Having arrived at my base in Stuttgart the previous night, after breakfast I headed back in to the main train station. I missed my outgoing train by a couple of minutes, so I had time for a wander around the inner bit of the city around the Schlossplatz and the gardens before the next train left.
After yesterday's near-disaster with the train, I was triple-checking the timetables and train numbers to make sure I got on the right one.
So having done that I was pretty suspicious when I noticed that the destination signs on my train said that its final destination was a town that I thought was pretty definitely in a different direction to where I was going. There were no conductors around on this train – it was just a small regional thing – so I wandered around until I found a route map at the very front of the train, and gave it a bit of a study.
Yep, to get to that destination, this train would have to take the East turn down the line a bit, and I was supposed to go on the West fork. Triple-checked that I was on the right train again using my timetable book.
After 10 minutes or so of quality Sitting And Thinking time, I had an idea – maybe this train was actually two separate trains stuck together! So at the point where the two routes split, the train was presumably going to break in two and go two different directions.
I got off at the next stop and (quickly – you don't have time to screw around) got back on in towards the back, and yep, the destination signs on this one matched my route.
Another trap for new players… Time to write up a brief guide to German trains.
At some point I'd got it into my head that a good castle to visit would be Burg Hohenzollern, mainly because it isn't completely crawling with tourists like me, is on a hill with lots of nice trees, and looks properly castley – walls, gates, pointy bits, etc.
Unfortunately, it's not well serviced transport-wise (maybe one of the reasons it's not completely crawling with tourists). The nearest town, Hechingen, is only ~4km away as the crow flies, and there is a bus that goes to and from the Hechingen bahnhof – but it only runs twice a day, and having missed my first train out to Hechingen, I've missed the bus too.
There is a Hechingen-local bus route that goes up to the Burg, but bizarrely, that route doesn't join up with any of the other routes around Hechingen (and, if I read the signs later correctly, it doesn't run on Sundays anyway, which is when I was there).
I checked with the lady at the train station, and nope, there's no public transport running up there now; taxis are it.
Bugger that, it's only going to be 6km on foot, and I'm running a policy of being allowed dessert if I get a decent amount of exercise in the day. And I packed light, thinking that this might happen.
So, I walked…
And walked… god it was hot out there… well, at least I'd get decent photos today (it was overcast most of the places I'd been so far on the trip).
And there I was! The entrance to the castle is great, you can only get in via a covered spiral ramp thing, which would be brill for defending – lots of extra distance to cover, and easy to build blockades in – and if they wanted to come over the top of that, they'd have to not just scale its height but the height of the hill it's on the edge of. Good thinking whoever invented those.
(Note that in the photo you can see the windows around the circular thing ascending in height from right to left, level with the ramp inside. The ramp opens at that archway to the left; the people up the top of the photo are walking on top of the roof of the ramp, not on the ramp itself.)
And then ate lunch, which doesn't get a photo, and then walked up the hill, feeling pretty tired/skanky!
Now, at this point, I got lucky. While I was mainly there to wander around the exterior, it's always good to go through the buildings. Unfortunately, like many historical places, you can only go through with guided tours (mainly so they can make sure you don't damage anything), and this not being a tourist hot-spot, they don't run regular tours in English.
However, an English-speaking tour group out of Freiburg pulled up just at the same time as I got there, and they'd booked in an English-speaking tour. Happily, because they'd booked in the castle's tour guide rather than being allowed to guide it themselves, it was still a public tour and so I could just join them. Nice timing!
So, we went through the building. No photos allowed inside sadly, but you start to the right of the courtyard in this photo and move around through to the left.
The first room was quite handy for touring as they had a big family tree painted up the walls and ceiling, and impressive it is: the Hohenzollern family spawned not one but several significant lines of kings, emperors, and electors, over a span of some eight centuries – the last reign finishing only when monarchy was given in in Germany at the end of the first world war, with the formation of the Weimar Republic. That Wikipedia link will dish you up the goods.
After the family tree room there's a couple of halls, used occasionally for ceremonial dinners – but only in the warmer seasons, the place as a whole isn't heated and it's unusably cold in winter. This castle, completed in 1867, is the third generation on the site (it retains parts of the older castles, but isn't as medieval as I hoped), and although it's considered the family home this 3rd-gen castle has never actually been lived in by the owners.
Following the halls there's the study, bedrooms and associated smaller rooms. Paintings hung in each continue to tell parts of the family story. Although Germany is no longer a monarchy, the Hohenzollern family is still intact, and still royal; this castle is not publically owned, but is the property of Prince Georg Frederich who depending on how you look at it is now Prince or King of Prussia (or more formally, pretender to).
His family retains traditional family law, so he must marry royalty to maintain his royal status – our tour guide seemed to think that didn't leave him too many great options… hot princess, no problem, but hot unmarried marriageable princess, getting a bit thin on the ground.
The tour finishes down in the basement where there's a number of spiky looking swords and other weapons, crown jewels & replicas of crown jewels, medals, and assorted royal stuff.
Aside from the tour through those rooms, you can go through some of the other rooms freely, including a church & chapel, and down into the casements, where displays will tell you a bit about the history of the castle's defenses and how it evolved over time with the continual development of armed warfare.
But make sure you take some time to just have a wander around outside. Aside from the road leading up to it and an outpost of the castle wall system, the Burg is pretty much the only thing on this hill, and there's nice light forest covering it all. From the castle you get great views of the forest and the countryside surrounding, and there are some light trails leading through the woods.
So after all that, of course there was the walk back to the station, which took another hour or two.
Turned out I had about 50 minutes before the next train left so I went back to a nearby kebap place. There was something on the menu I hadn't seen before, “lahmacun”, so I ordered that.
It turned out to be an awesome construction, basically they started by making a thin-base pizza, and then on top of the pizza, which has got a thin minced-meat tomato sauce on it in the first place, they pile up a bunch of well-barbecued kebab meat, salad veggies, and sauce, and then they wrap it all up like a regular kebab. It was juicy and tasty and giant, and I totally ate the whole thing.
The train back was a double-decker. True story.
The wi-fi coverage extended right to the door of my room. But only if it was open. Seriously, I would not have believed you could get this sharp a cut-off, but if I put my laptop on the floor at my door with the door open, it works. Close the door, doesn't work. Open the door, it works. Move it 30cm into the room, it doesn't work.
The irony was, I was staying in the Deutsche Telekom
Tagungshotel. Deutsche Telekom's mobile division is T-Mobile. T-Mobile also provide a network of wireless hotspots, which includes many/most of the hotels in the country… including of course this one. So the one hotel at which the T-Mobile hotel hotspot coverage didn't extend into my room, was their hotel.
I was pretty had it actually, so I had an early night. The next day, I go out to the Black Forest.