"Taxis don't go to Ringberg castle. And there are no taxis."
It was proving to be an extremely long day, and it was only just after lunch. Admittedly the day had started at 5 am, when I had risen with the rather modest aim of traveling from Amsterdam to the Bavarian town of Tegernsee, which is nestled around the shore of a lake with the same name. Overlooking the lake is Ringberg Castle, the conference facility belonging to Germany's world class research institute, the Max Planck Society.
I really feel people should sell science as a career more in terms of the possibility you might get given a castle.
The journey to Ringberg should have been straightforward enough:
Step 1: Go to Amsterdam airport.
Step 2: Fly to Munich.
Step 3: Take a train to Tegernsee.
Step 4: Take a taxi up to the castle.
Step 5: Rescue the princess.
It was perhaps an indication of the events to pass when the bus to the train station from which I'd connect to the airport did not show up. Standing in the pouring rain, my friend and I studied the empty road in the grey dawn. It was empty. And grey. And wet. And still empty.
We called a taxi.
Fortunately, since the bus times had not been frequent even had they corresponded to buses, we had made a generously early start. It was sufficient for me to still reach Amsterdam Centraal station, buy a chai tea latte from an open Starbucks and appreciate that this historic European city was full of drunken pot heads at 6 am.
"Hey man, I'm in Amsterdam! What happens now? … what do you mean you're not up?" This particular mobile phone conversation had a similar tone to my morning, except I rather suspected I would be the only one of us able to reminisce about it later.
Once at airport, I checked in, printed my boarding pass and headed through security.
"Please remove your laptop, camera and all chargers."
Camera? Chargers? Normally, airport security only requires your laptop to be removed from your case to sail through the x-ray scanner in its own personal tray. Anything smaller, including tablets, e-readers and game consoles can remain in your bag. Amsterdam, however, had decided there was nothing more suspicious on Earth than an electric plug. This was particularly unfortunate since I had been far more liberal with the quantity of electronics I had packed than I had with my clothing. I had also put each adapter into one of the mini zipped pockets that decorated the outside of my backpack.
A great deal of zipping and one large spidery tangle of bomb-free wires later, and I was scuttling towards my gate, stopping only briefly to buy a bottle of water from a convenience store:
"Is that to drink on the plane?" The cashier confirmed as I approached the till. "They won't let you take it onboard."
Even though it was bought it after I'd come through security? Amsterdam were having a highly suspicious 2013. I thanked the shop keeper for the warning as I abandoned my ideas of rehydration and slumped off to the aeroplane feeling peeved.
Munich airport was full of promise. I bought a train ticket to take me through to Tegernsee and was even sold a bottle of water without any dire warnings about its imminent confiscation. It was a time of light and hope and not even the fact that I needed to board the train at 'platform 2' when the choice was 'platform A' or 'platform B' could dampen my mood.
Then I disembarked at the wrong station and missed my connection.
Sadly, this was really all my fault but in my defence, the conference website had said I would change trains at Munich Central Station (a logical central hub) instead of where my ticket specified, "Munich Donnersbergerbrucke" (an illogical backwater of a platform). When I reached Donnersbergerbrucke, I discovered not only was the next train not for another 50 minutes, but the entire surrounding area was completely devoid of public restrooms and packed with glossy windowed office buildings that made squatting behind a tree too risky a venture for non-exhibitionists.
Ignoring all calls of nature, I finally got on the right train … to be told it was the wrong train.
The ticket inspector's hand gestures suggested I was on a train heading the wrong direction; a surprising statement since I thought I'd checked the destination before boarding. However, I dutifully rose to exit at the next stop, whereupon train announcements came through both in German and English. This was lucky, since I would never have deduced the true problem:
It wasn't that the train wasn't going to Tegernsee, it was that my carriage wasn't going to Tegernsee.
The train was about to split into three parts, all of which headed down different forks in the train lines. What I actually had to do was to hop out of my carriage and head to the back of the train to the section that was indeed heading to my desired destination.
Tegernsee --presuming you find the right carriage to reach it-- is beautiful. It is a small lake-side tourist town surrounding by alpine mountains. The buildings are in a similar style to Swiss Chalets and hang heavy with window boxed flowers while many of the shop assistants dress in the traditional Bavarian dirndl.
The weather was warm and sunny, so rather than waiting for a taxi at the station, I drifted down through the town and stopped to eat the sandwiches I'd packed by the lake front. Little did I know that this lackadaisical approach to conference attending would see me fighting to reach the castle at all.
Approaching the far edge of the town, I called in at the tourist information office and told the woman behind the desk of my desire to go up to Ringberg Castle by taxi.
"Ringberg Castle is up there," she told me, pointing as a beige smudge on the hillside. "But taxis do not go to Ringberg Castle and you cannot go on a tour."
"I'm not touring," I explained. "I have a meeting there. I was told I could get a taxi?"
"It's not old." The woman's tone clearly implied that she thought my meeting story a barefaced lie. Clearly, I had to be dissuaded from my trespassing schemes before she was labelled as an accomplice.
"Nevertheless….," I replied with cheerful persistence. "I do need to go there."
A map was produced that showed the town and the road out to the castle. "You can take a taxi or bus to here." The woman pointed to where the main road forked to become a winding path up the hillside. "Then you will have to walk. It is at least 20 minutes."
This time I was the one looking doubtful. If we'd have to walk up the hill, the conference website surely would have mentioned it and suggested suitcases were for pansies. Still, I had only hand luggage and this wasn't really an area in which I could back down.
"Do you want me to call a taxi?"
"Yes please," I replied.
The woman picked up the phone and dialled. After a moment or two, she replaced the handset. "There are no taxis."
"I'll head back to the station," I suggested.
"Taxis are not always at the station. They only sometimes come when there are trains."
The message from this lady was persistently clear: ONE DOES NOT SIMPLY WALK INTO RINGBERG.
"I can wait at the station," I persevered. "There will be many people coming to this meeting, so I'll probably be able to meet up with them."
At this, the information centre lady looked positively alarmed. There would be MORE people wanting to take taxies to the forbidden castle? But it was forbidden!
"You are alone now?"
I nodded. The woman then made a fast decision; send this midget up first and Ringberg can prepare. They were a castle, they probably had cannons if necessary. She tried the phone again and then looked up a different number. This time she met with more success.
"The taxi will meet you outside in 10 minutes."
I thanked her and left, feeling more anxious than victorious. Had I misunderstood the instructions? Was there a town with a similar name to Tegernsee with an equally similar sounding castle that more readily took in astrophysicists?
MARIO, WAS THE PRINCESS IN ANOTHER CASTLE?
Possibly, I was about to spend a very cold night outside a castle that no one was allowed to enter.
It was somewhat apprehensively that I got into the taxi that showed up and asked him to take me to Ringberg. My driver however, was completely unphased and, in apparent flagrant disregard for all the warnings the tourist office lady had issued, drove me right up to the castle's heavy front door.
Whereupon I recognised another conference guest attempting to break in. This wasn't a trivial undertaking since castles were generally designed to withstand such attempts, especially by rogue scientists clutching suitcases. Fortunately, by the time I'd paid my bold driver, a second route involving a doorbell had been attempted and we were let inside, given keys and promised sandwiches at six.
You have gained entry to the stronghold and completed level 1. Press any key to advance to level 2.
My bedroom has a Narnia-style wardrobe, an old wood burning ceramic heater and four poster bed with a roof.
Mario, the princess is now totally in this castle.