Day Three: You Want Us to Park Where?

Heidelberg Travel Blog

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A portion of Heidelberg as seen from the castle.

After a bizarre night where we both woke up a number of times assuming it must be morning, only to learn it wasn’t, we got up, had breakfast and discovered that whatever castle was lit up at night it wasn’t Heidelberg castle because we weren’t near Heidelberg.  So, we decided that should be our first destination.  We drove south only a few more kilometers and made our way into Heidelberg.  What were we thinking?!

Heidelberg appears to be a typical German town.

Heidelberg Castle
  It’s too small to be a city, but too big to be a village.  Atop an adjacent hillside sits the pride of Heidelberg, their castle - or Schloss as they’re known here.   As we drove through town, our excitement grew at the prospect of visiting our first piece of German history.  We circled through the downtown region looking for available parking, only to find parking garages.  Since an RV is taller than a car (see, we were listening to that McRent video!) we were unable to utilize their services.  So we began looking for street parking and after nearly 45 minutes of circling through the streets of Heidelburg, which we were quickly feeling was more like HeidelHum, we began driving up towards the castle.  Our logic was if they expect tourists they must expect them to park somewhere nearby.

Before arriving at the castle though, we stumbled across some available street parking in front of a home.

One of many unique doorways at Heidelberg Castle.
  After some discussion of whether or not we could legally park on the street without a little clock thing in our windscreen to tell the local polezei when we had arrived so as to not overstay our welcome, we began the hike up a nearby staircase to the castle.  As it turns out it was fortuitous we utilized the parking spot we found, as we didn’t see any sign of parking at the castle.

Entering the castle grounds my first impression was the sheer size of the place.  Whoever lived here (we later learned that it was the ancestral home of the Wittelsbach dynasty - aren’t you glad to know that?) must have had a sizeable ego or some severe insecurities.  It was built and rebuilt a number of times through the centuries and has, in great part, crumbled to nothing significant now.  But there are some interesting views and photo worthy areas.

Fall colors at the gardens of Heidelberg Castle.

We paid 3 or 4 euros each to go in and look around, only to discover that that only let us into the inner courtyard of the castle.  After taking a few pictures in the courtyard, we followed the tour groups, presuming they would in fact lead us to the castle entrance.  Instead we found ourselves entering the basement.  We then discovered that the Wittelsbach’s had a very large drinking problem.  Or at least they were able to support a very big drinking problem.  We saw two HUGE barrels used for ageing wine.  Apparently the largest of the two we saw, was actually the third one built for the castle.  But they were so big, that after a while they would begin leaking, thus necessitating their replacement.

Leaving the basement we wandered around a bit more, but not finding an access point to the castle, we instead visited the German pharmaceutical museum, which is housed at the castle.

One of the fountains at Heidelberg Castle.
  It was quite interesting to see some history that you would otherwise have never seen or cared about.  The history of pharmacy needs goes way back and while the use and understanding of medications has changed, the psychology of pharmacies has as well.  There were diorama rooms showing the layout of 17th or 18th century pharmacies and laboratories.  The transition pharmacies went through from being exclusive of anyone except the pharmacist, to now being able to walk into a drug store and talk over a counter with a pharmacist, was interesting.  But not interesting enough to make me want to buy a scale model of a pharmacy complete with pharmacist and patient in a cherry wood case.  I never saw a price on it, and in fact it may not have been for sale, but it was very detailed and I’m sure would have been VERY expensive.

We left the museum and began looking once more for the entrance to the castle.

  It should have been well marked, but it took us a bit to locate it.  We finally stumbled across an information/tickets desk and discovered that for another 3 or 4 euros, we could take a guided tour of the castle, which is the only way to be admitted.  After having already spent 3 or 4 euros here each, we decided there couldn’t be that much that would be different from other castles we’d visited on past trips.  So, we left the courtyard area and began to walk the grounds.

Apparently the Wittelsbach’s family image issues extended beyond the reach of this castle, because the grounds, which seemingly go on and on and on, are quite beautiful.  Whether or not they’re original, there are several fountains amid an arboretum of hundreds of trees.  And maintaining the grounds was no less than 8 different people who were doing nothing but sweeping pebbles off of anything metal.  That ranks as number 2058 on my ever-growing list of jobs I wouldn’t want!  Still there was much to appreciate about the structure of the gardens, and we took our pictures and then bid our adieus to this historical landmark.

