"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Heidelberg: Fairy-Tale Beautiful

Well.  I can't believe it's been almost a month since I last wrote here.  Life in Kassel continues.  I still do not have anything like a full work schedule; trying my damnedest to fix that through a myriad of avenues.  In other news, I've actually started to finally study German!  I have two tutors, in the form of wonderful friends who have agreed to meet with me on two (separate) nights a week.  And now, instead of playing endless levels of Candy Crush as I wait for my bus or my next class, I now play Duolingo, which is a great language app my tutors recommended for me.  I've been pretty good about getting to the gym, and have lost eight and a half pounds since I joined one month ago.  Social life has also gotten a little more active, which I appreciate immensely.  I certainly do love my alone time and solo trips, but outright isolation is no good for anyone.  In a nutshell, I'd say things really aren't going too badly -- except of course for my paycheck, which still sucks. :)

Speaking of solo trips, way back in the beginning of February I took off on my first German weekend adventure and went to check out Heidelberg.

And what an absolutely beautiful, historic, and all around awesome city Heidelberg is.  I had an incredible tiime.  (Rick Steves, btw, hates Heidelberg and advises in his Germany book that you skip it altogether.  Not since getting super lost trying to find Chora Church in Istanbul have I disagreed so utterly and so strongly with Rick Steves.)

I had a lesson on Friday evening, so caught a train at around 7:30 PM on January 31st.  It's little more than two hours to Heidelberg from Kassel, and I was able to find my near-to the-station hostel without a hitch.  Steffi's Hostel seemed pretty nice at first blush -- but I woke up on Saturday morning and got to start my day by finding and killing a freaking bedbug in my bunk.  I told the hostel staff, and they let me switch rooms, but overall were seriously kind of dicks about the whole thing, and kept trying to insinuate that I'd brought the bug with me even though I told them several times that I had not been traveling and was just taking a weekend trip.  This bedbug did not find its way to Steffi's Hostel with me.  Anyway, by the following morning (Sunday), three huge purple bites had appeared on my leg.  Lucky I knew bedbug bites take about a day to show up or I would have been flipping out even more than I already was.  All this meant my backpack, coat, and all my clothes spent Sunday night on my balcony after I got home, and I took an emergency trip to the laundromat on Monday to hot wash my clothes and put my backpack and coat through a hot dryer.  It's been three weeks now and I feel reasonably assured I did not bring any home with me.  But hey -- someone told me bedbugs can lay dormant for up to six months, so there's some good news for ya!

But other than that mess, I had a fantastic time in Heidelberg.  On Saturday (after the above fiasco and room switch, etc.), I took a bus into the Altstadt (Old Town), and headed right up to take a look at the magnificent Heidelberg Schloss.

For real, I'm not sure if there is anything I love more than a ruined castle.  After my stressful morning, I was determined to reset the day and took a moment to relax with a cup of coffee to drink as I looked out over this gorgeous city.

Land.  Of.  Fairytales.
Heidelberg's cathedral, Heiliggeistkirche, taking center stage
 Heidelberg Schloss is simply amazing, for so many reasons.  Construction was begun in the early 13th century, and the castle's occupants continued to expand, rebuild, and restore it until it was eventually abandoned in the 18th century.  The result is a spectacular microcosm of 500 years of European architecture in one single structure, and it's one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

The newest section of the castle
And the oldest, across the courtyard

The famous Gunpowder Tower, split by an explosion during a war with the French in the late 17th century

I decided pretty much right away that it was going to be about 100% worth it to pay extra for a guided tour, which was the only way to see the few restored rooms inside the castle.  Except the next tour was an hour away, so I had plenty of time for exploring.  Oddly, the castle is home to an apothecary museum, which is free and pretty interesting.

With still more time to kill, I decided to shamelessly succumb to the pleasures of two of my favorite things about Germany, and got a bratwurst and a cup of gluhwein from the cart vendor outside the castle.  I took my utterly spectacular brunch and found a quiet spot away from the crowds, just opposite the Gunpowder Tower above.

Turns out I was right about the guided tour being worth it.  This was largely due to our guide, who was great, very knowledgeable, and answered all of my questions without the least hint of impatience. :)  I loved getting inside this incredible place!

After the tour, I went to see this famous wine barrel that is the largest in the world, and then forced myself to say farewell to the Heidelberg Schloss.  I have a new entry on my list of Beautiful, Fascinating, Favorite Places.

I walked down into the Altstadt, and had a really fun afternoon exploring everything I could.

Kornmarkt Platz, with the Schloss in the background
I visited Heiliggeistkirche, and got such an awesome surprise because I was able to see a wedding there!  Not just any wedding, but Siegfried and Felix's wedding.  Germany should be very proud of the fact that in their country, two men can walk down the aisle of a beautiful historic church holding hands.  It was an extremely touching moment that I'll always feel privileged to have been accidentally part of.  A long and happy life to you both, Siegfried and Felix.

After Heiliggeistkirche, I visited several other old churches, took a break in a pub to try some Heidelberger beer, and then checked out the creepy and cool Studentenkarzer, or old Student Jail.

I took a quick spin through the small University Museum since it was included in my Studentenkarzer ticket, tried to see another church that was closed, and took a walk along the Nekar River.

I had my second break/potty pit stop in an Irish pub that had some pretty good cider on tap, and then as I was aimlessly wandering through the Old Town some more, I came across the Kurpfälzisches Museum and on a whim decided to check it out.

Well, oh my goodness, but this museum was like its very own freaking pocket dimension!  It was kind of near the end of the day and I was starting to really look forward to dinner, and had kind of expected this museum to take me something like 30 minutes.  40, tops.  Um... no.

There was such an unexpectedly enormous random collection of stuff here.  A temporary photo exhibit of Marlene Dietrich, a series of rooms focusing on local archaeology going back to Roman times, several restored period rooms, and a whole mess of art from about the 17th century right up to modern.  Every time I thought I'd be nearing the end of my circuit, there'd be a stairway or another door or hallway.  I began literally laughing every time I turned a corner and found a whole new warren of rooms and exhibits.  It was all very interesting, but I wish I had known the extent of this place in advance; I would have made a point to come here straight after the Schloss when I was still fresh, and not footsore and hungry and pleasantly muzzed from some excellent Irish cider.

To my credit, I hung the fuck in there, and did eventually see it all, if perhaps I speedwalked through a few portrait galleries. :)

Post-Museum, it was so seriously time for dinner I cannot even tell you.  I began combing through the Altstadt looking for a promising prospect, and in the proccess I managed to find both the absinthe shop and the vintage vinyl shop some friends had recommended.  Did not buy anything at either, though.  I was looking for a traditional German place, as I'd been told the food of the region was different from Hesse and pretty tasty.  However, what happened instead was that I found myself at the bar of Coyote Cafe, with steak fajitas on order.

Because really -- authentic German food is all well and good -- but any redblooded American would be a blooming idiot to turn down fajitas when they have the rare fortune to cross your path in Europe.

They were pretty amazing, actually.  Guac, sour cream, warm flour tortillas, and even hot sauce.  Second-best Mexican food I've ever had in Europe.  (First will probably always be Rosa Negra in Madrid.)

After dinner, I headed home to Steffi's and ended up chatting for the evening with a very nice dude named Moaz, a Syrian refugee, and another guy whose name I sadly forget.

And that was my Saturday in Heidelberg.  Pretty unqualified winning, if you ask me.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds simply amazing. Jealous! Well, not of the bedbugs.