Peering out from my window seat on the plane, the surreal view of looking over and seeing the island of England, the English Channel, and finally overing over Germany was like a dream. I knew I needed to garner as much sleep as I could, but I also knew that was going to be a challenge. If I was lucky, I got 3 hours of sleep and the 6 hour time difference was definitely going to be a challenge. As the group got off the plane in Frankfurt, it seemed instantly we all had a rush of adrenaline and were ready and eager to start our venture through Germany and Heidelberg. It was almost instantly that I realized what would become a familiar feeling. Safety and security was present whenever I was near my English speaking TOP bubble. Venture off too far away from the group and I would begin to feel unease in a foreign country which speaks a different language. The airport was rather empty, but it was also early in the morning, 8am German time. After everyone who needed to got their currency exchange sorted out, their morning coffee, and/or bathroom breaks, we met our two guides, Alexander and Asterid. I was unsure of the role of the guide, whether they would be with us for a day or for a duration of time. Alexander was as debonair as could be in his loud purple jacket, green button up shirt, and matching green scarf. He had a very welcoming and friendly appeal to him. Asterid was the complete opposite personality, more typical for what I predicted most Germans would be, serious and logical. Our guides led us to our first mode of transportation, a Mercedes coach bus. We rode this out of Frankfurt and to Heidelberg. I was amazed yet again at the amenities provided by TOP as this was a Mercedes coach. Not as it was much of a surprise, but peering through the window, one could be mistaken to think they were still in Michigan as the sight of lush trees and large stretches of farmland doted the highway. Our ride took us about an hour and a half when we pulled into the IBIS Hotel in Heidelberg. It was familiar to me since I had previously scoped out all the locales with Trip Advisor. The hotel wasn’t ready for us to check-in, but allowed us to put our belongings in the conference room in the basement. Ever-so-slightly you could see fatigue setting in with the group. It was funny to see the mad scramble and confusion as everyone tried to hop on wi-fi. Through the back window I saw the train system, which graffiti adorned the walls. As soon as we got everything together, we boarded the tram system. This would take us to the nearby downtown area of Heidelberg. The leaders continually warned us of the perils of boarding a train, but getting on was super quick and easy. Little did I know this wasn’t the high speed train Jenny was referring to. When we took our train to the downtown area, we could see the giant dinosaur metal mammoth piece of artwork from the adjacent building. Alexander told me that in Germany, while it’s not required, they ask that companies donate 1 to 3 percent of the building costs to the development of the arts. This mentality would never happen in the states on a wide reaching scale. Heading towards the downtown, I was excited to put my new camera to use for essentially the first time. When we got off, the guides said we got off one stop further than planned, though it allowed us to see more than we had originally anticipated. The cool breeze mixed with the Michiganesque summer weather made for the start of an amazing tour of Heidelberg. Walking past some of the buildings immediately caught my eye. I don’t consider myself easily impressed by architecture, but I was aghast at the astounding buildings seemingly down every road. The buildings all seemed to have their own story to tell. They took us past a subway entrance covered in graffiti, but unlike the American version, this actually looked stylish. The graffiti did seem out of place, contrasting against the seemingly countless historical monuments. We headed down the main strip and I put my camera to work almost instantly as I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful buildings. There was a large bridge which we would be a rallying point throughout our time in Heidelberg. From there you could clearly see Heidelberg castle looming over the city. It was brown bricks and had the far right tower blown off from the foundation, laying next to the castle. Along the bridge, accordion music was being played by two different women sitting on separate parts of the bridge. Both had a dog next to them wearing a hat. Every alley way we passed also presented a picture perfect photo opportunity. The guides took us to the area where we could grab some lunch. While everyone seemed to think we all had to go to the same confined Schwarma place, I went with Michelle and Laura to the neighboring Lebanese restaurant. It was apparent the limited German I spoke would cause moments of confusion as we were unable to easily communicate our orders. I saw a number on the menu above and ordered a steward and water. Luckily I saw the water that Laura ordered and realized that when you order water, it’s carbonated. I’m a huge water drinker and this definitely was going to be an issue for