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).

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My Official Bands Bucket List

So I keep referring to my bands bucket list when I write about things I’ve been up to.  Today I wanted to go back and explain what it is.

You are probably aware that a bucket list is usually something written by people of all ages to ensure that they get to do all the things they’ve dreamed of doing in life – all the things they want to do before they “kick the bucket,” to coin a term.

In my case, that would be my ever-dwindling 30-list and my currently being written 40-list, which are the things I want to do before I reach age 30 and age 40, respectively.  It would probably not surprise you, then, to know that, when I was eighteen, I started this whole thing by writing a 20-list, a set of things I wanted to do before I turned 20.

The Bands Bucket List is very separate.  My age-lists are really more a set of things I feel would be achievements, accomplishments, or that I have some control over.  Things you can get with work and dedication.  They are lists of things that are within my power to make happen, however unique the circumstances would need to be for the achievement to be made.

The reason I don’t include bands on my 30-list and 40-list is because anyone can buy a ticket and travel to a gig.  Yes, some bands only tour in their homeland of Japan or The Faroe Islands, but by and large, live music is a capitalist, class dependent commodity (ooh er) that anyone with time and money can engage in.  For that reason I don’t think it’s an achievement to see The Who or Lynyrd Skynyrd, in the same sense that it would be an achievement to climb a mountain or get a master’s degree.  It would certainly be an achievement to play in a band, an honour that I have never been privy to (flutes tend to get stuck with orchestras rather than popular music bands, and ukuleles are the sonorous pariah unwanted in most ensembles), but seeing a band?  I am responsible for quality control of my lists and I decided it would cheapen the accomplishment of a PhD or climbing Everest to liken them with going to Download Festival (sorry, Download, it’s not that I don’t think your wonderful, but you are very easy).

I did need to keep track of a large set of data though, to make it possible to organize, and as I was spending more and more time on the internet typing different band names into Google, I thought I needed a spreadsheet.  I do love a good spreadsheet.

So I wrote them all down in alphabetical order, every band I could think of who, if their members died in a plane crash and they ceased to exist, I would feel like I’d missed out if I had neglected to attend them.  I know I won’t see all of them, but I wanted to make a concerted effort to see as many as I could while I could.

The list doesn’t distinguish between bands who have been apart for 30 years and those who are still coherent, it does separate out individual artists who are known to currently have a solo career and also link them to the band they used to be in (so, for example, the entry for David Gilmour states “Dave Gilmour/Pink Floyd” and Roger Waters’ entry is “Roger Waters/Pink Floyd”) ensuring that the musical genius that spawned the bands are placed to be seen even when they can’t be in the same room as one another.  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are another example, where their entries are “Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin” and “Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin” respectively.  Either entry can be ticked off once the required people have been seen, so if I’d seen Jimmy Page, it would then be at my discretion whether I decided the performance was sufficient to tick off Led Zeppelin, or whether I also wanted to see Robert Plant first.  I have ticked Guns n Roses off because I’ve seen Slash, and his performance with Myles Kennedy would be sufficient to tick off Guns n Roses (although GnR weren’t on my list) even though I haven’t seen Axl Rose and the band he’s put together when he kept the name Guns N Roses.

This list, and the ticking off part especially, has raised two very interesting dilemmas facing the modern music fan of older bands:  To what extent does the name of the band matter if none of the original members survive, and what actually counts as having seen a band?

The naming question is difficult.  So for example, there’s only one founder member of Lynyrd Skynyrd left in the band, but when I went to see them you could tell straight away that it didn’t matter.  Trying to define a band as who they were when they first signed on the dotted line of that fateful first record deal in the 1960s is a constrained and counterproductive way of going about things.  Take Pink Floyd again – guitarist Dave Gilmour wasn’t even in the original line-up, but for many people, he IS Pink Floyd, moreso than any other member.  Likewise, I need to be cautious about letting too many things be defined as the correct band.  It gets to a point where the only member of a band worth seeing is the drummer, and unless it’s Ringo Starr or Keith Moon, you might as well go and see a tribute band and tick off the real thing.  It’s false.  So somewhere between these two polarized opinions lies the way forward.

With The Who it was easy – the lead singer/guitarist and the lead guitarist are both still knocking around, the drummer is Ringo Starr’s son, and the bassist is an excellent session musician.  Hearing them play, you can tell they’re the real deal not some tribute band which have learned their songs meticulously to the letter and never deviate from the script.  They had the spark of Who-ness that made them Who-lesome.  I make no apologies for the wordplay.  Not all wordplay is a pun.

With Guns N Roses it would have been harder, since Axl kept the band name but is the only remaining member.  Seeing Slash play was such a jaw-droppingly stirring experience that I decided there was no way any replacement guitarist could ever possibly outdo him, unless Axl had hired Hendrix or Jimmy Page (which he hasn’t, which is a good job because Hendrix is dead and in either case, they’d want to play like themselves so you’d not get the same result).  It’s all a matter of style and substance.  Tribute bands and lesser replacement musicians can copy the style but have no substance.  Replacement musicians who are greater than the original will have substance but a differing style.  It takes a rare genius to walk the line between these two and still come out on top.  So I ticked off Guns N Roses.

