Hiking report

Weekend trip to Heidelberg!

We’ve already had a couple of weekend trips over the last 3 years. But all of them took place somewhere nearby, either in the north of Rhineland Palatine or inside North Rhine Westphalia. The idea of going much farther popped up every now and then. Most of them were about these two areas: the Alps or the Black Forest. After having heard of these two so often, last year I finally decided to organize one to Freiburg and another one to Offenburg, both of which lie directly on the edge of the Black Forest. Then most famously the coronavirus arrived – sweeping all weekend trips that I had organized. I meddled through with little damage to cover, but not so surprisingly it hit the hotel industry quite badly, and apparently the youth hostels were not exempted either. With this in mind, I decided to accept the reimbursements in vouchers, while it would have been possible to claim the money back. So, now after the first wave of cancellations, I’m left with quite some amount of vouchers, which can be used in the same youth hostel association, in this case inside Baden Württemberg. The journey to the Black Forest being too long for a normal weekend, I decided to book a hostel in Heidelberg, which is probably the closest youth hostel inside Baden Württemberg from Düsseldorf, especially regarding the fact that the railway connection along the Rhine is extremely good.

This was a long, but probably also quite useless intro, because the fact is clear: Heidelberg is a wonderful place. I heard some time ago that during WWII, the Brits never attacked Heidelberg and Göttingen, in exchange for Oxford and Cambridge that Germans never attacked, as these cities were considered as the academic sanctuaries that should never be destroyed. Whether this is a fact or not, the idyllic atmosphere survived the war, and it is still an academic city just like before.

I never properly announced this weekend hike anywhere. I simply put it in the internet and talked to a couple of active people – active in the sense that they can organize themselves without waiting for me. It took only a few days for this event to be fully booked. Actually, I had to ask some people to switch to the next trip (to Liège) since there was simply not enough space anymore.

I should note that this kind of group trip can be kept quite cheap thanks to the group ticket that DB offers. This one can be used for 6 to 30 people and we get a reduction of up to 70%, which is probably what we got this time. So in total, I could offer the trip for 130€ per person including the train journey and the hostel stay with breakfast. That’s extremely cheap for a trip from Friday to Sunday. And it’s not a bad feeling that the entire money goes to the ones that suffered the most during the lockdown (i.e. DB and youth hostels), also they were the ones who acted the most honestly during this period of time, so this trip is also somewhat connected to a good deed as well.

Friday morning. The train was to leave at 19:27. Almost everyone arrived in the last 5 min before departure. It’s good that everyone is so relaxed.

For me taking an ICE is a common thing. As it turned out, for many of us it was the very first experience. Well, there’s nothing special about it, except for the restaurant car. As I was expecting, we simply occupied a table from the beginning to the end. It’s a great place when you are traveling in a group.

With a few minutes delay, we arrived in Heidelberg. As the youth hostel was open only until 10pm, I had to take a bus from the station. Due to Covid measures, it wasn’t possible to buy a ticket on the bus. And at the same time, the German railway app didn’t allow me to buy one. It’s extremely rare that I take a bus without a ticket, but what can I do.

There was a nice bistro attached to the hostel, just like every other one, but this one was closed. After I got the keys, we left our stuff in the rooms and went out, in search for a good place to sit (there should have been a bistro at the hostel, but because of the coronavirus it was open only until 9:30pm instead of midnight, even though I don’t really understand the logic behind it). Close to the hostel, there was a beach with super loud music. We could hardly talk there. Nice to see that there are also places like that in Heidelberg.

I usually find it quite difficult to sleep in in an unknown place, but somehow this time it worked out quite well. I essentially slept through once I fell asleep. Apparently it was the same for my two other roommates. This time, due to the coronavirus, we got 4 rooms instead of 2, so we could get relaxed better.

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The breakfast was supposed to be between 7am and 10am, but in order to reduce the density, it was separated into 3 1-hour slots. As we arrived late in the evening, we couldn’t choose our slot and were directly set to the first slot (from 7am to 7:45am, to give them some cleaning time). We first thought the time frame wasn’t so strict – well it was. At 7:45 we really got a warning and we got out of the hall fairly quickly then. I have to say there were a couple of incomprehensible rules in this hostel. For example, we were not allowed to eat outside, even though both the weather and the equipment were perfect. Then the storeroom was not available (which was mostly important on the last day). But then … why?

