Sunday, November 25, 2007

Oh, If The Pilgrims Could See Us Now

Unlike most of the country, my family celebrated Thanksgiving over the weekend. My brother and his family from Indiana arrived Friday evening, and we all enjoyed a turkey and dressing feast at my parent's house on Saturday. Unfortunately, my sister from Germany was unable to make it to the states this year. Joining us was my mom and dad's friend Marta along with her two boys, Sharon and Mike. Other activities of the day included some intense leaf raking, ladder repelling (into a large leaf pile), and bag pulling (we dragged the kids around at high speeds on tearing leaf bags). Saturday evening, my two nieces and my oldest nephew stopped over to my studio and we continued our yearly tradition of composing a strange but powerful song about nothing. This year's song was called "Randy" and told the story of a poor guy who's one dream in life was to buy a financial instructional book from fictional author Dr. Riley. You can listen to our extremely weird song here. We pray that it inspires you to follow your dreams, whatever they may be. You can thank my nephew for most of the lyrics.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

To Bavaria and Beyond: Day 3

The morning of day three (Tuesday, October 9th) started in a much similar way as day two. I again woke to the ringing of the clock tower across the street, as well as to the sounds of Beth wrestling catastrophes to the floor in her office room next door. She had already been awake for a couple hours, aligning both the details of her upcoming consulting trips as well researching travel possibilities for the bright new day which lay ahead of us. We had already made up our minds to spend our second full day away from Munich, and we were leaning towards visiting Austria, and more specifically, two famous castles in Austria, Linderhof and Neuschwanstein. (The picture above was taken in Austria.)

Are There Any More Options?
I will say that my sister is incredibly talented. Not only is she a platinum caliber athlete; she is likewise a detailed planner, organizer, and an all around multi-tasker who can run blurred circles around obsessive compulsive hyper analytical turtles like me who, with much emotion, adopt one goal, and focus nearly every resource towards accomplishing that one goal, even if that finish line is three lilly padded ponds and one hundred submerged stumps away. This isn’t to say I’m not a planner, or an organizer, or a multi tasker. I think I am all three. I would simply argue that, compared to my sister, I am generally more determined to pick a plan and stick with it. If we were American Gladiators (if you remember the tv show), I would be named “Rock” and my sister would be called “Impulse.” I will leave it at that.

If there was a familiar catch phrase which accompanied my trip to Europe, it would be “Another option is...” For every great idea my sister had, there had to be at least eight or ten even greater ideas which would soon progressively shadow the release of the first great idea. After several days of latching onto the first great ideas, and then soon realizing that they weren’t really the best ideas after all, I resorted to keeping my mouth shut until all the ideas were on the table, the last being the idea my sister really wanted to implement (that was my interpretation at least).

So Many Castles, So Little Time
As I sleepily wandered into my sister’s office, she handed me a stack of freshly printed Austrian maps and castle fact sheets which she had gathered from the wonderful world wide web.

“Marc, can you call that number there and find out when they give tours at Neuschwanstein? Also, can you ask how they late they are open, how long their tours are, and how far they are from Linderhof?”

“Sure, I’d be glad to do that,” I replied, “Umm... what part of this number should I dial and what numbers should I leave out? Do you think they speak English?”

“Dial all the numbers. Yeah, I’m sure they speak English. Can you clean your stuff up in the living room? It’s really a mess in there.”

“Yeah, sure.” Ring-ring-ring. “Ah yes, hello... is this Neuschwanstein?” Lady on phone - “Yes.” Me - “Um yeah, what time do your tours start and how long do they last?” Lady on phone - “Ok, hold on.” 2nd lady on the phone- “Hello?” Me - “Hi, is this Neuschwanstein? 2nd lady on the phone- “Hello?” Me- “Ah, yes, hello?” 2nd lady on the phone- “Hello.” Me yelling across the room- “Beth, I’m thinking they don’t speak English!”

“Let me talk to her.” Beth on the phone (translated from German)- “Ok...yeah...ah huh...oh...sorry about that. Chow!! (in a high pitched voice)” “Marc, you dialed the wrong number.”


“Here, try again.”


“Hurry up, we should have left a long time ago.”


“Can you help clean up the dishes and can you vacuum the floor.”


At this point, I had started to make my mattress in the living room and was folding up the Leopard skin patterned quilt.

“Is this your used dental floss on the bathroom counter!?”


“Did you use the sink in the bathroom.”

“I think so.”

“I told you not to use the sink in the bathroom! It’s broken! Use the sink in the shower room.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Do you know you have to put a piece of paper towel down in this toilet before you go number two? Otherwise, you’ll leave a stain on the little shelf in the toilet. (it was a weird old toilet design, with yes, a raised flat waterless “shelf”)

“Oopps. I had no intention of leaving a stain.”

