager instead. Perhaps this explains why Hohenschwangau castle (often mistakenly called Hohenschwanstein castle) was quite near to the village of Schwangau and Neuschwanstein castle was way off in the distance. Old Mrs Ludwig II couldn’t exactly complain if she couldn’t see anything that her husband was doing. Perhaps if Henry VIII had adopted this two-castles-on-two-mountainsides approach, he could have saved himself all the nuisance of having to dispose of unwanted wives after the warranty period.
But he didn’t think of it.
In Britain, we never really consider Henry VIII a mad king, perhaps because he knew which end the crown was supposed to go on, and didn’t roam Buckingham Palace in his nightwear, and anyway, when he was compared to Charles I (who was so despotic, he caused the only English civil war) or George III (who figuratively wore his underpants on his head), he gets a free pass. I think it comes down to the fact that, historically, we have tended to respect the institution of marriage a little too much. Henry VIII was married to each of the six women who he wronged, but that’s fine because he married them. If, as a bachelor, he had treated just one of those women properly but not married her, that would have been a scandal. But beheading two wives? That was reasonable, because he was married to them at the time. I think the other reason we don’t remember any of our kings as properly, truly mad (rather than just bloody stupid), is because we’ve never had a proper despot on the throne. Add to that the fact that we still have a monarchy and the Germans don’t, and it’s perhaps easier to see why the Germans embrace the madness of their erstwhile monarchy and open it up for tourists to see at low low prices (Austria’s got the market pretty well cornered on this too, but I’ll come to that in another article).
Ludwig II is suggested to have schizotypal personality disorder for which there is evidence from his autopsy – he died in 1886 under highly mysterious circumstances the day after he was dethroned for extremely paranoid behavior. Fascinatingly, he was claimed to have drowned and it was recorded as a suicide, but he was known to be a good swimmer and there was no water in his lungs. Add to that the further mystery that his psychiatric doctor was with him at the time – and the doctor was found dead with head and neck wounds and markings concurrent with strangulation.
There are plenty of things in Germany which are spectacular, or ludicrous, or despotic, but nothing in Germany is quite as spectacularly, ludicrously, despotically fabulous as the twin castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. We were so taken by them that we actually went to see them twice.
The drive was painful in both directions due to bad traffic around Munich. We parked in Fussen for a breather and that was when we saw the first of the two castles. I’ve been told by quite a few people that Schloss Hohenschwangau is supposed to be the best one, but Schloss Neuschwanstein was the first one I saw and it captured my imagination far more. It was fit for a princess. It looked like a Disney castle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a castle that was quite so… well… castley. If someone distilled pure essence of castle and made a castle out of it, Neuschwanstein would be the result. This castle belonged to every Disney Princess who ever lived.
We didn’t go inside either castle because (on the way to Salzburg) by the time we’d fought our way through traffic they were both closed for the day. The same thing happened when we drove here on the way back from Rome, so I’ve not seen first-hand what they look like inside, but when they look like this from the outside, I can’t wait until we actually get to go in. Photography is not allowed inside the castles.
The castles look even better in real life and I think they were well worth the effort of driving here even though we didn’t go inside – I don’t think there’s anything like them to be found side-by-side like this anywhere else in the world.
Make it Happen:
There’s two parts to this – getting to Schwangau and then getting to the actual castles. Once you’re in Schwangau the rest is pretty damn easy (as long as you DON’T mistakenly go to SCHWANAU which is 3 HOURS AWAY from where the fairytale castles are).
Drive straight to Schwangau from your home address – this is what I did, it took two full driving days and one overnight stay in a layby in central Germany to get here after 5pm from the North of England.
By public transport it’s really sketchy, which is why I never got here on my Interrail trip – basically Schwangau is a little bit remote and doesn’t have it’s own train station. There is a direct train from Munich to Fussen which takes 2 hours 6 minutes, then you’re on your own to get to Schwangau (Google says it’s a 45 minute walk or a 12 minute cycle – so if you’re reasonably fit and mobile you can probably walk it in under 30 minutes; it wasn’t far at all by car), but if you’re willing to get a taxi this is another option from Fussen. I can’t find bus info.
Getting to the Castles from Schwangau:
Hohenschwangau is a very easy stroll from the centre of Schwangau.
Neuschwanstein is slightly less accessible, you can take a 45 minute walk if you’re feeling sporty.
