On day three, I took a train to Reutte, then transferred on a bus to Füssen, Germany. I wanted to at least taste a bit of Bavaria, since I would be missing out on most of the rest of Germany. Plus, since I was young, my uncle told me about this amazing castle in southern Germany that he saw when he backpacked in the early 80’s, so I had to see it. I arrived in Füssen and immediately grabbed the next bus to the famous Neuschwanstein Castle – you know, the one that inspired Walt Disney’s famed Cinderella Castle in Orlando. The little village of Hohenschwangau was quite close to Füssen, built up mostly for the attraction of the castle; it was mainly comprised of one street that slightly wound up a hill, connecting the village to another castle close to lake Alpsee, the Hohenschwangau Castle. Roughly a 30-45 minute walk connected you from the little village to the entrance of Neuschwanstein. The views from its perched location were seen far in the distance and yielded mesmerizing panoramas. The castle and the tiny village were setup almost strictly for tourists, and my, oh, my did the tourists flock to the attraction. Full tours ran every 5 minutes, and it was near impossible to snag a clean shot of the castle without loads of people spoiling the scenery.
I joined the queue as my tour time had been called over the loud speaker, and I was given the unfortunate news that no photography would be aloud inside the castle. Disappointed, I made myself look as normal and inconspicuous as possible, while I went room to room, following the backend of the tour, holding my phone to my side, ready for the perfect opportunity to snap that ever so forbidden snapshot. The perfect opportunity presented itself once we entered a large room at the back of the castle, which held the prayer alter. I have to say though, my guide was the strangest little man I’ve ever met before. He was ridiculously skinny, medium height, and very frail looking. He spoke in a very strange dictation – he was high pitched, and slow speaking – while gesturing his arms and hands close to his body, in quite an odd manner. He was almost regal, yet there was something not quite right. I enjoyed the tour overall, but I was disappointed in how short it was, and how new the castle was – as it was only built in the 19th-century, and everything about the castle was immaculate, as if it was built solely for tourism.
I left the castle, taking the bus back to Füssen, where I had to waste 3-4 hours as I needed to wait for my couchsurfing host to get back from work. So, I thought, what better way to pass the time than to sit myself down in a traditional beer hall. I did just that, while stuffing myself silly, full of roast pork leg, potato dumplings and sauerkraut – note: I HATE THE SMELL of sauerkraut, however the taste of real sauerkraut in Germany is almost pleasant; ALMOST. And of course, I didn’t forget to swallow down 3-4 liters of a local hefeweizen, as I enjoyed the sounds from a duo who was performing local traditional tunes for the remainder of the night. I reached my pant’s belt limit, and decided to check the time – I found that it was just about the right time to start toward my host’s house – plus, my head was spinning and my vision blurred, and I was wearing a wonderfully ridiculous drunken grin at this point. Perhaps walking wasn’t the best plan, I thought... Considering I had no idea where the guy lived, so I waved my hand and snagged the first available taxi.
My host was having a 2 person party, with his obscenely dolled up middle age girlfriend. She looked sorta like Pamela Anderson. My host was a tall, fit guy, who was obviously quite the bachelor. His apartment was massive, decked out, and had a few interesting adjustments and installations. For example, the shower was glass walled in, visible from the main hallway, with a mirror and stone backing – enough said, I presume. The two were a lively bunch, drinking profusely and getting more and more intoxicated, and with each increase in blood alcohol level, they were become more and more touchy, grabby with each other. It would have been exceptionally awkward, but I was already pretty drunk. We only talked for about 30 minutes, before he showed me to my room, handed me a half bottle of wine and said they were going to head off to have some private time – he winked. So, needless to say, I was fine with some alone time. I wandered around the flat a bit, checking out a lot of the interesting artifacts and high end furniture displays. Once I realized that I could pull a curtain shut for the shower, I decided I would jump in – but not before drunk-shaving my face. I’m either very talented or very lucky, as I didn’t cut myself. However, I realized the next day that I had left a few obscenely large clumps still intact.
The next day, I was feeling good as new, surprisingly. My host was gone, off to work in his office, somewhere, and only his fair-maiden was left, she greeted me and gave me directions to the train station. Before I knew it, I was off toward Bregenz, Austria – I had my heart set to see one of their famous floating stage theater shows. But fate had other plans...
Germany was the first place that I had encountered train platforms that leave from both ends. There’s an A and a B platform for each number, which means there’s often a larger train splitting into two parts that leaves from the same platform, but in opposite directions. Silly me, in a hurry to conquer and explore, I jumped on the first one I saw, without checking both prompts. A little over two hours of beautiful, to-die-for scenery passed and the train stopped at a dead end route. Lost and confused, I asked around, as to where the heck we were. And after explaining where I was trying to head, a couple exclaimed ‘Oh no!’ Followed by their explanation of how I took the wrong train, and have arrived in Oberstdorf. I found out (the hard way) that Oberstdorf is a brilliant place to explore the alps, full of hiking and adventure sports. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t meaning to visit this time around. I visited the customer service desk and told the guy what happened and he told me that he did that once before too, and not to worry, because he will sort me out. The problem was that I will obviously arrive super late to Bregenz, as I had to return to where I missed the original train, and proceed from there.
