….can come to nought….we can end up absolutely exhausted at the end of what should have been an easy 30km drive, unable to know where to start with blogging – in fact, Rob’s verdict was, “Don’t bother; it was such a shocker!” He revised this to, “It was the worst day driving ever. We drove round and round and round and couldn’t stop in Heidelberg and then we went to Worms.”
Obviously, this is an unsatisfactory explanation, so let me try to see exactly What Went Wrong.
Our plan was “get away early to Heidelberg and find somewhere to stay by lunchtime. Spend the afternoon at the castle.” We had even precooked the rice for dinner to save time at the other end of the day.
As we slurped our chicken rice soup for breakfast, we spied a council worker picking up rubbish in the carpark where we had overnighted. Deciding to tap into his local knowledge, I nipped out to aks if there was a “Praktiker” store anywhere nearby or on the road to Heidelberg.
No, you’ll have to go in the direction of Ludwigshafen and stop at a town too small
to be mentioned on the map.
So our arrival in Heidelberg was to be delayed somewhat. With this new information to hand, the decision was made for Kboy11 and I to ride the cycle paths to Heidelberg, hopefully arriving about the same time as the others. We
wasted spent time mucking about with maps and meeting points and sunscreen and water bottles and how-to-use-Grandpa’s-mobile-phone tutorial…..and set off.
Along the tree-lined street, up the hill, over the bridge, down the other side, along past wheat fields, through the traffic lights, past more fields, and then what? A sign declared the cycle path had come to an end, and indeed it had. All that was left was a major road with trucks hurtling down it – and no shoulder to ride on. Zipping around pedestrian precincts or cycle paths helmetless is one thing; being buffetted about by big rigs on the open road, quite another. A risk I was not prepared for us to take. So we turned around, tried the mobile (but would Rob answer? Oh no, just some Fraulein convincing me mobiles-n-me don’t mix), and we raced back as fast as we could, hoping the others would not have already left. We were JUST in time – we met two old Womos coming up the street! Whew.
Bikes up on the roof and we ALL set off for the Praktiker store in an unknown town to buy more bog. But we didn’t get very far – not even out of town, and we stumbled across some likely-looking buildings. Rob pulled over and I would have too except there wasn’t room behind him, so I decided to go in front and asked Grandpa to walkie-talkie Rob the information. Grandpa didn’t hear, Rob thought I wasn’t parking and out he pulled – right in front of me. I didn’t hit him. Though I could have. (And when we stop soon we will rearrange the cupboards.) Miscommunication ensued, and believe it or not, we replayed the exact scene again. Rob gave up and headed up the road. But not for long – the allure of a close store was too great and we performed our 637 point turns (actually only 3 point) in a side street in order to retrace our steps. A first stop led to directions to a second stop where both bog and cream spray paint were available. Good thing we could go directly to Heidelberg, because by now it was noon.
Knowing that children travel much better on full stomachs, we opted for a lunch stop at a playground before taking off. Getting into the carpark was a story in itself (as was getting out of the carpark and onto the bridge), and parking the vans was another one with Rob walkie-talkie suggesting that I take a particular spot and Grandpa-who-does-not-hear-walkie-talkie saying, “You can’t go in *there*”,” when I followed Rob’s directions, leaving me sitting in the middle of nowhere not knowing who to listen to! Never mind, in two minutes, Grandpa would be urging me to drive onto the grass and Rob would pull up alongside with a slightly disapproving questioning look on his face! Ach the joys of travelling in convoy.
All cares were forgotten as we sat on the grass in the shade of a tree munching salami sandwiches, the massive cathedral towering up above us, one of the mighty waterways of Europe just a stone’s throw away behind us, the music of an organ grinder festively playing beside us. A peaceful interlude.
Then on to Heidelberg , where we had the address of a campground, which the GPS could not find. So far, we’ve had no trouble finding *somewhere* to park, even if our researched places have not been where internetly-stated, so this was no cause for concern. The drive was straightforward enough – 31 easy kilometres.
Then the nightmare began.
We had been warned to park on the outskirts of old towns and take public transport in to the centre. For good reason! But before we knew it, we found ourselves on a main street with a tram approaching in our lane. There was *just* room for tram and van. This road soon disintegrated into a single lane with roadworks squeezing us between red and white barriers. It’s hard to look for a campground sign when you can’t get your eyes off the sides of your vehicle. Before too much longer Rob realised he was stuck in a narrow side street and I took evasive action up what turned out to be a one way street. We managed to wriggle our way out of this predicament and searched valiantly for wider streets. All we succeeded doing was going round and round in circles and eventually getting separated at traffic lights. Oh yes, traffic lights. There’s a set every 50 metres and they were all red!
Not being a big town, we were soon on the outskirts and turned up a rural side road to await the hopefully imminent arrival of the others. Grandpa was dispatched to the corner to flag them down, but they flew past before he got there! At least they were back in walkie-talkie range. While they were u-turning and driving back PAST us (no left turn allowed from their side) and u-turning again…..I investigated the Womo Dealer we had parked beside. CLOSED. Nearby was a gas station worth seeking information at. NO IDEA. NO CAMPGROUND IN HEIDELBERG.