Well, anyway we should probably still be happy that we could start the day quite early in the morning. We got a bus at 9:04 from the hostel and first went to the train station. Just as always, the beginning is always associated with trouble: Maria lost her phone, not quite sure where she lost it. She and Sylwia therefore went back to hostel. The rest took a train leaving at 9:25 and started the hike from Neckarsteinach at 9:45.

Actually, despite Heidelberg being quite famous for its hills, it wasn’t quite easy for me to create a trail, mainly because there was nothing quite interesting in the south or the north of Heidelberg. The final decision I took was this trail called Neckarsteig, which goes along this river Neckar, which, despite lack of industry nearby, was a rather unsavoury river. I was totally planning to swim in the river and had also partly announced it in the group. In addition, we finally got this perfect weather today, after a week of rather discouraging weather. What a disappointment.

But hey, we came here to enjoy the hike! And in this regard, the trail wasn’t so bad. As the Neckar was situated right next to us, all upward slopes were quite rewarding. We had also this nice Dilsberg Castle at the beginning, which by the way is also a hostel, but it was closed right now (I don’t know why).

We got a call from Sylwia and Maria, saying they could find Maria’s phone. I asked them to come to Neckargemünd, which was our next destination, which I thought was just around the corner, which … it wasn’t. The long and winding path going to Neckargemünd required us to go another 2 hours. It was an optical illusion that I thought it was nearby, because it looked like a small section on the map, but I should have considered the fact that the entire trail was more than 20 km, which is far longer than what we usually do.

Around noon, we were in Neckargemünd. The heat was arriving. We found a kebab parlour in the city (for some reason we went quite far for this one). I got a kebab and went to the river, while the others essentially stayed there for lunch.

Even though the water wasn’t quite clear, I don’t think the Ruhr would be cleaner than the Neckar. Well, anyway as I knew that I’d feel super sleepy if I start swimming, I decided to only stick my feet in the water. It felt like I was extinguish fire with water. There was also no one swimming in the river. I’m pretty sure that people would do so if only it had been in the Ruhr area.

Right after the break, there was another long upward slope. Now on the map above I see that this one was not even particularly high. But it appeared to me like a major one. Anyway, on top of this hill we had another break, since there was a cottage selling drinks there. A bottle of water for 3,50€. That’s where the capitalism becomes really horrible. Still I bought a bottle of cider.

Even though we were still going along the Neckar, we could hardly see the river – the trees were densely covering the area, with pretty much nothing to see. On the one hand, it was a pity that we could hardly see anything, on the other hand, it was maybe good that we could stay in the shadow in the rest of the day, as the sun must have been shining quite hard today.

Every now and then, we could encounter random objects, like this one. The tree towards the middle left was planted upside down. Don’t ask me what it means.

As the hike dragged on, we were getting slower and slower, which was perfectly fine by me, since I hate to have too much time after the hike. I was rather glad that we were steadily making progress.

I knew that there was this place called Königsstuhl (king’s chair), which must have been a touristic spot. But as it turned out, we could have a great view over Heidelberg from there. You should probably know that this place was far greater than what you can see on the photo above.

There was also a possibility of taking a cable car from there to the city center, which we of course didn’t do – we took this path called Himmelsleiter (heaven’s ladder), which took like forever going down the entire hill. I know that my body is extremely solid, but here my knees were starting to hurt. You need an unflinching resolution to make the whole way if you should ever be there.

It was around 6:30pm when we finished the hike. So it took around 1 hour more than I had planned, although I found it better this way (what could we do at 5:30pm?)

At least the end of this path directly led to the city center. From there, we took a bus back to the hostel first. We then all took a shower and went back to the city center again. Today, we got a day ticket for the public transport (29€ for 5 people), and Heidelberg was well connected by bus lines, so we could move around freely.

There’s one thing we did right this time: we took a reservation before we went to the restaurant. Around one hour before we left the hostel, I took a quick reservation for 10 people at a nice Spanish restaurant (recommended by Rohith). They were saying it would be difficult to make a spot for 10 people already in that moment, meaning it would have been impossible to do so if we had directly arrived there.

Frankly, this restaurant was a great choice. We got really good Spanish food (Jamón, Sangría, Paella etc.) and the staff were also very flexible. As I was infinitely hungry, I took several portions of everything. Never knew that I could eat that much.

We also had an idea of sitting outside when we went back to the hostel, but since it was close to midnight, we all went to bed. I was so tired that I was already sleeping on the bus on the way.