the duration of trip regarding my thirst. Luckily Jenny came by and helped us order “still water” or “quiet water”. It appears that Germans have to drink everything out of a glass bottle, though the tap water is supposed to be clean. The schwarma was a great meal to start off the trip, though it wasn’t what I figured to be a typical German meal. When we all finished eating, we met our guide for Heidelberg near the Heidelberg bridge from earlier in our day. Our guide was an older woman who had a style with panache similar to Alexander and Asterid. So now we have four adults looking over us, Jenny, Alexander and Asterid, and the Heidelberg lady. It didn’t take long to notice that it must be a German custom or that years of blasting music had ruined my ears, but the majority of German speakers would only talk loud enough for the person next to them to hear. Fumbling around with my camera, I was continually in and out of earshot of the guided tour. We walked through the city, past the marketplatz with a large beautiful church as the focal point. I was shocked to hear that Heidelberg is one of the younger cities in Germany, at only 500 years old. We took a cart up to the top of the castle grounds and continued along the cobblestone roads. From here, we walked past other tourists and locals as we took in the sights from the beautiful castle. We walked to the ledge of the castle and were able to see all of Heidelberg from high. The building’s orange shingle roofs, the church, marketplatz, and the bridge were breathtaking to witness from this vantage point. It was interesting that while normally I would savor the time and moments from this view, continually we had to keep moving in order to get lost from our group. Walking past, we got a close up look of the tower which was destroyed due to the French filling the tower with ammunition and setting the explosion. Little did they realize just how thick the walls of the castle really were. When we go to actually walk inside part of Heidelberg, we saw the world’s largest once used keg ever created. It was so large that we were actually able to go and stand on top of it. We found out that the peasants used to drink wine more than water, since the wine was safer to drink. They’d also put wine in their water in order to make the water safer to drink. Part of the taxes people would have to pay at one time was with wine, which would then be mixed with everyone else’s wine. Finishing the inside of the castle, we waited with the group as everyone had a quick rest. When we finally made it back to lower Heidelberg, we continued our tour to the church in the center of Marketplatz. It was a towering church, with dark gothic tones. There was a sense of seriousness as soon as you walked into the church. There was a service currently going on, but we were still able to take pictures. The next place we visited was another nearby church, though it was strewn with white and gold throughout. There was a different sense of serenity compared to the other church. We finally wrapped up our tour in Heidelberg with our guide and followed Alexander to the tram, heading back to the hotel. What would become a seemingly absurd, yet warranted difficult task, we were asked to get our belongings from the conference room, check-in, and be ready for dinner in 15 minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES!?! Though this was difficult, I rather this than to not get things done. At this point, the reality of being on someone else’s schedule set in, though I was more than willing to go along with the program. Getting changed into comfortable clothes in the short time meant I would have to rip apart my meticulously packed luggage in order to scrap my way towards the bottom. My room was nice and the bathroom was super tiny. It reminded me of a cruiseship bathroom as it had a little hole to look out to and it was super small. When everyone met back up in the lobby, I totally understood what Jenny was doing. She was trying to get us acclimated to the timezone difference by pulling an ironman day. It was now 6pm and everyone was running on fumes. We went back to the tram and arrived in the same starting position as last time. Down we walked on the cobblestone roads, past the same beautiful buildings, to our first dinner at a beer garden. My love of eating outdoors was met as we walked past a busy eating area outside and had a long table reserved for us. I sat with Asterid, Kristin, Kris, and Christina. We all made a deal to share each other’s food. The wait staff gave us menus in English, which considering the traditional German menu choices, didn’t help as much as I expected. I got the vienner schnitzel, shared some white asparagus (which I found out earlier is the big item to eat this time of season in Heidelberg), homemade meatballs, and some other random foods. I was in heaven as the meal hit just the right spot. Upon getting back after a LONG day, I briefly talked to my wife Kelly, but was too exhausted to explain in detail what I had experienced. I knew how tired I was and how early we were going to start tomorrow. I had to adjust my body clock quickly.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.