Day 32: Different speeds in Heidelberg

Trip Start Dec 14, 2011
Trip End Aug 16, 2013

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Flag of Germany  , Baden-Württemberg,
Saturday, January 14, 2012

I slept in for a delicious amount of time this morning. But when I finally physically dragged myself out of bed, I realized that it was my day off, and I am in Germany, and it just will not do to waste my time today! So I wolfed breakfast down (German cereal called Chocos that are identical, round chocolate corn flakes that look - but don't taste - a bit like Hugo's dog food) and sat down at the Internet to figure out my game plan. It was getting late, so I wanted to go somewhere close enough that I'd have a little time there. Okay, Heidelberg, it is.

Getting to Heidelberg from Worms requires a transfer at Mannheim, and that leg of my trip is one that I'm getting to be pretty comfy with now, since it's also where I take the train from to get to Paris. Actually, every place I've been to has involved going to Mannheim... maybe next trip, I'll go in some different direction. Once I got to the station, I had twenty minutes to wait for the train on to Heidelberg, and I decided to get a snack for the train. I bought a ridiculously huge juice box filled with peach iced tea, a Wunderbar (candy bar with caramel AND peanut butter,) one of those egg chocolates filled with a toy (like the Wonderballs that we used to have in the states,) and a pretzel (with what I thought was cheese and chives but what ended up being butter and chives - it was so much butter! But when in Germany, eat copious amounts of butter like the Germans do, right?) Once on the train, I started into my snack-feast and probably totally weirded out the people who were sitting across from me as I stopped to photograph each thing before I started eating it, haha. Everything was as you might expect it to be, coming from a train station, but the egg chocolate made me miss the days of Wonderballs. Are we seriously the only place where children cannot be trusted not to ingest inedible things inside candy? Way to ruin it, guys! Well, since this one was an egg, it had a funny yoke-colored plastic ball inside, and inside of that was my prize: a little plastic skunk holding a perfume bottle. Haha, RAD!

Sufficiently distracted on the train, we were pulling into the station before I knew it. I had done enough research to know that the station was outside of the city center and that I needed to take a bus or tram to get there, but I hadn't apparently done enough research, because I was still confused about exactly which one to take when I looked at the little map that was posted at the bus stop. Finally about sixty percent sure I had found one to take me in the right direction, I crammed onto the bus with tons of other people and we began the harrowing but short trip downtown. Once there, it didn't matter that I wasn't exactly sure where to go - it seemed that everyone else in Germany had the same idea as me to visit Heidelberg today, and I needed only to follow the giant, loud, mostly English and Italian speaking mass of people towards the high street. And I guess maybe it was illogical to think that following a bunch of people somewhere would lead to a leisurely stroll down the city's main pedestrian shopping area, especially since where we were headed into was even more constricted. So it was slightly uncomfortable to say the least. I absolutely cannot stand walking behind groups of people - even when I'm happy to walk slowly along somewhere, I like the option of moving faster if I wanted to! People were moving at a crawl in some places here, walking on the wrong side, stopping abruptly for no apparent reason, weaving from side to side, running into each other with their bags, elbows, and stollers, and generally being inconsiderate. Good thing that as I kept going down the street, mostly by darting around slowpokes and people who were literally just stopped, staring blankly in one direction or the other, the crowd was beginning to thin. It was a long walk, the air was freezing, and most people were taking refuge in shops and coffeehouses along the way.

Losing them was definitely my gain - not only was I free to walk at my own pace now, but the buildings were getting much prettier and older, and I was passing churches and the old University and street performers and statues and little winding side streets that were begging for me to wander down them as night was beginning to fall. And as much as I wanted to, especially because my stomach was ready for a hot chocolate, I wanted to make it up to the old castle on the hill that was now visible above a large courtyard to my right. I hadn't really planned how to get up to the castle though, so I just kept walking until I found a street that looked like it went up in that direction. As it turns out, I was coming up the back way, through the castle garden, and I think I made it a lot more difficult for myself. I could tell, even through all of the trees and with buildings blocking my view of the western sky, that the sunset was going to come and go fast. I still had a lot of walking, very steep uphill walking, to do to get to the castle. So, knowing what a bad idea it was, because I'm not the picture of physical fitness, I started jogging up the hill. Maybe that's not entirely correct to say, because at first I was jogging, and then I was practically crawling, gasping for air and commanding myself to keep moving in the right direction. People were passing me, walking down the hill, and looking mildly alarmed. But my look of sheer determination mixed with the awful color that the face of anyone who is out of shape and suddenly trying to make up for it turns might have deterred them from interacting with me. I was getting kind of concerned though - I was starting to see spots in my vision, and my breathing was pretty terrible sounding. I need to start running regularly or something, I thought. I replied to myself, shut up, you, this isn't the time to think about other stuff, just keep walking! Well, walk I did, and though I briefly thought I might die on that hill, I finally came up into the castle and out onto the courtyard where I managed to see all of Heidelberg from way up high as the sun set.

