Central Europe – Day 2 – Trains & Castles & Cigarettes

The train rocks gently south toward Füssen. Solar panels seem to cover the roof of every building and a quarter of the fields we pass by. So far the S-Bahn is my favorite thing about Germany – I wish the US had a functioning mass-transit system.
It’s a short bus ride from Füssen to Hohenschwangau at the foot of the Alps. Schloss Neuschwanstein and cigarette smoke greet us at the bus terminal. The cigarette smoke seems to follow us for the rest of the trip.

Chinese tourists yell into their cell phones as we weave through the crowd to the reserved ticket desk.

It is cloudy today and drizzling intermittently – an improvement over the previous day’s heat. We climb the hill to the castle.


The interior of the castle is unfinished. Only a third of it – the royal wing – is complete. The frescos are over-the-top: Jesus, dragons, lightning bolts.

“No photography, please. Please wear your backpacks on your chest.”

Ludwig the Second was deposed before he could complete his tribute to Wagner – charged with insanity and later found dead in a nearby lake. He only spent a few months in his castle, mostly alone.  The tour guide is rather cheerful as he relays these facts.

We eat a terrible lunch in the tourist village, a twice abstracted idea of what Bavarian food should taste like. The waiter teases me when I ask him “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”

“Yes, and Mongolian, and Chinese, and Spanish, and…”

On the train ride back to Munich a man wearing un-ironic overalls sits across from us and talks to himself, then his cell phone, then himself again. I’m glad that he has friends.

We arrive back at the hotel just a few minutes before we are scheduled to meet with our tour group – time to clean-up and then head downstairs.

Everyone sits in the hotel’s breakfast room and stares into the middle distance awkwardly – all jet lagged strangers to each other. Ten Aussies, four Americans, and one Singaporean. I am grateful for the split – an all American group would have been insufferable.

A slender Croatian woman with abruptly cut bangs and purple stockings bounces into the room and begins to give us the details of our tour. Her name is Tajna (pronounced Ti Na) and I immediately want to be her friend.

This will be a good trip.