Following my last post about a New Year’s Do-Over, I must admit that the real New Year’s Eve was fabulous (credit: The Husband). Following stops in Heidelberg and Austria, we head back west towards Germany on January 31st with a very important pit stop on the way to Munich.
The fog drifts from the earth trapped in the belly of the Austrian mountains like a steamy bowl of cotton soup. We push our Volkswagon Touran through the water vapor until we start to climb. We weave our car along the breathtaking edge – the slope of the mountain stretching to the heavens above and falling sharply below. We shield our eyes from the sun reflecting off the snow.
“Where are we going, Mama?” the kids ask. The words “Neuschwanstein castle” mean very little to most people, including my children, but tell them we’re going to the castle that inspired the Magic Kingdom in Disney Land – well, that gets their attention.
“Really? A Castle? The Disney Castle?” they scream from the backseat.
“Yes! Are you excited?” my eyes smile from behind my sunglasses.
“YEAAAAAHHHH!” My kids love castles.
I bite my lip “It’s Sunday, though – so we won’t be able to go inside,” I glance towards their faces. Preparing for the rebuttal.
Their bottom lips pout, “Awww, man,” they whine.
“But it will be okay – look, it’s sunny, not too cold, and it is New Year’s Eve!” Their faces brighten once again.
My husband is squinting at the GPS as we maneuver the car through tiny Austrian and German towns. Families dressed like marshmallows lug their skis from their chalets towards the slopes lining the road. “Don’t worry,” I tell him. “It’s one of the largest tourist attractions in Europe” I shrug. “There will be signs once we get close.”
And boy was I right – we turn onto the road leading to the castles and signs for parking, tour buses, carriage rides, and sausages (all in English) litter the sides of the road at the base of the mountain. Gloved and hatted men with batons direct traffic towards the icy parking lots. We pass tourist shops hawking everything from postcards to hooded beer steins to children’s lederhosen. My jaw tightens at the mania. But above all the hustle – there she stood. Stoic and regal – like the picture-perfect beauty that she is. White and gleaming in the sunlight, her turrets crowning her as she perches elegantly on enchanted rock. Around her, her royal court of pine tree servants protect and complement her elegance.
“There it is guys!!” I point towards the jewel shining in the sun, and the kids rejoice.
We put on our total tourist hats and enjoy the ride. In this expat life – sometimes it’s nice to not have to pretend you know what you’re doing all the time. We buy hot dogs and sausages from a man on the street. We gaze at the castle from the bottom of the mountain. There’s a horse drawn carriage that will take you up the hill. There’s a line. It leaves sporadically. We have a stroller. The trek up the hill is long and steep. We debate. My husband hesitates. I do not.
“Our kids have more energy than anyone on the planet,” I remind him. “They’ll do fine. Let’s roll.”
So, we march our little family up the mountain – along with the other bazillion tourists that are visiting the castle that day. And the kids barely complain. The energy of the crowd is electric. Everyone has been dreaming of this moment for a long time. Adrenaline and excitement fuel the enchantment inside our hearts and radiates from each face we pass. It is a memorable New Year’s Eve blessed with sunshine. We push the stroller on the steep incline as the kids alternately skip and drag behind. The castle taunts us in the distance, but like a marathon race – everyone participating in the trek encourages each other.
Finally, we arrive and breathe a sigh of relief to discover that she’s under construction! (The best views are really at the bottom of the mountain. Just kidding! Kinda. . .) We continue to up the ramp to the entrance of the castle. Being Sunday, it is closed without tours, but a guided tour with a three- year old is the definition of embarrassment/bad idea anyway. Tiny red hearts confetti the ground on the way to the castle.
“Mama, what are these from?” my daughter picks one up and cocks her head.
“Oh, I don’t know. . .” I say, “Perhaps someone proposed here, and the family was standing by waiting, and when she said yes, they threw these hearts all over her,” I shrug.
“Mama? What’s propose?” she asks. And I smile and take a deep breath.
We snap tons of photos, enjoy the view from the mountain, and stock up on postcards.
“Can we have an ice cream?” the kids ask pointing to the sign outside the souvenir shop at the top of the hill.
“Ice cream? Are you serious? It’s like, 40 degrees out!” I say to them, my jaw dropping.
“Yeah Mama, but – the sun is out!” My kids are so confused. But it feels like Disneyland. It does.
“Sure, fine. But y’all are crazy – it’s still cold!” and my husband indulges them.
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“In this expat life – sometimes it’s nice to not have to pretend you know what you’re doing all the time. “. – this is definitely the reason why we loved traveling so much. I totally agree with you. I put a bit of pressure on myself to know what I was doing in the NL but anywhere else I could a tourist. There’s freedom in travel as an expat.