A Wonderful Day in Heidelberg

After an overnight sail to our dock at Frankfurt, the Rambler was ready to head out on an all-day trip to Heidelberg. The Senior Rambler was not sure he wanted to go, but while he was making up his mind, we stopped to watch the docking process .

It is amazing how fast this is accomplished with the sailors moving very quickly, sometimes scrambling over rocks to pull the heavy lines they wrapped around the bollards. When the ship was secure, the gangplank was extended to shore and anyone could disembark if they chose.

Swans heading for the Maria Thresa
Swans heading for the Maria Theresa, they are grey before they turn white.

The Maria Theresa’s gangplank is quite sturdy and has a series of metal cleats along its length. They are to prevent one from slipping while ascending or descending but one does have to be careful not to trip on them. Of course, there is a handrail along both sides, available for grabbing of one does mis-step. The gangplank is rarely level so you are either walking up or down, sometimes at a fairly steep angle.

On the river side, we stopped for a few minutes to admire the swans which had cruised up to the ship.

Are you sure you don't have anything for us?
Are you sure you don’t have anything for us?

No doubt they were looking for hand-outs but they didn’t get any as we were going, not coming to breakfast. They were still hopefully swimming around the ship when we headed to the dining room for breakfast. Since we boarded the MT on Sunday near Amsterdam, we had followed the Rhine to the place where we had landed on our flight from Atlanta.

Glad we didn't have to walk up castle hill.
Glad we didn’t have to walk up castle hill, This part of Heidelberg is not modern!.

Frankfurt is a modern city which has one of the few skylines in Europe that could be mistaken for one in a city of similar size in the US. It is also the financial center of the EU, the home of the European Central Bank and the Bundesbank. Those who had already been to Heidelberg could take a walking tour of Frankfurt which included a culinary treasure hunt. I am not sure what entailed was but I’m sure it was fun. I also heard later that the shopping in Frankfurt was excellent, but since I’m not much of a shopper anymore, this had little appeal. The Maria Theresa would leave the Frankfurt dock at 3:30 on its way to Miltenburg, Because the Heidelberg tour lasted all day, the MT would make an extra stop (they call it a technical stop) in Offenbach to pick up the passengers who had chosen to go to Heidelberg.

Thus I headed off the the Heidelberg bus with the gentle walker group, leaving the Senior Rambler to his own devices. I have learned that when he doesn’t want to do something, it’s better to leave him behind. The gentle walkers were a congenial group and I would have plenty of company during the day. It was not a long trip to Heidelberg by bus, and soon our bus driver was carefully steering our large bus up castle hill around many obstacles.

Obviously the hillside around the castle is a prime real estate location.
Obviously the hillside around the castle is a prime real estate location.

Viewing castles always involves an  upward hike, and Heidelberg was no exception. The castle area was also very crowded. As we learned later, the 16 German Federal States agree on a staggered vacation schedule ahead of time, so that all of Germany is not on vacation at the same time. Evidently August is a popular month for local touring; although Germans love to travel the world, they also enjoy their own heritage. Plus Heidelberg is also a popular stop for river cruises, so our Uniworld groups had to be careful or they might end up on another company’s boat!

By the 1300’s, Heidelberg was large enough to support a university and had become the political center of the Rhineland.. Heidelberg University, founded in 1386 soon became one of the greatest in medieval Europe.

The first part of the castle you see; ruins are being stabilized
The first part of the castle you see; ruins are being stabilized

Today the university has perhaps 30,000 students, large by European standards and one in 5 people currently living in Heidelberg (population, 139,000) likely attends either the University, the Teacher’s College or the Academy of Music.

view from river
View from the river.
ruin for centuries
A ruin for centuries

Heidelberg did not suffer much damage from WWII bombing raids as the US Army planned to place its European Headquarters there and bombed the citizens with leaflets instead.; 20,000 or so American service-people and their families live there today.. Although Heidelberg Castle is a ruin, it was partially destroyed a long time ago, and was not a casualty of WWII. The Castle and attached palace were built of reddish sandstone, and stood out beautifully against a background of blue sky and deep green vegetation.

ruin and palace
See the blue sky through the windows of the top two floors.

Sandstone is not the most durable of stones and erodes over time. Currently there is much evidence of attempts to stabilize the existing ruins, rather than restoring the buildings to their original form. The castle and palace obviously suffered periods of neglect but now the German government is working hard to preserve what they have. It is startling to see that the windows of the upper floors of one building are open to the sky beyond, while the lower floors house museums and meeting spaces. The Castle is a popular wedding venue and we saw several bridal parties on the grounds.

