Of course as soon as I start to know my way around and develop relationships in Munich, it’s time to go. I think that’s going to be the nature of things for a while. Everything is an opportunity to practice something, so in a way I can consider this conditioning myself to accept change.
Munich was impossibly awesome but I’m moving on, so my next destination had to be special. Time to see some big ass castles!
I took the train about two hours to a nice little town called Füssen with plenty of nice little shops and nice little restaurants. I enjoyed the feeling of going from a big city to a very small one.
I’m a little lazy to do proper research so take these next few paragraphs about history with a grain of salt. It’s basically what I remember from the tours regurgitated for your benefit.
The last few kings of Bavaria had a thing for big, romantic, medieval castles. There was a crazy Bavarian king guy in the 1800s named Ludwig II who grew up in a place called Hohenschwangau, which is more like a palace than a proper castle but I’m willing to lump it in anyway.
Hohenschwangau has murals on every single freaking wall of the place. I was not allowed to take pictures inside, so I’ll just explain that the murals romanticized medieval knights and kings about as much as is possible. They looked awesome. I wanted to be a knight. Because there were murals everywhere with a skewed perspective of the middle ages, it’s no wonder Ludwig was so enthralled.
There used to be a castle called Schwanstein, named after a legendary knight with a swan… that pulled his boat? Maybe the swan was actually a human who got turned into a swan? Maybe the swan was actually a transmogrified knight? I’m not clear on the details, but clearly this region loves swans and also knights and also swan knights. Schwanstein was destroyed during the Napoleonic wars, and Ludwig wanted a proper castle to be his legacy so he set about designing and building the most romanticized, ostentatious version of a castle he could think up.
Neuschwantstein! Yeah! That’s a proper castle!
I like castles. I think knights and kings and the stories around them are sweet. When I was a kid I had a 3D puzzle of Neuschwanstein and my whole life I’ve wanted to go see the real one. I finally made good on that. I went inside it! It feels good to be checking things like that off. That’s what I want to be doing.
But… I don’t want this blog to turn into a personal journal or anything. I have an actual journal for that. But I’m going to lean a little that way now because I think this is something that is an unavoidable piece of solo travel.
I got kind of lonely waiting for my tour to fire. I started thinking about how I wish I could have experienced that life goal of seeing my 3D puzzle castle with somebody I care about. I started thinking about who from back home I wish could have gone with me: friends, family, former significant others. Some people are better than others at dealing with being alone. I started thinking about the end of the movie Into the Wild.
As I progress in this journey, I’m learning things about it. As much as I could plan and think about what it was going to be like, there really wasn’t a way for me know until I actually got out here. Part of it is that sometimes it’s going to get lonely. Sometimes I’m going to be surrounded by people who don’t speak my language. Sometimes there might just not be anybody worth talking to. I don’t have a group of friends that I can reliably spend time with, and wifi is sometimes spotty so I can’t even message friends from home.
So there are two options: Force myself to constantly be making new friends, even in places where I know they’ll be single-serving friends (such as busses and trains), or just accept my own autonomy with no one to turn to, protect, or share experiences with. I’ve made some great short term friends out here that I may or may not see again, but I have to admit it’s harder to invest in someone when it’s so obviously temporary. You can only do the “What’s your name? Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going?” conversation so many times.
I suspect it’ll have to be a mix of both accepting the solitary nature of my journey and seeking out as much conversation as I can. People go crazy when they spend too much time alone, even if they happened to be surrounded by other humans.
I was buying some snacks at a convenience store and an older gentleman asked me in a clearly American east coast accent if he could bum a cigarette. I felt like I was home again. I couldn’t help him, but we chatted for a minute. He’s from Baltimore and he’s trying to quit smoking. He went to Oktoberfest and had a blast. His wife doesn’t know he still sneaks a cigarette once in a while. It was a totally superficial conversation between strangers but there’s still value in that. I savored it. You have to. It’s another way to call yourself into the present and appreciate the moment, even for something as unimportant and random as someone trying to bum a cig.
If everything is an opportunity to practice something, these lonely moments are my opportunity to become comfortable with the discomfort of being an island.
Next stop, Salzburg.
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