Castles and Cathedrals

3 02 2009

Since my mother-in-law is an architectural historian specializing in churches, we decided to take another bus tour in order to see Canterbury Cathedral.  If you have been following this series on London, you may have noticed that our sightseeing has been slanted toward history and architecture for this trip.  This is part of the reason why we did more tours than usual.  We were also interested in seeing some more castles and the Cliffs of Dover, so we decided to take a tour that visited Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, and Dover.  These three sights are often grouped together for touring purposes because they are all located to the east of London.

Leeds Castle

Our first stop was Leeds Castle, a lovely castle in Kent.  While not a major castle, Leeds has a history as a royal residence and is a fine example of a moated castle.  The castle grounds include a museum and several gardens, an aviary, dog collar museum, maze, conference center and other attractions.  You can even have a wedding here!  

The grounds of Leeds Castle were graced with Black Swans.

Although a manor stood there before the Norman conquest, the first stone fortifications date back to the 1100s.   

Ruined parts of the older fortification at Leeds Castle.

Edward I and his queen Eleanor of Castille lived there in the 1200s, making it a royal palace. From that point forward, royalty occasionally resided there, including several queens. The castle was often used as a stopover for trips to and from the Continent, including a famous visit by Henry VIII before his meeting with Francis I in France in 1520. You can read more of the history of the castle here.

Leeds Castle

After the middle ages, the castle eventually passed into the hands of private owners and was purchased by the Culpeper family. The Hon. Olive, Lady Baillie, the last private owner of Leeds Castle remodeled the castle into a gracious home and created a private foundation for the maintenance of the castle. Today, the foundation owns and operates the castle.

Leeds Castle

Inside the museum, there are guides in every room. You can ask them any questions you would like. I found the medieval parts of the castle much more interesting than the remodeled gracious home sections.

I did appreciate this sun filled library, though.

The maze was interesting as a novelty. Since I had never been inside a hedge maze, I had to go in and see. We met one of the other people in our tour group at the entrance to the maze. Apparently, he had been stuck in the maze for 25 minutes! Fortunately, a kindly tourguide offered to lead us through the maze since we were short on time and needed to get back to the bus. At the center of the maze is a cheesy “grotto” with some lit up monsters and mermaids. 

While historically Leeds was a relatively minor royal castle, we still enjoyed our visit here. The castle and grounds are beautifully kept and maintained, the guides welcoming and informative, and it was lovely to just stroll around and enjoy the romantic environs. I could definitely see myself living here. Oops, did I say that out loud?

After Leeds Castle and a brief forgettable lunch, we drove to the city of Canterbury to view its famous Cathedral. As the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, this structure is the most important cathedral in all of Britain.

Entrance to Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is also famous for being the site of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket and the pilgrims who visited his shrine as told in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

The site of the martyrdom of Beckett.

Outside of its historical and religious significance, the cathedral itself is magnificent. Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 602 AD by St. Augustine and dedicated to St. Savior. Over the centuries, successive archbishops extended and added onto the main structure. Fires and raids also prompted new designs through the centuries.

The cathedral has both Norman and Gothic architectural styles incorporated within its design.

The nave at Canterbury Cathedral

The ceiling at Canterburgy Cathedral

View of the choir at Canterbury Cathedral

Personally, I found the Norman crypt the most beautiful and intriguing part of the tour, but pictures are not allowed.  Down below ground, the crypt was dark, quiet, and very still.   There are small chapels within the crypt where you can see faded paintings on the walls that date back a thousand years. It was truly a humbling experience.

Our final destination on the tour was the town of Dover, home of the famous White Cliffs of Dover. Dover is geographically the closest part of England to France, and located just across the Channel from Calais.

View of the seashore in Dover

The White Cliffs of Dover

Dover Castle

We viewed Dover just as the sun started to go down.  It was a peaceful way to end our day.