“Can you take the trash in the kitchen down to the dumpster outside.”


“Can you hurry up?! We really need to leave soon!”

“I’ll hurry.”

Eventually, we tidied up the apartment (all the while, I felt this guilt that I really should have helped out sooner after my sister had done so much in fixing me breakfast, and planning the details for the day... and in contrast to this, I was also developing an increasing fatigue towards the barrage of nagging.)

I was now standing at the door with my back pack, and was ready to walk down to the car.

“Did you leave this window open?” (Beth)

“Sorry, I didn’t know it was my responsibility to check all the windows. I’ll be careful about that in the future. Can I get a print out of all the things I’m doing wrong? That would really help.”

Click here to see a video of our drive to Linderhof.

If You (Fill In The Blank), You’re Probably A Ludwig II
I always get a mild kick out of red neck jokes. I mean, I usually don’t laugh out loud at red neck jokes, but the thought of missing front teeth, cars on blocks in uncut grass, and interfamily marriages always seems to bring a smile to my face. Not really. Anyways, if you think red necks make for great hoopla, take into consideration the self beloved King Ludwig II. What a strange man. He once declared, “I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others.” Now, that is something to live for! I’ve always wanted to be a mystery to myself. I want to keep myself in the dark about myself. That sounds like a good time.

King Ludwig II was apparently a constitutional monarch, a head of state with rights and duties, but little freedom. His life goal was to build a fantasy world in which He could be a real king (doesn’t everyone want to be a big fish in a small pond?). He was responsible for the construction of both castles Beth and I were planning to visit, the smaller more intimate Linderhof ( fashioned after Trianon at Versailles, Louis XIV's small retreat where he could escape the crowds at the large Palace) and the towering baroque styled Neuschwanstein, which was based on Christian kingship in the Middle Ages, and inspired by Wartburg Castle in Thuringia. Beth and I began by touring Linderhof. I had to put my camera away because no photography was allowed in the castle. An English speaking,heavy German accented tour guide (with a dry sense of humor) led us through the gold garnished, painting flourished rooms of the self indulgent castle where King Ludwig would sit alone for days on end and bask in his own solitude.

Of all the oddities, I was particularly struck by the king’s dining habits, which involved him eating as he conversed with his own reflection in a mirror across the room. His marble lavished table was a peculiar invention which descended to the chef’s kitchen below, and after being loaded with glutton’s food, it was again raised to Ludwig’s lonely dining quarters above. The inner designs of Linderhof were a stark contrast to today’s minimalistic metal and glass and moderately colored decor. I think I would go crazy myself if I had to live in a place like Linderhof. One particularly interesting highlight of our castle visit was an insanity promoting room whose walls were covered with reflection echoing mirrors with fun house proportions. Why relish in a single reflection of yourself when you can admire yourself thousands of times over? Makes sense to me. If your bedroom has more mirrors than a carnival, you’re probably a Ludwig II.

After visiting the castle, we walked through Grotto, an artificial cave (which included a waterfall as well as convincing stalactites) created by Ludwig II for the purpose of hosting operas and plays. It is said that these productions were performed solely for Ludwig as he sat alone in a small boat which floated around in an artificial lake. Hopefully, he was accomplishing his goal of being a mystery to himself. The cave was inspired by composer Robert Wagner’s opera “Tannhäuser,” as Ludwig was an obsessive groupie of Wagner.

Wiener Schnitzel and Wood Planked Bridges
After visiting Linderhof, we drove toward East Allgäu which hosted Neuschwanstein, yet another castle of Ludwig. When we first arrived, we took a fifteen minute hike up a moderately inclined wooded path. Along the way, we passed a number of postcarded souvenir shops, Austrian restaurants, batter smelling food stands, not to mention crowds of photo happy Japanese tourists. According to custom, I purchased myself a sandwich (this time a traditional Wiener Schnitzel sandwich, made from thin slices of veal which are coated in breadcrums and then fried) and an Apfelsaftschorle (apple juice mixed with sparkling mineral water). Yes, even a fifteen minute hike required a sandwich. I think my sister had already had her apple for the day.

One of the coolest sights on our ascent upwards was the roped bridge (Marienbrücke) which overlooked Neuschwanstein, and I think the meadows of Schwangau. I’m not exactly sure how high the bridge hung above the rocks and small stream. I was just pretty sure that falling wasn’t a good option. Click here to see the video. The Bavarian, Lechtal and Allgäu Alps served as a breath taking backdrop to an already magnificent castle. Neuschwanstein was King Ludwig’s first castle and was incomplete at his death in 1886 (He was found mysteriously drowned in Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had declared him insane). A simplified version of the "Kemenate" on the south side of the Upper Courtyard was completed in 1891. The castle included many modern commodities, including electric lights and indoor plumbing.

