Europe For The Senses

Author/Photographer Vicki Liston blogs on her book and some interesting places she's traveled. "Europe for the Senses - A Photographic Journal" was published under the name 'Vicki Landes'.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Neuschwanstein: Germany's Most Recognized Castle

Creative geniuses are seldom appreciated during their lifetime, as was ‘Mad’ King Ludwig of Bavaria. Now, his famous castle enchants the millions of tourists who visit her gates. Neuschwanstein, Ludwig’s most well-known realized dream, was never completely finished before the king was untimely carted off and labeled as ‘incompetent to rule’. Even today, the circumstances around his death are still highly questionable, giving the castle a mysterious air of deception and betrayal.

With visions of grandiose operas dancing around in his poetic imagination, Ludwig II began the construction of Neuschwanstein in 1869 where two smaller castles laid in ruins. He moved into the unfinished palace 15 years later. Truly a man born out of time, Ludwig’s new castle was to be his world of an era long past. His obsession with composer Richard Wagner and the Middle Ages fueled his creativity as he decorated the rooms - dazzling royal blue and reflective metallics, starry nights painted on the ceiling of his bedroom where the stars really twinkled, knights, the Holy Grail, corridors made to look like they had been carved out of the stark rock face of the mountainside, an indoor winter garden that could be enjoyed at any time of the year, and swan accents at every imaginable spot. Ludwig had hoped to enjoy Wagner’s work in the castle’s ‘Singer’s Hall’, modeled after the Banquet Hall at Wartburg Castle. Sadly, not a single note of the composer’s music would reverberate off of these intricately detailed walls until after the king’s death.

Originally called ‘New Hohenschwangau Castle’, the name was changed to ‘Neuschwanstein’ (New Swan Stone) after Ludwig passed. Many tourists know it as ‘The Cinderella Castle’ as Walt Disney used the spires as the inspiration for his storybook palace. From here, visitors can gaze down over Hohenschwangau Castle, Lugwig’s boyhood home where he spent his days fantasizing about the fairytale-come-to-life he’d one day build on the jutting cliff in the clouds. The Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge) is also a stunning site from the arched windows of Neuschwanstein. The brave can hike to the bridge where they are rewarded with a breathtaking view of this world-famous castle. Walk the dizzying span over the deep gorge while the chilly wind burns your cheeks as you wonder ‘how many camera-toting tourist *can* this bridge hold?’

Tragically, the shy ruler only lived in this exquisite dream for about 120 days before he was ousted as king and committed for his supposed mental illness. Since then, rumors have woven colorful stories of every imaginable scenario for his removal. From government conspiracy, being drugged to fake his mental state, double murder or murder suicide and even speculation on his sexual orientation, Neuschwanstein literally oozes with secrets and her walls maintain their silence. Perhaps part of the castle’s magical air is taken from these ‘what ifs’ that we may never know the answer to…or that by stepping inside these halls is the only way to truly appreciate Ludwig’s eccentric soul.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Wieskirche: Rococo Gem in the Middle of a Field

Where can you go to see one of the most beautiful examples of rococo architecture in Germany? An open field, of course! This answer may surprise you when considering it’s a place where millions have made a pilgrimage journey to pay homage to the resident icon. Yet once you see it for yourself, you’ll see how ironically perfect it is for such a proud and ornate structure to stand alone in a humble pasture.

Situated near the Bavarian town of Steingaden, the Wieskirche (also called Church of the Field) exists to house the ‘Scourged Savior’. The wooden statue, due to its deplorable façade, was put into storage at a nearby monastery in 1735 then moved to a local couple’s farmhouse three years later. Within months, the couple professed to see tears from the eyes of the icon. The news of this miracle spread quickly and before long, the couple became inundated with worshippers. A small chapel was constructed in 1739 but it proved to be inadequate for the multitudes making their way to pray to the Scourged Savior. In 1745, Dominikus Zimmermann took on the daunting task of creating a sanctuary worthy of a miraculous sculpture – and the results are breathtaking.

A long, reflective road leads to the field of the Wieskirche, where even the Alps in the background stand in reverence. From the outside, it looks like a typical Bavarian church – quaint, picturesque, and worthy of any jigsaw puzzle. But just as a book should not be judged by its cover, so should a Bavarian church not be judged by its location or exterior. That point is proven with only one step inside its sanctuary as the scenery goes from serene to practically ostentatious. Large glass windows intensify the sunbeams and hurl them into the crisp, white hall dripping with gold accents. Lift your eyes upwards where the trompe-l’oeil gives the illusion of seeing into heaven. Awe-inspiring and absolutely faultless, the busy frescoes are full of clouds, angels, and other heavenly figures surrounding Christ perched atop a rainbow. Although the ceiling itself is worth the visit, the centerpiece of the church is still the aged wooden statue, appropriately placed in the middle of the alter. Whether or not you believe the story of the miracle tears, the icon remains a beautiful work of art and the very reason why this church stands today.

Travelers have several options when planning a visit to the Wieskirche. The church hold Catholic services as well as music concerts so those in attendance can enjoy these events in the most spectacular of surroundings. During the remainder of the times, visitors can either wander the sanctuary on their own or take a tour to fully appreciate the church’s nuances. Whatever the inclination, the Wieskirche is sure to enchant and inspire.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Website temporarily down!

My websites ( and are temporarily down while we switch host companies - but it should be up and running soon! Sorry for the inconvenience!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Endless Fields of Color – It’s Spring at the Keukenhof Gardens

As the harsh morning frost slowly looses its fury, Dutch botanists nurture their countless tulip bulbs in preparation for the warming spring sun. The provinces of Holland in The Netherlands are bustling to prepare for the thousands of tourists from all parts of the globe that will descend upon the little European country for a glimpse at the most beautiful of gardens – the Keukenhof.

Planted near the town of Lisse, the Keukenhof Gardens literally explode with color for only two months out of the year. As each tulip and spring flower greedily strains upward for the sunbeams, visitors snap pictures and purchase bulbs and seedlings, hoping to plant their own stunning gardens. Clever genetic engineers have managed to subvert Mother Nature’s aversion to natural red tulips by cross-breeding, although this blunt disrespect is only tolerated for a few generations and the cross-breeding must again be repeated. Crouch down for a closer look to experience a bug’s view of these natural masterpieces. Rather have a bird’s eye view? What better place to gaze out over endless fields of color than from a perch on an old wooden windmill? After all, no Dutch garden would be complete without one! From here, the rows of tulips go on in every hue imaginable and as far as the eye can see. The gardens are just fields, though. Tip-toe down a tulip-lined path that weaves in and out of the shading trees. Listen to the soft trickling of the fountains as you relax next to a tranquil lake. Admire the intricate designs created by planting just the right type and color of flower in the perfect spots. For children that don’t quite understand the intoxicating and breathtaking effect of the gardens, the small playground will be their highlight. Whether you’ve got a green thumb or only wish that you did, the Keukenhof astounds.

The highlight of tulip season is the Flower Parade, occurring in mid-April every year. Creatively decorated floats and luxury cars crammed with as many blooms as humanly possible slowly make their way along the 40 kilometer trek while onlookers ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over their designs. It takes almost 12 hours for the entire parade to get from Noordwijk to Haarlem, which is even more amazing when considering that multiple marching bands accent the long line of floats and cars.

By mid-May, the blooms have begun to lose their luster. The Keukenhof looks towards the remaining 10 months of the year for preservation, maintenance, and replanting for the next thousands of tourists who will come the following March. Their gentle care of the delicate bulbs and attention to the tiniest of details promise another season of brilliant color and enchanted garden guests.