Tower of London and Anne Boleyn

21 01 2009

In preparation for this particular London trip, I read Phillipa Gregory’s novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, to get myself in the right frame of mind for seeing historic London.  Although historical fiction is often far from fact, it helps bring history and old intrigues alive.  As is apparent from the title of the novel, The Other Boleyn Girl  is the story of the two popular Boleyn sisters, Mary and Anne, who charmed Henry VIII as mistress and wife, respectively, before their family’s dramatic fall from power after Anne is executed for treason at the Tower of London.  The Boleyn legacy lived on, however, through Anne’s daughter, who eventually became Queen Elizabeth I.  

As usual, it was cloudy on the day we visited the Tower of London.

The Tower of London is one of England’s most famous landmarks because of its turbulent and bloody history.  Henry VIII was just one of many English rulers who used this fortification, although he is arguably the most famous infamous.  While the innermost White Tower was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, the Tower of London as it stands today is quite a large complex of buildings and fortifications built over several hundred years. There is even a moat, although it is dry now. Our tourguide indicated, however, that there is a rumor that the city of London may fill the moat for the 2012 Olympics.

The old moat at the Tower of London is now filled with grass.

When the moat was still in operation in the middle ages, it connected directly to the River Thames. In fact, most prisoners entered the Tower of London by boat through Traitor’s Gate, which leads into St. Thomas’s tower. Princess Elizabeth herself was brought into the Tower complex via this entrance after her half sister Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) sent her here as a prisoner. Elizabeth was treated well in the Tower despite being a prisoner, however, because she was next in line for the throne after Mary.

Traitor’s Gate

The Tower of London has served over the years as a royal residence, fortress, and most famously as a political prison for high status individuals and royalty. In addition, the Tower was the actual site where the most important executions were performed. As a result, a tour of this landmark is quite gruesome. This makes sense, as the Tower was the site of involuntary confinement, political intrique, torture and execution.

Famous involuntary guests of the Tower included Kings of Scotland, Wales, and France, several princes of England, even supposed Kings of England, and of course Queen Elizabeth before she was queen. The succession of the throne of England was always in flux because there were often several heirs, which made everyone involved paranoid. As a result, whoever ended up in power would often lock up their enemies, especially if they were siblings who could usurp their power.

The Tower also hosted non-royal prisoners, including Thomas More.  More was a former friend of Henry VIII who was executed after he refused to sign a document making Henry VIII head of the Church of England. Another prisoner of the Tower was Sir Walter Raleigh, who was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Raleigh was sent to the Tower after he secretly married one of Elizabeth I’s ladies in waiting without permission. Fortunately Raleigh and his wife and family were able to live in the Tower in comfort, as the crime he committed was not treasonous. Raleigh was later imprisoned again under James I, however, and beheaded for invading a Spanish city in the New World.

At the center of the Tower is the White Tower, the oldest building in the complex. Today, it is a fine example of Norman architecture and houses an exhibition of arms and armor. Honestly, I found this part of the tour a little boring. The most interesting part was an exhibit of Henry VIII’s armor, which showcased just how rotund this king was in his middle age.

The White Tower

View from the White Tower. Notice London’s new city hall, dubbed “Lord Vader’s Helmet” for obvious reasons.

Henry VIII’s Battle Armor

What I found far more interesting were the spooky interiors and staircases in the White Tower.

Norman Chapel inside the White Tower

Staircase in the White Tower

Once we got back outside, we saw much more interesting sights. First, we viewed the Royal Crown Jewels. No photos were allowed inside, of course. I considered this a must-see though! My favorite was Queen Victoria’s little crown.

Building housing the British Crown Jewels, as seen from the White Tower.

Guarding the Crown Jewels

After the jewels, we visited the courtyard where executions were carried out.  Only the most important prisoners of the highest status were executed here.  You knew you had “made it” in society if you died here.  As the queen of England, Anne Boleyn was executed here and buried in the church on the perimeter of the courtyard.  We didn’t go in the church, however, because you have to pay extra.

Execution site with the church in the background.

Medieval buildings surrounded the other side of the courtyard. The building in the corner was built for Anne Boleyn as her wedding present from Henry VIII. Nowadays, the yeoman warders live in these buildings. It’s a little known fact that people still live in the Tower of London. The church is also still used regularly.

Anne Boleyn’s residence

The Tower of London is easily accessible by Tube (Stop: Tower Hill) and is one of the major stops on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours.  We toured the Tower complex with London Walks, meeting at Tower Hill.  Our tourguide was very good, telling us both the history and lore surrounding this fortress.

