Victoria Wood yesterday, Chyna today.

Two women whose contributions to the world were greater than it wants you to believe. Victoria Wood died yesterday at the age of 62. Cancer. Chyna died today aged 45.
But the whole world is only talking about the loss of Prince, with a sidenote about Guy Hamilton, director of the James Bond movies.
Let’s talk about the two women who deserved the spotlight today:
Victoria Wood was a writer and comedian who was and still is a household name in Britain. Her style of comedy was insightful and witty. She often worked with Julie Walters, and was known for a multitude of sketches along with “Dinnerladies” and “Acorn Antiques.” Irritatingly, everyone was going on about how she was an “inspiration to women” as if, because she’s female, she couldn’t possibly be an inspiration to men. It’s so annoying when you go out and become inspirational as a woman, because as we all know, your uterus pops out and inflates like an umbrella and anyone taller than 5’6″ can’t see you any more. It’s happened to a lot of women. It’s an outrage that the BBC, in their rush to get the first obituary out, to boost their views, produced an obituary for her which was riddled with proofreading errors. As someone whose parents were such fans of Victoria Wood that they named me after her, I thought it was very disrespectful of the BBC to write such illiterate rubbish.

But it was better than what they did with Chyna. They called her a “wrestler and porn star.” Because of course women aren’t allowed to shine out in male-dominated sports. She’s the only female wrestler to have defeated a slew of male WWE champions in the ring, the first (and possibly only) female wrestler to win the WWE Championship belt, and yet the BBC chose to focus their headline on the fact that she had also worked in the sex industry. In the entire article, they never even mentioned that she taught English in Japan.
To put it into perspective, calling Chyna a “Wrestler and Porn Star” would be like calling Vivienne Westwood a “fashion designer and schoolteacher” or JK Rowling a “writer and unemployed single mother.” It’s just not necessary and it’s not appropriate, it’s to remind you that she’s a woman and has worked in a profession society considers degrading.

Do you know why they’re trying to downplay her achievements in the wrestling ring by focussing on the porn?  Because she was a female wrestler who defeated men at wrestling.  This isn’t the sort of thing the world wants women to know.  That it’s possible for us to become physically strong enough and skilful enough at fighting to overpower men who are also physically strong.  Oh, they’re scared shitless that if we work that out, it’s game over for the men who try to keep us down with their fake “feminism” (where they tell us what to think about feminism) and their “fear of rape culture” culture that they’re crippling us with.  By focussing on the porn rather than the wrestling, they’re hoping to distract us from the fact that she beat HEAVYWEIGHT men in the wrestling ring.
Here she is doing some wrestling:

They would never say crap like that about a man. If Jeffrey Archer died tomorrow, the obituary would read “Jeffrey Archer: Writer and politician has died” not “Jeffrey Archer: Ex Convict has died.”

But then, if Jeffrey Archer died tomorrow, he might actually get a word in edgeways as he’s a man and the world might actually see that his death was worth making a fuss over.

I’d love to see what (if I ever make anything of myself) they wrote about me. Slut?  Actress? Writer? Youtuber? Teacher? Model?  Checkout Assistant? Archaeologist?  Comedian?  Car enthusiast?  Adventurer?  Person who got paid to hold a sign for two days one winter? Atheist? Roller skater?  Probably nothing at all.

What would they write about you? Single mother? Homeless person? Dog lover? Runner? Blogger? Peanut Butter Factory Operations Labourer?

I’d like to hope that by the time we die, women are actually allowed to have careers and impacts on the world beyond a) sex and b) “inspirational to women.” I mean, there’s nothing WRONG with being a porn star or inspiring women, but it’s pretty narrow and sexist to make that the focus of a person’s obit just because that person is also female. I’d like to think that Victoria Wood inspired people of any gender. She sure as hell inspired me, she was one of my biggest formative influences in performance and comedy when I was growing up; I used to read the credits in amazement, seeing with awe that she’d written, acted in AND done the music for most of her TV programmes. She should be EVERYONE’S inspiration for so many reasons, she was a wonderful person and a fantastic comedian with a real gift for natural, approachable comedy. Most comedians can be divided into two groups, either they make you feel more stupid for having watched them, or they are so highbrow that you won’t get half of it. Victoria Wood was neither. She was completely accessible but her jokes were never stupid.
Earlier today, I saw her in a sketch with Alan Rickman (I’d never seen this one before):

This is more her usual style though:

What do you think they will write about Caitlyn Jenner? I dread to think what they’ll put in her headline, I bet it won’t be “Decathlon Winner and Olympic Champion Caitlyn Jenner has died.” They’ll shoehorn something else in. That’s what they do to women. She’ll be an “inspiration to transgendered people” instead of just an “inspiration.” You’re not allowed to go round contaminating good honest white men with your inspiration unless you’re a white man too. Just to clarify, please understand that when what I say sounds like the opposite of reasonable, I’m being sarcastic; it’s what happens when I resent the inherent prejudice in the system.

