“Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories

If you had the chance to live out one of your most beloved fairy tales, no matter how small the way, would you? The chance to fulfill a childhood fantasy, inspired by such tales, can overwhelm even the most logical “grown up” heart, driving it to take action. As for me, I do not think I will ever grow out of my love for fairy tales and fantasy. Any opportunity for me to daydream, to play, and to explore this magical world I will seize with zeal. The chance to see Germany’s famed “fairy tale” castle, Neuschwanstein is no exception. Though I was warned against it due to its overly tourist-y atmosphere, I could not be deterred. Once the chance to physically place myself into one of these scenes of magic and mystery presents itself, I will pursue it at any cost.

I am still comprehending the fact that I actually visited Neuschwanstein Castle, a place that had held a top tier on my bucket list for so long. The castle lived up to almost every expectation I held of it: each room had a different theme, many inspired by Wagner operas (which were favorites of King Ludwig II), adding to the sense of grandeur and majesty. The castle boasted a grotto with a waterfall and “rainbow machine,” which almost looked like something constructed for Disney World. However, that air of kitschy that often pervades Disney World was absent, since Neuschwanstein was constructed for personal, rather than public, pleasure. This castle was someone’s vision to reclaim the magic and mystery of the old world, to live without ever having to disenchant themselves.

While my traveling companion was not as impressed as I was, I believe this was due to the fact that he could not detach himself from the cynical, political view that taints the castle’s reputation. I find this rather disheartening, that so many people are quick to condemn anyone who simply loves fairy tales. Yes, perhaps Ludwig II did take it to the extreme by building a fairy tale castle with a grotto, a hall of singers, and a bed carved to look like a Gothic cathedral, but if any one who loved fairy tales and stories had the means, they probably would too. All I can say is this: what is wrong with wanting to live in a way that fully immerses you in the magic that so many have forgotten?

Though the tour of the castle was short, this is due to the fact that King Ludwig II died before it could be finished. Without the visionary behind it, construction of the castle soon ceased. However, I find it very fortunate that the castle was converted into a place for the public to visit and admire, since it does possess an air of magic. I found myself holding my breath at every new turn within the castle, as if anticipating some sprite or prince to step out from their hiding places to lead the tour themselves.

We concluded our adventure with a long hike around the Alpsee. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. As you can see from the photos above, the water was like glass, only adding to the mystical nature of the entire area. The walking trails were beautiful and tranquil, with our only contact being those odd stone figures pictured above. The hike itself has inspired me to further explore the Alps, as I have never truly been amongst mountains, so I can only hope that I will be able to visit similar beautiful countryside in the near future.

All in all, being able to see Neuschwanstein Castle with my own eyes was an amazing and soul-satisfying experience. I get all giddy when I think of how many bucket list locales I am ticking off my list, as if I am doing that little girl who read too many fairy tales proud. This place was the perfect way to conclude my trip to Germany and my first voyage to continental Europe. After a grueling semester, it was wonderful to get the chance to restore myself in a place I felt so at home in. As this puts the cap on the “half way point” in my career at St Andrews, I can only hope these final two years provide even more opportunities to explore, to play, and to revel in the magic of our world a little more.

Originally written 7 July 2014


For our “Gentlemen’s Tour Abroad,” Justin and I decided to spend two of our five days on day trips outside of Munich. As this trip was important to both of us, we decided it was only fair that each of us got to choose where we really dreamed of going for the day trips. So, as per Justin’s request, our first trip was to Dachau to see the concentration camp. Though I initially had qualms, when I look back I am actually glad I went, as it was an opportunity to really learn about the terrible things that occurred in these camps. I realize now that the education on certain things, especially the great tragedies of human history, that we receive in school is actually very censored, as many of the things I learned from the Dachau memorial were not covered in school. Perhaps this is another example of why travel, especially for young people, is so important: if you force yourself out of your comfort zone and see such places of tragedy with your own eyes, you can get a better sense of the history than if you were to simply read your (heavily edited) history text book. Furthermore, many of these places have carefully curated museums, constructed by experts and witnesses alike, to truly ignite the flame of knowledge in its visitors.

The main maintenance building of the camp has now been converted into a thirteen exhibit museum, complete with educational movie theater, for the public to tour. What I found particularly interesting were the hundreds of accounts by Dachau survivors quoted on all the exhibits, some excerpts taken from journals written as the events were unfolding. Seeing the faces of survivors and victims on the exhibits was really quite sobering, and really helped to solidify my historical understanding of what occurred.

While two of the bunkers, where prisoners were kept, remain standing to give the public an idea of what occurred at Dachau in terms of living conditions, most of the camp itself is now a grand memorial. Religious memorials for Russian Orthodoxy, the Protestantism (the Church of Reconciliation), Catholicism (Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel and the Carmelite Convent), and Judaism surround the camp. Other memorials, such as the International Monument outside the maintenance building and the “Unknown Prisoner” by the crematorium add to the air of remembrance and respect for those who endured life at the camp.

Perhaps what I found most interesting, albeit unsettling, about Dachau was that the surrounding area was actually quite beautiful. The paths of remembrance by the crematorium, where several monuments to the victims stand, were tranquil and lushly forested. I found it rather disturbing that such horrible things occurred among the beautiful trees and flowers. Perhaps this is a lesson that despite a beautiful exterior, rotten things may be unfolding at the core.

The Dachau Concentration Camp memorial was an incredibly moving and educational experience. While at first I was hesitant, I am thankful I had the opportunity to visit such an important historical memorial in the modern world.

