Germany – Rhine Valley and Heidelberg
After hours of pouring over trip-advisor and lonely-planet,”our do it yourself holiday” began . Last minute packing, changing the itiniery and worrying about the weather, vegetarian food, water… this wasn’t our first international trip , but the first to Europe. However we weren’t prepared for one thing . Language . English is not as universal as we think it is.
Day one : A journey that saw us fly across three countries, four cities in two flights and one super fast train. From Bangalore to Frankfurt via Dubai . It was extremely hot in Dubai as we stepped out to meet friends . And then to Frankfurt only to catch a train from the airport to Heidelberg via Mannheim . As we boarded the ICE – Super fast , little did we realize that our lives for the next fortnight would be ruled by these tracks .
Our first challenge was to reach the hotel at around 11 pm from the station . We had booked the hotel online and the instructions read that the front office would be shut around 8 pm , which meant that there was no one to call. We were told to punch in our confirmation number on a machine which will then drop in the key . A little bit of excitement and lots of nervousness, as the magical key dropped . Day one ended and the lights shut down on Hotel Rose in Heidelberg. .
Day two dawned and the drizzle started . There was a nip in the air as we made our way to the station .. Our lives were then ruled by a small piece of colourful paper – the map. Be it to the market, the station, or to another city, our eyes got trained to reading them.
A couple of trains from Heidelberg and we were into fairy tale land . Castles and fortresses standing atop lush green vineyards beckoned us as we cruised down the Rhine from Rudesheim till Koblenz. Folk lore from the Middle Age, stories of romance and treason and lives of countless counts, dukes, lords, kings and queens were narrated as we passed along every picturesque village replete with its church, clock tower , castle and cottages .
Cruising down the valley was like a dream, the kind of stuff fairy tales and picture post cards are made of . Even the names had a romantic allure… Bingen, Lorch, Bacharach …Each castle had its own story that dates back to the Middle Ages. Every village has a charming railway station tucked away and you can choose to explore the castle and hop onto a train or get back on the cruise …
We climbed up to see the Schonburg Castle perched atop a hill overlooking the Rhine . The Lords of Schonburg were one of the famous families of Rhein who date back to the 16th century and today the glorious castle is now a hotel . The village was ideal, Utopian like with a dreamy railway station, an old museum, a church and idyllic houses decorated brightly with flowers
Silent, charming and picture perfect- there wasn’t a soul as we walked up the vineyards, taking in the scenery and the beauty. We lost our way and came upon verdant greenery with a stud farm from where we saw the breathtaking view of the castle… For miles and miles around, there were just meadows with a few horses grazing
We returned to Heidelberg around 10 pm, where fireworks at the castle greeted us in the night . A colourful sky and an even colourful medley of people gathered around the bridge and soaked into the festivities. We were lost in the crowd , literally and were clueless how to get back –when we suddenly heard words in our native tongue being spoken . We chanced upon fellow Indians (Kannadigas from Bangalore) who were living there and they guided us back . Its amazing how we find Indians all over the world today
Day 3 was a beautiful day..bright , warm and cheerful as the sun seeped in . A brisk walk down River Nectar showcased one of the most charming cities where art and nature merged .. Wooden bridges across the river flanked by mountains. …. A student town that boasts of the oldest University built in the 14th century, a castle built by Prince Elector Ruprecht III in the same period, it has been restored thrice . Besides the glorious sculptures, it houses an ancient royal cellar and a brewery which gives you an amazing high!
Almost 30,000 students study in this city of contrasts, where you can feel the vibrancy of youth , set in the beauty of the ancient past . There is a certain charm about the old town as you stand transfixed gazing at the sculptures and the carvings . Even the cobbled pathways filled with shops and restaurants add to the feel. If Bismarkplatz, the city centre is pulsating with energy, the old town is steeped in history where time stands still…
It was time to leave .And we walked … The sheer efficiency and punctuality of the public transport and the politeness amazed us wherever we went. There were so many people we asked for directions and almost everyone went out of their way to assist tourists like us. Especially at the information centre of DB at every station. Its amazing how safe and secure we felt in Germany, even at late hours .as we changed tracks to the next destination.