74km, 811m climbing: Saint-Martin-Lys – Foix.
When I was 15, I got to attend the 14th Winter World Games for the Deaf (now called the Deaflympics) in Davos, Switzerland. I was not athletic at all back then so I was there to spectate and to cheer on a deaf guy from my school who was on the Canadian hockey team.
As it was cheaper to fly to Frankfurt, Germany and then catch a train to Davos, we had the opportunity to do some light exploration of Germany as well. Neuschwanstein castle was on our itinerary: it was to be a side trip from Munich. The hostel our group stayed at in Munich had rooms too small to place an adult chaperone in each room. I ended up in the chaperone-free room with 4 other girls.
Except, I was an unusually responsible teenager. One of the chaperones had a key to our room, leaving us with only one other key to the room to share between the five of us. Before bedtime, I alerted everybody that I’d leave the keys in the door so that they’d be easier to locate should anybody need to get up for a pee in the middle of the night.
The morning we were supposed to catch a 3+ hour train ride to where the castle was, all five of us had slept in. The holder of the extra key was unable to access our room with our key stuck in the other side of the doorknob. The chaperone tried pounding on the door to wake us up, but all five of us were too deaf and too asleep to notice.
We didn’t get to see Neuschwanstein.
For Christmas that year, my parents gave me a giant poster of the castle, as well as a calendar featuring European castles.
“Remember that time you missed out on seeing Neuschwanstein? Here’s a giant poster to make sure you never forget. Also, here are 12 more castles you haven’t seen.”
(I don’t believe it was their intention to mock me. Besides, I really did like the poster and calendar.)
I had the chance to rectify this the next time I went to Switzerland, in 2008. That year, it was cheaper to get in and out of Switzerland via Paris, so I left Germany alone. In Switzerland, I met up with one of the deaf folks I had met 9 years earlier in Davos. His name was Ueli; he was cool enough to give me a tour of his motherland.
When we were in Luzern, I spotted an impressive-looking building sticking out of trees on a hilltop. “CASTLE!” I exclaimed, to which Ueli responded, “It’s called ‘Chateau Gütsch’ and it’s a restaurant.”
We did not even dine there.
It’s okay, I thought, European castles have been around for hundreds of years, they won’t all crumble before my next visit.
2012 was the next time I found myself back in Europe. This time I decided to visit my, uh, Grandmotherland: The Netherlands. I say Grandmotherland because it’s my father’s Motherland: I was born in Canada.
I squeezed Belgium onto my itinerary since The Netherlands is a hilariously small country. The appeal of Gravensteen castle in Gent is its torture chamber. Alas, this castle managed to torture me from the outside by being closed the day I arrived.
I am sorry it just took you about five minutes to get through this ramble about my past trips but remember that it took me 34 YEARS and FIVE separate trips to Europe (I was 5 the first time I went and probably didn’t even think castles existed outside cartoons) before I finally penetrated the walls of a European castle.
Presenting… Château de Foix!
No, this wasn’t my first time outside a castle. Here’s proof I also went inside:
I look awkward in the above photo for a number of reasons: I was no longer used to the sensation of shoes that have flex; it was disorienting to have to see things through eyeglasses with clear lenses; the bottom 3/4 of my arms had changed to a very unusual shade; we only had an hour to tour the castle before it closed.
When Yann and I arrived in Foix, there were people square dancing in the market hall while a brass band did laps around the city centre. There was even a pop-up carnival complete with a haunted mansion.
I didn’t think we’d find a place to stay, but the first hotel we checked had one room left. I really did almost miss out on seeing the inside of a castle, again.
When we returned to our hotel in the evening, we realized that they had saved the worst room for the last guests.
This photo captured the moment Yann realized the “windmill” our room sat behind was made of neon tubing.
Whoever decided to place the windmill there at least had the foresight to add a tightly sealed hatch so that we didn’t have to feel as if we were sleeping inside a spaceship, even though there was a capsule washroom in our room.
Foix was super cool, weird hotel and all.
(Château de Foix was my first European castle: I went inside Japan’s Matsumoto Castle in 2014.)