Friday, March 21, 2008

Once you've seen one castle, you've seen 'em all (?)

Pictures are:

1. Mr. J. attempts to single-handedly storm our castle hostel from the vinyards below.
2. Heidelberg Castle ruins.
3. Standing in old town Heidelberg, with the castle looming above.
4. In the market square of Rothenburg.
5. On the ramparts in Rothenburg.
6. Ortenberg Castle (the one we stayed in).

Rick Steves, America’s Europe travel guru, gives Heidelberg two sentences in his guide book, saying that it is so crowded with American tourists as to make it unworthy of a stop. He doesn’t even mention the great half ruined castle that sits over the town as a reminder of past glories and past conflicts, the huge Heiligiestkirsche (Church of the Holy Ghost), which, for a couple centuries stood as a symbol of religious tolerance as Catholic and Protestant worshipers shared the cathedral, staggering their services and using different parts of the building, or the Heidelberg University, the oldest in Germany, and the place where the greatest technological innovation in human history was invented by Baron Karl Drais, the bicycle. Nor does he mention that Prince Rupert, the guy our BC town is named after, called the Heidelberg Castle home.
I’m guessing that in the middle of the summer is when the hordes of tourists make this place unappealing to Rick, and there were a lot of tourists at the castle (more than I have seen before), but we still had a good visit because we had a guided tour that took us inside the castle where the hordes couldn’t follow.

The title of this post is not my own words or thoughts, it is a comment I heard an older American woman make to her husband outside the castle. I said, “You’re crazy! Heidelberg, Neuschwanstein, Haut Koenigsburg – they’re all unique”, to which she replied, “Well, I guess you have to go inside them to tell the difference”. I don’t understand that kind of travel – if we are going to see something, we are going inside it, if there are doors, we are going to open them, if there are stairs, we are going to climb them. Most of the tour groups we saw at Heidelberg were there to see the giant wine barrel in the basement, take a poor quality picture, and leave.

Our nurses got a chance to show their stuff in the Heidelberg town centre, as one of our boys, David, slipped while trying to jump over a chain and slipped on the wet cobblestones. ( NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING LIKE THAT EVER AGAIN – I’ve made that quite clear to the boys as David wasn’t the only one who attempted to jump the same chain) A bonk on the head had us concerned enough to send him off to the hospital in an ambulance with Mr. Johnson. After a cat scan, he was given the all clear by a neurologist, and we were able to pick him and James up on the way back from Rothenberg. The German medical system is quite amazing in its efficiency. During our little crisis, the parents were a great help – they got the kids into a warm coffee shop and we bought them all hot chocolates as I called the insurance company and talked to James at the hospital to get updates. I have to say that I have really appreciated the great enthusiasm and helpfulness of all eleven moms and dads on the trip.

Our visit to Rothenburg was a bit shorter than usual, but we got to see the main square, wave at the webcam, walk the ramparts, and hear about Mayor Nusch, the legendary man who saved Protestant Rothenberg from General Tilly and his Catholic Army during the 30 Years War by meeting Tilly’s challenge to drink an entire 3.25 L tankard of wine at one go. Key word in that sentence is “legendary”. The students demanded I buy them some of the yummy looking Schneeballen – Rothenburg’s pastry delicacy (essentially left over pie dough scraps rolled into a ball and deep fried, then coated with one of a plethora of flavours – I got all chocolate so there wouldn’t be any complaining). They seemed to like them. Actually, I think these kids are hungrier than any other group I've brought. Many of them seem to buy snacks every chance they get.

Our last castle of the day was our home for the evening as well. Ortenberg, a tiny town in Germany right near the French border, has a youth hostel in a castle on the hill overlooking the town. We arrived at night, so we could see the castle lit up in the distance, and we enjoyed our meat/cheese/bread dinner in a grand dining hall fit for whatever nobleman used to live here. We even had music – thanks for all the piano lessons parents – it was great to hear someone playing something other than “ chopsticks” on the piano in the dining room.

Our nurses, Ruth and Trudi, dutifully checked on David in the night – I’m sorry about the rumour of lay-offs I started in a previous post.


Kaveboy said...

Wow... don’t really know what else to say. It looks and sounds like it just keeps getting better... First the deep fried pie scraps and then the night in the castle! It blows my mind what your all doin' over there. Oh, and tell David and the others to stop all that jumping. We want every one back in one piece.

KAYDeN <><

My Thots said...

Okay so you had to have at least one trip to the hospital, eh? By the look of the first picture with Mr. J scaling the wall, I'm just glad it wasn't his head that was cracked open!! haha
Lynne Klassen

Ms V said...

Sounds like you are having an amazing trip! I hope you have all been practicing your foreign languages! The weather here has been pretty cold and mostly cloudy. Hopefully you'll get a few sunny days. I'm really enjoying the photos and humorous commentary - keep 'em coming!

So sorry that your trip is coming to an end soon...and that we have to go back to school tomorrow! See you next week!

CatherineC said...

Mack I wanted to wish you a very happy BIRTHDAY in Italy. We are home safe and miss you too! Its taken me several tries to be able to send you this birthday wish so I sure hope it works this time. Better late than never. Love mom and morgan