Unfortunately, Beth and I only had time to see Neuschwanstein from the bridge, as tours ended around 4:00 pm and we were still quite some distance from the castle itself. We descended the wooded path and headed back to the car to change in preparation for our next adventure, a narrow pathed run around Alpsee Lake, a tranquil body of water set in front of a now lighted Neuschwanstein.

What You Can’t See Can’t Hurt You (Unless You Trip On A Root And Fall Off A Cliff Into The Lake)
It really was a beautiful night to run. A bit brisk, but beautiful. We both changed into our athletic apparel in failing daylight beside the rental car, and after Beth had taken an unashamed pee behind a modest shrub lining the tourist trodden path leading up to the bridge overlooking Neuschwanstein, we set off on a mid paced jog which soon evolved into a competition against the now setting Austrian sun.

The fall atmosphere around Lake Alpsee was colorfully surreal (in a Lord of the Rings sort of way) and deathly quiet, accented only by the crackle of the leaves beneath our feet, the whisk of our polypropylene jackets, and the pulse of our own breathing. The trail around the lake varied with many crests and dips, one moment guiding us only feet away from the lake and in the next turn, leading us a good fifty frightening feet above grey sleeping waters. Below the glass of the lake lay white barked trees, so still and ghostly in appearance, they resembled bones paused in time.

For the sake of traveling lightly, I had left my camera back at the car, but fortunately, my sister was able to snap a few pics on her cell phone (sadly, I don’t have any of those to post). I would have to say the loop around Lake Alpsee was one of the most relaxing runs I’ve had in a long time, awakening many fond memories of high school cross country training (I was all the while suppressing the bad flashbacks of sore joints, aching muscles, and restrictive diet plans). What a beautiful area. God’s creation is just amazing.

Night was setting as we reached the car. We were in fact quite lucky to get back when we did. As we were running, I occasionally had unpleasant visions of Beth screaming as she snagged her foot on a root, her body flying head over heels into the foreign waters below. I’m thankful that didn’t happen.

I’m Not A Stuntman, But I Play One On TV
Well, I’m not a celebrity on television... and besides doing tricks on a skateboard back in middle school, I’ve lived a relatively stunt free life. However, Tuesday, October 9th changed everything. Ok, it really wasn’t that dramatic, but exaggeration always makes for a better story, right? Anyways, here’s the deal. After running, Beth and I arrived back at the car only to discover that the exit to the parking lot had been barricaded with a chain and lock. Our only option (besides spending the evening in a chilly car) was to drive Beth’s car between two parking blocks and off a relatively tall curb (about five-six inches high), a feat which would most likely damage the underbelly of an already low sitting vehicle. Beth was nervously worried of the possibilities after a long history of damaged rental cars, an expensive habit, to say the least. After a few attempts, she offered me the wheel. My male ego was now at home. After having her swear to a disclaimer which stated “I, Beth, hereby vow under court of law and under the applicable ordinances of the state of Alpsee the following. I concur that my dear heroic brother, namely Marc, will not be held responsible for any fees incurred by the harm potentially befalling this fateful rental vehicle during his attempt to launch the vehicle at high speeds off a large curb...” That’s sort of where I get a bit lost on the verbiage. I will confess...I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know a bit about writing disclaimers... but I can drive a car, and that’s all that really matters.

To finish the story in a timely manner, here is what happened. I pretty much gunned the car between the two blocks, launched the vehicle into the air (ok, maybe I was a couple inches off the ground) and landed safely on the pavement, skidding to a screeching halt, only inches from the front door of the restaurant across the street (well, if I’m honest, I was more like twenty five feet away from the restaurant). And that’s the story of how I rescued my sister from being frozen and stranded in a parking lot all night. In jaw dropped amazement, my sister jumped in the car and then... with one hand on the wheel, and the other hand suavely sipping a flat Apfelsaftschorle, a 002esque grin on my face, I hit the gas, peeling away in clouds of smoke, leaving the Austrian asphalt with a super hero sized steaming black rubber etched mark of my presence, a crowd roaring, final credit prepping “M.” Did I ever say anything about exaggeration?

In the next episode of “To Bavaria and Beyond,” tune in as Beth and I travel to Tobole, Italy, get stopped by the cops, experience some of the differences between Germans and Italians, and spend hours trying to find a room to sleep for the night.