Five hours later than scheduled, I arrived in Bregenz. I stayed with an interesting CouchSurfing host who was an older-middle aged woman, living alone, as her kids were long gone, strewn throughout Europe. She had a very ‘green’ way of living – every tiny little thing in her apartment was coordinated and designed to be the healthiest and to the most green standard possible, yet also being designed to perfection. I felt out of place, and uncomfortable, feeling like I was too ‘worldly’, dirty (as most backpackers tend to be, after long journeys) and non-green-advanced to stay there. But in the end, it was a pleasant experience, where I learned a lot... Even though, I think my host felt the same as I felt originally – she stayed very standoffish and didn’t speak much – *sigh*. Since I was so late to Bregenz, I missed out on seeing most of the city, and to my everlasting disappointment (or until I make it back again), I missed the theater show – but seeing as how they are typically sold out right away for the entire summer, I wouldn’t have had a chance anyway.
I left early the next morning, since I was mostly anticipating my destination for the evening. I left Bregenz and headed to Vaduz, Liechtenstein to tour for a few hours. I walked around the small town center and then hiked up to the Vaduz Castle, where the Prince resides. It was a pleasant hike up the mountainside – though once I reached the top (with all of my damn bags), I was quite tired and too sweaty to feel happy about much of anything. But once I wound up the hills behind the castle, I found a bench where I took a seat and I simply enjoyed the overlook of the town, the backend view of the castle and the breeze cooling me down, while I appreciated the flourishing fields that surrounded me. It was a beautiful sight to see, and I’m glad I took the time to appreciate it. After nearly an hour of lounging about, I hiked back down to the village and flagged down the next bus that would lead me to the bordering town that I needed to head into Switzerland.
Since the Alps run across Switzerland, and where I was heading was in a sort of mountain valley, I had to travel all of the way around the country to get to where I wanted to go – Interlaken, Switzerland.
Before arriving in Interlaken, I had pictured what it would be like. I thought it was going to be a tiny little village, full of those dark brown painted traditional wood houses, with white or tan trim – maybe a village of 100 houses tops, with a few little shops. NOPE – WOW, was I wrong. Interlaken is a sprawling little town, full of attractions, shopping and loaded up on options for tourists to sink their teeth into. I knew there would be skiiing (in the winter), hiking and what not, but I have no idea of the true onslaught of adventure sports available to visitors here. There’s rafting, skydiving, bungee jumping, climbing, and a whole lot more offered. I immediately was taken aback by the atmosphere of Interlaken, which took me an hour or two of wandering around to adjust myself to, but I grew decently fond of the town – mainly because of the surrounding momentous mountains and the gorgeous skies that circled and constantly changed overhead.
I stayed at the Balmer's Herberge hostel – which was packed with mainly young backpackers. The hostel was made up of several buildings, that looked more like a nice lodge than a hostel, but once entering the buildings I realized how it was setup at once. Beds were packed in as tight as could be, it seemed – but they did make up for that with great common rooms, full of activities. They had a bar and grilling area outside, a restaurant inside from there, with an underground club beneath both buildings. A strange space-age, silver entrance door sat in the middle of the front lawn, which was guarded by a smiling bouncer – heading down the stairs, a gross smell of vomit and red bull met my nostrils and I realized exactly what type of place I was at. I had one beer, as to ‘put myself out there,’ before heading out to a pub down the street instead.
For my first day, I wandered further around the town, exploring the old town and old cemetery near the Interlaken West train station. After a bit, I transferred over to Balmer’s Tent Village, to give it a try. It was more comfortable and personal than their regular hostel. The encampment was a little less than a mile down the road, setup in a field, where yellow striped tents lined each side. Half way through the camp, a larger white tent brought the grounds together, as a random large set of tents were setup in the back, away from the road as well. Between the road and the common area tent, they were building a BMX dirt ramp course, and continuing into the camp, there was a small above ground pool, a hot tub, a large grill and a slew of picnic tables. It was definitely an intriguing setup, and I could foresee great times happening here. I checked in, put my bags away and grabbed a beer – conversation came easy from there, for the rest of the night. There were rowdy Swiss staying there, a small group of Aussie guys ready to party (isn’t there always those guys, though??!), and a few groups of young, adventurous backpacker girls. So, the group was mixed well-enough, I suppose, but either way, a fun time was surely ahead. I jumped into the packed hot tub, and being plenty tipsy by this time (around 9:30PM), the conversation came even easier and embarrassing and hilarious stories were shared intimately, as the tub was so crammed full, I was surprised we didn’t sink into the grass underneath.
And so, the good times rolled... For FIFTEEN MINUTES MORE! That’s it, yes. The hostel workers came around, spreading bad news and sad vibes, as it was their unfortunate job to end the parties and put silence in the camp by 10:00PM each night. Everyone was bummed, and quite flabbergasted at this awful turn of events. The alcohol was just settling in everyone’s systems and the shy-hesitation of the bunch was fleeting far away. The party went elsewhere into the town, where there was only a pub and two awful clubs open this night. Overall, I loved Tent Village, but that damn curfew has got to go. I would have put it up to one of the best party hostels, with the best atmosphere (next to Sunflower in Rimini and Kabul’s in Barcelona), until they shut it all down. Sad nights, sad nights, my friend.
