King Ludwig II was plagued by mental illness and his ambitious castle-building agenda was bankrupting his kingdom. When he started construction of a new castle across the valley from the one he grew up in and near his parents, he may have thought he was finally coming home.
High in the mountains of Bavaria, the castle was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle in his parks and the movie of the same name. The castle, although never completed, became a major tourist attraction almost immediately when it was open to the public shortly after Ludwig’s suspicious death in 1886. At the time a financial drain, the castles of King Ludwig II have become income-generators for Germany in the ensuing years.
Neuschwanstein doesn’t allow photography inside the castle but a number of photographs are available online. The interiors were inspired by Wagnerian operas and Bible scenes; Richard Wagner was a friend and Oktoberfest was the celebration of his grandfather Ludwig l and his bride Maria Teresa.
Having worked in art and design with creatives, it was not hard to recognize the over-the-top decorating that can be associated or illustrative of mental illness. The interesting thing about Ludwig’s is that he left a legacy that is enjoyed by visitors from all over the world.
Many lives were changed as a result of the great Reformation movement. In 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther was sheltered in die veste Coburg translating the Bible into his native tongue of German. After being immersed in the holy writ for months, he had discovered 95 points of doctrine that differed from the then-current practices of the Catholic Church. He carefully penned his 95 Theses and nailed it to the door of the church at Wittenburg on Halloween, October 31, 1517 where he knew they would be seen by the people coming into the city for services.
The thesis were seen and sent to Rome where the Pope ordered Luther to recant or be excommunicated and executed (according to some sources.) Luther did not recant and was hidden by his friends until the furor blew over. Pope Leo X died never knowing the impact or significance of the reformation movement.
What do Mormons think of Luther? “Joseph Smith said of Martin Luther’s German translation, “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 349)
And so we visited the castle at Coburg, just days before the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
The wurst day ever. Outside of the castle a vendor was selling grilled wurst, it smelled so smoky and delicious but it was the Sabbath, so we didn’t buy any.
We attended Sunday services at this LDS chapel in Coburg. General Conference had been televised the previous week but because it is on in the middle of the night, the local congregation would view it during church services the following weeks. Newell found a gentleman who was writing a history of the church in the area and knew the family he lived with in high school.
Newell lived with a local family during his senior year of high school. He was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accepted the gospel and was baptized in this font. Coming from a Presbyterian family, it was the beginning of his reformation as well.
On the way to our next Airbnb, we found this Catholic church and stopped to visit for a few minutes.
Tomorrow we visit Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein, the inspiration behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.
We flew from the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on a Saturday morning and arrived in Dusseldorf Germany where we rented a car to tour the southern part of the country. We had learned to choose the smallest car available and were again rewarded for this wisdom while driving and parking on Munich’s narrow streets.
Having spent many happy days on the streets of Disneyland while growing up, Germany didn’t seem all that unfamiliar; a sort of cross between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Walt Disney’s Mom Flora was born to German parents who obviously had some cultural influence there.
The day was rainy and gray but we were excited to visit more historical family sites and see where Newell had lived as an exchange student in high school and as an LDS missionary.
We stopped at a market to buy food for lunch and were rewarded for parking in the wrong place by a woman who blocked our car so we couldn’t leave. Her act of unkindness caused us to miss the last tour of Charlemagne’s castle at Aachen. Note to locals: please have some patience with drivers who may not be aware of the unposted rules.
The unremarkable market had a remarkable bakery; thank goodness for quality-conscious businesses. We sampled several German breads (delicious) and pastries (not as good as French but still delicious), local produce, meats and cheeses. All very good. We traveled on to Aachen.
We were pleasantly surprised to find a prosperous community, probably not surprising since the capitol of the kingdom of Western Europe had moved there in the early 800s. The medieval king Charlemagne, grandson of Charles “the Hammer” Martel had inherited a large and diverse kingdom which he united through many means. He was regarded as “the Father of Europe” and was the first Holy Roman Emperor; crowned by the Pope on Christmas in 800 A.D.
Charlemagne’s contributions included communication and education – he built free public schools for all children regardless of their financial status and had Latin taught throughout the country. He developed a standardized alphabet called Carolingian Uncial and encouraged literacy. As a high school art student, this font was one of my 2 favorites, I din’t know at the time I was a great…great granddaughter of the man who had it created.
He promoted Christianity among pagan inhabitants; often at the point of the sword and established clerics and churches throughout the country. During his reign the Gregorian chant was popularized. He would also dictate sermons and topics to have discussed in churches throughout his kingdom.
He standardized taxes, built roads and bridges and had a library installed at his castle. He invited scholars to study there and share their wisdom with him, promoting learning, culture and the arts during a time referred to as the “Carolingian Renaissance.”
