Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

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Perhaps the most recognized castle in the world, Neuschwanstein Castle sculpts the landscape of Bavaria with romance, art and a vision come true. King Ludwig II brought a fairy tale to life with the construction of Neuschwanstein Castle. Today the castle experiences up to 6,000 visitors per day during the high season and is a world renowned symbol of romanticism.

The Plans for Neuschwanstein

Crown Prince Ludwig II, was born in 1845 and spent every summer of his childhood in the Bavarian Alpine landscape. His father had very recently built a new castle, Hohenschwangau on the ruins of the original Schwanstein Castle. The summer home of his childhood, was overlooked by two other castle ruins; Vorderhohenschwangau and Hohenschwangau. By the tender age of 14, Ludwig II was so familiar with the ruins and landscape that he began sketching the area. These sketches would be the first blue prints to one of the most famous castles in the world.

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New Hohenschwangau. The childhood home of Ludwig II.

Ludwig’s father adored the Middle Ages and the chilvary based stories of knights and ladies. He decorated every bare surface in Hohenschwangau with murals and art. These details and stories allowed Ludwig’s imagination to run wild and he would later put it to the test with the construction of Neuschwanstein. In September of 1869, construction began on the expansive wilderness retreat. Young Ludwig, aged 24, was a reclusive young king. He went into great debts to remove himself from the bustle of Munich.

After going into over 14 million marks worth of debt to build his dream palace, Ludwig II would only spend 11 nights inside its thick walls. In a short 15 years after the first stone was laid, the King would die at the young age of 39. He named his palatial home New Hohenschwangau. The name would be changed upon his death to Neuschwanstein and thus opened to the public.

Planning Your Trip to Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein and its neighbor Hohenschwangau (childhood home and castle inspiration) share a central access. Both are located deep in the Bavarian landscape and require a rental car or planned tour company to access. As soon as you know that the trip will happen you need to book sleeping accommodations. Fussen is the nearest village with these accommodations and they are reasonably priced given the distance to the castles. The morning of your tour you will arrive to a parking lot entrance that presents with a “downtown Disney” feel. The street giving access to both castles is lined with restaurants and high end shops. If you did not prebook your castle tickets then you will need to jump in line at the ticket building. This line could take you upwards of 2.5 hours to get through.

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You will want a full day to tour both houses. I highly recommend touring Hohenschwanstein first, as this is the childhood home that gave much of the inspiration for the later building of Neuschwanstein. By doing so, you will have a much deeper understanding of the design and decor that went into Neuschwanstein. It is also important to leave time to tour the museum and to hike through to the bridges, waterfalls and views offered by the landscape. Prepare for a very full day, but one you will never forget.

With three lakes, a waterfall, two substantial hikes (accessible) and a long climb to the entrance of Neuschwanstein (can pay to ride a carriage) you need to be prepared with good quality shoes, snacks and water. Because of its location the weather is not overly hot, but it is typical to have mountain created rains. A poncho would be a nice addition to your day pack.

Once in a Lifetime Visit

Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau may be a once in a lifetime experience for many people. With that mindset it is easy to get wrapped up in the shops and trinket stores. Do yourself a favor and order different foods off of the restaurant menus. Hike to get to the best views. Pay extra for a more in-depth tour option. The memories and the view will not fade and those are the areas worth spending more money and time. Neuschwanstein is a fairytale book experience. It is easy to see the inspiration that Walt Disney must have seen when he was planning Cinderella’s Castle design. There is nothing better than seeing it for yourself though. So go. Get out there and have a wonderful time.

Vienna, Austria: A History of Europe

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While walking the streets of Vienna you almost expect to bow for a passing carriage. The prestige atmosphere is overwhelming. Ruled by the Habsburg family for over 600 years, Vienna’s rich history revolves around this family dynasty and their social, economical and cultural associations. As a result, 600 years worth of prosperity, wealth, and building have made a Vienna a beautiful metropolis. With endless amounts of architecture perfection and gardens to wander for days Vienna, Austria is a must see European city.

