Friday, September 11, 2009

The Fourth Day Of Our Vacation: Lake Chiemsee And Salzburg

On Monday, Andrew and I were able to sleep until 6:00 a.m.

We did not wake until our 6:00 a.m. wake-up call, and this signified to us that we were finally operating on Central European Time.

Andrew and I had to get up immediately. On this morning, there was to be no lounging around for us, allowing us to ease into our day.

Our plan for Monday was to meet for breakfast in the hotel dining room at 7:15 a.m. We planned an early breakfast because we needed to eat, pack our things, and check out of our hotel no later than 8:30 a.m., when our vehicle was due to be delivered.

We had ordered a KIA Carnival, designed to hold seven passengers in a 2-3-2 seating configuration, with ample space for luggage.

None of us had ever been in a KIA vehicle, whether car or minivan, and we did not know what to expect. However, the KIA appeared to be perfectly adequate for our needs for seven days (although none of us would want to own one), and we signed the papers and climbed in.

Our first destination was Lake Chiemsee, halfway between Munich and Salzburg. We planned to arrive at Lake Chiemsee around 10:00 a.m., and spend a few hours at Bavaria’s largest body of water before proceeding to Salzburg.

My father drove, with my brother sitting in the front seat beside him. My mother and my sister sat in the middle seats, and Andrew and I sat in the rear seats, exposed, praying that no large trucks would crash into us. (There were a lot of trucks on the roadway between Munich and Salzburg. They traveled at speeds not permitted in the U.S., and the drivers changed lanes like lunatics. It was scary.)

It took us little more than an hour to drive to Lake Chiemsee.

We parked the minivan in the town of Prien Am Chiemsee and walked to the boat pier and bought our tickets for the ferry to Herreninsel, one of three islands in Lake Chiemsee. Herreninsel is home to Schloss Herrenchiemsee, one of Ludwig II’s unfinished palaces, as well as an Augustinian Monastery, parts of which are over 1200 years old.

The boat ride to the island took twenty minutes.

As soon as we got off the boat, we bought our tickets for the attractions on the island (which are sold only at the boat landing).

We bought combination tickets, which allowed us to visit anything and everything on the island. Since combination tickets cost only seven Euros each, and since we were not entirely certain how much of the island we would chose to visit, combination tickets seemed most sensible for us.

First thing, we walked to Schloss Herrenchiemsee, twenty minutes from the boat landing, and waited for the next English-language tour.

The only way to visit Schloss Herrenchiemsee is to take one of the guided tours. There are German-language and English-language guided tours every thirty minutes (but speakers of French, Italian, Spanish or Russian, among other European languages, are out of luck unless they have made advance arrangements for group tours).

Modeled after Versailles, Schloss Herrenchiemsee was begun in 1878. The palace was never completed. Work on Schloss Herrenchiemsee was halted in 1886 upon the death (or murder) of Ludwig II.

Three wings of Schloss Herrenchiemsee were mostly completed at the time of Ludwig II’s demise. Those three wings are the only parts of Herrenchiemsee that stand today.

The front façade of Herrenchiemsee, seen in the photograph below, has two wings extending from the main building at the rear. The front façade is longer—almost 25 per cent longer—than an American football field.

Other portions of the palace, in various stages of construction at the time of Ludwig’s death, were never completed. To the contrary, they were demolished over the next few years. The Bavarian government saw no need to continue to pay for Ludwig’s preposterous fantasies after his death.

Ludwig had already bankrupted the Bavarian treasury by creating Linderhof, Schachen and Neuschwanstein, all of whose constructions had begun before plans for Herrenchiemsee—the largest and costliest of Ludwig’s palaces—were even put into place. The Bavarian government, understandably, wanted the royal drain on the treasury to end.

Some persons believe that the Bavarian government was responsible for Ludwig’s death. Whatever the cause of the monarch’s death (the official cause of death was drowning), the Bavarian government was delighted to be free of its spendthrift head of state.

The portions of Herrenchiemsee that were completed are stupendous—if grossly over-decorated. We found Herrenchiemsee to be well worth a visit.

Despite the fact that the exteriors and interiors were designed in the final quarter of the 19th Century, Herrenchiemsee is a pure Rococo conceit, a 19th-Century recreation of an 18th-Century make-believe world that never existed. No matter where the eye turns, the eye is overburdened with a riot of color, design, texture—and opulence, even excess.