Charlemagne was tolerant and respectful of the Jewish people in his kingdom whom he considered economic and cultural assets; unusual in European history . He had laws drawn up that protected them from excessive taxation by the church.
Downtown Aachen had a collection of shops with the king as a theme, one had him posed with a bag of their chocolate, it seemed a bit disrespectful to me.
No one does gingerbread like the Germans who invented it. Here’s a store window downtown filled with gingerbread hedgehogs and marzipan mushrooms.
Tim was collecting chocolate from every country we visited, Belgium was close by so we made a quick run to Darci’s, a chocolate factory
From Belgium, we headed back into Germany to our Airbnb.
Its almost Valentines Day and I have been so busy chronicling the McMurtry European Art Tour that I have not taken the time to create a fabulous Valentine’s Day post. I repent and will work on that; in the meantime, here is some love from the archives for your enjoyment:
When I was studying interior design at Palomar College, the curriculum included architecture from history including cathedrals. Mont Saint Michel was such a structure built on an island off the coast of Normandy, France beginning in the 8th century. When the tide was out, there was no access to the island, it could only be reached by boat at high tide. I was surprised to find as I studied family history that an ancestor had been born there before 1100 A.D.
I didn’t know why at the time, but I was fascinated with this piece of historical art. I later found out that we were descendants of William the Conqueror. His half-brother Bishop Odo and my great…great grandmother Matilda of Flanders commissioned the tapestry now on display at Bayeux.
William was a descendant of the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne whose throne we would visit at Aachen and his grandfather Charles Martel who saved Christianity and Western civilization from a Muslim invasion in the 8th century,
We drove from Paris to Beauvoir and stayed in an Airbnb listed as La bourdatiere. The converted farmhouse was older than the United Staes but updated , super clean and comfortable. The host Arnaud served croissants, local cheeses, yogurt, orange juice and hot chocolate for breakfast (since we don’t drink coffee.) His place was one of our favorite inns.
We walked through the village of Beauvoir to reach the shuttle for Mont Saint Michel. It was a beautiful, sunny but chilly October morning.
As we left Beauvoir, we passed cornfields and other crops waiting to be harvested and fields at rest.
Built on a rock, the village is almost completely uphill once you enter through the gate.
Even after a hearty meal at Arnaud’s, these breakfast sandwiches made with hash browns looked inviting.
Homey yet majestic, Tim and I loved Mont St. Michel, he said it was one of his favorite destinations in Europe, and I would agree.
From Mont St. Michel we drove to Bayeux to see the Tapestry. We had checked the schedules before the trip, very important when you are visiting destinations which may be closed or close early on different days of the week and different seasons.
From Bayeux we traveled to Omaha Beach, the site of one of the D-Day invasions to liberate France from the Nazis in World War 2.
In the fight to liberate France, there were 7 fleets in Operation Overlord along the coast; 6 decoys and the authentic invasion.
“The Allied casualties figures for D-Day have generally been estimated at 10,000, including 2500 dead. Broken down by nationality, the usual D-Day casualty figures are approximately 2700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6603 Americans. However recent painstaking research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has achieved a more accurate – and much higher – figure for the Allied personnel who were killed on D-Day. They have recorded the names of individual Allied personnel killed on 6 June 1944 in Operation Overlord, and so far they have verified 2499 American D-Day fatalities and 1915 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4414 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2500 dead). Further research may mean that these numbers will increase slightly in future. The details of this research will in due course be available on the Foundation’s website at www.dday.org. This new research means that the casualty figures given for individual units in the next few paragraphs are no doubt inaccurate, and hopefully more accurate figures will one day be calculated.”
The Air France flight from Dublin was pleasant and polished. They served sandwiches and the airline messages were delivered in French and English. It was my first experience outside of a primarily English-speaking country. There were no lines at the customs windows when we arrived mid-afternoon and the mod red and pink glossy decor of the airport restrooms looked like something out of a darling 60s movie.
After that things became sketchy. The travel guides recommended groups take a taxi into Paris, costing about 70 euros. As we approached the airport exit to public transportation, a man came up to us and asked if we needed a ride into the city. He and Newell negotiated the price and we followed him to his late-model black car parked in an unregulated area of the parking lot. Tim rode in front and Newell and I were in the back. We gave him the address of the Airbnb in Paris which he programmed into the dashboard computer, and after speaking French on a phone to whom we assumed was a dispatcher, we took off.
At about this time, Tim noticed that there was no meter in the car and became concerned about who the driver was and where he was taking us. He told us he as originally from Ghana and that he had moved to Paris to be near his mother. Newell kept him engaged in conversation as the commuter traffic into the city became thicker. We ended up being dropped off around the corner from the tall apartment building. We were not convinced that we had not narrowly avoided a human trafficking incident or some other danger.
