We hopped a train (this is becoming a common theme) to Heidelberg yesterday morning. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we hiked into the historic district.

There is a large section of Heidelberg that is for pedestrian and bicycle traffic only, settled in between two ridges that run on either side of the Neckar River. There are several large churches, but the area is mostly filled with shops, bars, and restaurants.

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Since we had two full days to explore, we took it pretty easy on day one. Some shopping, some eating, some exploring of the area. We made sure to sample some fine German bier, some potato pancakes, and some German sausages. For dinner we found a nice beer garden to wile away the time, and befriended a lovely German woman who was in town on business. Somehow business travel never seems to take me to places like Heidelberg.

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The following day we got up and headed back to the historic district, and took the funicular up to the castle ruins that overlook the town. The castle was built up in stages starting in the 1200s, but it’s had some seriously bad luck with lightning and fires. Lightning has struck twice, causing major damage from the resulting fires, and several other fires from various causes have also contributed to its current state. Not that it isn’t impressive. Plenty of the castle is left standing, and even some of the destroyed stuff is interesting to see. At one point in the photos below, you can see where a castle tower partially collapsed and half of it came down in one piece to rest at an angle, essentially providing a cutaway view of the inside of the tower.

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We explored some of the inner courtyard and walked through a Pharmacy Museum (more interesting than it sounds), but before we left the castle we just had to check out the world’s largest wine barrel, which is located in the ruins of the castle. We turned the corner in one area and stumbled upon this:

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Holy cow! We snapped a bunch of photos and figured everyone would be amazed at how big this thing was. Then we walked around the next corner and found the actual largest wine barrel in the world:

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O.o

That’s a wine barrel that can hold 55,000 gallons of wine, and needs a series of stairs to reach the top. It was originally used to hold all of the town’s wine since wine was precious for being potentially safer to drink than water, but after issues with rot and a couple of refurbishments it was decided to keep it as an interesting showpiece instead of a functioning wine barrel.

With that checked off the list, we headed further up the “mountain” in yet another funicular, eventually reaching the top. While up there, I drank a beer and we looked out on the city below, and we even got to see a paraglider take off from a clearing in front of us. There was even a falconry nearby and a HUGE hawk/eagle flew no more than a couple feet over our heads as he swooped down the mountain, so close we could hear the air whoosh as he passed overhead. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

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We eased down the mountain just in time for the big World Cup match between Germany and the USA, so we headed to a local square at the university that hosted a public viewing. There were tons of people there to eat, drink, and cheer. We grabbed a brat and a beer and sat down to watch. Unfortunately we didn’t have much to cheer about from the American side, but it was a fun experience.

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We wrapped up the day with some schnitzel from a little hole in the wall diner, and headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we head to Munich!