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KARLSRUHE TO MAINZ
Elaine and Kim decided to cover shorter distances, and opted to travel cross-country from Karlsruhe to Mainz in a nor-nor-westerly direction. The rest of us determined to go to Heidelberg by train, then Worms, then ride to Mainz. We arranged to meet in Mainz in 5 days hence.
The six who had decided to train it to Heidelberg trundled down to the station next morning. As usual, because I could speak some German, I was given the job of buying the tickets - I don't really know why the others did this because the first thing I ever asked the clerk behind the desk was "Can you speak English?", and they always did. I started chatting to a lady in front of me in the queue. She had lots of luggage piled high on a trolley - three suitcases, an overnight bag and a makeup case. I told her where we were from and what we were doing. After she left the ticket office she went up to my companions outside and told them how much she admired them. "For cycling down the Rhine?" they asked. "No," she said, "for leaving home for 2 months with only two little bags. I am only going away for 3 days!"
German trains are quite cheap if you travel in groups. Most lines offer an excursion ticket that covers from 2 to 5 people, plus bicycles, as long as you travel after 9.00 am. With one excursion ticket and one adult single, the trip to Heidelberg cost us DM16.20 each.
There is also the wonderful Schönes Wochenende ticket, which can be used any number of times between midnight Friday to 02.00 Monday. It costs DM35.00 and covers up to 5 people. There are some restrictions on which trains you may catch, eg not the InterCity Express trains. Bicycles cost DM6.00 extra per trip.
We reached Heidelberg at 11.30, and bought our lunch at the station supermarket, just in case we couldn't find another one before the shops all closed for lunch. The youth hostel was easy to find as it is right next to the zoo, and that is well signposted. The hostel does not open until 13.00, so we picknicked outside to fill in the time. Interesting bike parking at Heidelberg JH - the bikes are suspended by the front wheel in an almost vertical bike rack - it's a good design and takes up very little space.
We checked in, then took our gear up to our room. Quite spacious, with a nice view but, "Hey guys, there's an elephant outside our window!" Like I said, the youth hostel is right next to the zoo! So what better to do than spend the afternoon at Heidelberg zoo. It's a very good zoo, with a broad range of animals (even a couple of kookaburras). The sulky male gorilla, and the cool-dude big-daddy orang-utang with orange dreadlocks provided first class entertainment!
We caught a bus in to the Altstadt for tea (armed with information from Mark's Kneipenfuhrer, a 'net site listing the bars and restaurants of Heidelberg). We caught the same number bus back to the Jugend Herberge, but in the wrong direction. We had a lovely tour of the outskirts of Heidelberg, but the bus driver was slightly bemused by these passengers who wouldn't get off!
Heidelberg castle ruins
We spent the next day sightseeing in Heidelberg - a worthwhile pastime! The castle has a powerful presence even though it is a ruin, and Mary had to restrain me from singing snippets from "The Student Prince" every 5 minutes!
We caught the train from Heidelberg to Worms the next day, and were glad we did. Mannheim and Ludwigshafen form a huge industrial conurbation, and riding through it would have been a nightmare. I had been hoping to travel to Mainz via Darmstadt, and make contact with yet another Eurobike correspondent, Markus Sauer, but after Elaine and Kim's departure, I didn't want to present the remaining group with yet another split, and I didn't want to foist the lot on Markus, so I rang him to apologise. Pity we couldn't meet, he sounded very nice on the 'phone ;-) (Next time, Markus)
When we got off the train at Worms we couldn't believe our eyes! There in front of us was the sign to the youth hostel. Right out of the station, left at the end of that street, every turn was signposted, what bliss! We arrived at the hostel at about 12.20, to be met by the manager who flung open the front door in greeting, and asked us if we needed lunch! We had our usual picnic lunch with us, so we declined, but it was definitely the best welcome we received for the whole trip :-)
Worms is a very pleasant town, and great for tourists because you don't even need a bike. The old town is only about 1k square, and everything is within easy walking distance. The hostel is surrounded by churches including the Dom (cathedral), which is massive, and the Liebfrau Kirch (Church of Our Lady). The Liebfrau is important to Worms, as one of the town's best known products is Liebfraumilch. Of course we had to sample the local product while we were there. A little hollow in the roofline just below our window sill made the perfect spot to store and chill our bottle of the sweet white wine until we returned from dinner.
