So here we go. This will be the first post in this “Semana Santa” series chronicling my week long trip to Germany and Austria. I will also write a post about Semana Santa itself.  Even though I was not in Spain that week, Semana Santa is a week long holiday that dates back several hundred years.  It is one of the most iconic Spanish cultural experiences that I think many people who have never been to Spain don’t know about.

The first stop on the trip was the city of Heidelberg,  located in southwest Germany and has a population of around 145,000. Our hostel was right in the Old Town (known as the Aldstadt in German) section of the city, which is pretty small in itself. It was easy to forget that the city also has a fairly big “modern” section because the Old Town was so cute and quaint. All of it just looked like a postcard (minus the rainy weather on the first day) and for me it just perfectly represented the stereotypical aesthetics of a traditional German village. The old castle lying in ruins overlooking the Old Town, the church spires punctuating the Old Town skyline, the River Neckar snaking through the valley, all the buildings along the Hauptstrasse (Main Street)…

Quintessential Europe, pretty much. And I loved every minute of it (minus the bad weather, but that is one part of travel you can never control). This was also not my first time to Germany–I visited Berlin in April 2009 but I wasn’t a huge fan. This trip definitely gave me a new appreciation for Germany. I didn’t like it so much the first time around (sorry Berlin), but this time I definitely can’t wait to go back. I think these pictures do a good job of showing why I enjoyed myself so much.

Heidelberg Town Hall in the Marketplace Square

buildings in the Marketplace

Church of the Holy Spirit next to Marketplace

Marketplace with the castle ruins on the hilltop

along the main street

We visited the castle after wandering around the Main Street. In German, a castle is a “schloss” so technically the real name in German is Heidelberger Schloss. We took the funicular up but we got a little confused about where we were supposed to get off and ending up having to pay for another funicular ticket… oh well.

The earliest castle structures date before 1214, but the current ruins date from construction done in the 1600s. Fun facts: the castle has been struck by lightning twice (1537 and 1764 so I guess the expression lightning never strikes in the same place twice is of no use here). And just like any old structure in Europe, the castle was further damaged in wars and fires.

If you want a full account of the castle’s history, you can go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidelberg_Castle

It seems people debate on whether the castle should be fully restored or if it should be left in ruins. It seems the fact that part of it does lie in ruins is half the reason why people visit the castle in the first place–nostalgia for the past, ideas of romanticism etc. It turns out you can get married in the castle’s chapel! And unsurprisingly, Americans are some of the most frequent visitors to this castle–even Mark Twain visited it!

Anyways it turns out there are some restored rooms, but you can’t visit them without paying for the guided tour. However you still have to pay to enter the courtyard and stand around on the balcony to marvel at the view of the Old Town below, which is a slight rip off if you ask me. On the bright side, the castle gardens are free. Regardless, enjoy these photos!

entering the castle

     

     

   

And some views of the Old Town and the River Neckar from the balcony:

   

So yeah, as you can tell by these pictures, the weather was horrible. It was overcast and at one point it was raining pretty hard when we tried to go out and visit the castle gardens–we ended up turning around and heading back to the hostel. However, the next day the sky cleared and it was absolutely beautiful. I will post those pictures in a separate post because there seem to be enough pictures in this entry already!