I stayed there for a while, admiring the pretty view as the bright sunset colors slowly became darker, happily catching my breath. It was a little too dark to appreciate the castle fully, but I walked for a while anyway. And then, I set off back down the hill, less painfully this time. I entertained the idea of taking the funicular this time, which I hadn't known about when I had become a lactic acid factory on the way up, but it was closed already. For a minute, I didn't know where to go, and with a group of Italians who were also too late for the funicular, we stood and tried to figure out where the way down was exactly. Then we found the stairs and started down the steep cobblestones. I talked with some of them about where they were going next, but they wanted to check out some club, and I was just looking for a place to eat, so at the base of the hill, we parted ways.

Now that it was dark, it was really cold. I guess I'm still kind of thinking like a Californian when it comes to dressing myself - I had enough layers on, but I didn't think that it would be that important to cover my head or my hands. I really need to start remembering that when I'm going to be outside for an extended period, just dressing in layers on my torso isn't enough; now my fingers and face were burning from the cold and wind. As I walked, I stepped into different shops that I liked - an old used bookstore with all kinds of beautiful antique books and several stories with a winding staircase, a gummy bear store with a huge selection of different flavors and shapes, some really cool French home store that I almost bought a horn from for my bicycle (maybe next time, but I didn't want to carry anything else,) and I even almost stopped to see the new Roman Polanski movie, but it was dubbed and I don't think I would understand enough. To study the map of Heidelberg that I had with me, I took refuge in the first coffeeshop I could find... which happened to be a Starbucks. Well, it's kind of an interesting comparison to make, going to Starbucks in different countries. I like to see what the pastries are like, because they change slightly. Like in Paris, they had tarts and big glazed donuts that I had never seen state-side. I decided to get a white chocolate mocha and a brownie, and maybe I'd eat dinner a little bit later. I just wanted to stay inside and warm up. I ordered from the barista, and I must have been overdoing the Deutsch, because when I ordered my drink, which was actually called White Chocolate Mocha or something not in German, I said "weiße Schokolade" and she thought that I wanted an iced chocolate mocha. So much for warming up! At least the heater was on inside, and I had time to thoroughly look through my Lonely Planet German guide to see if they had anything about the student cafeteria. They didn't, but I did pick out some back up restaurants, and since I was already at the Starbucks right off the University square, I figured the canteen was around here somewhere. Before I left, I asked the barista to point me in the right direction - yup, it was supposedly just down the way on the right. But when I found it, the lights were all off, and no one was around. I was sure that I had read somewhere that it was open until late, but it hit me, as I was standing there in the freezing mid-winter weather. Winter break! Of course the cafeteria wouldn't be open.

That meant that I had some wandering to do, if I wanted to eat. I started off, but I was not having any luck on the high street. At one point I was trying to convince myself to eat at a restaurant with a bilingual menu, but this very loud and unpleasant American family came up and pushed passed me to eat there, so I took that as a sign from the travel gods to keep looking. Everything in the Lonely Planet guide was either uninteresting or too far - I hoped I would be able to find a good place just by walking by. I finally figured out that the high street was the problem, and I walked down a side street, where I immediately felt better: it was quieter here, except for the occasional person gliding past me on a sweet vintage bicycle, with a lot of window boxes filled with dormant flowers and old streetlamps and cats darting from one alley to the next, and while most of the buildings were old houses with lights that illuminated the otherwise dim streets, there were some bars filled with people and cafes with tables set outside for nicer weather. I wasn't finding diddely squat to eat, but I enjoyed walking here nonetheless, and I did find the old bridge as I went. I took an intermission from my search to walk across the bridge and appreciate the view of Heidelberg with all of its lights reflecting off of the river. I think I had needed to take a slower, softer approach to this city. Rushing through high street, pushing upwards to the castle, popping in and out of shops, forcing the city to produce a restaurant for me to eat too fast at - it was all too much of a hurry. Finally, I was walking at a more appreciative speed, and I had found the side streets that spoke so much more to me and a beautiful night view.