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I fell asleep so quickly and woke up only when the alarm started bursting. God it was a good night sleep. Again, we had a quick breakfast and prepared ourselves very quickly. As I already said above, the storeroom was not available. As it was not clear whether the lockers in the train station were available, we asked the hostel and left the stuff at the reception. This makes really zero sense – why shouldn’t we be able to put our stuff in the storeroom.

Anyway, we got a bus at 9:22 to the other side of the river this time. The beginning, called Philosophenweg, is a famous place among tourists. It must have gained popularity in the last couple of years as well, since you can also take beautiful photos over Heidelberg from there.

Even though the slope was quite steep, it was quite obviously more touristic there. We were constantly overtaken by casual looking people. Well, it’s not bad in the first place that we all joined after the 21 km hike.

Well, of course it wasn’t just touristic for no reason. There were a couple of random monuments on this side. We have no idea what this tour was meant for. Anyway we had fun climbing up 🙂

And every now and then we could have a great view over Heidelberg. Just like the other side, there were a lot of trees, but still the platforms and viewpoints were well organised on this side. I’m pretty sure that the photo above has been taken millions of times, but I took one nevertheless.

There were also a nazi monument, a Bismarck tower and ruins of monastery and so on. Again, I have no idea what kind of role they played in the history of Heidelberg.

We had a lot of breaks this time as well. Since I was not really interested in sightseeing, I didn’t mind going slowly. This time again, the whole hike took around one hour more than I had planned, which was again perfect from my point of view.

And at the end came this famous view over the bridge in Heidelberg. I was wondering whether I should take a panorama photo from there, because actually this place was much more spectacular than what it looks like on the photo (just like the view from Königsstuhl). Well, you just have to go there yourself. Just bear in mind that you’ll probably not get such a perfect weather as we did 🙂

We went down a stairway and reached the city center. There, we found a nearby café and had salad, while some others went to a Japanese restaurant (how can you ever go to a Japanese restaurant in Heidelberg). We then went back to the hostel and picked up our stuff, then back to the train station. In the end, there was no extra time for sightseeing. Well, Heidelberg isn’t that far away – please visit it again if you wanted to do sightseeing.

We got two tables in the ICE back to Düsseldorf, so finally, after so many weekend trips where I carried my card games around without never playing them, we could play one of them on the train. 2 hours on ICE fly away super fast. It felt like we arrived in Düsseldorf as soon as we had entered the train.

And so was our second weekend trip of this year. First of all, there’s one stupid mistake that I made which I shouldn’t forget – I took my computer with me. I’m not even sure if I even opened it once, and I don’t even know what I could have possibly done with the computer if I had time (work?). It only increased the weight and the danger that it gets lost or broken. So, never take a computer.

Then I should probably know better how much time it takes to do a long hike like more than 20 km. Especially if we have an entire day, I should probably believe that it takes maybe an hour more than planned. This time it was perfectly fine, but I have to be more careful for the future sessions if the programme is more tight.

From the organisational point of view, probably I should have had a better overview over the bus schedule, especially on the last day, because if we had taken two buses later from the city center, we’d have missed the train. I was sure that there was enough time, but I didn’t know exactly how much time was needed to go to the hostel and come back to the train station. Given the unchangeable tickets, that’s probably a risk we shouldn’t take anymore.

I was also not quite aware of all the problems related to the coronavirus, especially concerning breakfast and storeroom at the hostel. That was something I could have known beforehand if I had properly contacted the hostel on this issue. I’m not quite sure if they’d have given a reply, or a reply that would contain all the necessary information, but still it would have been worth giving a try.

Apart for these points, this one was a particularly successful trip. It was also a comfortable number of participants this time, compared to the ones that we used to do until last year. I guess in all future weekend trips we should be something like 10 or 12 people and not 20.

Whenever we do a weekend trip, there’s usually something new that I intentionally include. This time it was the trip with ICE. The fact that the reservation cannot be cancelled has always scared me, but the comfort that we can get from that cannot be simply replaced. I think we should do more trips using ICE, hopefully with more trips across Germany and not restricted to the Düsseldorf area.

Finally, I’m somehow glad that I could extract 10 people from Rhineland, because this is the most populated area in Germany and therefore it has the highest risk of coronavirus. People don’t really care about the virus anymore, but I still do – I’m still trying to figure out what is the most sustainable way to cope with the current crisis. And not only I could reduce the number of people (however minimal) in Rhineland, but also we could contribute to the local economy as well. That’s certainly something we can be proud of.

Anyway, as you probably already know, this was of course not the last weekend trip of this year. We’ll see each other in 3 weeks, this time in Liège. Hope to see you there!

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