It’s funny how every time a male celebrity dies at the same time as a female celebrity, the male one overshadows the female one. Did you know that Farrah Fawcett, the bombshell pinup from Charlie’s Angels, died the exact same day as Michael Jackson? No, of course not, because they latched on to Michael Jackson and turned him into a saint and she faded into obscurity. Like women are supposed to. They do it when we get married, they do it when we have babies, and they do it when we die. We’re just supposed to disappear. So Guy Hamilton and Prince get the spotlight today, and Chyna and Victoria Wood, the real tragic losses of the past 48 hours, have just disappeared.

Sorry about the ranty tone of today’s article, but this whole inequality just makes me so angry. Death happens to everyone. Why do we only publicly see and seem to mourn the deaths of men? It’s a throwback to the dark ages (or Islamic Shariah states such as Afghanistan) where women never left the house and weren’t seen to do anything of any importance, and by that token the important contributions of women were invisible. In death, the ultimate reality, we see that nothing has changed for women despite all the “rights” and “freedoms” they have been accorded.

It’s also the Queen’s 90th birthday today.  At least SHE got a headline.

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Two Unbelievable German Fairytale Castles.

By all accounts, Ludwig II was a mad king.  Of course, madness is subjective, but most people agree that it’s a bit off the wall to build yourself a fantastic fairytale castle, then spend your kingdom’s vast fortune to build another one across the way, just so you have something nice to look at from your own, fabulous castle.  It’s even more ridiculous to hear that Ludwig II married a girl, then moved her into the other castle.  I’m sure that made for interesting sex, sending a messenger on the forty minute walk to ask: “Your castle or mine?” Only to receive a reply, eighty minutes later: “Oh, not tonight darling, I have a headache.”  May as well save oneself the effort and grab a villager instead.  Perhaps this explains why Hohenschwangau castle (often mistakenly called Hohenschwanstein castle) was quite near to the village of Schwangau and Neuschwanstein castle was way off in the distance.  Old Mrs Ludwig II couldn’t exactly complain if she couldn’t see anything that her husband was doing.  Perhaps if Henry VIII had adopted this two-castles-on-two-mountainsides approach, he could have saved himself all the nuisance of having to dispose of unwanted wives after the warranty period.

But he didn’t think of it.

In Britain, we never really consider Henry VIII a mad king, perhaps because he knew which end the crown was supposed to go on, and didn’t roam Buckingham Palace in his nightwear, and anyway, when he was compared to Charles I (who was so despotic, he caused the only English civil war) or George III (who figuratively wore his underpants on his head), he gets a free pass.  I think it comes down to the fact that, historically, we have tended to respect the institution of marriage a little too much.  Henry VIII was married to each of the six women who he wronged, but that’s fine because he married them.  If, as a bachelor, he had treated just one of those women properly but not married her, that would have been a scandal.  But beheading two wives?  That was reasonable, because he was married to them at the time.  I think the other reason we don’t remember any of our kings as properly, truly mad (rather than just bloody stupid), is because we’ve never had a proper despot on the throne.  Add to that the fact that we still have a monarchy and the Germans don’t, and it’s perhaps easier to see why the Germans embrace the madness of their erstwhile monarchy and open it up for tourists to see at low low prices (Austria’s got the market pretty well cornered on this too, but I’ll come to that in another article).

Ludwig II is suggested to have schizotypal personality disorder for which there is evidence from his autopsy – he died in 1886 under highly mysterious circumstances the day after he was dethroned for extremely paranoid behavior.  Fascinatingly, he was claimed to have drowned and it was recorded as a suicide, but he was known to be a good swimmer and there was no water in his lungs.  Add to that the further mystery that his psychiatric doctor was with him at the time – and the doctor was found dead with head and neck wounds and markings concurrent with strangulation.

There are plenty of things in Germany which are spectacular, or ludicrous, or despotic, but nothing in Germany is quite as spectacularly, ludicrously, despotically fabulous as the twin castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.  We were so taken by them that we actually went to see them twice.

The drive was painful in both directions due to bad traffic around Munich.  We parked in Fussen for a breather and that was when we saw the first of the two castles.  I’ve been told by quite a few people that Schloss Hohenschwangau is supposed to be the best one, but Schloss Neuschwanstein was the first one I saw and it captured my imagination far more.  It was fit for a princess.  It looked like a Disney castle.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a castle that was quite so… well… castley.  If someone distilled pure essence of castle and made a castle out of it, Neuschwanstein would be the result.  This castle belonged to every Disney Princess who ever lived.

Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany; taken from Fussen.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein as seen from Schwangau.

We didn’t go inside either castle because (on the way to Salzburg) by the time we’d fought our way through traffic they were both closed for the day.  The same thing happened when we drove here on the way back from Rome, so I’ve not seen first-hand what they look like inside, but when they look like this from the outside, I can’t wait until we actually get to go in.  Photography is not allowed inside the castles.

