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Monday, November 30, 2015

Heidelberg, Würzburg, Rothenburg and Paris -- Mom and Dad's 50th Wedding Anniversary

Heidelberg Castle

This was a very special trip. The last time we were in Heidelberg, mom wrote "Hope someday Angela, Chris, Catherine and Carrie can go with us."

For their 50th Wedding Anniversary, we all decided we would make that happen -- to have the entire family in Heidelberg, where mom and dad lived as newlyweds.

Saturday, November 21

We left Raleigh on Saturday, traveling through JFK to Frankfurt, Germany. For Angela, Chris, Carrie, and Catherine, this was their first trip to Europe. 

Sunday, November 22

When we arrived on Sunday morning, we discovered our 7 seater mini-van was a little too mini, so we had to upgrade to a huge vehicle. After we discovered that the GPS was avoiding the highway, we eventually made it to Heidelberg a half hour later than I had planned. We made our way through the small streets in the big van on streets where we weren't sure cars were even allowed. 

We went to our apartment on the main street (Haupstrasse, 161) and met the landlord Liliana's son János who let us in (and showed me and Chris where to park the big car.) I had just earlier gotten a note that said we have have two apartments -- not just the one I was expecting. So Angela and family had the top floor and mom, dad and I were just underneath them. 

Our first meal was at the Hard Rock Heidelberg. It was easy, close, and we figured the girls could find something to eat.

Monday,  November 23

The next morning (Monday) we had arranged to meet our friends Gertraud and Friedrich in Würzburg. Chris and I walked to retrieve the van from the parking garage. After about an hour and a half drive, we met Gertraud and Friedrich. They directed us to a parking spot and we walked into what looked like a park. Suddenly before us was a giant palace, the Würzburg Residenz.

The back of the Residenz, overlooking the gardens
The Residenz was built from 1720-1744 had been the seat of the Prince-Bishops until 1802. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. After touring the grounds, we walked inside to see the Court Chapel (Hofkirche) which was absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, pictures inside were not allowed, but you can see a picture of it here.

Afterwards, we walked through the city and toured the Cathedral of St. Kilian, which had been on that site since 1040 AD.  Gertraud and Friedrich told us about St. Kilian, who had been an Irish missionary to this area of Germany at the end of the 7th century and had converted the Duke of Würzburg to Christianity. The Duke's pagan wife, angry that Kilian had told the  Duke that he was in violation of church doctrine by marrying her (as the widow of his brother) had him killed in the main square, along with his companions, Colonan and Totnan. The Cathedral was built in that spot.

Walking with the Cathedral of St. Kilian behind us
Cathedral of St. Kilian

We had lunch at the beautiful Würzburger Ratskeller where I had delicious Wienerschnitzel.

After lunch we walked to the old main bridge (Alte Mainbrücke) for great views of the Main River and the Fortress Marienberg. This was the seat of the Prince Bishops from 1253 to 1719.

Catherine on the Old Main Bridge with the Fortress Marienberg to the left
Angela and Carrie on the Old Main Bridge
After leaving Würzburg, we drove to the village where Gertraud and Friedrich live, Weigenheim. My great-grandfather was born in Weigenheim. We had met Gertraud and Friedrich there on previous visits, introduced by Fritz Saemann, a distant relative who had hosted us in the past. Since our last visit, Fritz had passed away, but his sweet wife, Hilde, still welcomed us into her home for delicious desserts and coffee (and delicious whipped cream!). Carrie and Catherine loved her apple juice.  It was great to be there again, but I missed having Fritz there.

The spread at Hilde's house
After coffee, we all walked through the village, first to the Church Cemetery where we visited Fritz's beautiful grave. Just by the church is the spot where my great-great-great grandfather Nicholas Saemann lived with two of his boys, Johan Peter and Johann Valentin, who would eventually move to Ridgeway, North Carolina. It was great showing Angela and the girls the streets of the village where their ancestors walked.