While Anne Boleyn’s story is riveting, it also demonstrated quite dramatically how much power the English rulers had before the 20th century.  The mood and whim of the king could literally mean life or death for you, even if you are his wife.  Henry VIII went from being madly in love with Anne, even restructuring religious power in England so that he could marry her, to wanting to behead her when she was unable to produce a son.  Although walking in her footsteps on my visit to the Tower of London was exciting, I am glad that I did not have to live her life, even if she was queen.

Germany: Neuschwanstein

21 10 2008

After leaving Rothenburg, we were eager to continue our journey on Germany’s Romantic Road and see “Mad” King Ludwig’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle.  Easily the most photographed castle in Germany, Neuschwanstein is the epitome of the modern day idea of a (very unrealistic) romantic medieval castle.  In fact, this castle was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland and Cinderella’s castles in Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.  We had high expectations for this attraction because of its fame and dramatic history.

A view of the countryside approaching Füssen and Neuschwanstein.

Quaint towns dot the countryside on the Romantic Road.

Neuschwanstein Castle and the neighboring Hohenschwangau Castle are located just outside the town of Füssen in Southwest Bavaria. Füssen is where most people who visit the royal castles stay the night and represents the end of the Romantic Road. The town of Fussen is small but pretty. It is perfectly suited for a nice dinner and lovely stroll before visiting Neuschwanstein the next day but one night is enough. Füssen has its own castle called Hohes Schloss, but it’s not really worth visiting.  You can walk around the outside of the castle at night.

The town of Füssen

Fussen at twilight

Hohes Schloss

For a taste of traditional German food and comraderie, visit one of the local restaurants and drinking establishments in Füssen the night before your visit to the castles. Every Tuesday and Thursday night at 7 PM, the gregarious duo of Christian and Werner entertain the patrons at Gasthof Krone with local music and humor.  While we were there, we heard such classics (translation butchered by me) as “Frau Meyer’s underpants are yellow” and “There’s plenty of time in heaven to rest so let’s drink now.”

Gasthof Krone

Christian and Werner entertain with hilarious tunes and jokes.

The next morning we headed over to see the royal castles.  When you come to visit, you may tour either castle or both. It is best to buy your ticket(s) in advance, either online here or over the phone. You will be given a time window for your tours. If you decide to tour both, the ticket requires that you tour Hohenschwangau first. To get to Neuschwanstein, you can ride a bus, a horse drawn carriage, or hike.

“Mad” King Ludwig, also known as King Ludwig II of Bavaria, was an eccentric king who loved building elaborate castles. Although he used his personal funds to build these palaces, he borrowed heavily from family and other royalty and neglected his royal duties, which made him very unpopular with his ministers. This caused his cabinet of ministers to declare him insane and to legally depose him. The day after his arrest, King Ludwig was found dead in the nearby lake under mysterious circumstances with the psychiatrist who certified him insane.

Ludwig grew up in Hohenschwangau Castle, which was built by his father King Maxmillian II of Bavaria in the early 19th century. Maxmillian built the castle on the ruins of the castle Schwanstein, which dated back to at least the 12th century, after falling in love with the landscape here. While Neuschwanstein is now owned by the Bavarian government, Hohenschwangau still belongs to the former royal family.


The beautiful lake next to Hohenschwangau.

Neuschwanstein Castle, on the other hand, was built by Ludwig II in the late 19th century. The castle is not a true medieval castle since it not built in the middle ages, but rather designed to reflect a romantic and highly fantastical conception of a knight’s castle. In fact, the castle was designed by a theatrical set designer for the most part and not an architect.

Even my first glimpse of Neuschwanstein from Hohenschwangau was romantic.

After touring Hohenschwangau, we took a bus up to Neuschwanstein. While the bus drops you off on the path to Neuschwanstein, it is worth it to hike up to Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge) before you go to Neuschwanstein. It only takes about 20 minutes to go there and back and the views are amazing. I consider the Marienbrucke a must do, because it gives you the best view hands down of Neuschwanstein. This perspective of the castle is what you see in all those tourist photos.

