Ludwig’s castles in an E-Class

Augsburg, Germany

The beeping alarm awoke us this morning to dark skies and a steadily falling snow. Combating jet lag, we showered, checked out and navigated the slushy streets to Avis to pick up our rental car. The agent inside promptly informed us that while there were no four-wheel drive vehicles available (as we had reserved), she did have a Mercedes E-Class with snow tires available. We took the keys to the $80,000 car, added extra insurance, and offered a danke.

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It took us about 1.5 hours to drive south-west to Fussen, home to the royal castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, two of the country’s finest. After parking, we bought tickets and at the appointed time, entered Hohenschwangau, built by Maximillian II in 1836. The original massive mustard yellow structure — sitting in stark contrast to the snow-dusted mountains and evergreens — dates back to the 12th century.

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No pictures were allowed inside but the style was heavy Gothic, with lots of ornately carved wood, tremendous chandeliers and mosaic floors. It was a style replicated at Neuschwanstein, the castle of King Ludwig II, Maximillian’s son. This is the castle of fairy-tales, the most photographed in Germany, and the one that inspired Walt Disney’s home for Cinderella. Construction lasted 17 years and King Ludwig lived here for only about 6 months between 1884 and 1886 until his mysterious death.

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Sweeping views from the castle made the 30-minute muddy walk up worth it. The structure itself was also in great shape despite the fact that up to 25,000 tourists a day visit it during the summer months. We relished the relative quiet of our off-peak visit.

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With the sun starting its late afternoon descent, we piled back into the E Class for our drive north to Augsburg. This city, the largest on the Romantic Road, was founded 2,000 years ago. We assumed that our five-star hotel, Steigenberger Drei Mohren, itself dating to 1723, had been updated since. Unfortunately, our drab, uninspiring room left a good deal to be desired. Still, it was clean and comfortable and served its purpose — a stop-over base for the next 12 hours.

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The city itself was quiet and quaint, with cobblestone streets and an assortment of shops and old burghers’ houses lining the main drag, appropriately named Maximilianstrasse.

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As darkness fell, we passed over the Christmas Market in search of dinner. Suddenly, an illuminated neon cactus came into view. Next thing, we were eating chicken fajitas and drinking margaritas at Sausalito’s, a somewhat tacky Tex-Mex chain.

Twenty-four hours into it, we were already over sausages.

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