Easter weekend. Dan and I had four days off and wanted to spend it away from Basel. I randomly chose the town of Füssen in Bavaria, Germany and reserved a room for three nights and bought the train tickets for our round trip. The weather forecast was crap: 70% chance of rain on Friday and Monday, and 30% on the weekend itself. But hey, “Into each life some rain must fall.”
It was an early departure from Basel Friday morning but that meant that we arrived in Füssen at 2 pm. The rain had pecked at the windows of the train but by the time we arrived the clouds had given up and sat sullenly above us. We made our way to our lodgings, Haus Bagci, and rang the bell. Anne, the proprietor, answered the door and showed us to our room. We actually had an entire apartment, which took up most of the top floor of the building. Our “room” consisted of a large living area, a full kitchen, a clean bathroom and separate bedroom. Not a bad place to hang out for the next four days. We dropped off our bags and set off to explore.
Our lodging was technically not in Füssen itself, but through a narrow cut in a tree-covered ridge to the neighboring area of Bad Faulenbach: “Tal der Sinne”. I would have guessed that being separated from the main town would make for quiet nights but I was wrong. A large multi-story hotel, the “Europark Hotel” was built across the street and its positioning created an echo chamber of hotel guest voices and bus engines. Fortunately a closed window took care of the noise and I slept peacefully.
Oh, I should point out that I’ve been helping a friend’s son with a school project by taking pictures of “Flat Stanley” in front of various scenes. You’ll see Stanley periodically on this trip, but hopefully not too often.
Füssen train station – with Flat Stanley
The cut through the ridge
Our home for the weekend
“The pool” was closed
Füssen’s history is long and varied, starting with the Romans and continuing right through World War II. But for all of that history, not much of it was evident in our walk through the town. The buildings were historic and the castle on the hill was a nice touch, but it didn’t look all that difference than many other European cities I’ve been to. That being said, it was pleasant to explore.
It was well after lunch time, yet the restaurants were busy. We chose Restaurant Aquila and waited a short while before a table opened up. It was worth the wait, as the brats and pommes were perfect and really hit the spot. Renewed, we went back out into the streets to explore some more, checking out some of the larger and fancier buildings.
“The High Palace” presides over the town from its perch on the ridge above the Lech River. Building on the location started in 1291, going through many transitions and additions over the years until it reached its current state in 1862. The castle was closed when we finally made our way there, but it was still beautiful to look at.
Das Hohe Schloss
The River Lech
Most of central Europe was forecasted to be hit with a blast of cold air over the Easter weekend, but I was still surprised to see the snow around 4 o’clock – and even more surprised when it continued to snow for the entire evening, at least until we went to bed.
The view from our apartment
The snow had stopped falling during the night and it was rapidly melting from the landscape. We looked at the tourist map that came with our room and decided to take a bus to another local castle down the road. It wasn’t far and we figured that we’d walk around the nearby lake and then back to Füssen when we were done. We headed for the bus stop, located directly behind the train station where we had arrived yesterday.
As we walked through Füssen we were struck by the number of tourists. Dan had asked me “Why do people come here?” and I didn’t have an answer. The only thing I knew for sure about Füssen was that many scenes from the movie The Great Escape were filmed in the town and the surrounding countryside. Surely these people didn’t come from all over the world to see the film locations? We shrugged our shoulders and kept on walking to the station to wait for our bus.
There were maybe a dozen or so people waiting for the bus when we arrived and we stood with them to wait. When the bus finally pulled up and opened its doors, the crowd surged forward. At first Dan and I held back, thinking that a queue was forming and we’d find our places. We couldn’t have been further from the truth. It wasn’t a line: it was a mob. As we stood in line we were each shoved and elbowed as people pushed ahead of us towards the open door. I looked at Dan and said “Forget it; I’m not dealing with this” and stepped out of line. He was only too happy to join me. We turned our backs on the bus and started to walk to the castle. It was a nice day and the walk felt good.
It was maybe 20 minutes before we caught our first glimpse of the Hohenschwangau, sitting high on a hill among the trees.
A few minutes later I finally understood why there were bus loads of tourist in the tiny town of Füssen: Schloss Neuschwanstein. Yes, the most iconic castle in the world, the model for Walt Disney’s own Magic Kingdom, was perched on the next hill.
The crowds. All of those people from the pushy bus in Füssen times hundreds were all walking up the hill towards the castles. They stood in a line that stretched for probably 200 meters: along the sidewalk, into the street and then snaking back and forth in front of the ticket office halfway up the hill. Whatever the tickets were for, Dan and I didn’t want anything to do with it. As we walked passed the people in line, we heard a loud thud behind us, followed by a man yelling and a woman wailing loudly. We couldn’t see anything, but it sounded like one of the cars wending through the crowds had hit someone. The ambulance showed up shortly thereafter, but we never found out the details. All the more reason to avoid the crowds!