The best view of Neuschwanstein is from Marienbrucke, except for the ugly scaffolding (sigh).

Other views from the Marienbrucke include beautiful forests.

Marienbrucke is a small bridge suspended over these falls.

Every part of the design of Neuschwanstein was carefully planned, from its exact placement on a dramatic hilltop overlooking Ludwig’s childhood home, Hohenschwangau, to its exterior grandeur and fairy tale turrents, to the impressive interior that honored Richard Wagner’s operas.  The castle’s location maximized the beauty of the surroundings as viewed from inside. Photos were not allowed inside either castle, but the views more than made up for that.

Although this attraction is much hyped, we felt that it lived up to its expectations.  Neuschwanstein was every bit as beautiful in person as in the pictures.  While the tours are quite short, they are interesting.  The area’s natural backdrop was stunning and really exceeded our expectations.  We highly recommend that Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau be part of any visitor’s itinerary in Germany.

Germany: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

11 10 2008

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a perfectly preserved medieval walled town in Bavaria, was hands down my favorite part of our trip to Germany. If you have ever had any interest in the middle ages, you will LOVE this city. This town is a storybook come alive!

During the middle ages, Rothenburg was a large and booming free imperial city that was located on an important trade route between northern and southern Europe. During the Thirty Years War, however, the town was lost to a siege instigated by a Catholic Count who wanted to quarter his troops in the Protestant city. After this devastating siege and the ensuing Plague, the city became empty and poor until the end of the 19th century. In the 1880s, when Romanticism was running rampant throughout Europe, the town was “rediscovered” and since then the town has been carefully preserved while tourism has repopulated the city’s coffers.

Rothenburg is still surrounded by medieval walls.

This is Rothenburg’s Coat of Arms, which is a literal translation of the city’s name (red castle).

During WWII, Nazi soldiers defended Rothenburg. Parts of the city were bombed, including several houses and part of the wall. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy knew of the historic significance and beauty of Rothenburg so he ordered his generals not to use heavy artillery on the city. According to the the tour we took, McCloy grew up with a painting of Rothenburg on the wall of his home that his mother bought after visiting Rothenburg. Her love of Rothenburg was essentially what saved the city on the American side. The local military commander, Major Thommes, also contributed to the city’s preservation by ignoring Hitler’s directive for all towns to fight to the end and surrendering the town before it was destroyed, thus saving the city. American soldiers occupied the town until the end of the war. A few years later, the town named McCloy an Honorary Protectorate of Rothenburg.

This fountain featuring St. George off the Market Square was also a source of water to townspeople.

The original trade route that Rothenburg served is now called Germany’s “Romantic Road” and has become a popular tourist route. The “Romantic Road” begins in Wurzburg and ends in Fussen and features charming villages, beautiful churches, scenic countryside, and other walled medieval cities.

Just like everywhere else in Germany, the cobblestone streets are neat, tidy, and filled with flower pots and ivy.

Most of the town is pedestrian only, but guests who have a hotel reservation inside the walls of the town may drive into the town in order to park their cars.  Once you get your bearings, the town is easy to navigate on foot.  You can get free maps at the Tourist Information office that is next to the Market Square.  The best map we found of Rothenburg was from the Friese shop located on the smaller square just off Market Square.  You get a free map made by Anneliese Friese if you show them your Rick Steves guidebook.

Market Square

This is Rothenburg’s Market Square (above).  The TI office is in the orange clock tower building and you enter from the right side (street side).  The Friese shop is to the left of the yellow building in this photo.

It seemed everywhere we looked there was a picturesque half timbered house, quaint clock tower, shining cobblestone street, or pretty sidewalk.  My German brother-in-law will cringe when I say this, but it was as if Disney World had come alive.  Of course, this is because Rothenburg and other German towns and castles were the inspirations for Disney.  In fact, it is said that Rothenburg inspired the town in Disney’s Pinnochio.  But of course Rothenburg is 1000 times better than any fake Disney backdrop because it is the real thing!

We thought this might be the cutest intersection in Rothenburg, on Spittalgasse (below).