The more common option to get to Neuschwanstein is to take the tourist buses (run by private companies) which costs about E2.60 there and back again. I think there’s still some walking involved and the buses are unsuitable for disabled people due to the terrain between where the bus stops and getting into the castle.
The most awesome option by far to get to Neuschwanstein is to take a horse drawn carriage, at E6 there and E3 back again. There is a 15 minute uphill walk from where the carriage drops you off. If you’re feeling especially fancy, you can also ride in a carriage to Hohenschwangau castle for E4.50 there and E2 back again.
Entrance to the two castles on a twin ticket was 9am-6pm (summer) or 10am-4pm (winter) and cost E12 each or E23 for a combined ticket. For more information click here.
Disabled, Wheelchair and Pushchair Access:
You can’t drive to the entrances, the closest parking is in Schwangau village centre which costs about E5, or there’s free parking even further down the hill in two large lay-bys. Neuschwanstein appears to sadly be generally unsuitable for wheelchair users or people with mobility-related disabilities due to its design (although some people have had success getting around, I think this has to be taken as the exception; if you’re planning a trip for a busload of pensioners, you’ll have to give Neuschwanstein a miss, but if you push your own wheelchair and you’ve got someone to help out on the hilly bits, you will be able to get around enough to see some of Neuschwanstein). Pushchairs can get to Neuschwanstein but if you’re not reasonably fit you will be utterly shattered afterwards. If you have an invisible disability such as CFS or MS you may have extreme difficulty with Neuschwanstein because the bus queues are a lot of standing around waiting and the walk is hilly with no real breaks; if you’re having a low-energy day, I’d skip Neuschwanstein and go for Hohenschwangau instead. Hohenschwangau on the other hand appears to be reasonably accessible if you can make it up the much gentler hill to the entrance (but if in doubt, double check this when you buy tickets, because everyone’s level of ability is different) and pushchairs are no problem at Hohenschwangau. Everything I saw of both castles and Schwangau village was hills rather than steps.
For accommodation I strongly suggest you avoid the expensive hotels of Schwangau and instead stay in the beautiful large village of Fussen, as there is much more choice, it’s a bigger town and there’s lots of cheaper options and more amenities. If arriving by train, staying in Fussen will also break up the journey a bit. I found the absolute best selection of accommodation from Booking.com but do book early as it’s a popular but relatively undeveloped area, and when we were travelling to Schwangau/Fussen from Rome, I tried to book us a hotel for 2 days ahead but the cheapest options that were left started at 150 Euros which was out of my price range (this was September prices). By contrast, there are currently options for mid-August available starting at £43 for two people, which is obviously a significant saving. By comparison, for the same example date (12-13th August) hotels in Schwangau start at £93 per night for mid-August if you book now.
Has anyone else been to see these fabulous castles? Let me know what you thought in the comments.
This article contains affiliate links, it doesn’t affect the prices you pay for anything, and if you choose to book accommodation from links on this page it just means I can buy food and petrol and all that lovely stuff (which gives me more time to write articles like this one).
After a two day car drive to Salzburg, Austria, I arrived with a big list of things to do in Salzburg. I was expecting it to be cold, but instead I found Salzburg to be a mountain-surrounded retreat bathed in brilliant sunshine with clear air and perfect light for photography:
This big gold ball was a mystery, but it features heavily on Salzburg’s postcards and appears to be a bit of a landmark in Salzburg.
These bottles of Mozart perfume were everywhere in Salzburg. Presumably it’s a desirable thing to smell like a dead composer. The tagline on all the posters was “the magic of a nice feeling.” Mozart’s connection to Salzburg is that he was born here, at 9 Getreidestrasse. I didn’t feel inclined to seek out the house Mozart was born in, since I was far more interested in how the environment shaped his early music; all over Salzburg you could see Mozart’s music in the landscape; the colour of the buildings contrasted with Salzburg’s bed rock, in which it was nestled like a flute playing alongside a cello. Salzburg was light, airy, nothing that happened here could be truly terrible. This flautesque beauty was the enduring mask covering a darker past.
It felt like most of Salzburg was roughly hewn from the living rock itself, and the difference in heights could be profound in places.
