Having smoothly traversed France, I decide that Trixie needs a day off and so I leave her to rest in the town of Schwetzingen, with its huge baroque palace and manicured gardens, and take the bus into the city of Heidelberg. With an enviable riverside position and boasting an impressive hilltop castle which drew artists and writers from around the world, it is naturally swarming with coach parties, many of whom have disembarked from one of the sleek, cruise boats which ply the larger German rivers.
I manage to successfully navigate the transport system to get to the heart of the old town and then take a modern funicular up to the castle. Destroyed in 1693 by the French, it is mostly just a shell, but with some pretty amazing facades.
My ticket includes admission to a comprehensive and interesting Museum of Pharmacy which details the history of natural medicines as well as displaying some complete pharmacy rooms and equipment used in the production and dispense of drugs. The word ‘pharmacy’ comes from the Greek ‘pharmakon’, meaning medicine, poison or magic potion. Early pharmacists were monks or nuns as diseases were believed to be punishments from god.
The other main attraction inside the castle walls, is the Heidelberg Tun, a 220,000 litre wine barrel that apparently has never been filled with wine.
Back down in the old town I search for a restaurant for lunch and stumble upon Palmbrau Gassa on the main street, close to the cathedral. The narrow frontage hides an immense beer hall whose long bench tables are either already full or have reservation signs on them. When I ask for a table for one, the young waitress looks doubtful but then leads me to a back room which is empty and quiet. I order from the special Oktoberfest menu and am not expecting much given the fact that it is clearly popular with the tourist groups. However, my roast pork with red cabbage and dumpling is great, as is the beer.
After such a filling lunch, I feel the need for a walk and so I cross the river by the Karl Theodor Bridge and climb up a steep and winding cobbled alley to reach the Philosophers’ Path. It is nice to get out of the city and walk amongst the former vineyards which have been turned into a nature park. Plenty of locals and tourists seem to have the same idea.
The next day, I drive into the Necker Valley, following the winding river and the train line. It’s an area that is not well known out of Germany and after the crowds of Heidelberg it is a nice change of pace. The campsite in Eberbach is on the opposite side of the river to the main town and it would be easy to relax and watch the cargo barges and pleasure boats cruise by. But I like to explore and so I set off to see what the town has to offer.
There seems to be a large number of shoe shops, and pubs offering much cheaper food than Heidelberg. I climb one of the town’s four remaining towers. The stairs are narrow and steep and the wooden steps are rotten such that I expect to fall through at any moment. Reaching the top is a disappointment as the windows are nailed shut and so dirty that it is impossible to get a view of the river. A colony of bees has also taken up residence and they are not too happy about being invaded so I beat a hasty retreat.
The town has a strange obsession with wild boar. There are several bronze sculptures, they appear on the flags which fly from the bridge and shop windows are decorated with them. Unfortunately, I never find out why.