Monday, November 30, 2015

Heidelberg Christmas Markets by train from Kaiserslautern

We debated driving just over an hour to Heidelberg, or taking the train for 1 ½ hours. When we woke up and saw thick fog and just barely-above-freezing temperatures, we unanimously voted on the train. Tickets were not available online, but the schedule was, so we drove a few minutes to the “Hauptbahnhof” in K-town and parked our car (6 Euro fee at departure).
The train ticket machine had a handy British flag and the instructions popped up in English. We bought one-way tickets to Heidelberg-Altstadt because the larger Christmas markets are in the old town. We didn’t see any option to buy a round-trip ticket (9.70 Euro per person each way). Not sure how much a parking garage in Heidelberg would have cost, but the fog and potential for rush hour traffic on the way home made the train tickets worth it to us, plus on street parking was about non-existent.
We had time to stop at the bakery in the train station before going to our platform shortly before the train pulled into the station. We found seats and had our tickets ready to be stamped, but no conductor came through during this leg of the trip. 

The scenery was nice, and we read books most of the way through 20 or so stops. The train got more crowded the closer to Heidelberg that we got, but we were past any morning rush hour there might have been, so it was never over-crowded.
We walked a few blocks from the train station to the first of the Christmas markets, which included a small skating rink, plenty of sausages for sale, and potato pankakes (Reibkuchen) with apple sauce. They tasted great, of course. We passed on a 50 cent toilet trailer. The next market was just a block away, and had many vendors of gifts/crafts, as well as food. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant that didn’t charge for tap water- a big thank you for that! All the customers at the time were Americans. We did not see a whole lot of vegetarian/health foods at the market stalls, and restaurants/cafés of course have heated bathrooms.
 We started down the world’s (allegedly) longest pedestrian shopping street, and checked out an apple store (no new ipad today!), and an ice cream/dessert shop with a large sticker of Sesame Street's cookie monster on the glass door. Several churches were open for people to stop in, light a candle (50 cents donation), and sit for a moment. We came upon another market area, and bumped into some people we knew from Ramstein Air Base. One indoor Christmas ornament store was playing American carols at full volume.
Providing excellent customer service is something that small German shops pride themselves in. Jeff’s wallet had been disintegrating over the months, and when we stopped at a leather shop, the salesperson showed Jeff a dozen men’s wallets and narrowed down his options based on his preferences for size, color, style, etc.
A stupendous hot chocolate followed at nearby "Schmelzpunkt" and we stocked up on shower gel at “Lush”. A cute gadget shop yielded stocking stuffers, and another small market stall area included more food and arts/crafts that we didn’t get this time around.

We ended our day trip at “Red”, a vegetarian restaurant closer to the main train station. Even if you are not vegetarian, the healthy and delicious choices at the hot and cold buffets are worth the expense. We walked to the Hauptbahnhof, bought return tickets at the machine, and didn’t even have time to look at the shops as we jogged to our train. Our tickets were checked just as soon as we pulled out of the station. It was a full train most of the way back, but everyone had a seat. During one short delay, the announcer informed us of the reason and apologized for the inconvenience. All in all, we’d take the train again to Heidelberg. Due to the fog, we didn’t go up to the castle this time, but we heard that there is another Christmas market at the castle.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Way off the beaten path in France (the Alsace region)

When Jeff travelled to Texas for a work conference, I asked around over here about a day trip while he was gone. My colleagues immediately organized a tour of several towns on the western edge of France, not far from where we are in Germany. We piled into one car together on Saturday morning, and headed south to Soufflenheim. This village is known for its pottery, but I did not buy any. It was very nice, but our kitchen here is so small that we gave a away a bunch of things when we arrived, and anything new has to be truly needed. We enjoyed a lovely, relaxing lunch as the town shut down from noon to 2 pm (we know all about that!). FYI, "limonade" is pretty much sprite.  
The village of Riquewihr, France
After lunch, we proceeded to Ribeauville, where a fortunate wrong turn off the highway led us directly into the parking lot of a chocolate factory outlet store! Gee whiz, it’s about time for a rest room break, and might as well check out the chocolates while we are here. These folks have a lot to learn from the Cailler factory in Switzerland, because we got ABSOLUTELY NO free samples in the store in France, which made it harder to spend big bucks on boxes of chocolates. We’d still recommend stopping at the Chocolaterie due Vignoble Daniel Stoffel, as they did give everyone a free sample AFTER making a purchase- literally on the way out the door, and that sample was GOOOOOOD! I would have bought way more if they’d had the samples at the front door rather than the exit.
The search for tablecloths for 2 office-mates continued in the next town of Riquewihr, which was gorgeous but did not host the famous table cloth store they were seeking. There were plenty of Maracons (both kinds- coconut macaroons and French macaron cookies), pottery shops, and textiles such as napkins, towels, and bolts of cloth. We strolled through cobblestone streets with lovely architecture, and had a wonderful roll with an ok bowl of soup. Too bad we were too full thereafter to partake of the luscious pies at the café.
Sunset, soup and roll

We had planned to continue driving south to Colmar, but that will have to wait for the next time. It was getting late and we still had a 2 hour drive home. We drove right past Strasbourg, France- another place to return to.