The Romantic Road - part V

Trip Start May 31, 2006
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Saturday, October 27, 2007

After a cup of hot chocolate and a slice of cheesecake in a cozy café with sun-yellow mantles and vases of dried flowers, we continued to head south towards the Bavarian Alps. The scenery had started to change drastically, going form busy motorways to quiet alpine roads traversing the oceans of swelling hills and meadows. Houses with heavy timber beams were decorated with germanium-frilled windows and fresh piles of logs were stacked in the front yards. Grey smoke rose from the chimneys and I half-expected Heidi and Peter to come running down a hill hand in hand. They were Swiss, I know, but the image fit.



Before we knew it we were surrounded by the white snowy peaks of the Alps, clouded by fog and haze. We had not expected to see snow at ground level but we were pleasantly surprised to find small white fields of melting snow here and there. Pine trees became taller and crystal blue lakes became more frequent as we neared Linderhof. There was a palace there rumored to be a 'mini-Versailles' belonging to the polemic and misunderstood King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

If there was one Romantic in history, it was to be Ludwig II. He was better known 'the fairytale king' for his impassioned vision of epic stories and musings of fantasy castles. His love of art, music and architecture saw the construction of many extravagant castles and the patronage of none other than German composer Richard Wagner, plunging him into debt and as some claim, insanity. Linderhof Palace was the last of his creations, and was the only castle he saw completed.



We found the palace without much difficulty, hidden away among groves and low hills which had served as hunting grounds for King Ludwig's father, Maximilian II. When one expects to see a grand palace emerging from the snow-sprinkled pines, but instead finds a small building, albeit lavishly decorated but tiny nonetheless, one thinks 'surely this must be the chariot garage or something' and 'we took a wrong turn'. It was not the case, because the small building, closer in size to my parent's suburban house, was Linderhof Palace.

The building resembled more a Parisian petit hotel or a Roman villa than a king's palace, but after all it was built in the 19th century, when the taste for housing was reduced to familiar private homes rather than large opulent estates and manors. That was precisely what Ludwig had wanted: an intimate retreat where he could hide away from a world that no longer cared to understand him.



Once inside, there was no mistaking the palace had been dreamed in the shadow of Versailles. Ludwig's self proclamation as the Moon-King showed the deep admiration he had for France's King Louis XIV, the Sun-King. His ideals of absolutist monarchies were being conquered by revolutions and replaced with modern republics all over Europe, and his palace seemed to protect and safeguard whatever was left of his reign as king of Bavaria. By the time Ludwig had retreated to this palace, he had already been stripped of most of his powers, serving only as a symbol of a king.

So as sad as Ludwig's story seems to be, his little chateau was not. The rooms lacked in size what they sufficed in luxury and abundance. Furniture made from lapis lazuli, carpets made of ostrich plumes, candelabra of ivory and gold, inlay furniture work with amethysts, silver rococo ornaments on the walls, and colored glass mosaics decorate the rooms of this 2-levelled chateau. French tapestries, Ming vases, Russian consoles and porcelain centerpieces as well as rich damasks, velvets and silks add to the labyrinth of wealth of Ludwig's rooms. His bedchamber faced a fountain in the garden which was fed from the melted icecaps of the mountains beyond. His bed was placed on a sort of pedestal surrounded by a golden balustrade, creating an altar whence the Moon King reigned come nighttime.



To satisfy Ludwig's whimsy, the dining room had a trapdoor where a small elevator would push up an already served dinner table from the kitchen right below. It is rumored that Ludwig demanded the table to always be set for 4 people, three of whom were regular guests at his palace: Louis XIV, Madame Pompadour, and Marie Antoinette...French royals who had passed away more than 2 centuries before Ludwig's time. Probably why they say he went mad.

It was a beautiful little palace and although we were not allowed to take pictures, Ed and I pulled our 'kiss-my-ass-I'll-take-pictures-anyway' trick with a hidden camera. I could see myself living in a place like this, particularly in the lilac Pompadour-styled oval reading room where Ludwig's mistresses retired to read their tiny nacre-bound books. The ceilings were painted with mesmerizing frescoes in pastel colors impersonating Night aiding the land into slumber and Day awakening it with golden light. I always say it and I'll say it again: I was born in the wrong centruy.



We exited the palace and ventured into the magnificent gardens. Unfortunately, the statues, fountains and other estate buildings were closed and covered, protecting them from the frost and cold. Some attractions would have to wait until our next visit in summer, like the Venus Grotto: a building whose interior was made to look like a natural cave with a pool of blue water with a golden shell boat where Ludwig liked to float. Nonetheless we explored the alpine gardens with fluffy patches of untouched snow. We climbed a snowy hill up to a small temple where a marble bust of Marie Antoinette of France stood looking on to the palace. It is said that the bust represents the head of Marie Antoinette after her pass through the guillotine at the crux of the French Revolution.

We ventured into the damp forest where the snow had already melted, and admired the mushrooms growing on the barks of old logs. Surrounded by mountains on one side and forest on the other, Ludwig certainly knew how to choose a location for his home. I imagined him walking about the groves in a richly decorated coat, playing the part of the Sun King, talking to himself or to whichever long dead royal was accompanying him. But even though he was a crazy old eccentric for his time I couldn't help but relate to him. With my love for old epic stories, of art history and lush architecture, with my belief that things in past centuries were done with more elegance and frill, and my conviction that monarichies should have never been abolished for the sake of art and culture, Ludwig and I seemed to have a lot in common.



So maybe I'm just a hopeless Romantic too.
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