This is where the town gets so Disney!  Did I mention that the town is packed with tourists?

Statue above a real life butcher shop.

But then we saw this street, and changed our minds.  This MUST be the cutest street in Rothenburg.

We were able to enjoy some cake and coffee at a sidewalk cafe with a view of this arch.

The town is full of things like hidden alleys and gardens behind walls. Through our self guided walk (from our Rick Steves guide book), we found this gem (below). It was the garden to the convent attached to a now gone Dominican church. What was interesting about this garden was that the herb garden included not only edible herbs and medicinals, but also POISON! The potency of the poison herbs was indicated by the number of crosses on the labels. Don’t inhale too much here!

Entrance to the Convent Garden, near the Museum of the Imperial City (Reichsstadt Museum).

The Convent Garden

Some poisonous herbs, which smelled bad!

We loved all the medieval touches we found just by walking around.  Here is one of the town’s entrance gates on the stone wall.

The huge wooden door had a small tiny door within it.  In the middle ages, most towns had a curfew for safety reasons.  The town would close their huge gates when it got dark and any townspeople who were left outside the wall had to apply to enter via the night watchman.  The townsperson who missed curfew would first have to identify himself.  Then, he had to bribe the night watchman.  If and only when these two criteria were considered would the night watchman let in the person.  However, the door was built so that only an unarmored person could get through, in case the person attempting entry was an enemy or traitor.

Another form of defense for the town were these stone masks over the gates.  When an offending army tried to break the gates, the town would defend itself by pouring hot oil onto the attackers.

One of the must-dos for any visitor to Rothenburg is to walk the city walls.  From there you can get magnificent views of the city and get a feel of the medieval defenses.  At times, we felt like we were in the game of Carcasonne.

View from the Rodertor Tower, after climbing up some very rickety stairs.

We even saw some people from the middle ages from the wall!

Ok, can this town GET any cuter??

Donations from all over the world helped rebuild the town walls that were destroyed in WWII.  You can see the stone plaques representing the donors when you walk the walls. Many of them were from just after WWII, but several were more recent. Nowadays, it takes 1000 Euros to buy a plaque on the wall.

I found these plaques particularly interesting:

Apparently Rothenburg is VERY VERY popular with the Japanese. Maybe one third of the modern plaques were from the Japanese!

Surprisingly, there were even plaques from the tiny nation of Taiwan!

If you are thinking of visiting Rothenburg, I would recommend that you stay at least one night.  During the day, Rothenburg is packed with tourists but the city empties out at 5 PM.  After that time, you basically have the beautiful city to yourself.  Also if you stay the night, you can go on the wonderful Night Watchman’s Tour.  In my opinion, this is one of Europe’s best tours hands down.  The Night Watchman (there is only one) takes you on an enthusiastic one-hour walking tour in period costume with a lit lamp and tells you all these great stories about medieval Rothenburg.  Plus, it’s only 6 Euros.  He is also a barrel of laughs (in my opinion).

We stayed at the outstanding Gotisches Haus right in the middle of Rothenburg, which I highly recommend! I will be writing a review of this soon to post on the blog.

All in all, the four of us really enjoyed Rothenburg.  We cannot even think of anything that we did not like about Rothenburg.  Even though it is on every tourist itinerary for Germany, this is one of those places that is really as good as it sounds.  I hope I will be heading back to Rothenburg one day, but for now I will have fond memories of this beautiful medieval town.

Germany: Around Freiburg

30 09 2008

Besides the Black Forest, there are several towns and splendid countryside surrounding the city of Freiburg that are worth exploring.  Much of southwestern Germany is covered in vineyards and cultivated land that provide fresh, seasonal food and drink to cities and towns in the area.  Most areas are within a 20-30 minute car ride of Freiburg and well worth the trip.

Quaint towns like Ihringen that specialize in wine production are part of the fertile countryside in the Freiburg area. Ihringen is located on the southern tip of Kaiserstuhl on top of an old volcano that was transformed into vineyards, in between the Winklerberg and Fohrenberg appellations (wine regions).  This small town is full of wineries, restaurants, pubs and guesthouses that are surrounded by vineyards and orchards.  Just like the meticulous vineyards, the town itself is beautifully maintained.