Day 21 of our holiday (16/4) was perfect. The morning was bright and clear, and we spent some time shopping before leaving Worms. Louise is a graphic designer, and she fell in love with a little shop selling stainless steel artefacts - knives, letter openers, cutlery, all so beautifully designed and finely balanced that each item was a work of art.
Navigating from Worms to Mainz was a simple case of "follow the river"- Rhine, that is. We rode through a couple of small villages, had a chat with a lady who was leaning out her first floor window, bought our lunch supplies (the usual quark, bread rolls, cheese, a drink and an apple), and carried on until we saw a wondrous sight in the distance. It was a rounded hill, cloaked by the buildings of a small town, and right on top of the hill stood a huge pink church. We were riding along fairly flat countryside at the time, and this vision rising out of the fields pulled us in like a magnet.
We wove through the lower town, then rode our bikes up the steep narrow streets towards Sankt Katharinen zu Oppenheim. After lunching in the churchyard overlooking the town, we strolled over to look inside the church and admire the stained glass windows. According to the guidebooks, St Katharine's is on a par with Strasbourg and Cologne cathedrals when it comes to Gothic splendour. I wouldn't argue.
St Katharine's Beinhaus, Oppenheim
Just outside the church door was a fingerboard, pointing to the "Beinhaus". I pulled Denis to one side and told him there was an ossuary around the back. We were quite excited as we had never seen one before, although we had seen pictures. Sure enough, we found a small stone building, partly underground, full of neatly stacked bones. Most of the bones on view were thigh bones and skulls, but the sign on the wall indicated that the contents of the Beinhaus were 20,000 skeletons from the years 1400 to 1750. Some skulls had gilt patches on them, and one near the centre was entirely covered in gilt (or gold coloured paint). The others thought the Beinhaus a rather gruesome sight, but, hey, what else can you do when the graveyard is full?
We carried on to Mainz, uplifted by the chance discovery of such a place as Oppenheim - that's what bicycle touring is all about! We rode right in to the Hauptbahnhof, then backtracked to the youth hostel, that we had all but passed on the way in. The news was not good when we arrived - the hostel was full. Really full, no room at all? Well, almost full. Denis and I managed to secure a double room, but the others (Roy and Russell, Mary and Louise) were relegated to "Notbetten" (emergency beds), which were slightly better than camp stretchers, but not much. They had a bad sleep because of the beds; we had a bad sleep because of the kids - the presence of two busloads of 16 year olds on excursion with minimal teacher supervision does not make for a peaceful night's rest! Why do they let these young people in to the youth hostels ;-^ ? The yahooing up and down the corridors even put me off having a shower that night, but I snuck one in next morning at 6 am, when they were all fast asleep :-)
We were scheduled to stay two nights in Mainz, where Elaine and Kim would meet up with us again, but we couldn't bear the thought of another night in that place. We decided to wait for E & K until about 17.00, then cross the river to Wiesbaden and the empty hostel over there. We left a note to that effect, then went sightseeing.
Mainz cathedral (Denis was starting to suffer from the ABC syndrome - Another Bloody Church - but no matter ;-)) is very large, and very dark. It's quite overpowering and makes you feel very small and insignificant indeed. Next port of call was the Gutenberg museum, which, naturally enough, presents a comprehensive picture of the art and craft of printing and the development of the printing press from Gutenberg's invention to the computerised monsters of today.
My main goal in Mainz was to see the Marc Chagall windows in St Stephan's Church, but it was closed for lunch (!), so we wandered back down to the remains of the old town. By chance we pushed open the door of the Augustinerkirch and were stunned into silence. Here was Chris's little village church grown to adulthood! The white and gold interior, pink-flushed ceiling and bright paintings (frescoes?) stood in absolute contrast to the dark, sedate cathedral. The one preached joy and salvation, the other suffering and eternal damnation!
St Stephan's was open when we returned, and I drank my fill of Chagall. I'm just sorry I was too mingy to buy more of the beautiful postcard pictures of the windows - the tourist can't get close enough to take any really good photographs.
Back at the hostel E & K had not yet turned up, so we changed the message then headed off to Wiesbaden. I must admit we had no confidence in the message ever getting to E & K if they tried to telephone, because the manager was a complete blockhead, and he seemed to have recruited staff in his own likeness!