Our guide in cellar
You can just see the end of the giant barrel in back of our guide Sonia.

We ended our tour of the Castle with a view of the biggest wine cask ever,in the cellars. It really is big but not very exciting  for me, as it has been empty for quite a while. However it is significant because the area still produces some of Germany’s finest wine. We stopped  briefly in the cellars, enjoying a pit stop while our guide gave us more information on the history of the Castle and the area.

From the castle hill, we found our Uniworld bus which next stopped at Heidelberg’s old bridge where we  enjoyed a beautiful view of the vineyards marching up the hills surrounding the Neckar River valley.

Bird's eye view
Bird’s eye view

We looked down on a multitude of red roofed buildings and far below, the Neckar River itself, winding slowly through the valley.

Our final stop was the Hauptstrasse in the old town which runs parallel to the river. It is a crowded but wide, pedestrian walkway, paved with the usual lumpy cobblestones. Before we were turned loose to have lunch on our own,for which we all got lunch money, we were treated to a culinary treasure hunt of local specialties. Our guide led us to two shops and a restaurant where sampled gummi candies, evidently invented in Heidelberg, pflammenkuchen, a kind of a pizza like thin  flat bread topped with ham and onions and Student Kisses, another candy invented in Heidelberg.

I am not a big fan of gummi bears, but the Flammkuchen was delicious. This is similar to a similar dish popular in Alsace-Lorraine made with ham onions and sour cream. Germans also prepare a sweet, rather than savory, made with plums rather than ham, but it is probably too messy to hand out as samples. As for the Student Kiss( Studentenkuss.) I loved the combination of wafer, nougat and dark chocolate, so I enjoyed my sample very much. I learned that the kisses were first developed and sold in 1863 by Fridolin Knosel, to provide a chaste way for students to exchange hopeful messages with kisses. We also tried Schlosskugeln (cannon balls) a dangerous to the hips, Heidelberger treat.

Pretty sure the saleslady dresses to match the product.
Pretty sure the saleslady dresses to match the product.

They are still made  by his descendants  and sold in the same shop. Today you can purchase kisses with a message of your choosing in a variety of languages. It is a very popular tourist spot in the romantic Heidelberg tradition, perhaps because it sells delicious candy!

Lunching in Heidelberg was fun. My companions were determined to have schnitzel, so we checked the menus of a number of cafes for this regional specialty. Since I expected that the schnitzels would be large and I had been well fed on the MT, I chose the liver dumpling soup. Ah, my German/Hungarian heritage drew me to it. This was a soup my mother made often, when I was growing up and I was eager to try the Heidelberg version. I was not disappointed. Both dumplings and broth were excellent and filling. And I was right, the schnitzels Jenn and Karen ordered were gigantic!

After lunch we split off to wander Heidelberg’s Alstadt. Many people were out on such a nice day, but the Rambler was running out of gas. I thought I’d seek out a church and sit down for a while in relative solitude. Saying a few prayers wouldn’t hurt either. Luckily I ran into Chad, our cruise manager who knew the area well.  Because this is a more Protestant area , I was looking for a Catholic Church.

A quiet moment
A quiet moment

They are had to tell apart sometimes because in Lutheran areas, the Lutherans simply took over many of the existing Catholic Churches. He pointed me to one, although I’m still not sure it was Catholic. I liked it though, as it was quite plain and  a change from the over-the-top baroque churches so common in Bavaria and Austria.

After a brief bus ride, we saw the Maria Theresa waiting for us. We quickly boarded, the gangplank was hauled up and we were on our way to Miltenberg.  Before I forget, I must mention a Rudesheim product that I have enjoyed for a long time. I didn’t realize until it was too late, that the Ramblers probably could have visited the Asbach Uralt Visitor Center in Rudesheim where they produce Asbach Uralt Brandy.

Asbach Uralt Brandy
Asbach Uralt Brandy

Asbach was my Dad’s favorite after dinner drink, although he wasn’t much of a drinker. I saw it on the shelf in a local liquor store some years ago, bought a bottle and realized I enjoyed it too. Asbach was readily available on the Maria Theresa , and particularly delicious in a German coffee with a little sugar and whipped cream. A similar drink is a Rudesheim specialty and some of our fellow cruisers enjoyed on the previous day.

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