The second dilemma is also one that I could spend years obsessing over if I wanted to:  How much of a band counts as “having seen” a band.  Here are my criteria:

1. It has to be live.

2. I had to be close enough to see and hear the band, not just watch the video screen, because that defeats the point.

3. I have to have heard the actual band play at least one full song.

4. Televised appearances are lovely, but there is so much loss of quality and atmosphere that they can’t possibly count, and the same goes for Youtube and other ways of seeing them.  For example, I watched the Pink Floyd Live 8 performance live on the BBC as it happened less than 20 miles from where I was sat (2 days after my mother had tried to kill me resulting in my being removed and never returning home, and 5 days before the 7/7 bombings), but it doesn’t count as having seen them, even though it had a profound and evelasting impact on the course of my life after that moment and probably stopped me killing myself.  That bit where they played “Wish You Were Here” and dedicated it to Syd had me in tears.

5. It doesn’t matter what they play:  If I wanted to hear a specific song I could buy and listen to the proper recording studio version.  That’s not what I’m looking for in my quest to see these bands.

Then there’s the single criterion for removal from the list:  If there are no living members of a band or if a solo artist dies, they are taken off the list.  Here is the list so far, there are currently 60 entries, and things are always being added:

Click to enlarge, again to zoom.
Click to enlarge, again to zoom.

For planning purposes, only the bands in white/orange matter:  The ones in pale grey are supposed to be ones who are just not touring at all, so they’re discounted from planning purposes (but breakups/reunions etc are so fickle that I don’t exclude reunion tours until the last member has kicked the bucket).  The ones in dark grey are ones I’ve now seen.  The ones in lime green are currently not attainable due to either dates, cost, or some other factor of sheer preposterous awkwardness that makes them unachievable such as announcing on the day of sale, selling out in 10 minutes and placing ridiculous resale criteria on the tickets, that only means that WHEN the tickets are resold, they’re triple the price they would have been so the resellers make even more money.  The ones in lime green are generally ones I’ve written off for this year.

So that’s my bands bucket list.  What do you think?  Who would be on yours?

Bob Dylan, Dave Gilmour and Apocalyptica

It’s been an exciting 8 hours, and I have learned that Bob Dylan and Dave Gilmour are both touring in the UK this year (we’re definitely in 2015, right??).

So my favourite favourite band of all time is Pink Floyd. If I got stuck with one band on a Desert Island, they’d be it. If I could build a time machine, I’d go back and see Syd play “See Emily Play” along with my other favourites from their first couple of years as a band. They’re number 1 on my bands bucket list: The bands I need to see before they kick the bucket
So I regularly check the listings to see whether Roger Waters or Dave Gilmour are doing tours in 2015.

I was, in fact, checking them today, when I was crashingly disappointed to find out that Dave Gilmour’s first tour in years sold out within an hour of being announced on 6th March.  All the dates are in October.  I must have last checked hours before that got announced!  I would have known this in April if my dad hadn’t died as I was totally caught up with that until now.  To top it off, Dave (or his management, because it’s not a standard ticket condition) has insisted that to prevent ticket resale, the person who booked the tickets MUST be present with photo ID on the day of the event! So people can’t buy tickets as birthday presents, and if you’re in a group and the person who booked them is sick and can’t go, you’re going to get turned away at the door! If your circumstances change or you have a bereavement? Your tickets are non-refundable, voided and non-resaleable. This seems unreasonable conditions to impose on people who are paying to see someone perform. So no hope of last minute re-sales. I don’t think disappointed covers it. I thought I was going to start spiralling down into the blackness of depressionland again (and I’m not due for at LEAST another month or so), I mean, literally, I would have sold my car to go to this concert if that was a way to make it happen.  Or blown my meager inheritance.  I know my dad would have implicitly approved; Pink Floyd were his favourite as well, along with the venerable Bob Dylan, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

I checked Roger Waters (because they often used to plan dates to clash with each other, back when they had a bit of a feud), and all his dates were in America (I might go to America to see him at some point). So I went to look at the Royal Albert Hall’s tickets page in case there were still some left at the venue and the “sold out” thing might have been a mistake.
No they were sold out of Dave Gilmour on all ten dates.

But they did have a scrolling banner of upcoming acts and Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan were both billed (not together, although that would have been epic).

I’ve never been the biggest Clapton fan although I totally appreciate what he did for the field of guitar music. Bob Dylan is one of my favourites, though, and the one that I never thought in a million years that I would ever get to see play live.
I excitedly went to the listing and looked at this:

Bob Dylan 2015 tour dates UK screenshot from Royal Albert Hall.
Bob Dylan 2015 tour dates UK screenshot from Royal Albert Hall.