We have since learned there is a private uber-type company in Paris, called Blacklane, and maybe this man was one of their drivers, but N and T didn’t think so. I would get some identification and ask for a license before taking the offer of a ride into the city if I visit Paris again.
Our AirBnb was in a great downtown location, just a few blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre. It was in an old building undergoing renovation. The host spoke little English and we had a hard time getting into the locked building and finding the apartment on the 5th floor. The tiny elevator and the 3 of us with luggage meant we had to go up in shifts and the floors weren’t marked. We tried to get into the apartment and when we couldn’t find the key, we called and found out we were on the wrong floor. Finally we found the right unit and with great difficulty were able to use the old skeleton key to gain entrance. The studio apartment was small and unkempt; there was a tube of anti-fungal ointment near the tiny kitchen. After our late night in Dublin and unorthodox ride into the city our patience was starting to wear thin. We started a load of the laundry in the tiny washer, grabbed Bel Vitas, handfuls of mixed nuts and dried fruit and headed across the Seine to the Louvre.
The afternoon traffic in Paris was intense, sirens and crazy drivers were everywhere. Unknown to us, we had just missed Fashion Week which I’m sure was even more hectic and crowded.
The narrow streets encased by tall rows of buildings made negotiating our way to the river difficult. London presented a similar challenge, but at least we were finding directions in our native tongue.
We had an ancestor who was the Mayor of Paris around 700 A.D.; an office that actually was close to kingship. Charles Martel was also a great warrior who fought the massive Saracen armies who were poised to overrun France, kill the inhabitants and eventually launch an assault against Rome to topple the Pope and Western Civilization.
The brief video linked to his name shows the importance of the Battle of Tours or Potiers and how he and his men saved the culture of Christianity and Western Europe. He became known as “The Hammer.” His grandson Charlemagne or Charles the Great would become the first “Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire;” we would see his throne in Aachen, Germany in a few days.
We didn’t have time to explore Notre Dame, but the Louvre is open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays. The website says admission is free; but if you want to see the more important exhibits you have to buy tickets (no way were we going to travel all the way to Paris and not see the Mona Lisa; we bought tickets – they count on that mindset.)
After the terror attacks the area was heavily guarded by serious-looking soldiers dressed in black and carrying large automatic weapons, unfortunately a common site at the most-visited European landmarks.
I’m not sure what I was expecting of the Louvre, it is so iconic and important in the world of art and antiquities, but honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed. It seemed sort of sterile and the rich history I had hoped to experience was there but not presented in an interesting and vibrant way.
After we entered and purchased tickets we made our way to the Mona Lisa; making sure that if the museum closed we would not miss this important exhibition.
Even though I’m an artist, I do not appreciate public displays of nudity; I referred to it as academic pornography when I was in college. There was a plethora. Here are a few paintings that were not suggestive.
Everywhere we looked there were superstars of the canon of Western art including: Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo.
The Louvre also contained a lot of religious art, many paintings that I have seen in Christian publications and many altarpieces.
In line at the concessions, we saw a mouse dart out of the kitchen and because it was late, were only able to get a couple of bottled orange juices, for which we were grateful.
We left the Louvre right before closing time; Tim wanted to walk over to the Eiffel Tower; it was farther than we thought. We arrived after 11:00 p.m. just after the sparkling lights were turned off. It truly was a beautiful sight. Once we waded past the souviner hawkers we marveled at the architecture and scale of the tower.
And we are finished for the day. Tomorrow we’ll have a quick look around, seek a few more souviners (Ashlyn asked for something from Paris) and find some legendary pastries; yes, I believe they are the best in the world.
Paris in the morning was more charming.
We found a cafe serving breakfast and ordered modest dishes, the food was ok but not as good as we expected. At the end, the owner charged us an additional 15 euros for service on a bill that was only about 20 euros. Americans beware – Paris is a giant money pit. But with the help of online searches we found a store that sells scarves and another where we bought a hot pink Eiffel Tower for Ashlyn and an Eiffel Tower snow globe for Ashley’s collection.
We weren’t in the city long enough to discover the more charming or scenic neighborhoods, which would have been nice, but we had reservations for an Airbnb near Mont St. Michel and so we rented a car (which also had additional fees that were not expected on the reservation) and we were off to the country.
Day 2 found us waking up in the luxuriously appointed home of our Airbnb hosts in the Model Farm neighborhood of Cork, Ireland. The lovely furnishings, beautiful back yard and gritty gravel road were so provincial and inspiring; its no wonder that farmhouse style is a perennial favorite. After a breakfast of musli and showers in a bathroom fancier than most we’ve experienced, we were off to visit Waterford to purchase a gift of crystal for M-I-L Joyce.
But first, a stop to shop for an Irish dolly requested by our little red-headed granddaughter Ellyza.
