Day Seven: Castle Neuschwanstein and The Autobahn 

On Tuesday, we drove a few hours down to Bavaria, to the foot of the Swiss alps, to see Castle Neuschwanstein.

On Tuesday, we hopped in the car and took the Autobahn down to Bavaria, which was a couple hours' drive from our hotel.

The countryside was gorgeous, as was all of Germany, with the gentle rolling hills and everything being so green. But what was most striking was the Alps. As we approached Germany's southern border (on the other side of which is Austria and Switzerland), the Alps became visible. What was most amazing is how abrupt the transition was, from the mostly-flat German countryside, to the sheer cliffs and majestic peaks of the alps. There are no foothills, one moment it's flat, the next, it's the Alps with a capital A.
On Tuesday, we hopped in the car and took the Autobahn down to Bavaria, which was a couple hours' drive from our hotel.



The countryside was gorgeous, as was all of Germany, with the gentle rolling hills and everything being so green. But what was most striking was the Alps. As we approached Germany's southern border (on the other side of which is Austria and Switzerland), the Alps became visible. What was most amazing is how abrupt the transition was, from the mostly-flat German countryside, to the sheer cliffs and majestic peaks of the alps. There are no foothills, one moment it's flat, the next, it's the Alps with a capital A.

It took us some driving around before we actually ended up in the right town so that we could get to Castle Neuschwanstein. Mainly because I was being dense and didn't follow the very clear road signs pointing to 'The King's Castle', which I'd have known about if I'd bothered to take out the dictionary and translate. We could see the castle up on the mountainside very clearly from a great distance, we just had trouble getting on the right road to the right town.
It took us some driving around before we actually ended up in the right town so that we could get to Castle Neuschwanstein. Mainly because I was being dense and didn't follow the very clear road signs pointing to 'The King's Castle', which I'd have known about if I'd bothered to take out the dictionary and translate. We could see the castle up on the mountainside very clearly from a great distance, we just had trouble getting on the right road to the right town.

In many of these photos I'm trying to capture the sense of how the view of the castle and the mountains dominates the towns which rest on the plain below it. You can clearly see why this location was chosen for the castle: Maximum impact.
In many of these photos I'm trying to capture the sense of how the view of the castle and the mountains dominates the towns which rest on the plain below it. You can clearly see why this location was chosen for the castle: Maximum impact.

The ride up the mountainside to the castle was done by horse carriage. There was a 'bus' option which was less expensive, but horses seemed much more appropriate and interesting. We weren't disappointed, it was a very nice and relaxing ride up the hill.
The ride up the mountainside to the castle was done by horse carriage. There was a 'bus' option which was less expensive, but horses seemed much more appropriate and interesting. We weren't disappointed, it was a very nice and relaxing ride up the hill.

Since I was the guy with the camera, there aren't many pictures in this collection which show me. 

Here, we've just gotten off the horse carriage at the souvenier/snack area just below the castle, and we're ready to walk up the rest of the way and take the tour.
Since I was the guy with the camera, there aren't many pictures in this collection which show me.



Here, we've just gotten off the horse carriage at the souvenier/snack area just below the castle, and we're ready to walk up the rest of the way and take the tour.

'Now THAT's a pretzel.'
'Now THAT's a pretzel.'

The entire time we were there, the sky was filled with hang gliders, circling the castle and the surrounding crags. I got the impression that the updrafts on this side of the alps were pretty much constant, and that the hang gliders could stay up there all day if they wanted to. 

Based on the spectacular views we saw from this hilltop, I'll bet that that the view from the hang gliders was mind-blowing.
The entire time we were there, the sky was filled with hang gliders, circling the castle and the surrounding crags. I got the impression that the updrafts on this side of the alps were pretty much constant, and that the hang gliders could stay up there all day if they wanted to.



Based on the spectacular views we saw from this hilltop, I'll bet that that the view from the hang gliders was mind-blowing.

Hang glider, alps.

Edit: I'm corrected by Mark Lord, avid mountain climber (oh, did I mention he does that, too?), that these are paragliders, and that the pilots are likely using them as a means to get back down to the bottom of the mountain after a long day's climb. Wow.
Hang glider, alps.