With crying children providing background noise, we took stock of the situation. It appeared our options were limited and settling in to these two parking spaces on a quiet road next to a Womo Dealer on the outskirts of town would be an unobtrusive one. But it was only 3pm and we didn’t want to be in a place where we really-shouldn’t-be for too long, so we decided to park in the castle carpark and go for a wander for a couple of hours.
Over the next half hour we will reach the climax of the nightmare for Rob – I’ll be following him and at 5cm narrower, will have the advantage of knowing I’ll fit into all the spaces he leads me through – so for me it is Advanced Driving Course and Adrenaline Adventure, which I guess could also be called a nightmare.
To get out of this street, where we are temporarily parked, is no simple matter – turning around is out of the question as the other side of the road is closed. A little further along on a miniscule lane divides a wheat field. Rob takes it, and so does a Smart Car, coming the other way. There is no way a grasshopper could get past, let alone a vehicle, not even a small one. Rob stops and lets the other driver flatten some wheat to inch past.
This road ninety degree turns into one lined with hedges, which I proceed to clip with my wing mirrors. When both side are shearing simultaneously, I realise it’s unavoidable. Spotting a couple standing on the roadside, who might know more about Heidelberg than us, we stop. No need to pull over. No room to pull over for that matter. Just stop.
No, there’s no camping place within 20km.
But there’s a Womo dealer across that field.
CLOSED I explain.
You can’t see it from here, but there’s a gas station behind it. Try asking there.
I HAVE ALREADY ASKED. THEY HAVE NO IDEA.
And so we creep on.
We follow Schloss signs through the city and up an increasingly steep and increasingly narrow street, until Rob is pulled over and informed our vehicles are too big. He is given directions to a bald man, who will give us a map to a suitable carpark. There is no bald man. There are no maps. Just plenty of arm-waving people directing our convoy up narrower and narrower roads, roads designed 600 years ago for horse and cart. I follow anxiously, eyes darting from curb to parked cars on the other side and up to signs dangling overhead. Mere alleys, we have no room for error, and with shoulders hunched and fists clenching steering wheels, we edge our way along paths we should not have been anywhere near.
The suitable parking never appears, and when we realise we are heading back down the first hill again, we don’t for one moment contemplate going back to find it.
By now it is late enough to consider cooking dinner so we head for the zoo. Zoos have big carparks and we could tuck ourselves into a corner until nightfall when we’d take up residence in our side-of-the-road spot (unless, of course, the zoo parking is unrestricted, in which case we could stop there - plan number 632). Zoos have big carparks, right? Wrong! This one has one line of pay parks along the side of the road and they are all full. Just like the city park we had passed earlier. What to do?
We decide, somewhat reluctantly, to cut our losses. Tomorrow is Sunday and the half of Heidelberg who are not at the Schloss today will undoubtedly be visiting then; it’s not going to be any easier to get to in the morning. We’ll find an autobahn and drive. One of the frequent rest stops will be our home for the night.
At this stage we have done 31km TO Heidelberg and 38km IN Heidelberg, every single one of the latter, unnerving and fraught with difficulty.
A stint on the smooth autobahn is just what we need to calm nerves and build up courage again. Smooth did I say? We hit the worst bit of autobahn so far. Grandpa comments it’s like the wheels have turned square. We suspect a minor earthquake has sent each concrete road panel out of alignment. When the shuddering eventually stops, one lane is blocked off and we are pressured to increase our speed to the limit for the sake of the line of traffic stuck behind us, unable to pass.
Did I say “frequent rest stops”? Frequent, but not between Heidelberg and Mannheim. Mannheim, by the way, might be an amazingly planned city, but from a distance it is simply ugly. Chimneys belching smoke, contortions of pipeworks, big faceless factories – not somewhere you even *want* to stop. Which is just as well, because there is nowhere to stop. On and on we drive. By the end of the day, we will have clocked up 123km, and will have a trip time of 8 hours 38 minutes.
When eventually the first parking place appears, we pull off the highway, ready to make dinner, thankful that the bulk of the preparation is already done. It’s a great spot; set back off the autobahn, it has a wide tree-ed grassy area perfect for running and collecting firewood and building a campfire, and tables and benches, all catching the late afternoon sun. It would be a perfectly adequate – and legal - place to spend the night, but we are now so close to our next destination, we decide to press on. Only once we are cruising does it occur to me that it’s Saturday night – and like last Saturday – the Stellplatz might be full. Maybe we should have stayed.
Worms comes into view amazingly quickly. We find the Stellplatz without any detours, and there are two spots left, side by side.
We are ready to crash for the evening. And indeed it is late enough to put some children to bed. But they’ve been sitting in vans all day and could really do with taking a walk. Beside, right across the road is a fair begging to be investigated.
The stresses of the day catch up with Rob and he uncharacteristically blows NZ$10 on two small portions of pommes frites. Good they are, too. Grandpa has to be held back; not from going on the dizzying rides (which, by the way, cost between two and five euros per person per ride ~ NZ$5-$12.50), but from buying two enormous cones of candy floss. he settles for one and a couple of incredibly long sour lollies.
Adrenaline-junkie, Kgirl10, comments, “Even if we don’t go on the rides, which I know we won’t, it is fun to be here looking at everything.” We reminisce about Disneyland.
And go home to bed.
Time on the road: 8 1/2 hours
Distance covered: 123km
Tags: food, postcard: Germany, postcard: Rhein Road Trip, recreation, transport