Where to Begin in Vienna, Austria

To get the best accumulative understanding of Vienna it would be best if you began your touring at Schonbrunn Castle. Built in the seventeenth century as a “hunting lodge” for the crown Prince. This palatial building would continue to be developed for the next century until it was worthy of housing the royal family. Consequently, Days upon days could easily be spent touring Schonbrunn. There are numerous tour options and the tours are packed full of information about this influential family. The tours have a heavy focus on the 18th century. Highlighting Maria Theresa, who ruled the Habsburg family for forty years. In modern terms we would call her a “mom boss.” She meant business.

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Maria Theresa was the Archduchess of Austria until her father’s death when she became Empress. Her extensive strategizing began long before she actually held any power. The Empress knew, as a woman her greatest claim to fame would be the rulers she created in her own children. She would go on to mother 16 children.

Spreading Her Descendants Across the World

Consequently, in most large family dynasties, only the oldest child would get to rule. Maria Theresa simply wasn’t satisfied with that outcome. She plotted and planned every aspect of her children’s lives to accurately marry them off to other country’s crowned elite. Her husband was not a fan of Maria Theresa’s strategizing and stayed out of her way in regards of the marriages of their children. Maria Theresa went as far as marrying off their mentally handicapped daughter, who subsequently died of smallpox right before that marriage. Maria Theresa simply offered the next daughter in line. The Empress was relentless and as such was called the “mother-in-law of Europe.”

Due to the wide spread of Maria Theresa’s children she was able to leave a royal seal on almost every European royal family bloodline. Therefore, she would have descendants ruling Naples-Sicily, Spain, France, Parma, the Wettin Dynasty, Bourbon Dynasty, a nun and an ArchBishop of Cologne. Mom goals. Just kidding, but truly Maria Theresa knew her stuff. Because the Habsburg family infiltrated so much of Europe, Vienna’s history is not just Austrian/Bavaria it is a magnificent dedication to one of Europe’s most influential families.

The Royal Catacombs

If you are a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, you will greatly enjoy this next suggestion. Given the size and duration of rule, the Habsburg family experienced a lot of funerals. That is to say, death was incredibly common pre modern sanitization practices and unfortunately for the royals it did not exclude them. Macabre tombs and expensive funerary art was a huge part of the imperial dynasty.

The Habsburg Imperial Crypt is a must see in regards to culture, art, money and funerary practices of the time. Containing the tombs of twelve Emperors, eighteen empresses and 113 other royal family members. The Imperial Crypt is a great way to spend the day. You get to quietly wander through the underground crypt museum (air conditioned). Taking in the wonder that you didn’t know existed in regards to death. A large portion of the Maria Theresa era family members are interned here.

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With the exception of one, all of the tombs collected here are made from metal and carved with the highest level of skill available at the time. Therefore, if you enjoy history or specifically art history this is a MUST SEE stop in Vienna, Austria.

A Continuation of Cultural Appreciation

The Macabre art and cultural norm doesn’t end with the Imperial Crypt. Just down the street you can find a whole new level of “internment.” The royal family, upon death, would have their body parts placed in three different locations. Their bodily remains would be interned in a Bronze tomb in the Imperial Crypt. The hearts of 54 members of the royal family are held in special silver urns in the Herzgruft, or “Heart Room.” Located a few blocks away in St. George’s Chapel of the Augustinerkirche. The embalmed entrails of princes, queens and emperors are kept in the Ducal Crypt below St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

The entire history of Vienna revolves around its royal family history. Therefore, the history of the Austrian royal family isn’t just the history of Austria, but the history of Europe as well. Vienna, Austria is a modern, happening city, but its tourism is heavily embedded in its royal family history and architecture. As a result, if history is not your thing be sure to stop at the many cafes and street food vendors. Wander through the art galleries and shops. Sit on the benches and absorb the architectural details. Vienna has so much to offer its visitors. Get out there.