Edit: I'm corrected by Mark Lord, avid mountain climber (oh, did I mention he does that, too?), that these are paragliders, and that the pilots are likely using them as a means to get back down to the bottom of the mountain after a long day's climb. Wow.

This photo is taken just outside the front gate of the castle, looking back down onto the Bavarian countryside. Bavaria is on the left, the Alps begin to rise on the right. See what I mean about the sudden transition from flat to Alps?

If this is what it looks like from the castle, imagine the views the hang gliders were getting. Wow.
This photo is taken just outside the front gate of the castle, looking back down onto the Bavarian countryside. Bavaria is on the left, the Alps begin to rise on the right. See what I mean about the sudden transition from flat to Alps?



If this is what it looks like from the castle, imagine the views the hang gliders were getting. Wow.

(3.71 Megabyte AVI Video File)

Hey guys, look up. It's a castle.
(3.71 Megabyte AVI Video File)



Hey guys, look up. It's a castle.

The castle is perched precariously on a pointed rocky outcrop on the side of the Alps, so it's surrounded on almost all sides by deep gorges. This bridge is called 'The Queen's Bridge', and it spans an amazing waterfall.
The castle is perched precariously on a pointed rocky outcrop on the side of the Alps, so it's surrounded on almost all sides by deep gorges. This bridge is called 'The Queen's Bridge', and it spans an amazing waterfall.

The central courtyard area of the castle. It was roped off so that you couldn't run around in the middle of the courtyard, I'm not sure why.
The central courtyard area of the castle. It was roped off so that you couldn't run around in the middle of the courtyard, I'm not sure why.

(3.70 Megabyte AVI Video File)

A pan up the central courtyard. We're waiting for our tour to begin, they're all carefully timed and staggered, so everyone kind of hangs around the gatehouse area until the start of their tour.
(3.70 Megabyte AVI Video File)



A pan up the central courtyard. We're waiting for our tour to begin, they're all carefully timed and staggered, so everyone kind of hangs around the gatehouse area until the start of their tour.

A portion of the castle was undergoing a surface restoration while we were there.
A portion of the castle was undergoing a surface restoration while we were there.

We were told that we weren't allowed to take photos inside the castle, but that taking pictures out the castle windows was fine. This is taken from one of the open, arched windows you can see in the earlier courtyard photo.
We were told that we weren't allowed to take photos inside the castle, but that taking pictures out the castle windows was fine. This is taken from one of the open, arched windows you can see in the earlier courtyard photo.

The views from the castle windows were just amazing.

The interior of the castle was amazing as well, with some fantastic art depicting scenes from Wagner's operas, of whom King Ludwig II was very fond.
The views from the castle windows were just amazing.



The interior of the castle was amazing as well, with some fantastic art depicting scenes from Wagner's operas, of whom King Ludwig II was very fond.

The bars are in front of this window because on the other side, it's essentially a sheer drop hundreds of feet down.

There are gorgeous lakes dotting this countryside everywhere. The bright cyan color of the largest nearby lake was something to behold. Darn, I didn't get a picture of that one.

Well, actually, I did, the previous photo is of that lake, but the striking color isn't clear in that photo.
The bars are in front of this window because on the other side, it's essentially a sheer drop hundreds of feet down.



There are gorgeous lakes dotting this countryside everywhere. The bright cyan color of the largest nearby lake was something to behold. Darn, I didn't get a picture of that one.



Well, actually, I did, the previous photo is of that lake, but the striking color isn't clear in that photo.

I wasn't going to post this photo because of the odd composition, but then I realized that it might make particularly good Windows desktop wallpaper. Your icons can go in the sky over there. :-)

If you want to save this one as wallpaper, make sure to click on the picture a second time to get the 1600x1200 full-rez version. I haven't put up full-rez versions of all of these photos, only the few that I think really deserve it.
I wasn't going to post this photo because of the odd composition, but then I realized that it might make particularly good Windows desktop wallpaper. Your icons can go in the sky over there. :-)



If you want to save this one as wallpaper, make sure to click on the picture a second time to get the 1600x1200 full-rez version. I haven't put up full-rez versions of all of these photos, only the few that I think really deserve it.

Another wallpaper candidate with a high rez version available.

