"Can you tell me where the Romantische Strasse begins?" I asked a kind storekeeper. Suddenly, three voices were coming at me in English and German. My husband and I had been driving on the Autobahn for almost 2 hours searching for the Romantische Strasse but failed to find the famous road. We had almost given up hope when we finally stopped to ask for directions. As we got back onto the Autobahn, it became apparent that we were just going to have to find it ourselves. "There it is!" I screamed as we came upon a sign for the town of Rothenburg. As we exited the freeway, a small town emerged from behind the tall rain-drenched trees and rolling green hills. Within seconds, the town opened up before us and the famous walled city of Rothenburg appeared like a large slumbering giant. I almost expected to see horse-drawn carts pull up next to our vehicle. As we neared one of the narrow entryways to the medieval town, a sudden quiet overtook our car and we were magically transported to the 12th century.
As we drove through the small city, we were expecting to find peasants selling their wares and chickens running the street. Our vehicle seemed like a giant intruder in the serene village, so we parked as soon as we could and walked the cobblestone streets. Workers were preparing the storefronts for the Christmas Market opening that weekend. Evergreen and spice filled the air, and everyone was quickly working to beat the approaching storm. A sudden feeling of childish glee came over my husband and I as we walked through the streets. We stared at the food, the candy, and the toys being displayed in the shop windows as if under a magical spell. Christmas was in the air!
We made our way to the small 400-year-old guesthouse that was to be our home for the next 2 nights. As we entered the house, the smell of fresh-baked bread, potatoes, and meat filled the air. A kind plump lady approached us and welcomed us into the warm, welcoming dining room. Several tables were filled with families and friends, and from each came a loud whisper of stories being told. After dinner we were shown our room at the very top of the house. The snow had begun to fall, and the hardwood floors creaked and groaned beneath our feet as if begging to be left to sleep out the storm.
The next morning, we awoke to a scene right out of a painting. Christmas had invaded the town overnight, and travelers from around the world scattered throughout the streets. The Christmas Market filled every alley, street, and storefront. Our senses were on sensory overload as the smell of bratwursts, fresh crepes, and mulled spiced wine filled the air. The market was crowded with happy, laughing, smiling people despite the bitter cold and looming clouds. Not one person looked ready to retreat into to their respective hotels. Every corner we turned held a new secret ready to be revealed to the next traveler. Homemade toys, ornaments, and Christmas candies loomed before us in glass cases. People milled around in a stupor, drunk from the sights and smells dancing around them. As the day wound down, the streets began to empty, the fires extinguished, lights dimmed, and the merchants closed their booths.
The next morning, my husband and I decided to follow the Romantische Strasse to its end. Town after town appeared before us dressed in their Christmas best. The snow clouds gathered above us as we made our way to Schwangau, famous for the Sleeping Beauty Castle (Neuschwanstein). As we came around a bend, the castle peeked out from the clouds, perched on a mountain carpeted in green grass. A sprawling valley and a lake so still that it looked like glass lie at the base of the castle. The tall blue-tipped spires look as if they had reached into the sky and came out painted. The snow had just fallen, giving the scene a glow. Horse-drawn carriages passed us by as we slowly made our way up the hill to visit the famous home of King Ludwig. As we finished our walk around the castle grounds, the sun had disappeared and evening began to set in, reminding us it was time to head back home.