It has been exceedingly hectic here for most of the last month. In my last email, I promised a report on my trip to Bad Wimpfen. I had actually gotten back from there when I sent out the email on my prior week's activities... but I've had almost no personal time during the week to write anything. So, here goes.

I had been trying to work my way up the Neckar Valley from Heidelberg to Bad Wimpfen for months. My last trip up the valley took me to Dilsberg and Sinshiem (Sinsheim is a bit of a detour). On my trip to sterreich, I passed a sign for Bad Wimpfen between here and Heilbron. I had to get off of my post by noon, they were closing the gates due to a scheduled protest, and I wouldn't be able to get back on post until 5 that evening. So I set out through a LARGE Poltizei show of force, and went the back way out. I went the fast way to Bad Wimpfen, and worked my way back down the valley from there. Unfortunately I managed to get myself stuck in a stau just passed the A-5 interchange, and wound up sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to Sinsheim. It would appear the cause was rubbernecking at the Sinshiem Transportation Museum. Go figure.

So, eventually I found my way into Bad Wimpfen. The modern town of Bad Wimpfen was originally two smaller towns - Bad Wimpfen im tal, and Bad Wimpfen am berg (Litterally the Baths of Wimpfen in the valley, and the Baths of Wimpfen on the hill). The Neckar river winds its way past the north side of town. The way I entered town, I wound up on the hill overlooking the Neckar, outside the old town. On my way from where I parked, I stopped at a War Memorial to the fallen soldiers of the town from both World Wars.

My first real glimpse of the altstadt was the back-side of a narrow angled fachwerk haus, and a narrow street. Naturally, I took a picture, but then followed my way to the rising tower and spires of the nearby church. The church was closed until 3 that afternoon (it being just before 1), so I plotted to be back that way after 3. The present-day Rathaus (Town Hall) had the crests of each of the lands through which Bad Wimpfen had passed over the centuries (it changed hands several times before winding up in Baden-Wrttemburg after World War II). Across the square from the Rathaus was a Hexen-themed restaraunt (Witch-themed) in a red and white fachwerk building. Down the street from there, I found what turns out to be one of the classic shots in Bad Wimpfen - a black on white fachwerk building in the middle of a fork-in-the-road, with street going up to the left and a Tower in the background, and another street going down to the right. In the foreground another fachwerk building with a classic wrought-iron sign protruding. I took both pictures, and purchased a post-card sketch of it.

I quickly found myself winding out of the upper town and to the Bahnhof (train station) situated between the two halves of town. Going back up into the upper town by a back-way, I followed the old walls around, and into the heart of the real old-town. Many of the towers and fortifications dated back to the 1200s. The big tower in town, the Blue Tower, was originally built c. 1200. It was substantially remodeled and expanded several times over the years. Originally, it was at one end of town, but as Bad Wimpfen grew, it wound up in the middle of town (the other towers stayed on the edge of town, as that edge was largely a cliff that dropped off into the river). Turns out, located on the crown of the hill, and being built as tall as it was, it tended to draw lightning strikes. Several times in the history of the tower, it had great fires (1674, 1701, 1776, 1848, and 1984). The last great fire was photographed extensively. There are some stunning pictures inside the tower (rebuilt to it's 1851 appearance) of the tower ablaze 19 years ago. Also inside is a rather warped and broken bell that had been in the tower at the time of the last fire. It was interesting to note the Sprinkler System pipe very prominently visible going up the tower. Unlike many centuries old towers I've been up in Europe, this one was very well lit, and had a relatively freshly finished interior - to be expected when you realize the severity of the fire. From the top of the Blue Tower, I had some excellent views of the surrounding town and countryside. 

A "quick" lunch of Maultaschen (I was in Swabia after all, I had to have a typically Swabish dish), and I was back at the church in time to get a brief tour of the inside. Unfortunately, it the interior didn't match with what the exterior promised of it. Perhaps I've just seen too many beautifully decorated church interiors - I know I've seen too many ornamented fountains (I was almost burned out on them BEFORE I arrived in March). I made my way down to Bad Wimpfen im tal, and got to visit the Abby Church there. It was a very simple church, but very beautiful Stained Glass windows.

Down the valley, I passed in and out of rain. I spotted a very scenic castle a little upstream from Hirschhorn - I'll have to go back and tour it soon. It's about the only thing left between Heidelberg and Heilbronn on the Neckar river that I've not seen in detail yet. I returned to my post to find that the "protest" had wound up being less than 30 people. Oh well.