If you want high rez 1600x1200 versions of any of the other photos in this album, please don't hesitate to email me.
Another wallpaper candidate with a high rez version available.



If you want high rez 1600x1200 versions of any of the other photos in this album, please don't hesitate to email me.

Our tour was one of the last tours of the day before closing time. When we were done with the tour, we just missed the last horse carriage ride down the hill. We were a little miffed that they would strand a couple dozen visitors at the top of the hill like they did, but we got over it and began the leisurely walk down the hill back to town.

This is a small waterfall we passed on the way back down the hill.
Our tour was one of the last tours of the day before closing time. When we were done with the tour, we just missed the last horse carriage ride down the hill. We were a little miffed that they would strand a couple dozen visitors at the top of the hill like they did, but we got over it and began the leisurely walk down the hill back to town.



This is a small waterfall we passed on the way back down the hill.

Castle Neuschwanstein is one of two castles overlooking the town. This is the other castle, built on the ruins of Castle Schwanstein by Crown Prince Max of Bavaria, the father of Ludwig II. See, Ludwig was trying to outdo Dad. Successfully, I might add.

Schwanstein means 'Swan's Stone', so Neuschwanstein basically means 'Swan's Stone 2: The Next Generation'.
Castle Neuschwanstein is one of two castles overlooking the town. This is the other castle, built on the ruins of Castle Schwanstein by Crown Prince Max of Bavaria, the father of Ludwig II. See, Ludwig was trying to outdo Dad. Successfully, I might add.



Schwanstein means 'Swan's Stone', so Neuschwanstein basically means 'Swan's Stone 2: The Next Generation'.

I think this picture does a pretty good job of capturing how the castle and the Alps overshadow the little towns below.
I think this picture does a pretty good job of capturing how the castle and the Alps overshadow the little towns below.

Window shopping in Bavaria. :-)
Window shopping in Bavaria. :-)

While we were approaching the town earlier in the day, I had been looking for an opportunity to capture the castle and the mountains from a great distance. I saw a spot on the highway where we could pop through the tree line on a gravel road, but had passed it before I could turn off and take advantage of it.

So on our way out of town, I looked for the spot again and took advantage of it. The early evening light provided for even better pictures than I'd hoped.
While we were approaching the town earlier in the day, I had been looking for an opportunity to capture the castle and the mountains from a great distance. I saw a spot on the highway where we could pop through the tree line on a gravel road, but had passed it before I could turn off and take advantage of it.



So on our way out of town, I looked for the spot again and took advantage of it. The early evening light provided for even better pictures than I'd hoped.

Another slightly different perspective.
Another slightly different perspective.

(1.79 Megabyte Panorama Photo)

This is a multiple-image composite, taken using the panorama mode of my camera. It is one of the few pictures in this collection that I think gives a proper sense of scale.

To view it correctly, you must click on it a second time to get the full resolution version, then use the scroll bars to pan the image.
(1.79 Megabyte Panorama Photo)



This is a multiple-image composite, taken using the panorama mode of my camera. It is one of the few pictures in this collection that I think gives a proper sense of scale.



To view it correctly, you must click on it a second time to get the full resolution version, then use the scroll bars to pan the image.

Another attempt  to capture images of the windmills which dot the German countryside. 

Again, I'm not giving the proper scale here, because each of these things is huge, appearing to be over a hundred feet tall and completely dominating the horizon.

And yes, that is one of the Autobahns we're on here. Nothing special about them, other than that they're very smooth well-maintained motorways that happen to have extended sections that aren't speed-limited. There's a certain kind of sign which indicates that there's no longer a speed limit, and at that point, you're allowed to put the pedal to the metal as long as you're careful and your car is up to the task.

But keep in the slow lane as much as possible, and keep your eye on that rear-view...
Another attempt to capture images of the windmills which dot the German countryside.



Again, I'm not giving the proper scale here, because each of these things is huge, appearing to be over a hundred feet tall and completely dominating the horizon.



And yes, that is one of the Autobahns we're on here. Nothing special about them, other than that they're very smooth well-maintained motorways that happen to have extended sections that aren't speed-limited. There's a certain kind of sign which indicates that there's no longer a speed limit, and at that point, you're allowed to put the pedal to the metal as long as you're careful and your car is up to the task.