This sign gets louder as you walk towards it. Sorry, it’s a science joke. Seriously, though, it’s pretty awesome that Christian Doppler (as in, the Doppler Effect) used to live here, I was surprised as I’d thoroughly researched Salzburg before I set off, and there was just so much more to Salzburg than the internet had suggested. Doppler died aged 50 but, like many of the “great men” from his era, he accomplished so much in his lifetime. Known as a mathematician and physicist, his work on the Doppler effect (the effect that explains why police sirens to get disproportionately louder as they approach, then they suddenly go quiet as they depart) is how we understand red-shift in astrophysics, and that’s the primary evidence we have which supports the Big Bang Theory. It was pretty exciting to see a reference to Doppler, the man who identified the origin of the universe, here in Salzburg, a place predominantly known for music and renaissance landmarks. I suppose it’s the old saying that maths and music go together – where a place is known for music, it tends to also be known for mathematics. Doppler’s tomb is in San Michele, Venice, so this is about as close as one can get to Doppler in Salzburg. I’d much rather see a perfume named after Doppler than Mozart – it could get stronger as one got closer to the person wearing it, and fade away unexpectedly as they passed. The tagline for advertising could be “Smell like the stars of the heavens” (Geruch wie der Gestern des Himmels) as a reference to his eponymous paper on binary stars (Uber das farbige Licht der Doppelsterne und einiger anderer Gestern des Himmels).
This was one of two fountains that I was quite taken with in Salzburg, in Rezidenzplatz, the plaza where many tourists seemed to gather. It was beautiful, with an aura of reflected droplets of water, and it could splash a person with water from twenty feet away. The fountain below has to win points for sheer class in a public park, though:
I explained what the deal was with this second fountain in my post about Mirabell Gardens back in December 2014.
I think most tourists visiting Salzburg don’t know what these plaques are for, embedded into the pavement, four or five inches square, and starting to tarnish. Tourists seem to walk around without even noticing them, which is tragic when you know what these are for. Salzburg’s more recent history is painful to touch, a dark shroud suffocating parts of the city and extinguishing the joy and wonder of Mozart’s and Doppler’s birthplace. Like when you see someone who has been in a horrific accident, and they keep assuring you that they’re fine… but it still just goes right through you, when you look at the wound. Much of Salzburg was a profoundly beautiful place with a lot of happy tourist attractions, and you could probably get through an entire visit here without seeing traces of the Second World War if you wanted to. But there were signs, and it was not very nice. These plaques are for people who were rounded up and transported, telling the world where they were sent and what ultimately happened to them. Deportiert means deported. Ermordet means murdered. Suddenly the tragedy of Salzburg is vividly real and tragic. The plaques are to show where these people lived before they were labeled as undesirable. On the plaques above, you will see this family was separated after they were taken; Irma and Arthur Bondy were both killed at Minsk, the capital of Belarus, by the Third Reich, which leads to a completely different picture of wartime Belarus than we are used to thinking about. Otto Bondy was taken to Theresienstadt, the ghetto camp in the Czech republic, before being moved to Treblinka, the other extermination camp in Poland. Rachel Rosenmann was taken to Lodz, the work camp also in Poland. It is impossible to know when they died, only when they were taken, so whether their suffering was quick or slow, we will never be able to tell. Just looking at that photo makes me profoundly sad. Just as Mozart and Doppler are famed citizens of Salzburg who should be remembered for their work, the world should also know the names of all of these people who lived in Salzburg all their lives, then were rounded up and killed. The people in these plaques were all aged in their mid-fifties. There were so many of these plaques and I feel very guilty that I didn’t photograph them all, didn’t record every name and every fate. Then I realized that the plaques do that. They remember the people who were lost. Salzburg found them and brought them home again, even if only in name. When people say the situation with the refugees in North Africa is different to this, they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s hard for some people to remember that our side wasn’t actually aware that the Nazis were doing this to millions of people until some allied soldiers walked into Auschwitz when we liberated Poland. The same thing could quite easily be happening elsewhere.
This was a big castle. I think it’s what most people go to Salzburg for. We clomped up the hill, got to the top, enjoyed the view, balked at the entry fee and came back down again. The view was nice though and the exercise was probably good for us after the two-day drive to get from the North of England to Salzburg. There was also some sort of mechanical railway lift type thing (similar to the one at Snowdon).
On a millenial-aged bridge, this vast collection of padlocks evokes a different emotion – love. In spite of all the horror of Austria’s 20th Century past, people in Salzburg have filled this bridge with padlocks, to show their love for another human being. People in Salzburg understand suffering and loss, but the city itself endures, the people endure, and in the face of crimes against humanity of such magnitude, the city still loves, is still loved, and the pain begins to fade. Perhaps if you’re less emotional than I, you could get through a visit to Salzburg without feeling the same way.