The following weekend, I decided not to go far - I intended to go to Heidelberg, and get some good coverage with my digital camera (something I'd not done since I had gotten the camera). Upon arrival in Heidelberg, I discovered a large Politzei show of force. Putting two and two together, I decided wandering into a protest was NOT a good choice for the day, so I went across the river and up the mountain opposite the Heidelberg Castle and Altstadt.

I parked a little bit down from the top of the mountain, and hiked the remainder of the way. I had been up in the summer, and taken a few pictures from a tower with a scenic view of downtown Heidelberg and the Castle. The tower itself is just about all that's left of a 1090 St. Stephen's Monastery.  The foundation of the sanctuary and surrounding rooms are still visible. From the base of the tower (and even better from the top of the tower) is a spectacular view of the Altstadt.

Along the ridge extending behind the tower away from Heidelberg I discovered historical markers for an ancient Celtic fortification, an old Nazi Party amphitheater,  and the ruins of the Cloister of St. Michael - all contained within the perimeter of the Celtic walls. The St. Michael's Cloister was originally a worship-site dating back to 1000BC, with periods as a Roman Temple and an early Christian Church. Located on the very top of the mountain, there is an impressive view of the Rhine-Neckar valley from the top of one of the partially restored bell towers. Little remains of the cloister but the foundation, some stairs that lead to nowhere, the old crypt, and the bases of the bell towers.

I returned to downtown Heidelberg that evening, and took some autumn photos in and around the Altstadt. It has been a crisp, cool autumn here. Unfortunately, as far as the foliage is concerned, it went almost overnight. One day it seemed the trees were a summer green, the next they were autumn shades, and the next they were bare. I'm sure it wasn't that fast, but with sunrise occurring about the time I have to be at work or later, and sunset occurring about the time I leave work, I don't really get to see daylight except on the weekends. My weekend in Heidelberg and nearby was one of the few weekends with good autumn colors on the trees.

November was a seemingly short month, two 4-day weekends and a week long class kept me out and about and busy. Just before the first 4-day weekend (Veteran's Day weekend) we had our first snow in the air for the season. I took the first day off to recover from the hecticness I had been through, and even started writing this email. I didn't finish. The next day, I drove up to Koblenz, and visited a scenic, historic castle on the Rhine. Following that, I worked my way upstream, and stopped at a couple more castles and walled towns. The day was far too short, and sunset cut me off for the day. I had been in and out of snow dusting on the ground all day, but I never got a chance to stop in any. There's just something special about seeing a frosty, snowy, sleepy town in Germany. It reminded me that the Christmas Markets were rapidly approaching.

The itch for me to see snow had gotten to me, so on Saturday I drove south for the mountains. I went up into the Hochschwartzwald Strasse (High Black Forest Road). It was foggy and dreary for much of the trip south, but I did get a few good pictures after I cleared the Autobahn and started heading up into the mountains. The contrast between the autumn colors, the evergreens, and the sparse patches of snow was too impressive to ignore, so I actually pulled off to the side of the road and snapped a few pictures from the side of the mountain. Further up, the snow increased, until actually on the scenic road it was the depths of winter with several inches of snow on the trees and the ground. Whole walls of snow-covered pine trees and Black Forest houses made for some beautiful pictures. It was actively snowing and foggy for much of the trip along the road, though it occasionally cleared up enough after clearing some peaks. I continued south along the road, eventually running back out of the snow and into the valley.  After some touring in sunlight and fall, I returned to the road and retraced my steps back north, and re-experienced the hour-long transition from Fall to Winter on the climb. It was sunset on my way back down the mountain, and I returned home well after dark.

In the week or two leading up to Thanksgiving it was cold and either snowing or a mix coming out of the fog. I was on the road to Landstuhl all week in the full week before Thanksgiving, and trying to recover thereafter. We had a farewell for a member of my Church Choir on the Friday before Thanksgiving, that ran late into the night.

Thanksgiving arrived almost suddenly... I knew it was coming, but was so busy in the lead-up that it almost caught me by surprise. My Church did a Thanksgiving Dinner in Heidelberg, and I participated. As is requisite of the holiday, I ate too much. There was plenty of good food in many varieties. I ate so much that I was in physical pain for most of the rest of Thanksgiving Day, and well into Friday. That made it difficult to enjoy the Weihnachts Markets that began that week - something I will detail in an upcoming message. Advent is upon us, and that deserves it's own covering. I apologize for the long time since my last email, and the size of this one (and the Landstuhl one). I have an overnight shift next week, so I should be able to do my Advent piece sooner rather than later.