But keep in the slow lane as much as possible, and keep your eye on that rear-view...

(1.04 Megabyte AVI Video File)

... because no matter how fast you're going, there's always someone faster.

Our rental car was a nice Opel Vectra. It seemed very smooth and comfortable at any speed.

At the time, I had no idea how fast I was going, the speedometer was in KPH. I was spending some time at 140, a more significant amount of time at 160, and even an extended run at 200 through one particularly smooth and straight stretch.

When we got home, I looked it up, and those translate to 86mph, 99mph, and 124mph, respectively.

The above video was taken while we were doing over 160kph. That's 100 miles per hour, and we were constantly getting passed like we were standing still.

It always seemed to be Audi cars, too. Sometimes a Merc or a Bimmer, but mostly Audis. And surprisingly (considering we stayed near Stuttgart), I only remember seeing one Porsche the whole time we were there. Yes, it was passing me on the 'bahn like I was standing still, but I was just surprised at the scarcity of Porsches.
(1.04 Megabyte AVI Video File)



... because no matter how fast you're going, there's always someone faster.



Our rental car was a nice Opel Vectra. It seemed very smooth and comfortable at any speed.



At the time, I had no idea how fast I was going, the speedometer was in KPH. I was spending some time at 140, a more significant amount of time at 160, and even an extended run at 200 through one particularly smooth and straight stretch.



When we got home, I looked it up, and those translate to 86mph, 99mph, and 124mph, respectively.



The above video was taken while we were doing over 160kph. That's 100 miles per hour, and we were constantly getting passed like we were standing still.



It always seemed to be Audi cars, too. Sometimes a Merc or a Bimmer, but mostly Audis. And surprisingly (considering we stayed near Stuttgart), I only remember seeing one Porsche the whole time we were there. Yes, it was passing me on the 'bahn like I was standing still, but I was just surprised at the scarcity of Porsches.

We were able to figure out the meaning of almost all of the road signs eventually, but these signs stumped us. And they were everywhere.

They can't be a speed limit, because the speed limit signs were very different, and were very clear and unmistakable. And besides, these often appeared on roads next to the speed limit signs and they gave different numbers.

It was suggested by someone to me that they are a weight limit. However, I can't imagine what unit of measurement they're in, or why it would give two different values. Besides, we saw and sussed the weight limit signs, and those were completely different and were much more clear. The weight limit signs were a red circle with the limit in tons in the middle of the circle (such as '3,5t', meaning weight limit 3.5 metric tons). So this clearly isn't the same thing as the weight limit signs.

A final clue is that these sometimes had little icons of trucks and/or tanks on them. Which would lend credence to the weight limit theory, but I still can't figure out the reason for the two values, or what the unit of measurement is.

It really puzzled us, so if anyone from Germany knows what these mean, drop me a line.

Edit: Rob S. got me on the right track by telling me they were for military use only. According to this page, they indicate bridge carrying capacity for NATO vehicles. I don't know what the unit of measurement is, I guess it has to be metric tons.
We were able to figure out the meaning of almost all of the road signs eventually, but these signs stumped us. And they were everywhere.



They can't be a speed limit, because the speed limit signs were very different, and were very clear and unmistakable. And besides, these often appeared on roads next to the speed limit signs and they gave different numbers.



It was suggested by someone to me that they are a weight limit. However, I can't imagine what unit of measurement they're in, or why it would give two different values. Besides, we saw and sussed the weight limit signs, and those were completely different and were much more clear. The weight limit signs were a red circle with the limit in tons in the middle of the circle (such as '3,5t', meaning weight limit 3.5 metric tons). So this clearly isn't the same thing as the weight limit signs.



A final clue is that these sometimes had little icons of trucks and/or tanks on them. Which would lend credence to the weight limit theory, but I still can't figure out the reason for the two values, or what the unit of measurement is.



It really puzzled us, so if anyone from Germany knows what these mean, drop me a line.



Edit: Rob S. got me on the right track by telling me they were for military use only. According to this page, they indicate bridge carrying capacity for NATO vehicles. I don't know what the unit of measurement is, I guess it has to be metric tons.

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