Saturday 1 August
This morning’s first activities could only happen in modern Europe. We had to return our much loved French Renault and take a taxi to Kehl in Germany to hire a German Audi because tomorrow we want to drive the car to Aachen in Germany and leave it there. There is no agreement between France and Germany in relation to sharing hire car drop off destinations so that’s what we had to do! I do recall in the past hiring a car in France and dropping it off at the Rome airport. Perhaps France and Italy have a deal or else it was a problem with Enterprise, our hire car company in Strasbourg France. Who knows? It means at least that I could drive on the German autobahn in a German Audi and that was fun (mostly) since it was a five on the floor manual vehicle. We had some anxious moments trying to start in 3rd gear while my head got around a manual wrong side of the road driving experience in a large unfamiliar German town!
That solved we got away from the big city of Strasbourg/Kehl for a while and drove the autobahn to the gorgeous university town of churches, Speyer, again not far from the Rhine. In fact we crossed the Rhine at least three times in the course of today. Speyer’s imperial cathedral is a world heritage site and was in some periods the central cathedral of the Holy Roman Emperor although today it does not have a Archbishop’s seat. It is an unusual Romanesque style with however four towers and a central dome, not of course all built at once. Inside it is remarkable for its austerity and size. No stained glass at all and only a series of very well preserved frescoes from the C19th high above the nave. The statuary is very minimalist and the vast area of the apse and sanctuary is divided into two modern communion tables with moveable chairs and much space. The ceilings and walls are otherwise unpainted and unadorned. The massive cathedral sits in the midst of a beautiful treed parkland.
There are many other churches in Speyer, each one quite historic and spectacular in their own way. In addition the major part of the town has retained its “old town” feel with brightly painted wooden homes and some very impressive classical stone architecture. Speyer rightly attracts many tourists and getting a park was a challenge.
After lunch we completed the very short autobahn run to another University and huge industrial city of Heidelberg to see the impressive Renaissance ruined schloss or castle, resplendent in red stone and high on an unpronounceable hill above the beautiful bridge across the Neckar river and looking out over the beautiful houses of Heidelberg’s old town. The Castle has a complex history, belonging mostly to Hohenstauffen rulers including Frederick 11 and suffering from the same problem of often being in conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor and therefore having powerful enemies who kept attacking the castle and eventually disabling it. It sits in glorious and still formidable disarray and the height of its keep from wall to the bottom of the dungeon is dizzying and not for those with vertigo. The Schloss is a rich treasure and it is good to see it being well maintained. A funicular railway connects it to the town and is very popular.
The weather was again kind to us and we had another very happy day in the Rhineland.