- Day 1: Vienna, Austria
- Day 2: Bratislava, Slovakia
- Day 3: Salzburg, Austria
- Day 4: Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
- Days 5-7: Munich, Germany and Oktoberfest
- Days 8-10: Hamburg, Germany and Tracy’s Wedding
- Days 11-12: Hallstatt, Austria
- Day 13: Innsbruck, Austria
- Day 14: Innsbruck to Murten
- Days 15-16: Murten, Bern and the Swiss Alps
- Day 17: Lucerne, Switzerland
- Day 18: Zurich, Switzerland
Dates: September 18-October 5, 2015
On the thirteenth day of our European vacation, we toured
the ruins of a thirteenth-century castle on our way out of Austria, through Liechtenstein,
into Switzerland, and nearly all the way across Murten in the western part of
It was a very long day, but a lot of fun and a bit
We decided to check out the Ehrenburg Castle ruins in Reutte,
Austria (just across the border from Fussen, Germany) after reading about them
in our guide book. This castle is not frequently visited by foreigners, and the
site itself seems to still be developing its infrastructure to make visiting
easier. For instance, it’s pretty hard to find. Google Maps won’t really tell
you how to get there, and neither will the signs along the highway. If you find
the parking area, you still won’t necessarily see the castle ruins from there
either, so it wasn’t until we walked into the visitor center and bought our
tickets that we knew we were in the right place.
Ehrenberg Castle Ruins
The ruins themselves are free and open to the public, but
tickets are required for the outstanding museum near the parking lot and for
the world’s longest suspension bridge, which spans over the parking lot and
highway connecting the castle ruins to Fort Claudia. The suspension bridge is
new this year, and before its existence, to get to Fort Claudia, you had to
hike quite a ways. Even now with the bridge, it’s still about a half hour’s
walk from the castle ruins (and most of that time is spent cautiously crossing the
over 1200 ft. long – and completely safe– bridge).
Suspension bridge. Totally safe.
Once we got our tickets, we explored the museum first. As
tempting as it was to just scramble right up to the ruins (which is also a
30-minute up-hill hike from the parking lot), we knew from experience how much
we enjoy learning about a place first to fully appreciate it once we’re
immersed in it. The museum was ridiculously fun. It brought medieval castle
life to, well, life. If I were a kid visiting it, I would have felt like I was
in the best castle playground ever – in fact, I felt that way as an adult
visiting. The exhibits were engaging and interactive. For example, we were able
to pick up examples of weapons, put on armor and chain mail, stand inside a
replica of a castle tower, and walk through rooms set up to mimic what rooms
would be like in a medieval castle.
My knight in ancient armor.
Leaving the museum, we trekked up the hill to the Ehrenberg
castle ruins. Ehrenberg’s location was great and lofty, protected from enemies
at the time it was built. This was a short period however, because as soon as
cannonballs came into common usage, Ehrenberg was an easy target for two of its
neighbors on either side that happened to be situated at higher locations. The
castle became obsolete. Vagabonds came in during the late 19th
century and squatted in the castle for shelter. This resulted in authorities
removing the castle’s roof to keep the squatters out. Without a roof, the
castle deteriorated, leaving only its shell.
Ehrenberg Castle, sans roof, merely a shell of its past.
After exploring the ruins of the castle, we ventured out
onto the suspension bridge, crossing over to Fort Claudia. While the bridge is
very safe, it is also very unsettling to be able to see the highway below your
feet through cracks in the steel floor, and even though you know the bridge isn’t
going anywhere and that the railings are way too high to be able to fall off,
when it sways, you notice and want to hold on to the rails.
Fort Claudia is a much smaller site than the Ehrenberg
castle, but from that hillside we had fantastic views of the castle ruins
themselves (recall I mentioned you can’t even see them from the parking area).
Looks like we’re in front of a green screen, right?
But, it’s totally real!
After a few hours of exploring, we were back on the road –
the twisty, curvy, mountainous, very long road. We went up and down through the
Alps on so many switch backs I got used to bracing myself against my seat with
each sharp turn. One in particular actually extended the road off of the cliff,
so for a brief period of time you were driving on a road that seemed suspended
in the air before curling back into the hillside.
Case in point.
Our journey took us through Liechtenstein, that small random
country between Austria and Switzerland. Our time in Liechtenstein was brief
and uneventful. We took a picture of the welcome sign and of the prince’s
castle, and then split a personal pizza and a kebab from a fast food place in a
strip mall. It was probably the least European place I’d ever been in Europe.
The only reason the country exists at all is because the Liechtenstein family
purchased this chunk of land from the Holy Roman Emperor and in 1719 the
country obtained principality status, and later, in 1806, full independence.
Proof we went to Liechtenstein.
Then, “just” another three hours of driving to Murten, just
west of Switzerland’s capital of Bern, where we stayed for the night. The next
morning, we’d explore the two cities for a crash course in Swiss history!