Still struggling to stay safe on the NARROW lanes and (to us) backward roads of Ireland, we found a toy shop, Smyth’s, in Cork. You could have pinched me to wake me up, I thought I was in a Toys R Us in the states.
We were greeted by towering rows of Disney, Fisher Price, Legos and other “American” brands. (I know Legos are Scandinavian, but they’ve been big in the U.S. since the 60’s). We looked at princesses and baby dolls, but none had the handmade Irish look and charm that we thought Elle would enjoy so we journeyed on to Waterford.
Entering Waterford, we found the downtown business district including Waterford Crystal Corporate headquarters and showrooms. Waterford is a name synonymous around the world with stunning Irish lead crystal. Newell’s mother had given us a very generous gift to help us “enjoy our trip to Europe” and he wanted to thank her by bringing back something he knew she would enjoy. He found a sparkling crystal pendant to hang in her window to release a prism of colors in the Florida sunshine.
I looked at the gorgeous (expensive) crystal pieces and wanted an ornament for our Christmas tree. I found a seahorse that I loved but discovered that it had been made in Slovakia or Slovenia; not the authenticity I was looking for. I found an embroidered shamrock at another shop instead.
After visiting several gift shops we finally located a little a red-headed, blue-eyed Irish lass to bring home to Ellyza, whom I think named her Bridget or Molly. And we found lunch at an Irish pub, oh my. Tim had a seafood pie with a mashed potato crust and a creamy seafood-filled sauce with crumb topping. Newell had Guinness stew and I enjoyed a wrap with authentic Irish (French fries) chips and malt vinegar. Ahhhh.
Next stop Kilkenny, one of Newell’s family heritage locations.
Newell and Tim opted to visit the castle of Kilkenny, but because of the climb in Blarney Castle the previous day, my foot was aching so I decided to explore the main block downtown. In a Dunnes store (much like a fancy Target), I found a few Halloween decorations (how did it become such a big holiday in America and was just reawakening in the country of its origin?) Also some cosmetics and food for dinner; salads, yogurt, bread, toffee pudding and some soup we hoped to heat at the place we were staying. . It was lucky for me that I stayed behind, I avoided becoming one of the captives of Castle Kilkenny.
CAPTIVES OF CASTLE KILLKENNY by Newell McMurtry
“After having a great time in Waterford and heading towards Dublin we saw a sign indicating Killkenny was not far away. Having ancestors from County Killkenny and it wasn’t dark yet, we decided to go.
The town center was old, medieval with very narrow streets. Driving is difficult on the opposite side of the street than what you’re used to. Add in the narrow streets with cars parked on both sides with barely enough space for one car to get through (yet it’s a two lane road.) I didn’t get to see much, because I was so focused on driving. When we found a place to park by a large department store I was ready to get out an explore.
Pam’s foot still hurt so she didn’t want to explore, but Tim and I wandered around city center heading towards the castle. There were neat old churches, cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways you could only walk through and lots of people with interesting accents.
We got to the castle and checked, but we were too late to take a tour. It was an interesting castle surrounded by a 12 foot stone wall and a very large lawn that lots of people were playing on or walking their dogs or just strolling around. Here is what it looked like from the castle. Notice all the people walking around and there are even more in the distance. I thought it would be cool to take a picture from the hill you see it the distance.
We got there and took a picture as most of the people were clearing out. There was this one man in the yard…” here the story stops, I will add the basics and hope Newell will finish his narrative later.
Tim shares that they were about here when they heard a bell ring. Not knowing what it was for, they started for the castle to find out.
When they arrived, to their chagrin, they discovered that the bell signaled that the castle was closing and they were locked in! The beautiful 12 foot stone walls defied their attempts to exit. Finally they found a tree that they could climb up, then get on the wall and jump off the other side. Imagine their astonishment when they discovered they were in a private yard, also with a locked gate! Somehow they figured out an escape route and got out. And there I was blithely shopping and wondering what had taken them so long.
The only really bad experience we had with lodging was to present itself in Dublin.
I had reserved a suite through Orbitz in the city (the neighborhood photo should have been a warning.) I thought we could cook our dinner and the guys could go explore while I did laundry. When we arrived, there was no one to let us in. After several hours of calling Orbitz and talking to customer service reps in the Middle East (who kept hanging up on us) someone found us a room at a different hotel.
Props to the gas station manager who let us stay in his market to use wifi calling long after closing time while we frantically searched for a place to stay that night. His Irish hospitality and generosity were much-appreciated; he wouldn’t lock up and go home until he knew we had a place to stay. He and his friends even called around to see if there were any vacancies nearby. We finally arrived at the hotel at 1 in the morning, there was no way to heat up the dinner we had bought for the night; we had to throw it away. We were tired hungry, hangry and ready for the few hours of sleep we could catch before we had to return the rental car and fly to Paris.