The guided tour escorted visitors through a significant portion of the palace: three rooms on the ground floor and sixteen rooms on the second floor. Grand public rooms and grand private rooms were included in the tour.

Perhaps the most impressive interior at Herrenchiemsee was the central staircase, officially named “The State Staircase”.

The most famous room at Herrenchiemsee is the Hall Of Mirrors, patterned after the Hall Of Mirrors at Versailles—except that the Herrenchiemsee Hall Of Mirrors is substantially larger than the Versailles Hall Of Mirrors.

The Hall Of Mirrors runs the length of the upper front façade of Herrenchiemsee and affords excellent views of the ornamental gardens. It was undeniably impressive, if undeniably over-the-top.

Even more beautiful than Herrenchiemsee’s Hall Of Mirrors, the largest gallery in the palace, was “The Small Gallery”, very impressive in its own right and itself built to a palatial standard of luxury.

The Royal Bodyguard Antechamber was not too shabby, either, even though it was the simplest among an extensive series of antechambers through which visitors passed en route to The Hall Of Mirrors.

The Hall Of Mirrors is flanked by The Hall Of Peace . . .

And The Hall Of War.

A Council Chamber was incorporated into the palace, a room in which State business could be conducted. Since Ludwig intended to live at Herrenchiemsee on a more-or-less permanent basis once the palace was completed, he needed a suitable room in which to discuss Affairs Of State with ministers summoned from Munich.

One of the most fascinating rooms at Herrenchiemsee was a salon whose walls were encased in highest-quality porcelain. It was, fittingly, known as The Porcelain Room.

The three present wings of Herrenchiemsee, mostly finished at the time of Ludwig’s death, were never to be entirely completed. They remain mostly as they were on the day Ludwig died.

One unfinished portion of Herrenchiemsee, The North Staircase, was part of the guided tour. The North Staircase, constructed but not decorated at the time of Ludwig’s death, is almost as impressive as The State Staircase, even though The North Staircase is completely unadorned.

Herrenchiemsee was enormously impressive, even if the whole palace was excessive and overwrought.

It is fortunate that the Bavarian government has always preserved Ludwig’s palaces—and it is equally fortunate that the palaces were untouched by war. They are among the most authentic palaces in Europe, maintained as they were in 1886, when their constructions were halted (only Linderhof was complete at the time of Ludwig’s death).

Of course, the palaces are prime magnets for tourism. Over fifty million persons have visited Ludwig’s various palaces since the monarch’s death, allowing the Bavarian government to recoup, into perpetuity, some of the original costs. An entire department of the Bavarian government is dedicated solely to the upkeep and administration of Ludwig’s palaces, and it is one of the largest departments of the government.

The guided tour of Herrenchiemsee lasted only 45 minutes. We felt rushed as we were escorted through the rooms. We wished that the tour had allowed us more time to examine the fascinating interiors. We were breathless at the end of our whirlwind sashay through the palace. In fact, we wanted to take the tour a second time, but that would have involved returning to the boat landing and buying a second round of tickets.

At the end of the tour, we walked to a different part of the palace that now houses a museum dedicated to Ludwig II. The museum presents the story of Ludwig’s life, and is filled with items owned by or associated with Ludwig.

We enjoyed visiting the twelve rooms of the museum. On display were portraits, busts and photographs of Ludwig, as well as state robes and state ceremonials owned and used by Ludwig. Ludwig’s furniture, paintings and memorabilia were part of the museum, too, as were model stage sets (Ludwig was fascinated by theater). One entire portion of the museum was devoted to Ludwig’s association with composer Richard Wagner.

Once we had visited the museum, we had lunch at the palace café, one of only two places for the public to eat on the island of Herreninsel (the other is at an hotel near the boat landing).

After lunch, we walked through the gardens attached to the palace.

The gardens, too, had been modeled after the gardens at Versailles, but only a very small portion of the planned gardens at Herrenchiemsee had been completed before Ludwig died. Since 1886, no further extension of the gardens has been attempted, or even contemplated.

Complicated, even ornate, garden plans, designed by one of Europe’s greatest landscape architects, had been drawn up before construction of Herrenchiemsee commenced. The comprehensive plans never have been and never will be realized.