Seeing as how I went to bed way earlier than I had planned, I was up and at’em, early, way early. The sun had just rose and I was off to Interlaken Ost train station, ready to head up through the mountain valley and east to Grindelwald. I didn’t really have anything planned, I just knew that I wanted to have a great hike, to see the amazing Alps, as best I could from where I was. Getting to Grindelwald about an hour later, I was a bit disappointed to see that it was basically a smaller version of Interlaken, with hardly any ancient, traditional buildings, and a ‘just okay’ view of the mountain line. I walked through to the other end of the town, where I saw signs lined with ‘Grindelwald First’ accompanied with beautiful photos of the exact kind of areas that I wanted to explore. I arrived to a building that was set into the hill a bit, which had hundreds of little boxed in ramp seat-type things rising into the far distance. I said to my self, “Hell with it, I’ll give it a go.”
40.00 CHF (Swiss Franc – equal to round $44.00) later and I was lifted into the air, rising higher and higher. The transport system met three separate station points, but I skipped each, until I arrived to the very top. The views from the very top of Grindelwald’s ridge instantly stole my breath, like a thief in the night. Enormous mountains rose up around me, like nothing else I had experienced before. The sheer size immobilized me, I was stunned and instantly in love. I felt free, and fresh, and raw, and real, and ready to take on the world. My mouth curled into the most jubilant smile and I knew I was where I was supposed to be. All of my hard work up until this point had culminated into guiding me exactly where I should be, at the exact point in time that I was meant to be. I had a new skip to my step, and I raced around the path, climbing over lush green hills and rocky areas, getting higher and higher. I wanted to get the absolute BEST view of what I was seeing. I wanted to capture the most mesmerizing shots that I could, to show the world exactly how amazing this experience was – though I knew it was near impossible to replicate just how right, and how truly magical moments like these are. I don’t know if you should call these moments ‘God moments,’ but I felt closer to my humanity and freer and wilder than I ever had – similar to how I felt when I reached the peak of Mount VanHovenberg in the Adirondack.
I hiked and walked and hiked some more, following the path most of the time, which led me to the Bachalpsee lake which had beautiful views of the alps in the distance. The problem around this area was that there were an insane amount of bugs that simply attached themselves to you, as if your skin were made of glue. I hiked along a few particularly difficult hills, going around the lake, where I found a small man-trodden dirt path. This was not an official path, by any means. It lead you down to the very edge of the ridge, well below the cable car transport. So after 20-minutes of hiking some of the most wonderful, yet wild and overgrown areas – that I could handle without proper hiking shoes and gear – I turned up the hill, which showed to be extremely difficult. Each foot I placed was tempted to slip on the damp grass or was met with devilishly hidden marshy dips that lead into a one to three foot hole of water. After 10 or 15 minutes of pure hell – where my shoes were soaked through and my legs painted in mud, with a wool-like sweater of bugs attached to me – I got to a rock face where I could see the mail trail (which I took in toward the lake originally) continued on overhead. Instead of walking a few hundred feet around the rock face, to see if the climb were any easier, I said aloud, ‘F@#$ it, I’ve got this’ – but looking back at this now, that was a seriously foolish decision, because I could have tumbled quite far and then possible rolled down the hill over the ridge, if my momentum picked up and if I couldn’t stop myself somehow.
In the end, I made it to the path, tired, sweaty, and quite damp – I made my way back to the life, where a restaurant stood, hovering over the cliffside. It offered brilliant views of the valley below and the mountains around me, and a short reprieve from my exhaustion. My whole body was spent and all in all, I snagged some amazing photos and I had one of the best moments in my life – I even felt good about surviving myself, because I like to challenge myself when opportunities like this present themselves.
Back at the tent village in Interlaken, I showered and sat editing photos until the sky turned dark and my head bobbed down, smacking into my laptop.
The next morning, I left early, boarding a train to Zurich, and then to Memmingen, Germany. I had to catch my flight to Dublin via RyanAir (which as you know that I despise!). But I do have to say that this short trip through the middle of Europe was well-spent and totally worth it... And I can NOT wait to visit again soon!
More travel updates coming soon! Next update from Dublin & Dingle, Ireland
Travel update I – Barcelona, Spain
Travel update II – Madrid, Spain
Travel update III – Granada, Spain
Travel update IV – Ronda & Sevilla, Spain
Travel update V – Marrakech, Morocco
Travel update VI – Marseille & Nice, France
Travel update VII – Monaco & Florence, Italy
Travel update VIII – Rimini & Cesenatico, Italy
Travel update IX – San Marino & Verona, Italy
Travel update X – Venice, Italy (Part I)
Travel update XI – Belgium & Luxembourg
Travel update XII – Slovenia & Croatia
Travel update XIII – Venice, Italy (Part II)