An inviting restaurant/pub overflowing with flower boxes in Ihringen.

A winery

A guesthouse/restaurant

Pretty window boxes are the norm here.

Vineyards and orchards are just outside of town

Picturesque town like Ihringen dot the countryside in this area.  In fact, we drove through 2 or 3 just going to Ihringen.

Vineyards and farms take up the spaces in between these towns.

One of the delights of the Freiburg area are the numerous seasonal dining establishments called Strauße that serve traditional food from the region.  The word Strausse, or ostrich in German, is related to the use of brooms that traditionally indicated that the venues were open.  These are not restaurants, but rather the dining rooms attached to farms and wineries that enjoy a special tax status if they follow a strict code.  These strausse must only serve food and wine of their own production, be open 16 weeks a year, and have 40 seats maximum.  To find a list of these establishments, you can buy a brochure listing these “Strausse” from certain shops and bookstores in Freiburg.

A few tips on these brochures:
1) Ask the cashier for help in finding this brochure and if the store doesn’t carry it, ask who does.  Most Germans, especially University educated Germans, speak English so it will not be hard to ask.
2) Make sure to call the kitchens before you go because the days they are open shift around every year.

On our visit, we were able to visit 2 different Strausse, which were both very good.  L and M wanted to take us to their favorite one but unfortunately they were closed on the days we were in the Freiburg area.  That’s why it’s so important to call beforehand for hours, directions, and if a reservation is needed.

Burg Cafe, Landeck

If you are looking to dine on traditional and fresh German food in the shadow of a ruined castle overlooking beautiful countryside, I would highly recommend the Burg Cafe in Landeck.  The food was good and fresh, and the views were even better.

Burg Cafe

We ate in the shadow of the ruined Burg Landeck.

The view from our table at Burg Cafe, looking away from the castle.

After we finished our meal at Burg Cafe, we took the stone steps up to the ruined castle.  It is literally across the road from the cafe and is a perfect after dinner walk.  Just climb up the stairs!

After seeing the ruined castle itself (you can no longer actually climb up the castle), be sure to explore the grassy area to the left.  You will be rewarded with these magnificent views.

Can you just imagine this scene:
King of Swamp Castle: One day, lad, all this will be yours.
Prince Herbert: What, the curtains?
King of Swamp Castle: No, not the curtains, lad, all that you can see stretched out over the valleys and the hills! That’ll be your kingdom, lad.
Quotation from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.

Burkles Winzerhof

On another night, we decided to try a seasonal winery L and M had never visited before since their original choice was closed.  Burkles Weinlaube turned out to be one of the nicer dining rooms with good solid German food. The wine and drinks were very good.  Besides the house wine, these Strausse also always have homemade apple soda and/or grape soda made from wine grapes if you would rather enjoy non-alcoholic beverages.  

You can’t see from my pictures, but if the kitchen is open, you will see a ceremonial broom with bristles over their door.

If you go to any regional kitchen, you MUST try their Flammenkuchen (onion and bacon tart).  It’s like a pizza, but better.


Garden Salad with shredded pickled vegetables

Fried steak with friend potatoes

A german ham salad

As you can see from the numerous posts on Freiburg and its environs, this area of southwestern Germany is full of natural beauty, interesting food and wine culture, and medieval history.  Even though I was able to spend a few days here, I wish I could have stayed longer.  There is so much to see and do here – I haven’t even started to scratch the surface.

Germany: Ludwigsburg

12 09 2008

After hearing that I love touring castles and palaces, L and M decided to take me to visit Ludwigsburg, a city approximately 12 kilometers north of Stuttgart.  Nicknamed the “Swabian Versailles,” Ludwigsburg Palace is one of Germany’s largest Baroque palaces and was at one time, one of the grandest courts in Europe.  The adjective “Swabian” refers to the old region/duchy of Swabia, which encompasses modern day Baden-Wurttemberg and the Swabia area of Bavaria.  The palace was home to the court of the Dukes of Wurttemberg, the rulers of this Germanic region until modern times.  At one time, the Duke of Wurttemberg was raised to the status of King by Napoleon Bonaparte.