When we had run out of time in Salzburg, we reluctantly hit the road again (there were so many things we didn’t get to see) and headed onwards, towards Rome. We never did find out what the big gold ball was.
You may or may not have heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
They were a comedy ensemble who, from the late 1960s onwards, blazed a trail of innovative comedy that directly challenged society, television tropes, audience-assumptions, gender roles, and continually pushed the boundaries far beyond that which was deemed “appropriate” at the time they were making it.
Their original BBC series prompted three films, one “And Now for Something Completely Different” was a compilation of clips from their TV show. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was their first attempt at a feature film, and was more about challenging the traditional way in which medieval Britain was portrayed in modern media than it was about the actual story of the Holy Grail. “The Life Of Brian” was their story about another bloke who lived in the same town as Jesus and who was not the messiah. That one ruffled a few feathers at the Vatican and I believe a bishop had a televised argument with John Cleese about it on channel 4 (ready the popcorn and cups of tea, it’s over an hour long).
Life of Brian was filmed in Jordan, which is somewhere in Africa. I didn’t really have the budget, bodyguards or bulletproof car required to go to Jordan safely. Instead, I decided to go to Doune Castle in Scotland, where almost all of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed. Also we were in the area, and the road to the Highlands was closed due to heavy snow.
Doune Castle doubled up as the filming location for the following castles in Holy Grail: Camelot, Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax, and that French castle at the beginning. It was a private castle when they filmed, and the reason it was chosen was because The National Trust for Scotland (as Historic Scotland was known at the time) refused to allow Monty Python to use any of their castles to film (and they’d booked separate ones for each castle in the script) – but the National Trust for Scotland only informed them of this two weeks before they were due to start filming, so they had a last minute struggle to find a privately owned castle that was open enough to the public to actually film in there. Thankfully, Doune Castle fitted the bill perfectly. The castle, originally built in the 13th century, was in excellent preservation condition and had a lot of original features without any visibly different “restoration” (some restoration has been done but it’s surprisingly sensitive for a Victorian repair). It had enough rooms that were visibly different to one another that it could easily be used for the location of the several castles the script required.
We overnighted in the layby in front of the castle in our car camper, making this the first castle we spent the night at during our Scotland trip (before we reached the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel in Peebles), and I have never felt so secure sleeping in the car before. It was nice to get a full night’s sleep without any disturbances from traffic or construction workers either, unlike the previous night. We chose not to overnight in the castle car park as this would have been a) definitely trespassing and b) bad manners. We might have been car gypsies, but we didn’t need to act uncivilised and go round taking advantage of poor defenceless car parks. A bonus of using the layby was that it was on a public road so it was legal to park overnight in Scotland, and it meant we awoke with a beautiful view of the castle in the morning. We left at 7am and drove to Stirling for an early breakfast at McDonald’s before coming back at 9am when the castle was open, because it makes good sense to not be in an obviously wildcamping car at the time of day when all the members of staff are arriving to start their day. I feel very strongly that one must be careful when wildcamping in any vehicle or tent because if the law is abused, it will get taken away, as has happened on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which is why we had to park and sleep over an hour away from Ben Lomond on our first night in Scotland. Thanks to the asshats who took advantage, there’s now a bylaw that no vehicle can be occupied overnight (and no tents can be pitched) on that side of Loch Lomond, except in the one paid campsite, and the police drive round and check, and you can get fined and lose your vehicle.
I made a film of my visit to Doune Castle, which you can see here:
Sorry about the bad sound, I didn’t have a camera crew with me to re-record, it was all shot in one go on a mobile phone, and my video editing software is about as good as getting a panda to chew the ends of files and stick them back together with eucalyptus gum. The best I could do was play a piccolo over it all afterwards.
I did have to reduce the resolution on this film because Youtube failed to upload it three times, after taking over 18 hours apiece, and I’ve been trying to upload it since Friday, which is unfortunate but I’m hoping it’s still watchable because I’ve been dying to show you all since I got back.
Have you been to Doune Castle? What did you think of it?
Last week on my trip to the Highlands, I checked into the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel, Eddleston, near Peebles, for a couple of nights R+R after two days car camping and climbing mountains and whatnot. Peebles is in the Scottish borders between England and Scotland (far, far away from the Highlands) and we stayed here on our way back down to England.
