Colmar (Alsace, Haut Rhein), France October 2020 (Tour 3)

We arrived late at our campsite on the edge of Colmar by the River L’Ill but the receptionist, bless her, had stayed late to check us in. I stopped at the same campsite two years ago for a few nights and knew it would be open this time of the year but, because of the National Covid Lockdown starting the next day, I wasn’t sure if we would be allowed to stay the two nights we needed (we had to get the dogs seen by a local vet for tapeworm tablets before they would be allowed back into the UK) but, I needn’t have worried. The receptionist told us that whatever happened we could stay the extra night. Again, bless her.

We were happy staying over, it gave us a chance to wander around Colmar, a small town in the Alsace Region of France not far from the German border. Vanya had never seen the place. I walked the largely pedestrian old town on my own that first morning and I have never seen it so quiet. It was the first day of the Lockdown in France and the place was virtually deserted. It was much the same in the afternoon when I showed Vanya around the town.

The old part of Colmar is a labyrinth of cobbled streets and timber framed chalk box coloured houses with steep pitched rooves and wooden shutters and it is truly beautiful. When I last stayed there, in 2017, it was packed (not least because it was the day of the town’s annual 10 km run) and I arrived as the runners were finishing. Not so this time.

What is particularly sad is that prior to our arriving the local authority had been putting up the town’s Christmas decorations. Ordinarily, Colmar has 5 weeks of Christmas Markets which are supposedly amongst the best in France – I suspect that will not happen this year.

I probably mentioned this in my earlier blog on the town in 2017 but, amongst other things, Colmar was the birthplace of Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi who created the Statue of Liberty. The house he lived in is now a museum dedicated to his work and there’s a statue of Bartholdi in the Parc du Chateau d’Eau with him holding a small replica of the statue of “Liberty Enlightening The World”.

Oh, and we made it to the vet. Would you believe it, he charged a staggering 91 Euros for administering two tapeworm tablets?!? Robbery!

Fussen (Bayern), Germany October 2020 (Tour 3)

Situated at the southern end of the Romantic Road, within walking distance of the Austrian border, Fussen is a small, pretty town on the banks of the River Lech with a history of violin and lute making (you can learn all about that in the town’s museum). Don’t get too excited about the Romantic Road – there is nothing in the least romantic about the road(s). It is simply a 300 mile mix of roads between Wurzburg and Fussen, stylized by a group of travel agents in the 1950’s who were out to promote Bavaria.

None of the above is to suggest you shouldn’t visit the area and especially Fussen. Fussen has it all – a medieval old town complete with it’s own castle (the Hohes Schloss), sitting in the shelter of the Ammer Mountains amongst numerous lakes. It is a very pretty town and well placed for visits to other similarly pretty towns and, of course, to at least two very famous castles, the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles.

I walked from Brunnen to Fussen along a good path on the banks of the Forggensee, passing through the villages of Schwangau and Horn on the way. The weather was brightening all the time and the walk was delightful, taking no more than an hour and a quarter even allowing for photo stops. A walkers path goes all the way around the Forggensee but I imagine that walk would take about 6 hours. It’s a sizeable lake.

The old town in Fussen is small but enchanting. It could probably be walked in an hour or so but I was keen to make the most of it and took the best part of 4 hours strolling the old town, the castle, the Lechtfall, the Baum Garten and the town’s principal churches.

For me, Die Heilig Geist Spitalkirche (the Church of the Holy Ghost) stands out from the others in the town as being one of the most unusual and impressive churches I have seen. The original 15th century church was destroyed in a fire in 1733 and when it was rebuilt a few years later, it was constructed in the style of the monastery church of the Franciscans of Dillingen and with the exterior being adorned with colourful frescoes.

The high point of the town (quite literally) is the Hohes Schloss, a one time retreat of the Bishops of Augsburg, which sits alongside St Mang’s Abbey. Access to the castle courtyard (which is a masterpiece of illusion) is free but there’s a charge of 4 Euros to go inside the castle. It is worth 4 Euros for the views over the town alone but from inside you can also access the state art gallery.

I found a cafe-bar before leaving Fussen and, while reflecting on the numerous photographs I had taken during the day, enjoyed a particularly good Apfel Strudel. That was always going to help me cover the ground back to the Van in no time.

Schwangau (Allgau), Germany October 2020 (Tour 3)

We opted to stay for a couple of days at the 5* Camping Brunnen at Schwangau in the Allgau region of Bavaria. The campsite is almost equidistant between Die Konigschlosser (i.e. the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau) and the town of Fussen. Two days would allow us to catch up on some chores and visit both castles and the town.

Because of poor weather the dogs had been denied their regular exercise and I took them with me on the 12 mile round trip towards Neuschwanstein Castle, passing the Hohenschwangau Castle and the church of St Coloman on the way.

The first castle we saw up close was the Hohenschwangau (no time to dwell here but in any event it looked closed) and then it was on to St Coloman.

My primary target that day was Neuschwanstein, a most elaborate castle sitting on a rock ledge over the Pollat Gorge in the Bavarian Alps. It was built by order of Bavaria’s so called “Mad King” Ludwig II; construction beginning in 1868/69 but not being quite finished before Ludwig died in 1886. Ludwig II was a great admirer and supporter of the composer Richard Wagner and much of the castle was inspired by Wagnerian characters. Indeed, Neuschwanstein is German for New Swan Stone and the Swan Knight is the principal character from Wagner’s Opera Lohengrin.

Neuschwanstein is a fairy tale castle in a truly beautiful setting. The best place to take photographs of the castle is from above but I didn’t have time to climb above it and, besides, our little dog (Beanie) was getting tired.

While Neuschwanstein’s look is that of a medieval castle, it was equipped inside with 19th century state of the art technology. For example on every floor of the castle there were toilets with an automatic flushing system (water being supplied from a spring some 200 meters above the castle) and an air heating system for the whole castle. Today, it is one of the most visited castles in Germany and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe with over 1.3 million people visiting. It is said to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Another quite remarkable project of Ludwig’s was the Linderhof Palace. This then very private palace was designed as a refuge for an increasingly reclusive king to hide away in. Being designed for just one person, Ludwig himself, the palace was tiny with just 10 rooms (4 of which were for servants) and the dining table was designed to accommodate just one person. If you think Neuschwanstein is a fairy tale palace, Linderhof has to be seen to be believed.

Ludwig II’s situation was tragic. It seems he became obsessive about his personal projects and indifferent to state business. It is said too that he was unable to rein in his excessive spending; so much so, his government advisors started plotting against him and, very suddenly, had him diagnosed as clinically insane, and therefore incompetent. Although he had no prior diagnosis of ‘madness’ he was declared mentally insane by four separate, government-sanctioned psychiatrists and removed as King. Historians don’t know for sure how ‘Mad’ King Ludwig died but not long after, his body was found floating in Lake Starnberg alongside the body of his personal psychiatrist, Dr Gudden.

Now if that is not material for a Netflix Movie, nothing is. Time to head back to the Van. The dogs are wiped out.