Originally written 7 July 2014


“Dear sensibility! Source inexhausted of all that’s precious in our joys, or costly in our sorrows! Eternal fountain of our feelings! ‘tis here I trace thee and this is thy divinity which stirs within me…All comes from thee, great-great SENSORIUM of the world!”

-Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey

After reading the quintessential “Grand Tour” novel in Comparative Literature this semester, I was inspired to finally make my first voyage to the European continent. This was also made possible by the arrival of one of my oldest friends from home; since he was studying abroad in London for the month of May, he decided to end his first trip abroad by visiting me in Scotland then accompanying me to Germany.

So between May 31st and June 4th we walked, read, and ate through nearly everything Munich had to offer. As this was my first trip to Europe, I was beyond excited to finally see some of the places I only thought were to be read about in books like A Sentimental Journey and other travel narratives.

Munich is unlike any other place I have experienced before. I have never really been to such an incredibly busy city in my life, especially one so open to tourists as Munich. I probably saw more people walking down Marienplatz than I have all semester in that blustery Scottish village. To say I was overwhelmed at first was a bit of an understatement. Not only the number of people, but the grandeur of each building as well contributed to this feeling. In Scotland, most of the architecture is pretty humble: stone cottages nestled in the mountains, whitewash flats half tumbling into the sea. Even the castles and churches in Scotland, believed to be the grandest examples of Scottish history and culture, seem drab and morose compared to the Munich Residenz, the former royal palace of the kings of Bavaria.

Also speaking of architecture, I could detect a heavy Greco-Roman influence in a lot of the sculptures and accents around the city. Statues of what one could only assume are Pan, the god of nature, suddenly appear out of the thicket when walking a wee forest path, a goddess stands tall over the Oktoberfest fairgrounds, and the Hall of Fame consists of what appears to be Roman busts though the faces are of Bavarian monarchs. While Scotland is full of history, such history is often in ruins due to religious conflict or weather damage; here in Munich, the history is perfectly preserved, and has the air of being much older due to this Greco-Roman influence. The architecture and decoration of many of these buildings give a sense of a different kind of history entirely, one of an art-conscious society at the peak of its opulence. I have never seen anything like this before and I was in complete awe.

On our first full day in Munich, we toured the Deutsches Museum of Science and Technology. This museum is similar to the American Smithsonian in that one cannot properly visit every exhibit in just a day. While the arts student in me found some of these scientific and technological exhibits a wee bit boring, I did find joy touring the nautical exhibit in the museum. The museum boasted the complete history of maritime technology, starting with Southeast Asian dugout canoes all the way to modern pleasure, industry, and research vessels. As I was deep in Moby Dick at the time, I found the information on the whaling industry of particular interest. The other exhibits I found fascinating: the replica of Altamira Cave (a Spanish cave with some of the most perfectly preserved Stone Age paintings in the world), the music exhibit (who knew pocket fiddles were a thing?!), and astronomy.

The next two days were spent on day trips to Dachau and Neuschwanstein Castle, but those will be detailed in separate posts.

On our last full day in Munich we toured the Munich Residenz, the royal palace of Bavarian monarchs. As you are all aware by now, I have a keen fondness for castles which Scotland has been more than able to satisfy. However, Scotland does not have any royal palaces quite like this one. The very first room you enter is the Antiquarium, a great hall for the antiques collection of Duke Albert V. This hall reminds me of something that would be in Rome as a gathering place for politicians: Roman-esque busts of emperors line the hall, Latin inscriptions dance across the ceiling, and the marble flooring alone is enough to inspire awe. At this point I thought the rest of the palace would be small chambers with perhaps one or two tapestries in each. How could I know any different, as my experience thus far had been humble Scottish castles? Oh how wrong I was. Simply the wallpaper of each room was enough to study for an hour at least, so hopefully this gives you an idea of how sumptuous every chamber was. In one part of the palace every room had grand ceiling tiles painted in different themes, such as the star signs or the Greek deities of nature. However, in many of these rooms the main panels were missing or destroyed due to bombings in Munich in the 1940’s. Another interesting aspect of the Munich Residenz was the collection of antique Chinese porcelain, said to be the first imports of such into Europe. This collection was incredible, and it never occurred to me that I may see such faraway and exotic treasures in Munich, Germany. Also, as I had never seen real antique Chinese porcelain so close before, I think I worried the overseers as I practically had my nose pressed against the cases.

Besides all of these typical tourist sights, Munich is a bustling city that always has something going on. On the way to Gärtnerplatz we stumbled across the Viktualienmarkt, an open air market of food, beer, flowers, and other wee trinkets. I was so excited to finally experience my first European open air market, where all the food was incredibly fresh and the people as jovial as can be. In our evening wanderings we also stumbled across the Street Life festival that spanned all the way down Leopoldstraße. Though this festival was for the weekend we were in Munich only, it was amazing to see something a little less tourist-y and more on the local radar.

All in all, Munich was an incredible place. Though I am not really one for cities, Munich had so much to offer that, once I got the hang of it, I actually became quite comfortable. Perhaps one of my favorite places in Munich was the Englischer Garten, a public park that spans 1.4 square miles from the center of town to its northeastern limits. A lazy river wound its way through the park where we stopped to relax, a Greco-Roman style pavilion stood grandly above the park, and people of all ages came to relax. Since we visited the park mostly as an after-dinner walk, I found myself most at peace bathed in the bleeding Munich sunsets.

Originally written 7 July 2014