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Apr 18, 2012

Heidelberg Round Two

One of our very first day trips after arriving to Germany last June was to Heidelberg. We were fresh off the plane from the states and eager to get exploring the country we were going to call home for the next 3 years. I had my Rick Steves guidebook (bible) in hand and out the hotel door we went...completely on our own. No tour guide, big language barrier, and the fear of the unknown practically plagued our day there. Needless to say, I was on edge the whole time. I didn't really enjoy our first trip to Heidelberg to the absolute fullest. So, when our good friends who just PCSed here asked us to join them on their first trip to Heidelberg, we couldn't say no! I desperately needed a re-do!

Instead of heading straight to the famous castle, we took some time to walk around Heidelberg a bit...just taking in the sights, the sounds, and the ambiance of this history packed town along the River Neckar.

Our sweet friends - Matt & Jenny

Before going on any day trip around Germany, I often consult a myriad of travel books and tourist review websites...most notably my beloved Rick Steves books and TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor has excellent lists of "Things to Do" in any given city around the world. Not to mention, each attraction is given a rank based on traveler reviews. Brilliant, right? That's how I stumbled upon the Bergbahn Funicular that takes you on a train ride up one of the tallest hills in Heidelburg. It makes 3 stops...one at the entrance to Heidelberg Schloss (castle), one at some other lookout point (obviously we didn't explore that stop), and one at the Königstuhl (the King's Chair) located at the tippy top of the hill. Of course, we picked the windiest day to ride all the way to the top. We froze our bums off, but were rewarded with a birds eye view of Heidelberg. Did I mention the funicular to the top was like the cutest little wooden train I'd ever seen? Darling, I tell ya.

After braving the cold atop Königstuhl, we rode down the funicular to the entrance of the castle. At this point, we were hungry and freezing, so we took solace inside of a cozy Burgerkeller. A few kaffes mit Baileys, Hefeweizen's, and warm apfelstrudels later, we were back on our feet and ready to tackle the castle.

Inside the castle there is a little wine cellar. I shouldn't really say 'little' wine cellar, mostly because it houses two of the largest wine barrels I'd ever seen. You can even walk on top of one of them. Now that's my kind of wine barrel! And of course, what would be a visit to a wine cellar without sampling some of the castle's own grape? Blasphemy, that's what! Good thing we managed to savor a few glasses before heading back down into Old Town Heidelberg.

The funicular had been ridden and the castle was explored...the only thing left to do was stuff our faces some more. When in Germany, right?! I mean, who could turn down €1 gelato? No one, that's who.

Go to Heidelberg. Like, right now. Seriously, it's a really great town. So great that it's the only place in Germany that D and I have ever visited twice. Believe me, that's a big deal. Enjoy the sights, the culture, the people...and of course the delicious food & wine. Just tell them Casey sent ya. :)

Apr 12, 2012

Cousin Time and Castles on the Rhine

One of the best things about living in Wiesbaden is being a part of the Rhine River Valley. The Rhine River stretches from the Swiss Alps all the way to the North Sea coast in the Netherlands and is one of the longest, most important rivers in Europe. How does 766 miles of river sound to ya? But the length is not what makes this river so interesting, in my opinion. It's the dozens of castles and wineries that patrol the Middle Rhine (stretch of the Rhine from Köln to Wiesbaden) that give this area such character and rich history.

{This is just a snippet of part of the Rhine River Valley.}

The weekend that my cousin, Ashley, came for a visit, D and I really had nothing planned. We were just so excited to have a family member here in Germany (our very first official visitor to Die Coté Haus!! 2,000 points to Ashley!!). After a relaxing pizza, PJ's, and Vampire Diaries veg out night on Friday, we woke up Saturday feeling refreshed and ready to show Ashley what the Rhine Valley had to offer! One of our goals before leaving Germany is to visit as many castles on the Rhine as we possibly can. Some are greater than others, but each has it's own unique story. Some, like Marksburg Schloss (castle), have been virtually undisturbed by the hands of time...it's the only Medieval castle on the Rhine that's never been destroyed. Others, like Burg Rheinfels (loosely translated to Rhine castle rock), were overtaken hundreds of years ago and are now skeletons of their former glories. To me, the castles left in ruins are much more fascinating and tend to have elaborate stories of unrelenting tensions, power-hungry kings, and blood stricken war. LOVE IT. Burg Rheinfels has all that and more, making it the perfect stop on our Rhine Valley exploration.

 Burg Rheinfels was built in 1245 by Count Diether V von Katzenelnbogen to protect the St. Goar tax collectors, and was once considered the biggest castle on the Rhine. It was a medieval "toll booth" of sorts levying charges on ships that sailed along the Rhine. Needless to say, Burg Rheinfels was hated by the citizens of Rheinland. So much so that the affected towns banned together and laid siege to the castle for over one year. Burg Rheinfels stood strong and resisted. In its first 10 years, it survived an onslaught of army forces sent by the League of Rhenish Cities and in 1692 resisted a siege of 28,000 French troops. But in 1797, the French Revolutionary army destroyed it. The castle was used for ages as a quarry after its demise.

Captured mid-high five. Excellent.

Within the castle walls, there is a labyrinth of trenches and tunnels that can be visited. We took every opportunity to explore them...and act ridiculous in them. Nothing like a karate chop to the face! 

The town of St. Goar.

After seeing all that Burg Rheinfels had to offer, we were famished. Instead of walking into town, we stumbled upon a cafe located right outside the castle walls, yet still high atop the hill above St. Goar. Seemed like a perfect location to stop, rest, and feast on Flammkuchen and Rhine Valley Riesling! Did I mention we dined al fresco? In beautiful 65 degree weather? Yeah...it was glorious.

This makes 2 Rhine River Valley castles down...and dozens to go!

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