To be honest, for the price I paid through Booking.com, I wasn’t expecting an awful lot. What blew me away was, despite a lot of disruption, the staff showed excellent customer service and professionalism. Everything about our stay just worked. And that doesn’t always happen.
The hotel is currently undergoing renovation so there were ambient builders and buildy noises, but they were mostly unobtrusive. Someone had planned which rooms to leave unoccupied during the renovation so guests were impacted as little as possible. There was also a gorgeous spa that I didn’t take pictures of because obviously phones and water don’t mix. But seriously, you have to see the grounds.
I could throw some hackneyed phrases around in a flailure to describe the place, but why TELL you about it when I could just SHOW you? The Mercure Barony Castle Hotel was very photogenic, and it was pretty damn awesome to stay in a real castle! Highly recommended place to stay!
I hope you liked this castle hotel as much as we did. I can’t stress how amazing the pool, hot tub, jacuzzi and experience showers were as well. For a very long time I have been petrified of indoor pools (last one we went to, I clung like a limpet to the side, panicking, all my muscles contracted and I couldn’t even swim a single width), but I actually managed to do some swimming here (ok, not the first time we went down, but the second, third and fourth times? I was doing lengths). The breakfast in the restaurant was also outstanding, I think you could find a satisfying breakfast at their ample buffet, whether you are a carnivore, herbivore, fruitarian or simply a cereal fan; they even had soya milk for my tea!! I can’t wait to stay at the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel again, and there will definitely be an again, this place was incredible. I wanted to live there and was genuinely sad to leave.
Please note this article contains affiliate links so that if you want to stay in this incredible hotel, you can book it at a low price via Booking.com, which is a website I have used for years to get the best hotel deals and am excited to share with you. Any commission I get doesn’t affect the price you pay for your hotel.
Sometimes travel plans just go wrong. Other times they don’t materialise at all. I made a plan to climb 3 mountains during the February half term, and I climbed a grand total of half. How do you so comprehensively fail to achieve a goal? Well, it turns out you can’t climb a mountain when the path leading to it has turned into a white waterway. It’s simply too dangerous. So I turned back. While it’s irritating as all hell and disappointing and all the rest of it, I don’t think there’s any shame in knowing when to stop. I trust my own judgement and I really wasn’t confident that the mountain was safe.
It was hard, having bought petrol, made plans, hoiked equipment and trudged all that distance, only to have to admit defeat in the face of white water and whiter fog, which was closing in rapidly. But I know I made the right decision.
It has affected my bigger picture of travel plans for the year though. I had a progression of mountains planned for the year, and hikes, cycles and walks, and now I need to re-order things and try to make it all work with even less time, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that my current work contract has been extended by 5 months, meaning I won’t be free to properly travel until the end of July.
Here’s my current plans for 2015:
1. Climb Ben Lomond and Ben Nevis.
2. Hike the West Highland Way.
3. Climb Scafell Pike.
4. Visit Orkney
5. Visit the Broughs at the top of Scotland
6. Walk Hadrian’s Wall.
7. Cycle the Pennine Way
8. Spend the night in a castle
9. Climb mountains on the Via Ferrata in France and Andorra
10. Climb Serra do Gerez and Serra do Estrela in Portugal
11. Drive to Morocco via Spain (and France, Andorra and Portugal)
And here’s my current music plans:
1. Steeleye Span, March (like, this Sunday).
2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, April.
3. Download festival, June.
When compiling my list, I tried to group things by location, so for example all the Europe stuff can be done in the same trip because it’s all along the Morocco route (or at least, a meandering journey in the direction of Morocco). Again, my UK-based travelling is all in the same relative direction from me – it’s all northwards (except the Pennine Way, which starts 100 miles south of me, but it does end about 150 miles north of my house), with an emphasis on the West of Scotland. As for #8, there are plenty of castles in both Scotland and France which open their doors to tourists – if you can afford their rates. I’m hoping to get one for a cheaper price before tourist season kicks in, but you never know.
For the music plans, I chose a mixture of styles and picked one at £20 (Steeleye Span), one at £40 (L-S) and one expensive festival (Download) so I could see the maximum amount of bands, genres and time-periods without going to a different one every week or bankrupting myself.
A big factor in all my planning was my car. All of my plans are very dependent on my car working and being hospitable inside. I’ve added curtains and put one of the back seats back into the car (they were all removed before) so there’s somewhere for a passenger or rabbit if we need it.
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