Friday, October 30, 2009

European sojourn, part one

It's been a long time since I've posted anything... but I have a good reason. Mark and I just returned from a 10-day vacation to Germany and Austria, a trip we'd been planning to take for quite a while. We had a wonderful time, and here's a recap of some of the sights we saw along the way -- with historical interludes, of course. Click on the images to see larger versions with greater detail.

We got back this past Wednesday evening, and I'm still dealing with jet lag... here I am posting at 8pm on Friday, and I can barely stay awake, but I'm determined to get something posted here, finally!

After arriving in Munich on Sunday the 17th, we spent the next day exploring the city. To the left is Nymphenburg Palace, which I'd never heard of previously, but Mark had visited it when he'd lived in Germany back in the 1980s. Following an extended tour of the palace and grounds (it was interesting to see that their lawns were suffering the same rodent problems as ours does), I found it easier to establish its context relative to other historical information I already knew.

Nymphenburg was commissioned by Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria, for his consort, Henriette Adelaide of Savoy, after she'd given birth to their heir, Max Emanuel. Henriette Adelaide was a granddaughter of Henri IV of France and his queen, Marie de Medici, through their daughter Christine; Henriette Adelaide in turn was the mother of Maria Anna of Bavaria, who married Le Grand Dauphin, eldest son of Louis XIV. If you've read enough French-set historical fiction, you may recognize some of these names. It's one great big European extended ruling family.

Ludwig I of Bavaria resided at Nymphenburg in the mid-19th century. To the right are six selections from his Sch├Ânheitengalerie, or Gallery of Beauties, a collection of 36 portraits of gorgeous women mostly from the nobility and middle classes; it was considered a great honor to be selected to pose for the gallery. The portraits cover the walls of a large room, and sexist as this may seem, I have to admit that the king had a good eye for these things; these women (as memorialized by Joseph Stieler, court painter) truly were beautiful. Another surprise: I immediately recognized two of the women as ones I'd read about in historical novels: Lady Jane Ellenborough (perhaps better known under her birth name of Lady Jane Digby) and Lola Montez. Both were mistresses of the king, while the other 34 were simply other women who possessed the qualities he was looking for. His long-suffering wife wasn't selected for the gallery, though Ludwig honored his daughter Princess Alexandra, his daughter-in-law, Marie of Prussia, and his first cousin Sophie of Bavaria (mother of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria) by including them in the gallery.

Okay, back to our travels. What would a visit to Bavaria be without a trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle constructed as a mountain getaway for King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Even in late October, the grounds were buzzing with tourists from a variety of countries. They gave English-language tours, so after hoofing it up the mountain for about a mile (because of the snow at the top, the buses weren't running) we all clustered in the castle courtyard until our tour number was called, after which point we lined up like cattle within the gates until the tour guide arrived. Neuschwanstein is apparently suffering due to the large influx of tourists it receives each year and regularly undergoes restoration work; you can see the scaffolding on the far right side of the photo where work is being done. The opposite side of the castle is also completely covered in scaffolding, something we only discovered after making yet another steep climb up to Marienbr├╝cke (Mary's Bridge) after the tour ended.

The photo at right, above, displays the 17th-century Chapel of St. Coloman against the backdrop of the Bavarian Alps just outside Schwangau, the town just before the climb up to Neuschwanstein begins. We had great weather that day, although it was rather chilly out; both of us were wearing winter coats and gloves. Right down the road from Neuschwanstein, another 15 minute drive, was the town of Oberammergau, where residents stage their famous passion play every ten years. If you want to catch the next performance, make your travel plans for May through October 2010.

That night we returned to Munich and then headed out with our rental car to elsewhere in Bavaria the following day. Our next stop was Ramsau, a picturesque village with a population of less than 2000 people. The only reason we knew about it, and decided to visit there, was because of an online webcam showing the exact same scene of a church and bridge over a river as you see on the left. Even though it looks like the two of us were photoshopped in after the fact, this is an actual picture (Mark brought along a tripod, along with a digital camera on a timer). We saw the webcam, right where it was supposed to be, and if you want to see what's happening in Ramsau right at this very minute, here's a link to it.

Salzburg, Austria, was our next stop. Because we hadn't made any hotel arrangements for the next two nights, and it was within a reasonable drive, we made a side trip of it. We credit Helga, the name we gave to the voice on the GPS system built into our rental car, for getting us to Salzburg and through all the one-way streets of the city. What an insane drive, but it wasn't exactly designed for cars. We stopped in at the visitors' center and reserved a room at a hotel within the old city at a very reasonable price. It pays to travel in the off-season. Photo of twilight in Salzburg on October 21, at right; this was my 40th birthday, and what a great place to spend the rest of the day.

The following morning, after croissants and coffee in the hotel's breakfast room, we explored the old city's cobblestone streets. I was amazed at the church at left, since it looked like it had been built directly into the mountain. Its name is St. Blasius Kirche (church). As one of my fellow reference librarians told me after I got back home, you get to hear about saints you'd never known about before when traveling to this part of Europe. St. Blasius is the patron saint of throat ailments, and his church, a rather unprepossessing structure compared to others in Salzburg, was built in 1330.

One final photo for this blog entry: after taking the funicular railway up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg), which sits atop a hill overlooking the city, we took some photos of the scene below; you could see for miles. The fortress, which essentially housed a small city in itself, dates from the 11th century. Can you imagine living here and looking out to see views like this every morning?

More to come -- and there'll be more about historical fiction in the next post, promise!


  1. Sounds like a wonderful trip! I would love to go to that part of Europe someday - thanks for sharing your pictues.

  2. Looks fantastic. My abiding memory of Munich is going to Munich. I had a badly twisted ankle and went out there hobbling around. Wouldn't have missed it for anything though.

    And then we went to a beer hall and by the end of the night I wasn't feeling a thing! Go figure!

  3. Gorgeous photos, and it sounds like you had a wonderful time! The little church and the bridge in Ramsau is beautiful.

    Happy Birthday!

  4. Welcome back! What wonderful photos... how I would love to poke around Austria. Maybe someday. You are so right that historical fiction is just one sprawling dysfunctional family. Ferdinand Maria appears to be a great-great-nephew of Barbara of Austria, Duchess of Ferrara.

    Looking forward to part two. Oh, and happy (somewhat belated) birthday!

  5. Thanks so much - it was a very nice day (and trip!).

    Fascinating to learn about Ferdinand Maria's relationship to the imperial family. I've been having fun going through Wikipedia and figuring out how everyone was related to everyone else. Poor Barbara, she died so young.

  6. Wow, this looks fantastic! I love the pictures. :)

  7. We visited most of those places last year, but your pictures and great description have made me desperate to go back already!

  8. Thank you both - my husband was the photographer, which left me time to do more looking around(actually, I was usually backing away from the edge while he took photos of the great views). Gary, you have a fun blog!

  9. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Neuschwanstein is beautiful isn't it? I especially liked the interior. I haven't been to Salzburg but am planning to go soon.

    I read no German so going to bookshops is a bit like torture - so many books but none that I can read!

  10. It looks like you had a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing your photos!