I'd better get going or I'm never going to finish this trip before the year mark.
We ate breakfast at the hotel in Stuttgart, Germany and then headed to Neuschwanstein castle. The closer and closer we got to Austria the prettier and taller the mountains got. Beautiful drive. The history of these 2 castles (the one below/yellowish one is the dad's and where Ludwig ll lived growing up - the HUGE one is what Ludwig ll built) is fascinating. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside any of the castles (you can see some online though), but they are incredible. There are swans (live and statues) everywhere, because Ludwig loved swans, and was often referred to as the Swan King.
We had to park at the bottom of the hill and then find the ticket building. There was a long line already and most of the tours for the morning were already booked. Some guy told us we could run to the museum up the road and get tickets there. We ran and got tickets for both castles. First we toured the Ludwig's childhood 'home', Hohenschwangau castle. It's massive, but seems like a miniature size home compared to the Neuschwanstein castle.
Waiting for our ticket numbers to be called.
Ava pouting because I wouldn't let her go into the store with lot's of super expensive breakables.
After the Hohenschwangau castle tour, we had a little while to spare so we ate at a Bavarian restaurant. The food was yummy. We had to wait for the buses to take us to the top for the Neushwanstein castle tour. When we got to the top, we still had to walk about 10 minutes to the gates. We got out of the bus with about 4 minutes until our tickets were called (if you miss your tour time, you're SOL). We all started running (Luke had Grace asleep in his arms) up the hill to try and make it. It was a sight for sure. I don't know how we did it, but we managed to all make it just as the timer was clicking over to the next ticket time. Phew!!
(Got this picture and the one below from the internet, so you can see how massive it is. From where we were, you can't see the entire castle.)
Can't remember the percentage of what was completed, but only 14 rooms were done before Ludwig died. I think he only lived in the castle for 6 months before he died. Our tour guide sounded, and looked, just like the preacher on The Princess Bride (the one who says "Marriage is what brings us together today, wuv twu wuv). There was another American tourist in our group who couldn't stop laughing every time he talked. It was hilarious, yet annoying, because no one could really understand him at all.
I pulled this off the internet too, so you can see just how intricate and amazing it is inside. This is the master bedroom. They said it took 14 wood carvers working full time for over 7 years just to complete this bedroom. The chapel room was covered in gold (floor too). The Queens bedroom was interesting. There are secret doors where the king can come thru at night (they don't stay in the same room). Also, the way the castle is heated is fascinating. There are stoves in all the rooms that are connected thru the walls. The servants would crawl thru the walls and keep all the fires going to heat the castle.
We hiked back to the bottom and by the time we got there the kids were done!
No more castles! No more walking! We made it back to our cars and headed to Austria.
We stayed at the Landhotel Santner in Eugendorf, Austria. It's about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg. I'm bummed I can't remember all the details we learned about this hotel. It's been in the family since it was built over 600 years ago. The owner was super nice (she wrapped Austrian playing cards for the kids and gave them to them on Christmas)! She even washed ALL our laundry (3 families worth) for us with no extra fee. I think it was used as a farm house originally, and then converted into a hotel. The grandma lives in a little cottage in the back and comes over for breakfast. Our room had a little kitchenette in it and we were down the hall from Luke and Jana. It felt very much like a house instead of a hotel. We had breakfast at the hotel every morning - the usual meat, cheese, yogurt and toast (never did get used to the meat and cheese that early in the morning).
Cute bird houses all over for my mom to copy.
The hotel lady told us that everything closes down on December 24th (that's when they celebrate Christmas, not on the 25th), so we'd need to get groceries today. She was right, EVERYTHING is closed on the 24th. We found a grocery store and bought a few things and then we went on a tour thru the Salzbergwerk Barchtesgaden salt mine. The salt mine tour was probably one of the favorite parts of the trip. We all had to wear these jump suits.
No pictures were allowed on the tour, so this is all I have. First we took a train that took us into the mines. We had phones that we listened to that explained things since the tour was in German (we were only 20 minutes from our hotel, but we crossed back into Germany for the salt mine). While in the mine they had cool effects that showed what it was like down there a long time ago. We got to ride 2 big slides (like the miners used to get to and from places). Super fun. It's quite fascinating how they get the salt. We got to get on a boat in the mine and go across one of the salt lakes. Crazy, but cool.
Since some of our plans were to ski and sled in the Alps, when we found out there was NO snow that year (they said it's very unusual not to have snow that time of year), we had to find other things to do. Our hotel lady told us about this animal sanctuary near the hotel, so we took the kids there - Gut Aiderbichl.
The kids loved it. They got to pet and touch most of the animals and run around for awhile.
Amazing rabbit hutch.
December 24 - after breakfast we went into Salzburg and went ice skating at Mozart square.
Awesome setting for an ice skating rink.
Jana, Michon and I went and walked around the Christmas market nearby.
At noon, shots were being fired off the top of that castle on the hill, and Jana and I looked at each other and wondered if we should run. We saw that no one seemed nervous, so we asked what was happening. A guy told us that on Christmas (it was the 24th, but like I said before they celebrate on the 24th) they shoot off cannons. Also, at one of the cathedrals, there are these awesome bells that play Silent Night over and over again.
The cathedral, Roman Catholic Archdioces of Salzburg, next to the rink is amazing. We took everyone inside to see it. It was built in 798!! Crazy old.
They don't build places like this anymore. It was incredible inside.
Kind of strange how they let people come in and explore and people are in there worshiping.
Luke and I went downstairs and explored a little. It was very strange and creepy. They had graves and this crazy wall down there.
It's fun to watch the Sound of Music now and see all the building that are shown in the film.
We walked along the river for awhile.
Before we left we found a guy selling Christmas trees and found a baby tree that we could take back to the hotel. The kids were so excited about this baby tree.
From Salzburg we headed to Oberndorf to the Silent Night chapel. Every December 24th at 5pm, they read the story of how the song came to be (in several languages) and have a little performance. At the end everyone sings Silent Night. The chapel is actually a replica since the original one was destroyed in multiple floods.
It's super tiny - 3 pews on each side and that's it.
We had some time to kill so we ate hot dogs at one of the food stands and then walked over to this little village.
We headed toward this chapel and when we went inside they were in the middle of their Christmas program.
We stood in the back and watched for a little while. The little kids were performing.
We saw some missionaries there. One of the elders knew Elder Ashcroft, my cousin, who was serving in Austria at the time.
It's a really tiny area and people are jammed in there (probably couple thousand people there) watching. The ceremony was a little long, but pretty cool to be there for it.
You would think with so many people out and about they would open restaurants and stores, but nothing was open. We came back to the hotel and did the best we could with what we had. It was pretty gross. :)
Plain noodles, pepper, cucumbers and tomatoes. :)
The cousins came over and watched a little show on our tiny tablet. So funny.
We used the left over noodles and some candy bars to decorate our baby tree. :) We talked about Austrian traditions on how they leave their shoes out for Santa to fill with goodies. We decided since we were in Austria, they'd have a better shot of Santa visiting if we did what everyone else does over there.
The kids were pretty happy with their tree decorating.