Walking in Weigenheim
After leaving Weigenheim, we followed Gertraud and Friedrich to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a beautifully preserved medieval town mom, dad and I had visited before. Gertraud gave us a walking tour of the town - her version of the "Nightwatchman's Tour." We had hoped to arrive before the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store closed at 6:30 pm, but as it turns out it closed at 6:00 so we missed it. By 6:00 pm, it was already very dark there.

Posing in at the Plönlein, one of the most photographed spots
Christmas Tree in front of the Rathaus in Rothenburg
After an hour or so in Rothenburg, we said our goodbyes to Friedrich and Gertraud, and headed back to Heidelberg for the night.

Tuesday, November 24

The next day, November 24th, was mama and daddy's 50th wedding anniversary. That morning, mom and I walked down the street to the little market and did some grocery shopping. Mom got to know these folks quite well over the course of the week.

The results of grocery shopping!
Later that morning,  mama, Chris, Angela, the girls, and I decided to go up to the Heidelberg Castle. We rode the Heidelberger Bergbahnen, a funicular railway, to the castle to see spectacular views of Heidelberg.
Mom outside of the Castle, overlooking Heidelberg
Catherine, Frank and Angela in the castle's courtyard
Inside the castle, there is a giant wine barrel that holds over 50,000 gallons. This one was build in 1751. The barrel is 'guarded' by Perkeo, the unofficial dwarf mascot of Heidelberg who was once the court jester, brought by Prince Karl Phillip to Heidelberg in 1720. He was legendary for his wine drinking. 

Heidelbeg Tun, the large wine barrel
Also inside the castle was a very interesting Apothecary Museum. 

Apothecary Museum
After leaving the museum, we returned to our apartments to get ready for dinner. We had planned a very special meeting at 4:00 pm with Inge, the young daughter who lived downstairs from my parent's attic apartment in 1965. Inge and her husband Horst met us at the house where they used to live on Am Rohrbach. We had connected with her on our previous visit via telephone, but this was the first time mom and dad had seen her since they left nearly 50 years ago. Inge had gifts for us, and we posed for pictures in the garden of their old house where they lived as newlyweds and where Inge lived as a 16 year old girl. 

Daddy, Horst, Inge, and Mama at Am Rohrbach
Afterwards, Inge and Horst took us to Restaurant Makedonia, one of their favorites, for a wonderful 50th Anniversary dinner. It was a wonderful evening, and we hated saying goodbye. 

A delicious dinner at Makedonia
After dinner, mom, Angela, Chris, the girls and I returned to the old town and enjoyed a bit of the Weihnactsmarkt (Christmas Market). 

Enjoying the Weihnachtsmarkt

We even spent some time with Santa! The proceeds went to support the local Lions Club.

Wednesday, November 25

The next morning, Angela, Chris, the girls and I had planned a trip to Paris! We had a cab pick us up to take us to the main train station. We took a train to Mannheim, and from there took a high speed train to Gare de Paris-Est. The train got up to speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour and we were in Paris by 1:00 pm. 

Arriving in Paris
After we arrived, we walked to our hotel, the Hotel Saint-Merry near the Pompidou. It was part of a church presbytery at The Church of Saint-Merri that had been converted to a hotel. We were in the suite at the very top -- over 100 steps up. The gothic interiors are restored from the 17th century. 

Chris in our Suite at Hotel Saint-Merry
We left the hotel to explore Paris with our first stop the Notre Dame. The terrorist attacks on Paris were just two weeks before our visit, so there were lots of armed men in fatigues standing in front.

Notre Dame sibling selfie
Carrie at the East side of Notre Dame
Walking around the Notre Dame to walk across the bridge to Ile Saint-Louis, Carried picked up a sycamore leaf that she carried around for much of the day. As we crossed the bridge, it started to rain, so we decided to grab some lunch at a little brasserie called Le Flore en l'Ile. I had been just outside of there many times for Berthillon ice cream, but had never eaten there. It was probably not the budget-conscious choice, but it was really good. While I had steak tartare and foie gras, the girls loved their bacon and eggs (well, Carrie picked out her bacon).

After lunch, we took the Metro to the Champs-Élysées, where we got a brief glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe.  Then, walking by the Grand Palais to the Seine, we were treated to a nice view of the Eiffel Tower.