To prove its point to me, being leisurely led me straight to dinner. Just as I walked back through the gate that separated the old bridge from the altstadt, I found the perfect restaurant. Actually, I didn't even know what I was looking at, but I was looking in windows as I walked down a street and saw a lot of candles and people. Looking deeper into the room, I also saw big copper kettles and a long bar with taps and beer steins. The place was called Vetter's Brauhaus, and I didn't even look at the menu before I walked in to get a table. I had a pretty good feeling about this place. The waitress took me to a table near the back corner of the restaurant, so I had a pretty good people-watching vantage point. The restaurant seemed pretty legit; there were old and young people, students and families, single diners and large groups, and what sounded like mostly German being spoken. It was dim but warmly lit inside, with paintings and wooden signs hung on the walls, hops woven into wreaths and hung around chandeliers, wooden tables and benches, and those big copper kettles full of beer, of course. Naturally I ordered a beer, a Helles which was sort of a pilzner, yum! And since I'm still a bit moronic about the metric system, it ended up being way too big. I think I was the only one in the room with that size. Only order a "maß" if you want to pretend that you're at Munich's Hofbräuhaus! The beer alone would have been enough to fill me up, but since I didn't know that while I was ordering, I got a pretzel and an order of Käsespätzle which, you'll know already if you're a vegetarian visiting southern Germany or Austria, is kind of little noodly dumplings with cheese and sometimes fried onions. And THAT came with a cabbage salad on the side. I realized the error of my ordering as the waitress was approaching my table, because she was having some difficulty in carrying everything. I was really full before I even barely made a dent in my food - focusing mostly on the beer since I couldn't take that with me if I didn't finish it and it would warm me up more anyway. Well, it was pretty delicious anyway, and I've been dreaming about my favorite little noodly dumplings, but I think I'll be having them for every meal this week, I have so much left over.

Great, now I was in a food coma, and I had to trek all the way back down to where the bus had left me earlier. I started that way and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. By the time I got there, it was getting late, and there weren't as many buses going the way that I needed to get to the station. But just then, a regional train/tram showed up with its final destination written in lights in the front window: Mannheim HBF. Perfect, I would just take it all the way there. Little did I know, it was a lot slower than the train, so it took me about twice as long just to get to Mannheim, but I got to see a different way. I hopped on and snatched up a seat before one of the uber-loud, beer-toting sixteen-year-old boys took it. I watched all of the young people celebrating their Saturday night as we went through Heidelberg, and they were fascinating to watch, not just because it seemed so odd to see people that young weighed down with all their half-drank bottles of beer and vodka. They were in groups, mostly all teenage boys or mixed groups of boys and girls, and they were shouting to other groups and singing loudly. Most of them got off the tram before we left the outskirts of the city, and then I was able to kick back and relax. For the most part. There was a guy walking back and forth down the aisle with no pants on for a while, but he left the tram in the middle of nowhere between Mannheim and Heidelberg. And once in Mannheim, this dude with bad vibes tried to sit next to me, way too close, and say, "sup, what's your name?" He waited for me to respond and then said "why won't you talk to me, girl?" But I pretended not to speak English, so he laughed, pushed in closer, and started to try again in German. This time, I responded, but with nonsense words, getting loud very quick and speaking as crazily and angrily as I could. He was up in an instant and moved towards the other side of the train - dealing with me was obviously not worth it. That was about as much excitement as I needed for the rest of my night!

Something I learned today: Don't rush through things!

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Suzanne on

I love your blog!!! You are great at describing your adventures and take incredible photos makes me feel like I'm right there with you. Love it!

Jim on

I HATE that you went to Heidelberg without me. We'll have nothing to do now but visit WWII cemeteries.

lithobolia on

Don't worry, Dad, I called whine-one-one and the WHAAAmbulence is on its way now!

Because you can't visit Heidelberg more than once or anything, right??

Oh, wait, you've already been there! So we're even! Hah!

lithobolia on

Oh, and I saved a hike up this philosopher's hill for you, don't worry!

lithobolia on

And isn't visiting WWII cemeteries the only thing that you like to do ANYWAY???

Hahaha. Better fly over here soon or I'll have visited all the WWII cemeteries in Germany by myself as well! And then we'll just have to go shopping and eat at vegetarian restaurants all day!

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