The drive from Interlaken to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany took a little under 5 hours, and was a beautiful route that led us through the Swiss Alps before making a 5-minute detour through Liechtenstein and a stretch in Austria before arriving in the southern part of Bavaria, right along the Germany-Austria border.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, Neuschwanstein Castle is the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, and it’s also a location in Soarin’ Around the World. As this 3-hour finale is going to drag into a fourth hour at my current pace, I’m going to punt on the story of our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle for sunset. Besides, I already wrote about it in detail on TravelCaffeine in my Our Visit to Neuschwanstein Castle post, so no sense regurgitating it here. Even if you don’t want to read the details, I think that post is worth skimming for the sunset photos of Neuschwanstein Castle.
You could say we ‘closed down’ Neuschwanstein Castle that night (being the last out is, apparently, not something we reserve exclusively for the parks) and didn’t get back to our hotel in Oberammergau until pretty late. The idea here was to stay closer and have the option to photograph sunrise at the castles if we so desired. Given the amazing quality of that sunset, we skipped sunrise (something I wouldn’t fathom on a shorter trip, but we were tired by this point) and headed back for tours at opening time.
We ended up only touring Hohenschwangau Castle, and it was awesome. Highly recommended. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed on the guided tour (self-guided is not an option), so you’ll just have to take my word for it. This is the lesser-known of the two castles, but by most accounts, it’s the better of the two to tour.
That night, we once again didn’t have a hotel booked. Before heading to our final destination in Munich, we decided to take an excursion to Salzburg, Austria.
Little did we know that a traffic jam would cause a multi-hour delay in our transit. This was towards the end of the trip, and even after the break from the car during our visit to Disneyland Paris, all of this time in the car was getting to be a bit much.
I’m glad we visited Salzburg, as it was a vibrant and energetic city, but in hindsight, it probably would’ve made more sense to arrive in Germany a day early (perhaps with a night in Rothenburg on the front end) than trying to cram in Salzburg on such a tight schedule. Hard to complain much, though, because we had a wonderful night and morning in Salzburg.
The first night, we mostly just wandered around, looking at public art installations and wandering through a high-rent shopping district. The mix of shops was really eclectic, and although I’m not the type who likes to shop while traveling, I did appreciate seeing the various oddities on display.
Without realizing it, we waited too long to eat, and once again ended up at McDonald’s. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how many times we ate at McDonald’s on this trip.
I know a lot of people have a general and understandable aversion to McDonald’s while traveling (because why not try the local cuisine?) but there is something to be said for an inexpensive, quick meal sometimes. McDonald’s almost always has free WiFi, which can come in handy. In this case, the McDonald’s at which we dined also had a “Den of Antlers,” making it a must-visit destination when in Salzburg. 😉
The next morning, we did some sort of self-guided walking tour of spots from The Sound of Music. I probably would have appreciated a few of the places we visited had I seen The Sound of Music sometime in the last decade. Sarah and Mark kept pointing out this and that from the film, and I was totally at a loss.
Call me old fashioned, but the only filming locations that matter are those in Los Angeles where Terminator was shot. Even without that background, though, Salzburg was a beautiful place that I’d happily revisit.
As we ended our time in Salzburg, we stumbled upon an outdoor market with pretzels, sandwiches, and ‘stuff from the farm.’ We stocked up on what proved to be great, inexpensive food here for the car ride. From there, it was onward to Munich, Germany…
Basically, this trip was planned around 3 things: high tide at Mont Saint Michel in France, the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon, and Oktoberfest in Munich. I wouldn’t necessarily call the rest filler (as some of our favorite moments occurred in between), but the arrival and departure dates and locations (and waypoint of Disneyland Paris) were predicated upon those things.
Oktoberfest in Munich meant outrageously priced hotels in the city. One of our common ‘hacks’ when confronted with a dilemma like this is to look at a rail line map, find areas on the outskirts of the city within walking distance of a train station, and look for hotels there. Usually, this works perfectly.
What a lot of travelers don’t realize is that commuter trains are often just as efficient as staying downtown and having to either walk or take a train that requires a transfer. I think a lot of Americans don’t consider this strategy because, largely, public transit in the United States sucks. However, that’s not true in most of Europe and Asia.