Just a small section of the line for tickets
We walked around the grounds of Hohenschwangau for a while but chose to avoid the more popular Schloss Neuschwanstein. The weather wasn’t all that great and we didn’t have tickets anyway. We passed the line for tickets on our way down and it was just as long as it was when we had started out. At least the queue for the bus back to Füssen was more orderly this time.
Stanley shows us just how crowded the upper parking lot is
Parting shot of Schloss Neuschwanstein as the clouds moved in
By the time we got back to town it was getting late in the afternoon and it was time to eat. We found a wood-fired pizza restaurant and enjoyed a fantastic meal.
Füssen sits around 2,500′ and the change of seasons was far behind our home in Basel. The lilacs weren’t even out yet, whereas even the wisteria were in full bloom along the Rhine. Even so, we figured that we could get some nice views if we went up a mountain. Our room came with a transit pass so we went back to the bus yard and this time took a less-popular bus to the town of Pfronten, 13 km to the west. The map indicated there were ruins, cable car and mountains to explore – we’d find something to entertain ourselves with.
The sun came out
While Füssen enjoyed sunshine, Pfronten was still covered under a layer of clouds. I had high hopes that they would blow over by midday. We got off the bus at the Pfronten train station and looked at the local map. Dan searched for a good trail and then we took off through the village. The trail climbed quickly and steadily through neighborhoods, then fields and then forests. The clouds varied only in their thickness, but showed no signs of going away. It was early yet – I still had hope.
Looking back at Pfronten (we started near the church steeple)
This was a very steep road. VERY. I resented it the entire way
We really weren’t sure where we were going or how we were getting there, but we were enjoying the day. Well, Dan was enjoying the day. I always like hiking, but not when the way is steep and this was a steep hike. I complained to Dan and he ignored me, as I expected. We kept on hiking. Then my heart fell when I saw our destination: Ruine Falkenstein, high on the hill.
Switch backs, back to back
Seconds after I took the photo above I heard a crash and looked up: a basketball-sized rock was bouncing down the hill. I called out to Dan and Dan called out to the people ahead of us. We all ducked as the rock came careening through the brush, ricocheting off hidden logs and stones. I hid behind a tree just in case it changed course suddenly, but it went by without incident. If nothing else, I enjoyed the moment of respite from climbing the trail.
Looking down from near the top of the trail
Pfronten in the distance
Fortunately for me, there was a lovely restaurant at the top of this mountain and we took a break from the climb to have lunch. The clouds still hadn’t gone away and, in fact, were getting lower. I would love to come back on a clear day, as I know that there are snow-capped mountains all along the valley.
The view during lunch
Looking at the restaurant from the ruins
Not a large ruin site
The design of the original structure
It was all downhill from here. We took an alternative path down and it consisted of high steps – I’m really glad that we didn’t come up this way. Somewhere along the way I tweaked my knee slightly so I had to chose carefully when stepping down from rocks and roots. I would be happy to be on flat ground again.
Looking back up the trail
Dan and the valley
We finally reached the valley floor and followed the river back to the town of Pfronton. Unfortunately for us, we had missed the bus to Füssen by three minutes and the next one wasn’t for an hour and a half. Sunday schedules aren’t as good as weekday schedules, for sure. We spent our time walking through the village streets and finally into Cafe Fuchs. Apfelstrudel and ice cream was a just reward for my efforts today.
From the bus back to Füssen
We went back to our room for a rest, but it was only late afternoon. I didn’t want to spend the next five hours sitting in our rooms so after a short break we went back out, this time to Tal der Sinne, or “Valley of Senses”. This was the local population’s playground, with clay tennis courts, playgrounds, swimming ponds and even two snow-less alpine ski jumps. We enjoyed the peace and quiet of the area as we walked around Obersee, the small lake at the end of the valley.
Snowless ski jumps
One of the larger snails I’ve seen
The end of the valley and Obersee
After walk drink
It was time to head home. We packed up our bags and made our way to the train station. We had time to kill and a good thing, as I realized that I had thrown our return ticket into the trash in our room. I left Dan to guard our bags while I walked quickly back to Haus Bagci, hoping that our hostess wasn’t too quick. She wasn’t, and the garbage sat undisturbed under the sink. I retrieved the ticket and returned to Dan with plenty of time for our train.
Waiting for the train
The weather was still not perfect but it was a great day to spend in a train. We reached Basel without incident and were greeted by two happy kittens. We’ll definitely have to go back during the summer – and with our motorcycles. So much more to explore!