It has been more than 20 years since I was last in Germany. But last time I was never in this part of Germany, and I did not drive. Besides, I have not driven a manual shift car for a couple of years.
It took the car a couple of tries to remind me how to get a manual shift car started. And when I finally did get it started, it moved the wrong way, going forward instead of backward. The car beeped at me, for getting too close to the wall. My first manual shift car, which I’m the most used to, had a “standard H” configuration, with the reverse gear in the lower right corner. This car had six forward gears, and you have to use a lever to get into reverse.
Once I got out of the airport, the fun started. Very quickly, I was on the Autobahn A5, and I got up to 160 km/h (100 mph) on some stretches of the road. I’d done 110 mph in the States, but that was in the dead of the night, in the middle of nowhere, on a stretch of road that’s completely empty, except for myself, and the policeman who caught me. But A5 on a work day is full of traffic, and that made this experience very enjoyable. Not only I passed many cars, but I was also a very polite and gentlemanly driver, moving to the right to let others pass whenever I could. The road was super smooth, especially near the Frankfurt airport. Traveling alone has its drawbacks. For this drive I really would have liked to switch to my sun glasses, which was right next to me, in my computer bag, inside its case. But with the constant traffic, I decided to go without. The GPS, while far from perfect, helped out a lot, as it spoke reasonably good English.
My first day of business starts tomorrow, so today I am just here to relax and to get over the jet lag. I have a whole half day to kill, and I wasn’t going to let it go to waste. Besides, they say that the best way to fight jet lag is to stay outdoors, especially if there is sun out. So I went to Heidelberg. This is the nearest small town that was highly regarded in online reviews.
My first problem, after getting into Heidelberg, was that I did not know where to find parking. So I just stopped in front of a random building, which turned out to be a tourist information center. I went in and asked, and was directed to somewhere that I wasn’t sure how to get to. Fortunately, after a couple of the seemingly wrong turns, I got there and parked my car. And then I found out that the parking place, an underground parking garage, required payment in cash. It took me a few tries to find somebody to direct me to an ATM machine, as it seemed that ATM is not the correct term in this part of the world, and most people did not react to it. Come to think about it, it might have worked better if I pronounced the letter A as Ah, the way Germans would, but unfortunately I came to this idea one day too late.
After some wandering around town, where there is a university, and a large pedestrian district, I got myself a lunch in an Italian restaurant :P. The food was quite alright, but it was super salty. I used part of my water to wash off the creamy cheese sauce in the spaghetti.
Next stop was the famous Heidelberg Castle. I was smart enough to find a place to buy the ticket before getting to the castle, as the ticket for the castle included a ride on the funicular. Except that the funicular was closed down for annual maintenance. In its place there was a bus service, but then the bus had a minor accident, when somebody bumped its rear-right lights off, so we wasted a good twenty minutes or so, and had to walk the rest of the way.
I asked for the guided tour, which was highly recommended in TripAdvisor reviews, but it turned out that my timing was not quite right, and the next tour in English was to start in more than an hour. So I went in without. After quite a while, I saw some visitors with audio guides. I had to get back out, and go across the street to rent it, I was told, when I asked for that. I did that anyway and I was lightened by €5, which was quite worth it.
The Heidelberg castle was quite large, and it is in a state of deep dilapidation–on purpose in the latter years. There are stories of romance related to it. One of them involved an English princess by the name of Elizabeth. She came over as the young wife of the Elector Palatine, and was Queen of Bohemia briefly, when her husband Frederick became the “Winter King”. Another involved Goethe in his sixties and a young poet by the name of Marianne von Willemer. A very nice verse by Goethe was narrated in the audio guide, and here is a version of it that I found afterwards:
Still may the cypresses confess
To thee, the water leaping, flowing,
From Zuleika to Zuleika
Is my coming, and my going.
After the Castle trip I decided to walk down to the city and to the parking place, which probably was a mistake. I had a picture of the place on my phone, and most people could readily recognize it. But finding it was a different matter. Most people directed me to the correct direction, but one lady actually directed me 180° wrong, and a couple of other ladies just did not know the way. They were all very friendly, though.
Getting to the hotel in the evening was troublesome, because I had to fight rush hour traffic–manual shift is painful to use in stop-and-go traffic. Besides, jet lag was finally catching up with me. Once there I found that the lady on duty was also part cook, and did not speak much English. Still her English was much better than my by now basically non-existent German. And when one’s language facilities are restricted, one can be quite inventive in how to use it: “This key is for door #1; this key is for door #2”, she said, effectively. There was no lion nor lady behind either one, it turned out. Door #1 was for an outer door to the rooms, which is left open during the day. Door #2 was my room’s door. She also promised me that she made a great soup, which I made sure that I ordered for dinner, in addition to something that was a specialty of another cook. The soup was OK, only slightly too sweet for my taste, but the corned-beef-with-vegetable roll turned out way too salty, and a side dish of “dumplings” was rather tasteless. I cannot give the proper names to these dishes, because the menu was completely in German. The restaurant also preferred to be paid in cash, but I have run out by this time, so they agreed to add the bill to my room bill, to be paid for with a credit card. I really did not expect that so many businesses don’t take credit cards today. I’ve been spoiled in the US, I guess.
(Written on the night of March 14. Revised on March 15 and 16.)