From the Herrenchiemsee gardens, we walked to the Augustinian Monastery.

The Augustinian Monastery is comprised of four large buildings erected around a central courtyard. Three of the buildings are open to the public.

One of the four buildings had been erected early in the 18th Century as a palace for the Bavarian ruling family. One-hundred-and-fifty years later, Ludwig II had refurbished the building according to his own lavish tastes, a project that inspired him to embark upon the construction of a brand-new palace one mile away.

The royal building at the Augustinian Monastery was much the most interesting.

Its interiors greatly resembled the interiors at Herrenchiemsee. Most impressive was The Imperial Hall, highly-ornamented pursuant to Ludwig’s personal standard of excess.

The other two Augustinian Monastery buildings open to the public contained a number of exhibits. One exhibit was devoted to the history of the 1200-year-old Monastery, and the Monastery’s conversion to royal purposes. Another exhibit was devoted to Germany’s post-war constitution, drafted at the Monastery in 1948. Another exhibit was devoted to painters at Lake Chiemsee, and yet another was devoted to one particular painter, Julius Exter, an artist unknown to us. The paintings in both exhibits were very good.

Alas, the sacred buildings at the Augustinian Monastery are not open to the public. The historic sacred buildings are the oldest part of the Monastery, and contain what is supposed to be a miraculous Cathedral as well as a notable Chapter House. We very much regretted that they are closed to the public.

It was 4:00 p.m. by the time we had completed our visit to the island of Herreninsel. We were all very pleased that we had decided to devote a few hours to Herreninsel and its attractions. Herreninsel gave us one of the best days of our vacation.

From Herreninsel, we took the ferry back to Prien Am Chiemsee, retrieved the minivan, and continued on our way to Salzburg.

We found our hotel in Salzburg without too much trouble. We spent thirty minutes settling into the hotel, after which we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around the center of Salzburg.

I did not find Salzburg to be especially interesting, or even especially charming. The town was somewhat crowded, probably because The Salzburg Festival was in progress, and the town struck me as a bit too touristy. Images of Mozart were everywhere. Salzburg Festival banners and placards were everywhere. Everything was too commercial for my tastes.

Our most interesting encounter in Salzburg was the small graveyard of an unremarkable church in the very center of town. There we found numerous graves of very young men who had died in April and even May of 1945. They were among those who perished in the very final days of World War II, giving their lives, most on an involuntary basis, to a cause already doomed. Most of the graves bore fresh flowers. It was very moving.

We dined in a restaurant outside the immediate center of Salzburg, a restaurant patronized not by tourists but by locals. The restaurant is supposed to be a favorite of native Salzburgers, and very seldom visited by outsiders.

We were hungry, and we went all out, sampling several different foods. We had three salads: a cold potato-cucumber-onion-vinegar salad; a cucumber-sour cream salad; and an onion-fruit-Roquefort Cheese salad. The latter sounds unappealing, but in fact it wasn’t bad.

For our main courses, we ordered veal cooked in a cream-white wine sauce and roasted pork loin stuffed with plums and onions. The meats were served with sauerkraut and cooked red cabbage, and we liked the sauerkraut and cabbage. The sauerkraut and cabbage were fresh, and we learned that fresh sauerkraut tastes nothing like preserved sauerkraut. Even my sister liked the sauerkraut, which surprised me greatly.

For dessert, we ordered apple strudel and plum cake. The apple strudel had been made with tangy apples, soaked in some kind of liqueur, and it was divine. The plum cake was akin to an American fruit pie: brandied plums, set between two layers of pastry. It had a sweet-sour flavor, and probably is an acquired taste.

Our meal was superb. It was interesting, it was different, it was satisfying and it was flavorful. We were pleased that we had gone out of our way to eat at an authentic Salzburg restaurant instead of settling for fare in the tourist part of town. We had a lovely dinner, and a lovely time. It was the most relaxed, enjoyable dinner we had yet experienced on our vacation.

We did not sit down to dinner until after 8:30 p.m., and it was after 10:30 p.m. by the time we returned to our hotel.

It had been a long day, and we were ready to turn in—but it had been a great day.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings From Australia! Your comments were very helpful and informative - We know now what to expect. Thank you! Do you happen to remember the name of the restaurant that you went to in Salzburg??? Best wishes, Brian & Janice