As I was softly settling back in Strasbourg, I very soon had my knees itching, begging for travelling. I felt the urge of a solo wanderlust. As I switched on the ‘poor who’s saving money for my next travels’ mode, I decided to restrain myself to destinations reachable easily by cheap buses/carpooling for a weekend.
That’s how I found out about FlixBus. FlixBus happened while I was wandering New Zealand, and that’s a bus company going through Europe at very competitive fares (the concept –and the color- reminding me with delight the New Zealand Intercity company.) A few clicks on the interactive map allows me to see the buses’ itinerary from Strasbourg, fares, and after a few hesitations, that was settled. I was going to Heidelberg. 18€ for a return ticket.
HEIDELBERG, THIS MIDDLE AGED CITY
Heidelberg is apparently worldwide famous, but, even though it’s only 1:30 from home, I never set a foot there. When I’m browsing the Internet looking for some useful tips, I stumble upon many articles praising Heidelberg as the most romantic city in Germany, with its Old Town, its medieval castle and its green rolling hills. The city was first mentioned at the XIIth Century and has the oldest German University (established in 1386). This surely brings some stars in my old stones’ lover’s heart.
My improvised weekend starts with visiting the Tourist Office, in front of the Train and Bus Station, in order to get some map and useful tips about the surroundings’ hostels. The map in my hands, that’s a rainy Heidelberg that I discover, though magical in the Old Town’s streets (here we say Altstadt) with its peculiar houses and its religious statues at every corner (and I’m quite literal here). The surrounding’s green hills are full of mist.
My sneakers hit the rainy pavements, I’m immersing fully into the heart of this city. When my hoodie is finally soaked up with rain, I settle myself at La Bohème café to dry, read and write a little. An apple cake and a hot white chocolate are keeping me company.
THE PHILOSOPHER’S WALK
I’m waiting for the weather to clear up to walk the Philosophenweg, the Philosopher’s Walk, a path which used to be walked by, as the name says, philosophers who went here to ramble, think and gaze at the city. I start the walk from the Theodor-Heiss Brücke, which will allow me to end up the walk crossing the Alte Brücke, the Old Bridge
As I’m reaching the heights, the weather has almost entirely cleared up, in a fine and dazzling way that I’m slack-jawed with wonder. That’s the end of the afternoon, my favourite moment of the day, where the light is so special, glittering on everything. The city down there unveils itself at the pleasure of those rays of light that are cutting through the clouds. That’s gorgeous. Outrageously gorgeous. This is the kind of place, in the forest, where the view is so stunning, that it’s well worth sharing. Obviously, couples are cuddling on the path, taking poses with selfie sticks, holding hands. I have no hands to hold, no sweet words to whisper to anyone, but I still stop there for a while. Contemplating. I try to print this view into my brain, as well as I’m taking pictures with this camera a friend lend me (yeah, I had no success trying to reanimate mine after its slow death in the streets of Singapore.)
The way down towards the Alte Brücke is quite idyllic, made out of slippery wet pavements, on this little alleyway with climbing ivy, turns and corners like a romantic labyrinth. The Old Bridge awaits with splendour and an amazing view over the Neckar River. The sun is slowly going down, and the sight is filling me with pure happiness. I don’t need much. Though I missed this kind of feeling.
THE HEIDELBERG CASTLE
After a giant breakfast at Steffi’s Hostel, I walk towards the Heidelberg Castle. It’s quite far but I have all the time in the world. The castle was built around the XIIIth Century up the hill, and hosted several kings through the centuries, including all the Rhine Palatinate elite. Destroyed by lightning and wars, rebuilt, expanded, what’s left of the castle today is impressive. In the end, it’s a little bit thanks to the Romanticism wave that the castle was saved. Neglected and left abandoned since the XVIIIth Century, a French Earl named Charles de Graimberg volunteered to be the castle warden in the XIXth Century. He wanted to preserve it for obvious historical and patrimonial reasons. And with all of those Romantic artists coming and going to paint and depict the castle, it became a kind of timeless icon. Gradually, the castle was skilfully restored and welcomes now something like 3 million visitors per year.
I’m shooting the broken tower like crazy. This tower was broken in two by explosives during a(nother) French vs Germany war in the XVIIth Century: the ‘sac du Palatinat’ (the Rhineland-Palatinate sacking) where Louis XIV, king of France decided to put this Rhineland region to blood and fire in order to assure himself a good defence over the Rhine valley. In fact, that’s exactly how he made Germany his enemy (obviously). Bad move, Louis. The broken tower is now covered in ivy, as a witness of another time, another war.
The garden around the castle is huge. And this morning, they are quiet, not yet crowded with tourists. Squirrels are running away as I’m wandering around and I stumble upon a group doing some Taï Chi or Qi Gong on the grass.
When I pass the entrance gate, the inner courtyard is simply lovely. There’s a kind of Pharmacy Museum, and in a big room there’s a gigantic wood barrel, which can contain 228 000 liters (of wine, of course!) I can fairly imagine some orgies going on around here.
Victor Hugo, the French poet and author wrote on The Rhine in 1842 “It’s been ten days since I’ve arrived in this city, my dear friend, and I can’t seem to break away from it […] Here in Heidelberg, in this city, in this valley, in those ruins, the life of a pensive man is lovely.”
When I close my eyes, I remember my sunny strolls along the Neckar River, my nap on the grass and the late Curry Wurst. I can recall the faces of my two Couchsurfing hosts, two lovely students from China and Azerbaijan, who shared with me their stories and smiles (and out of date beers…!) In Heidelberg, it was as though I could breathe again. I was under the spell, inevitably, and the sweet romance that emanates from this lovely German city totally got me. Summer was ending and the clouds were having a hard time to escape from their walls made of mountains.
LET’S GO THERE! :
FLIXBUS, book online
STEFFIS HOSTEL HEIDELBERG, Alte Eppelheimer Strasse 50, Heidelberg
LA BOHEME CAFE, Steingasse 11, Heidelberg
PHILOSOPHENWEG, start from the Theodor-Heiss bridge