This isn’t a first-choice strategy I’d endorse (to the contrary, staying downtown is almost always preferable and adds to the experience), but we’ve had to use it in a pinch before, and it generally works as a way to save money. In this case, our hotel was less than half the cost of a comparable quality hotel downtown.
Our afternoon and evening was spent mostly wandering around Munich, exploring the city while staying on the periphery of Oktoberfest. Our goal was to soak up some of that atmosphere, without going into the heart of the beast (so to speak) that evening.
Munich is a lovely city, and there was a lot to see. We ended up wandering into a couple churches and cathedrals, and walking several miles. As we got closer to the Oktoberfest tents (we were still a good quarter-mile from them) we saw a lot more public drunkenness and a raucous party atmosphere that reminded me of a college town.
Oh, and remember how I was boasting about our savvy move to stay outside Munich for a fraction of the cost? Well, that came with a big downside. We were not the only ones leaving the city-center that evening, and the train was so tightly-packed that you couldn’t move.
The awkwardness-factor was amplified because this was very obviously a train full of locals. While English was prevalent downtown (presumably due to all the tourists visiting for Oktoberfest), on the train, we were the only ones who weren’t drunk, not speaking German, and not wearing Lederhosen or Dirndl.
The train ride had some sense of being the only people at a nude beach wearing clothing, and while that was uncomfortable, everyone was in such good spirits that it helped take the edge off.
After what proved to be the best breakfast of the trip the next morning (some of these included breakfasts were better than paid Walt Disney World buffets), we headed downtown to Oktoberfest early the next morning.
Our thinking was that if we arrived early enough, we could see the atmosphere before any sort of frat-party vibe took hold.
I think this was a pretty good plan, as we were able to visit multiple Oktoberfest tents before they became overly-crowded.
My feelings on Oktoberfest are a bit mixed. On the one hand, it was really cool to see the traditions on display, and so many talented performers. It’s also pretty clear that this is a cultural touchstone for Germans. It is an authentically big deal, not just a kitschy tourist thing.
On the other hand, Oktoberfest attracts a lot of foreign visitors who quite clearly do not have the same reverence for its traditions. Especially for younger people, it seemed like ‘destination debauchery.’ As a surly curmudgeon, I’m getting a bit too old for that. (It’s probably like Mardi Gras in a sense–some people take its traditions seriously, others…not so much.)
In the end, I appreciate the opportunity to have done Oktoberfest once, and I wouldn’t be averse to doing it again if the circumstances presented themselves, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to plan a trip around Oktoberfest again.
Our next and final stop was Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This was another Disney-motivated destination, as this old world village has two significant Disney connections: both Pinocchio and World Showcase’s Germany in Epcot were extensively inspired by it.
Any Disney fan with a keen eye should be able to spot the Epcot parallels in those photos.
So…that brings us to the end of the trip. This trip started with us driving from California to Indianapolis, then flying from there to Walt Disney World where we spent roughly a week, then flying from there to Paris, then driving across Europe with all of the destinations we’ve covered in this report along the way, then flying from Munich to Indianapolis, and then driving back to California. That was a bit excessive for a single trip, but it worked out that way so I could do some work in Indianapolis, and also so our sons (Yossarian the Cat and Walter Dogsney) could stay with family. (Doing all of this as a single trip cut down on expenses dramatically.) We are incredibly fortunate to be able to travel so much, but over a month ‘on the road’ takes its toll, and by the end of the trip, we were both worn down.
That was probably the biggest ‘lesson’ learned here. Even though our schedule was jam-packed even towards the end of our time in Europe, having more energy would’ve been nice. That’s about the only thing I would’ve done differently. As for the substance of what we did itself, almost everything we experienced was great, and short of being able to change the weather for better sunrises and sunsets, I don’t think I would have done much of anything differently. Hindsight is always 20/20, and it’s easy to say “we should or shouldn’t have done X or Y” when judging the result, you only have that insight from the benefit of the experience. If you made the opposite decision on the front end, hindsight could just as easily rear its ugly head. You know, the grass is always greener and all that. We just hope in hindsight you don’t look back at all the time you invested in reading this report and wish you hadn’t. 😉 Thanks for joining us along the way, and if you have any questions or thoughts, please share them below in the comments!