What a fun and exhausting 24 hours we have had!
We decided, along with the Heards, that is was high time we got some train action and got out of "little America". Last night, we stayed at their place so we could make an early departure. We planned to go to Stuttgart for the day.
Plans often change, yes? :o) Our departure was a bit later than idealized, but no harm in that. We prepped warm clothes, guidebooks, and snacks for the journey. We thought it silly (and perhaps unwise) to leave the car at the train station all day, so instead we walked from base (which is on a small mountain) to the station. The excellent German train system allows for weekend passes for small groups, and up to five people may travel an unlimited amount for three days, for only 26 euro. If you are unfamiliar with train travel, that is a smashing deal.
On the way to Kaiserslautern- the first, very short leg of our journey- we got some annoying news from Josh and Matt's company, and feared that they may be called back to work within hours. Time to revise the plan! As it turned out, our train cards were really only for the Rheinland-Pfalz area (which is where we live) and Stuttgart is well within Baden-Wurtemburg, our neighbor to the southeast. Easily solved! We decided to continue only to Heidelberg. (For those of you who know your German geography- we luckily didn't have any problems at that distance with our territory-specific weekend pass.)
We arrived in Heidelberg mid-morning and began our walk toward the castle. Our guidebook suggested a walking path through the pedestrian area in the old city, and by following it we were able to see some beautiful historic landmarks. Notable was the Jesuit church, whose facade was an impressive presence. They just remodeled their organ and are having its first concert tomorrow. Along the main pedestrian strip, we found lots of delicious-looking baked goods, traditional German restaurants, as well as some interesting shops. Katie was excited about finding a Starbucks- her first in nearly a year- so of course we made a little stop. It was nice to rest the feet and it also made me happy to notice differences and similarities between a European Starbucks and my former place of employment.
Luckily for us, Katie was also excited to see a great little shop called "Lush," which I soon learned makes all-natural and organic bath and body products. It is similar in intention to a Body Shop, but feels much more home-grown and artsy. It was fun for all of us (except maybe Matt was a bit bored) to look at the bath bombs, the butter soaps and jelly soaps, and to smell all of the concoctions. In the end, we each opted for a sale grab-bag of items, and discovering what we'd purchased gave us something to look forward to for the train ride home.
The Alte Brucke (old bridge) crosses the Rhine, and of course we took in the scenery of lovely Heidelberg from its span. Next, we tackled the biggest challenge of all- climbing the ridiculous hill leading to the castle. It was quite a difficult climb, especially considering the cold and our numbing limbs, but it was well worth it in the end. The view is completely astounding. The castle itself is an interesting mix of period archetecture, and I was confused by what seemed to be neoclassical add-ons. The Heards have loaned us a book on the Heidelberg castle, so I can figure out why the architecture was so very diverse and learn move of its history. Interestingly, Josh and I kept stumbling upon sort of Freemason symbolism- a sort of game we play, try to spot the symbols. We ate some schnitzel at a cafe behind the castle and then wandered for a bit in the gardens. Soon after, we realized that the sun was going down and we still had quite a walk to complete.
By the time we reached Landstuhl again, we had walked an estimated 5-6 miles! No wonder we are all aching so badly! But we enjoyed a great day of exploring, allowing ourselves to get lost just the right amount so as to allow for discovery and fun. We have some wonderful photos, but as of now I have no way to transfer my pictures to my laptop. We'll let you all know when we've got that figured out.
And now it's late and my body is tired, but my mind is reeling with all of the excitement of travel. It was especially meaningful because I know it was Josh's first real trip in Europe. I couldn't help but feel so lucky all day, because unlike the last time that I lived in Europe, I don't have the sense of urgency. I feel like we can enjoy these countries, enjoy this rich history and beauty, and it's not going to be taken from us any time soon.
We can't wait for you to come and share these experiences with us!
OH, IN OTHER QUICK NEWS- we found an apartment that we LOVE and we will be moving in next Thursday. Excellent!