Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Ten years ago today - Heidelberg

Another day, another trip back to Europe in 1995.
9:35 am, 3 August 1995
Somewhere in western Germany, near the border with France

Another brilliant blue morning as Intrepid Traveler takes to the rails again. We left Trier at 8:45 am , to arrive in Manheim at 11:30. In Manheim, we change trains for a quick 15 minute ride to Heidelberg. I didn't expect to be going thru Manheim, I thought I'd have to go back thru Koblenz. This is better - no backtracking.

We're following the Saar river right now, and although it's not quite as beautiful as the Mosel Valley, it is still picturesque and lined with the same timeless small towns.

I'm glad I spent two nights in Trier. The town was wondeful, and I was a bit tired of town-hopping. Yesterday morning I did a Roman ruin tour, visiting the 3rd century Imperial bath and ampitheatre ruins, and checked out the Konstantin Basilika. What a strange feeling to think of these ancient structures, to try to imagine them in their first years of use, to wonder how many generations of people, how many different cultures, had stood in exactly the same spot. I found it especially fascinating to read how the Porta Nigra and the Imperial baths changed used over the years (both were used as city gates and churches, among other things) and to read about the wars that they withstood - Napoleon was particularly brutal and blew up most of Trier. I sat for over half an hour on a low wall in the ampitheatre, thinking of Roman imperialism, the Dark Ages, the Crusades, medieval times, Napolean's armies, world wars... so much history and change, and these structures still standing. It takes your breath away. It makes me feel dwarfed and insignificant, yet so connected; so much a part of the great interlaced web of humanity.

Beginning my second week of travel now. Ask me during the day how I'm enjoying my trip and I'll rave for hours about what a wonderful trip I'm having. Ask me at night and you'll probably have caught me considering how many more weeks/days/hours I'll have to 'endure' until I can go home. I know it's just homesickness and a bit of loneliness (not to mention lingering culture-shock) and I'm always ready for the next adventure in the morning light. I can't believe how casually I'm gathering knowledge and experiences, how I'm adapting to all of this.

One of the most indimidating things about Germany for me was the language, but I've only been in the country for four days, and I know enough to ask for a room ("einen damen, zimmer, dwei nacht" = one woman, room, two nights), and I can count to ten; order a coffee; find a street, toilet or trainstation; ask a price and tell someone I don't speak German. If someone addresses me in German, I give my most charming smile, point to the Canadian flag on my backpack and shrug my shoulders. When I am polite, most Germans seem to know enough English to help me out.

I really think the Canadian flag makes a difference, though. I was on a city bus in Koblenz on my way to the youth hostel. As I was getting off the bus, a large German frau in a floral print house dress said in a very loud voice, "Canada!" and gave me the hugest smile, bobbing her head up and down enthusiastically. I imagine that's the only English word she knew, so I returned her greeting with the multi-purpose "Bitte schön". This most wonderful and utilitarian German expression means, "excuse me", "please", "you're welcome" and "sorry I just ran over your foot with my bicycle." English should have such a versatile expression.

6:52 pm, same day
Heidelberg, Germany

The waning afternoon light finds Intrepid Traveler in the Marketplace Square of yet another gorgeous medieval town completely overrun by tourists. I can see over the rooftop of the nearest building the ruins of the huge Castle Heidelberg, which I will visit tomorrow morning.

The manner in which I familiarize myself with these strange cities has become routine: step one, find a map. Free is best, but not always an option. Step two: find a/the hotel. Step three: figure out the easiest way to get there. Step four: ditch backpack at hotel, but keep daypack. Step five: wander aimlessly for hours.

To find things of interest in a city, Let's Go is a good start. The postcard racks will show you what the town is proud of, as will info from the local tourist bureau. An inexpensive guidebook (4-6 DM) is a good buy. Generally, though, the town presents itself.

I've never seen to many oriental tourists as are in Heidelberg. How interesting.