Frankfurt is a wonderful place. This fact cannot be denied. Regardless of the wonderfulness of the city in which you live, however, there will always come a time where an escape (even just a quick one) is absolutely necessary.
This past weekend was one such example. Camping on a mattress on the floor in a furniture-less apartment had finally begun to lose its charm, and our daily routine had started to turn the passing weeks into somewhat of a monotonous blur. The only relief for both of these, Alex and I decided, was a cheap weekend getaway to somewhere close. Heidelberg, a glorious little university town just an hour away, sounded like the perfect destination.
Heidelberg is a postcard picture of a place, nestled on the north and southern banks of the picturesque Neckar River. It’s famous for many things – including Germany’s oldest university and a majestic hilltop castle ruin. It was also one of the few main towns in Germany to have been virtually untouched by WWII’s destruction. Summarising all the great aspects of Heidelberg would be impossible, but the fact that it only cost us 5€ each to get there is high on the list. Flixbus, you are great. So very, very great.
One hour and ten bucks later, Alex and I disembarked at the Heidelberg Train Station. At this time, the Crobag bakery must be mentioned. Not only because someone gave it a horrendous name that rhymes with hoe-bag; but also because that’s where Peter, our Airbnb host, was waiting for us.
Peter and his wife Renate, the cutest little old couple you ever did meet, are a big part of what made our trip so special. Before they retired, both worked at Lufthansa. Peter was a pilot and Renate an air hostess – and boy oh boy, could you tell. Flowers on our pillows, mini shampoos and soaps in the bathroom, bathrobes and slippers in the dressing room. Not to mention the box of rooibos tea, just because we were their first South African guests, and a tub of homemade brownies placed strategically by the TV. Staying with them felt like we were going to visit granny and gramps. You know, the grandparents who love you to bits and shower you with presents and nice things whenever you come for the holidays. If you ever find yourself in Heidelberg and on a tight budget, we would definitely recommend that you stay with them.
Right. But onto Heidelberg itself. The town is relatively small, so a full weekend was a good amount of time to see and do almost everything on our checklist.
First things first was the beautiful Altstadt (old city). At this time of year, the Christmas Markets are in full swing throughout this part of town. These are a great opportunity to overindulge on glühwein, sausage and Nutella crépes; and have a good look at the ultra-kitsch Christmas decorations that hardly anyone seems to buy. As we were preparing to head up to the castle, a familiar logo from across the square caught our eye. Lindt. Heidelberg has its very own Lindt shop. With a mutual glance of understanding, Alex and I dropped what we were doing and headed over. Our limited budget meant that we could not escape with the whole shop as planned, but we did treat ourselves to two very delicious cups of hot chocolate. Perfect for the chilly day that it was.
Onwards and upwards. Literally. The steep, cobbled incline to the castle on the mountain was enough to remind us of all the gym sessions we’d ever skipped. Of course you could take the tram instead, but we intended to use our saved money for more delicious and fattening things at the top. After several minutes of puffing and panting, we arrived at the foot of Schloss Heidelberg: the first real-life German castle that either of us had ever seen. It really is quite a sight to behold, and one can only imagine how magnificent it must have been before the French dumped a few tons of explosives on it back in 1689.
It costs nothing to walk around the outside and the gardens. For 6€, you get to explore the inner courtyard, visit the Pharmacy Museum and see the world’s biggest wine barrel. For another 4 bucks, you can enjoy a guided tour through the interior of the castle. Unfortunately, we only found out about the tours right at the end, after hours of cursing the castle for being cheapskates and not letting anyone in. We weren’t too sad though. The outside of the castle was more than pretty enough to justify the visit.
On our way back down, we passed through the castle’s very own Christmas market for some extra festivity. Christmas markets are all generally much of a muchness, but this one had a certain delectable thing that neither Alex nor I had encountered before: the Kaiserschmarrn. The French may have crépes, but the Austrians have an equally scrumptious equivalent. Simply put, it’s shredded pancake dusted with icing sugar and served with some form of puréed fruit. It’s the perfect dessert to make at home if you love the idea of pancakes, but always seem to mess them up. Smush them up a bit, cover ’em with sugar and no one will ever know.
On Sunday we woke up with legs as stiff as beaten egg whites and another full day of walking ahead. Our first activity, the Philosopher’s Way, is a must-walk for anyone who visits Heidelberg. All it entails is a long and steep path that takes you up a hill with spectacular views over the city. Its name comes from the many poets and philosophers who, over the ages, walked this scenic route for some peace, quiet and inspiration. In winter the scenery was pretty enough, but it would definitely be more photogenic in the warmer months. Luckily for us (and our poor legs), Peter dropped us off close to the top, so we did a downhill stroll instead.
Once you reach the bottom of the hill, you are faced with the Alte Brücke, a 250 year-old bridge that takes you over the Neckar and back into Altstadt. On the other side you’ll find the iconic bronze monkey. Touching the mirror in its hands supposedly brings wealth, touching its outstretched fingers ensures your return to Heidelberg, and touching the mice around it ensures you’ll have many children. We didn’t know any of this though, so we did what everyone else did instead: climb inside its face and touch its butt.
A few hours of nibbling and meandering later, the sun went down and it was time for us to pack up and head back home. With hugs, tear-glazed eyes and all the emotions of a genuine family farewell, Peter and Renate dropped us off at the station with stern instructions that we were to come back soon.
Onto the bus we hopped, significantly heavier and merrier than when we arrived, but glad to get home to Frankfurt and our beloved – albeit empty – apartment.