A ruined castle intrigues me. History can tell us when it was built, how it was used, and by what means it was destroyed, but its mysteries will never be fully known. What stories lie buried in the rubble? What scandal? What heartbreak? My imagination was working overtime as I regarded the red sandstone ruins of Heidelberg Castle.
We had a leisurely morning on day four of our Rhine River cruise, but by 10:00 AM we were traveling by bus along the Neckar River to romantic Heidelberg… and to the skeleton of Heidelberg Castle! The amazing thing about Heidelberg is this: the view of the castle from the city is as breathtaking as the city is from the castle! American forces thought the city was so beautiful they chose not to bomb it during WWII.
Our Viking tour guide was a student of European History at Heidelberg University, so he was knowledgeable and passionate about our tour. We started at the castle, originally built in the early 13th century as home to the Palatinate monarchy. By 1294, it had expanded into two castles. A lightning bolt destroyed the upper castle in 1537, while the remaining structure was later damaged by wars and fires. In 1764, another lightning bolt left the castle permanently uninhabitable. For me, the castle was a highlight of the trip!
The City of Heidelberg was totally rebuilt during the 18th century after the French troops of Louis XIV left it in ruin. The result is an interesting combination of baroque buildings and half-timbered houses mixed together with the towering turrets of Heidelberg University, Germany’s oldest university.
In the heart of Old Town is Market Square, the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Friedrich Memorial, the Palatinate Museum, the Statue of Madonna at Kornmarkt and the Old Bridge, along with shops, bars and restaurants. Our serious, scholarly, college-student-tour-guide had a grin on his face as we passed a well-known pub. Turns out he is also a DJ and bartender there. Oh, the versatile lives of college kids!
We spent our free time visiting the famous Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store and enjoying a handcrafted beer at Vetter’s brewery – popular with university students and tourists alike. We walked across the Old Bridge for a dramatic view of the castle before heading back to the bus.
At 2:00 PM, our ship arrived in Speyer, one of the oldest towns in Germany, where we were free to explore on our own.
Attractions include a 12th– century subterranean bath, a 13th-century tower gate, a Baroque Trinity Church, and a Romanesque imperial cathedral. The Speyer Cathedral is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It contains the remains of eight Holy Roman Emperors, German kings and empresses. The town was once a major Celtic hub, but now has approximately 50,000 inhabitants.
Onboard the Lofn, a relaxing dinner and entertainment rounded out our day. Only two more left! Next up: Beauty on the Rhine Day Five: Strasbourg, France.