Leaving Heidelberg, we continued south towards the town of Baden-Baden, a spa town renown for its mineral water and baths.  At this point a relaxing soak sounded quite appealing.

We reached Baden-Baden around 5pm and began what was quickly feeling like a ritualistic task to find parking.  Stumbling across an empty street side slot was all we could have hoped for, but alas, beneath the parking sign, was a picture of a motor home with a red “x” through it.  We weren’t allowed.  We felt unloved, actually.  It was surreal as we had pulled in front of another motor home nonchalantly appreciating the rest from a grueling day on the road.  So why shouldn’t we?  I asked a street cleaner though, if we missed something and while he didn’t speak English, I go the impression things could get bad for us if we stayed.

I’d noticed on the map there was a tourist info office nearby, so while Derik stayed in the motor home I wandered off to try and find the TI office.  After several misdirections and meanderings, I returned to Arvie to tell Derik I didn’t have any great solutions.  Just then a man came out of a house across the street and I asked if he spoke English. He did and informed us we could stay there if we chose, however we would be ticketed and towed if the police so chose.  He recommended a parking slot around the corner.  We drove there - literally less than 40 metres, and there was the perfect spot.  We paid our parking machine, took note of the fact that it was closed after 7pm, and headed to Carcalla Therme - a mineral spa nearby that had been recommended in several of our guidebooks.

We headed out on foot and really had no direct sense of where we were going, but as our fortune was (actually all Derik’s doing) we quite literally stumbled across the spa.  Paying our 12 or 13 euros we were admitted and after changing into our swimsuits we bathed in the lap of luxury.  There were a number of different pools.  Many weren’t truly warm enough for us, though I’ve previously discovered that Europeans have a cooler appreciation for warmth than we Americans.  But there was a pool in a grotto of sorts which was around 100 degrees and felt quite nice, though Derik and I both agreed it could have been warmer.

Setting out to survey the rest of the options, I found a steam sauna that was a world unto itself.  A large sign on the door dictated complete silence once inside.  And while not everyone abided by the mandate, nearly all did and it truly helped maintain the ambience of tranquil serenity that pervaded the interior.  The steam was intense, and felt wonderful, but what really capped the whole thing off was the dĂ©cor.  The room featured an all-tile surface with small lights in the ceiling, reminiscent of star fields.  They slowly blinked on and off, emitting a soothing effect to those of us there.  Greek statuary in wall niches and alcoves completed the dĂ©cor and it was all completely ensconced in relaxing music with bird calls playing softly in the background.  I looked at Derik and he gave me the thumbs up and rolled his eyes in luxuriant comfort.

Far too quickly our time at Caracalla came to an end.  We had to get back before 7pm to move Arvie.  Or so we thought.  As it turned out, we’re now thinking it’s likely that we misunderstood the signs, and that we only had to pay through 7, as long as we didn’t stay all night.  This is a great disappointment as the knowledge would have allowed us to stay at the spa longer.  But we were both already so relaxed it might have been dangerous to stay there longer.

We headed further south on A5 and finally came to a stop for the night in Freiburg.  We found a campground which only charged us 6 euros for the night and they offered free Wi-Fi.  We were online within minutes and catching up on all the latest from home.

For dinner one of us made some mushroom pasta of some sort.  We had purchased a number of different boxes of interesting mixes.  This one really wasn’t bad - actually it was quite good.  After we’d finished, in an effort to stay up later than we had Thursday night Derik decided I needed to learn a new game.  So cribbage was introduced to me and for my first outing, I wasn’t all that bad.  I at least managed to cross the skunk line.  It seems like a fun game which holds some strategic challenge, and while I don’t know who I’d play with after this trip, I may continue when given the opportunity.

After finishing one game, it was time to call it a night.  We drifted off to a more restful night’s sleep than the previous night, lulled there gently by the frequent droning of a nearby train.
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A portion of Heidelberg as seen fr…
A portion of Heidelberg as seen f…
Heidelberg Castle
Heidelberg Castle
One of many unique doorways at Hei…
One of many unique doorways at He…
Fall colors at the gardens of Heid…
Fall colors at the gardens of Hei…
One of the fountains at Heidelberg…
One of the fountains at Heidelber…
photo by: findmeabeach