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Thursday, July 26, 2018

June 15th: Fussen to Bschlabs

If you wondered why I opted to head straight for Fussen instead of leaving it until later in the trip, it's because of the on-line ticketing system for the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. During the summer, all on-line reservations are prebooked months in advance by tour operators and scalpers. Knowing this, the ticket center deliberately holds back some tickets for same-day visitors which cannot be reserved any other way. Technically, the ticket office opens at 8:00am, but it's an open secret that the ticket office actually opens at 7:30am. As a result, the best time to attempt to visit the castles are when you're jet-lagged and getting up early in the morning anyway!
I woke up at 2:00am, managed to sleep again until 4:00am, and then Bowen woke up at 6:30am. We packed, and were on our way by 7:00am, after a quick stop at the bakery to pick up breakfast. Crossing the Lech river, we followed the signs to Hohenschwangau until we got to the ticket office, where we parked our bike and stood in line, eating breakfast while waiting. Sure enough, the ticket office opened at 7:30, and we weren't too far from the front when it opened. To my surprise, Bowen asked to see both castles and the museum, so we bought the ticket for all 3, since entry for him was free. As expected, the earliest opening for all 3 was easily available. We parked our bike and proceeded to hike up to Hohenschwangau.
The castle grounds were pretty, but we were not allowed to take pictures once inside the castles. The tour was very well done, and Hohenschwangau is much less crowded than Neuschwanstein would be. Most people would choose to visit only Neuschwanstein, but Hohenschwangau was actually the better tour and had better stories. Bowen loved the secret passages that were used by servants to maintain heat: they looked like they would only be usable by 6-year olds. Once the tour was over, in the past I'd just ridden the bike up the 13% grade to the castle, but I was informed that this time it wasn't allowed, so we took the bus.
The bus drops you off at the famous Marienbrucke, which was a zoo. You could barely get your picture taken. Past Marienbrucke, however, there's a hiking trail that can take you to higher spots. We didn't hike the whole thing, but there were places where it was obvious that platforms were being built. From Marienbrucke, it's downhill to the castle, which explains why the bus charged only 50 cents more for a round-trip ticket: once you walked down to the castle, you realize that there's no reason to walk back up to the bus and wait when you could walk straight down. It's faster. We also saw cyclists on the pedestrian path, giving lie to what the ticket office told us was a prohibited route for bikes.
When the castle tour was over, we ate lunch at the expensive castle cafetaria, and then walked back down to the museum, which was where we parked the bike. The museum isn't worth the money: it merely repeats what you've already been told during the castle tour, while providing a little bit more color to some lesser known members of the family. But as part of the package it isn't expensive, so you might as well do it.
The reason for bringing our panniers with us to Hohenschwangau is that there's a direct bike path from Schwangau into Austria that doesn't require going back to Fussen. It's a very pleasant route right next to the lake, and having missed it the first time I visited, I wanted to try the route. As expected, it was a very pleasant route, shaded and car-free, though it turned into gravel once we were in Austria. Fortunately, the gravel portion was actually mostly downhill into Pflach, and from there we rode a small pass into Reutte where we had cake.
The Lech river valley is very pretty, and made a huge impression when I first toured in Europe many years ago. The bike path runs right alongside the river, but Komoot routed us back onto the main road across the river right after Weissenbach, while it would have been smarter to stay on the bike path all the way to Voderhornbach. This was because Komoot thinks there's an alternative bike path on that side of the river, but as far as I could tell, it's a hiking path and not easily navigable by tandem, even if one were interested in doing the extra climbing prior to starting the Hahntennejoch.
In Elmen, we took a water break at the water fountain and ate our Clif bars, then proceeded (after a false start provided courtesy of Komoot's navigation) up the Hahntennejoch. This was a stiff climb, not helped by the two tunnels prior to the last long one which fortunately does have a tunnel bypass.  After that last tunnel the grade evened out and the weather cooled, so we arrived at the Bschlabs guest house at 5:15 with plenty of time to do laundry before dinner. There's not much to do at Bschlabs in the evening, but we took a picture at the same church where Arturo took one 2 years ago.

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