We walked along the Seine to where the Bateaux-Mouches depart so we could take a nice scenic boat ride down the Seine. These open excursion boats started in Paris in 1867.

Chris taking a picture from the top of the boat

While on the boat, we were treated to stunning sites as the sun set over Paris.

Near the end of the boat excursion, we came upon this highlight of the ride -- the Eiffel Tower all lit up in Blue, White, and Red. 

Leaving the boat, we would have stayed by the French Christmas markets, and perhaps walked down the Champs-Élysées for some macarons, but it was raining, and it was coming down hard. And my feet were cold and wet. So with the imploring eyes of a seven year old and a ten year old, we returned to the hotel to rest and dry off.

At the hotel, around 7:00 pm, the bells in the belltower started ringing. And ringing. And ringing. I thought it was chiming the hour, but it just kept going. I sat at the table and started laughing and laughing as the bell tower, just overhead. Angela luckily captured the moment in video.

We walked down our 100+ steps and headed to dinner. We walked around a bit before deciding where to eat, before deciding on pizza at a bistro on Saint-Denis and Rue des Lombards. We ordered, and you would think we hadn't eaten in days. We walked back to the hotel, then I went back out to take a picture of the Tour Saint-Jacques (all that remains of a church demolished in 1797 during the French Revolution) and walk around the Marais to see how the neighborhood had changed.  Then I settled down for sleep in Paris, under a full moon.

Tour Saint-Jacques
Early morning in Paris, under a full moon

Thursday, November 26

Thursday morning we left Paris (after walking around to find a Châtelet Metro station entrance that a was open and that sold tickets. Luckily, we built in plenty of time to get our train back to Germany.

My little seasoned travelers in the Paris Metro
When we got back to Heidelberg, mom was really glad to see us. We spent the afternoon shopping and visiting the Christmas markets.

That night we all had dinner at Restaurant Löwenbräu Heidelber-- our Thanksgiving Dinner. But instead of turkey, I had Schweinshaxe (roasted pork knuckle.) Carrie was not a fan.


Afterwards we went out to enjoy the magic of Heidelberg at Christmas. 

Mama was excited to learn that Thursday is "Senior Discount Night" in the Christmas Markets.

Christmas Carols
 Friday, November 27

While there wasn't turkey and dressing on Thanksgiving, Heidelberg did take part in the American tradition of Black Friday. Mom and I went out early and hit the Black Friday sales. This store was just below our apartment.

We all spent the day shopping and walking up and down the streets of Heidelberg. For lunch, Angela, Chris, Catherine, and Carrie and I decided to give German Pizza a go, since the girls liked Parisian pizza so much.  The pizza was delicious, and the girls became fast friends with the owner at Yufka's Kepab & Pizza. The girls also had a good time playing with Nellie, a dog owned by a couple selling souvenirs just outside the Heiliggeistkirche (The Church of the Holy Ghost.)

Catherine and Carrie with Nellie 
Christmas Markets along Hauptstrasse and the Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Ghost Church)

 Friday afternoon, Angela, Chris, mom and I walked down to the old bridge (Alte Brücke) to walk to the other side of the Neckar river and to take a few pictures from the bridge with the Castle in the background.

Angela and Mom at the Old Bridge

Chris and Angela taking pictures of the Castle from the Old Bridge. 
Heidelberg from the Bridge

Friday night, while we walking around, I took this picture to show our apartment (lit above Mountain Warehouse). Chris and Angela's apartment is just above ours. Mountain Warehouse was where mom and I found our Black Friday shopping deals.

That night, the girls stayed with Dad in the apartment, and Angela, Chris, Mama and I enjoyed one last night at the Christmas Markets. Chris, mom and I enjoyed savory crepes from the market stands for dinner.

Last night in Heidelberg at the Weihnachtsmarkt
Saturday, November 28

The last morning, we awoke to snow fall on the rooftops, packed our bags, and started the journey home.

Looking out of the rear apartment window on the last morning

Waiting for Chris and Angela to arrive with the van
Ready to fly back to the U.S. 

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