At Ludwigsburg Palace, you can explore the courtyards and gardens for free.  You can only tour the inside of the residence with a guide, but for 6 Euros you get a wonderful and in-depth 90 minute tour with an informative guide.  There is an English language tour at 1:30 PM everyday and additional English tours at 11 Am and 3:15 PM on weekends and bank holidays.  German tours run continuously.  Our guide Wolfgang was hilarious, and the tour was not rushed at all.  Actually, I think our tour ended up being 2 hours long – you really do get the value of your admission ticket. There are also a few small museums on the grounds, including a fashion museum for the time period, and two smaller palaces.

Although there is evidence of human settlement dating back to the stone and bronze ages and the area was occupied by different groups (including the Romans) throughout history, the modern city of Ludwigsburg was only founded in the early 18th century while this palace was built.

Duke Eberhard Ludwig of Wurttemberg first built Ludwigsburg Palace as a pleasure palace and hunting lodge.  However, after seeing some of the palaces built by other European royals at the time, the duke decided to expand his palace partly as a way to project his absolute power and partly to serve as his headquarters.  Ludwig also just liked living there.

The coat of arms of the Kingdom of Wurttemberg.

While the palace is mostly built and decorated in the Baroque style, it also features Rococo and Empire style. During the original Duke Ludwig’s time, the Baroque style was popular among the aristocracy as a way to impress others and demonstrate power and control. The Baroque style is characterized by drama and grandeur expressed through architectural details such as large entrances, grand courts, dramatic staircases, and opulence.

Shown above is a drawing of the grounds of Ludwigsburg Palace. Notice the importance of symmetry that is an integral part of the design of palaces during this period.

The entrance to the outer courtyard.

Looking into the inner courtyard.

The grand inner courtyard of Ludwigsburg Palace.

A fountain stands in front of the original hunting lodge, located in the inner courtyard.

Some of the gardens at Ludwigsburg Palace.

The grand staircase we saw the beginning of our tour.

There are beautiful chandeliers in every room.

The king’s reception room.

You can tell it’s for the king because there are three steps to his throne. The queen only gets two steps.

I think this is the king of Wurttemberg. His white part of his royal coat is made of tons of tons of these animals:

A painting of Jesus. He has some extra toes though.

This was a portable organ, one of the duke’s expensive playthings. This way he can enjoy some music on his walks, like an old fashioned boombox.

An example of the exquisite furniture found in this palace. I think this is in the Rococo style, with the in-laid wood and curvy sides and marble top.

Apparently, this palace had so much furniture that it had to give some away to other palaces that were damaged by WWII.

I think this is the queen’s bedroom. Notice the high tech toilet sitting next to the bed.  Click on the photo to see a larger version of the picture.

Above is the room of mirrors.

In those days, every palace had to have a room or hall of mirrors as a show of opulence and richness. During that period, mirrors were as precious as gold. According to our guide, the dukes of Wurttemberg used this room to rendez-vous with his mistress. One of the dukes actually died in here, waiting for his mistress to come.

The pictures above and below are of a grand audience room that is still used by the German government for certain meetings and speeches.

There are whimsical paintings on the wall, including this one of Duke Lugwig, the original builder of the palace.

This room (above) is a masterpiece showcasing the work of a master woodcarver. The entire room is made of inlaid wood, including the floors and the elaborate desk.

At the end of the tour are some rooms set aside for children of visitors to play.  The kids can dress up in 18th century court costumes – it’s quite cute.

Casanova once visited Ludwigsburg Palace and proclaimed it the most magnificent court in Europe.  While it is not the scale of Versailles, it certainly comes close in its opulence and splendor.  Despite having visited many grand castles and palaces in Europe (including Versailles, Neuschwanstein, and Windsor Castle, among others), I think this is my favorite palace in Europe so far.  Unlike the short tours that are packed full of people at these other European tourist attractions, I feel like I really got to see how the dukes/king lived at Ludwigsburg.  You could actually talk to your tourguide and didn’t feel like you were part of a tour factory.  All in all, Ludwigsburg Palace was a perfect ending to my tour of Swabian culture.

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