Castle Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, August 2014.
Castle Hohenschwangau, aka Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, Taken August 2014.

The castles look even better in real life and I think they were well worth the  effort of driving here even though we didn’t go inside – I don’t think there’s anything like them to be found side-by-side like this anywhere else in the world.

Make it Happen:

There’s two parts to this – getting to Schwangau and then getting to the actual castles.  Once you’re in Schwangau the rest is pretty damn easy (as long as you DON’T mistakenly go to SCHWANAU which is 3 HOURS AWAY from where the fairytale castles are).

Getting to Schwangau:

  1. Fly to Munich airport then hire a car, accommodation is best in Fussen which also has a much better selection of restaurants and bars than Schwangau.
  2. Drive straight to Schwangau from your home address – this is what I did, it took two full driving days and one overnight stay in a layby in central Germany to get here after 5pm from the North of England.
  3. By public transport it’s really sketchy, which is why I never got here on my Interrail trip – basically Schwangau is a little bit remote and doesn’t have it’s own train station.  There is a direct train from Munich to Fussen which takes 2 hours 6 minutes, then you’re on your own to get to Schwangau (Google says it’s a 45 minute walk or a 12 minute cycle – so if you’re reasonably fit and mobile you can probably walk it in under 30 minutes; it wasn’t far at all by car), but if you’re willing to get a taxi this is another option from Fussen.  I can’t find bus info.

Getting to the Castles from Schwangau:

  1. Hohenschwangau is a very easy stroll from the centre of Schwangau.
  2. Neuschwanstein is slightly less accessible, you can take a 45 minute walk if you’re feeling sporty.
  3. The more common option to get to Neuschwanstein is to take the tourist buses (run by private companies) which costs about E2.60 there and back again.  I think there’s still some walking involved and the buses are unsuitable for disabled people due to the terrain between where the bus stops and getting into the castle.
  4. The most awesome option by far to get to Neuschwanstein is to take a horse drawn carriage, at E6 there and E3 back again.  There is a 15 minute uphill walk from where the carriage drops you off.  If you’re feeling especially fancy, you can also ride in a carriage to Hohenschwangau castle for E4.50 there and E2 back again.
  5. Entrance to the two castles on a twin ticket was 9am-6pm (summer) or 10am-4pm (winter) and cost E12 each or E23 for a combined ticket.  For more information click here.

Disabled, Wheelchair and Pushchair Access:
You can’t drive to the entrances, the closest parking is in Schwangau village centre which costs about E5, or there’s free parking even further down the hill in two large lay-bys. Neuschwanstein appears to sadly be generally unsuitable for wheelchair users or people with mobility-related disabilities due to its design (although some people have had success getting around, I think this has to be taken as the exception; if you’re planning a trip for a busload of pensioners, you’ll have to give Neuschwanstein a miss, but if you push your own wheelchair and you’ve got someone to help out on the hilly bits, you will be able to get around enough to see some of Neuschwanstein). Pushchairs can get to Neuschwanstein but if you’re not reasonably fit you will be utterly shattered afterwards.  If you have an invisible disability such as CFS or MS you may have extreme difficulty with Neuschwanstein because the bus queues are a lot of standing around waiting and the walk is hilly with no real breaks; if you’re having a low-energy day, I’d skip Neuschwanstein and go for Hohenschwangau instead.  Hohenschwangau on the other hand appears to be reasonably accessible if you can make it up the much gentler hill to the entrance (but if in doubt, double check this when you buy tickets, because everyone’s level of ability is different) and pushchairs are no problem at Hohenschwangau.  Everything I saw of both castles and Schwangau village was hills rather than steps.

For accommodation I strongly suggest you avoid the expensive hotels of Schwangau and instead stay in the beautiful large village of Fussen, as there is much more choice, it’s a bigger town and there’s lots of cheaper options and more amenities.  If arriving by train, staying in Fussen will also break up the journey a bit.  I found the absolute best selection of accommodation from Booking.com but do book early as it’s a popular but relatively undeveloped area, and when we were travelling to Schwangau/Fussen from Rome, I tried to book us a hotel for 2 days ahead but the cheapest options that were left started at 150 Euros which was out of my price range (this was September prices).  By contrast, there are currently options for mid-August available starting at £43 for two people, which is obviously a significant saving.  By comparison, for the same example date (12-13th August) hotels in Schwangau start at £93 per night for mid-August if you book now.

Has anyone else been to see these fabulous castles?  Let me know what you thought in the comments.

If you’re looking for more info on disabled access of major tourist destinations, I’ve also written about which parts of Rome were wheelchair accessible.

More info about ticketing etc here.

This article contains affiliate links, it doesn’t affect the prices you pay for anything, and if you choose to book accommodation from links on this page it just means I can buy food and petrol and all that lovely stuff (which gives me more time to write articles like this one).