There was only one UK date left for Bob Dylan, and best news ever, it was a Saturday sometime in October, so I looked at seats to see about getting some tickets. The only seats were those ones BEHIND the stage, that I remember looking at year on year back when I used to watch TV, whenever there was a televised performance, because I remember thinking, “why would people buy tickets to sit where they can’t see?” I still don’t understand why you’d do it to see, like, the Spice Girls or something (and y’know, when I was 11 I used to dream about being their long-lost sixth member, Jasmine Spice. Like literally go to sleep and dream this), but for Bob Dylan, I would do it.  Bob Dylan is a freaking LEGEND.

This was all about 8 hours ago, then my husband came home from a party and I excitedly bounced up to him and said, “Bob Dylan, Albert Hall, 24th October, it’s a Saturday, they’ve got a few tickets left.”
He said we’d talk about it in the morning which is responsible-person-speak for “no. And I don’t want to talk about it.” Okay, London is very far away and train tickets are generally stupidly expensive and its neither of our favourite place, in fact we both have it at the bottom of any list of places we’d like to go, next to Slough and Luton (Paris is only slightly higher on the list, give me Salzburg or Rome ANY day), and he doesn’t tend to love 60s alternative hippie music as much as I do because his parents worked for the man their entire lives and mine tuned in, turned up and dropped out, and grew me in a cloud of narcotics and other “plants.”  We are Dharma and Greg (except for the whole Kitty thing).  But Bob freaking Dylan!!!

Anyway, it’s the morning (or it was when I started writing this) and we talked about seeing Bob Dylan live in concert in October, and I pointed out that although it was in London, it WAS a Saturday, and he agreed that this WAS a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a musical legend and that even choir seats were better than missing it since we missed out on so many concerts this year due to late announcements and tickets being held for fan clubs, and that’s how he very generously bought two Bob Dylan tickets, one each, and said that mine can be my birthday and Christmas present for a couple of years.

See?  We can has tickets!!!
See? We can has tickets!!!

Excited doesn’t even cover it.  And I know this sounds awful but things happen for a reason and if I’d checked Dave Gilmour in April I wouldn’t have seen Bob Dylan’s tickets because he didn’t announce until 1st May.  So something slightly good came from losing my dad when I did.  I know my dad is looking down on me going “yay! Tickets!”

Ooh and the third band I listed in the title, what about them?  Well, I’ve had my Download 2015 tickets for a while, it’s in 2 weekends’ time, and I was looking at the line-up last night when I saw Apocalyptica were confirmed.

Which put me in mind of one of my favourites of theirs:  The Hall of The Mountain King.  Which is an awesome interpretation of a classic and reminds me of when I used to work as an Ice Dancer at Alton Towers (because they’d licensed the classical version as their “ambient music” for some areas).  Enjoy:

The Trouble With Concert Tickets

I don’t have a regular article for you because I have spent all day today trying to get concert tickets.

I have a Bands Bucket List which is a list of bands I need to see before THEY kick the bucket.  It’s quite long, because I haven’t been to many concerts (three and a festival, if we’re counting), but that’s ok because there’s some younger bands on there too and by the time I get to them they might be old enough to be in danger of kicking it.

The trouble is, there’s no central place to check them all, half of them don’t seem to announce tour dates until they’re actually happening, which is great if you’re one dimensional and only follow one band because they probably let their official fan clubs know sooner but do we need this kind of class division based on how much money you can throw at a band year-in-year-out based on the small hope that they might get back together and tour again?  It’s just not cool when I’ve got over 50 great bands to check and if I joined all their fan clubs, that would cost me £500 to £1000!!!

Last year, I checked in February and there were no tour dates.  I checked again in April and I’d missed half of them.  How do people find out about these in time to go and buy tickets?  The other significant issue is that they tend to be sold out by the time I finally get to hear about them.  It’s crazy.  Take Glastonbury, for example.  It’s been sold out since before Christmas, but there isn’t a single band confirmed for the line-up yet, and won’t be until Spring 2015.  Who buys tickets to a concert when they have no idea who’s playing it?  What if it’s all your least favourite bands?  And those tickets are NOT cheap either.

So far this year I’ve found three of my bands are playing the UK or Europe this year, have announced their dates in good time and have still got tickets to sell; Lynyrd Skynyrd are playing Manchester, Muse are playing Download and System Of A Down are playing London (but are sold out) and across Europe, I think I can get tickets for one of the European gigs because they tend to sell out less quickly although the French Ticketmaster isn’t even releasing tickets for them yet.

I wish I could have my own music festival filled with all the bands I love and get them all to play in York…  le sigh.

Have you got any plans to go to concerts this year?  Do you know of any good venues in Europe or have any favourites (anywhere within 8 hours drive of Calais would be perfect but I do have a car camper so longer journeys are being considered at this point)?
Let me know in the comments!