I've been home for a couple weeks now and I still haven't posted pics and stories from Oktoberfest or finished up on Heidelberg. Quite a few things happened while in Heidelberg that I'm still processing, so yeah, I'm slacking on my pimping but I think the wait will be worth it.
On Jim's free day in Heidelberg, his employer arranged for a visit to two castles, the Guttenberg Castle in Hassmersheim, and closer to our base of operations, Heidelberg Castle.
From our hotel on the banks of the Neckar, we rode along in one of three huge tour buses, along the Burgenstrasse (Castle Road) to Hassmersheim-Neckarmuhlbach and up to the castle. It was a beautiful ride through the Neckar Valley. It was lush and green, the hillsides were filled with vineyards and castles and Jim slept through most of it. By the time we arrived at Schloss Guttenberg (that's Castle G, in case you didn't know), we had quite a commanding view of the valley and Jim was well-rested.
Our hostess at Guttenberg Castle was the current Baroness Gemmingen, 18th descendant of the first Baron von Gemmingen, who moved there in 1449, in the afternoon. That's amazing. It would take me at least a week to get all my stuff moved in. Originally called the Guttenberg Knight's Castle, it dates back the 1200's and is one of the few castles in Europe that has been continually occupied since the beginning, and has escaped destruction, both natural and man-made.
Our main reason for visiting the castle was to check out the German Raptor Research Centre. It's a breeding and research facility committed to preserving and breeding endangered species of eagles, vultures, velociraptors and owls for resettlement. They have an atrium overlooking the valley, where they train and exhibit their birds of prey. We had a half-hour to kill before the Baroness and the birds were ready, so we went exploring.
I had no idea where I was going, but this tunnel seemed like it would lead to good things.
It lead to vultures, falcons, owls, and eagles.
Back at the atrium, we all anxiously watch eagles, owls, falcons, and vultures swoop in low above our heads and learn a great deal of information about them. The Baroness spoke mostly in German with a sprinkling of English, but I understood a lot just through intonation and her body language (and all the German I learned watching Hogan's Hero reruns), which I'm guessing is how the birds do it, too.
It's funny that this is the closest I've ever been to an American Bald Eagle - and we were in Germany.
After the show, two guys from Jim's company presented a donation - an oversized cheque for 4500 Euros to the Baroness Gemmingen, whom was so thrilled she had to find her husband and bring out two falcons for us to play with. Afterwards, we repaired to the Castle tavern for lunch. It was dark, rustic, everything you'd think a medieval castle tavern would be - and we had amazing views over the Valley.
After lunch, we got on the tour bus for a short ride to Neckarsteinach, where we boarded a ship for a leisurely cruise back to our hotel. I really had no idea that Germany was so beautiful until I saw this part of the Neckar Valley from the river. Three of Jim's co-workers, Zack, Kaj, and Saskia, decided to run the 20km back. They're marathon runners and were in training, so off they went. One the way, we passed five more castles and 2 locks, which slowed us up enough that the runners arrived before we did at our hotel's pier.
Back at the hotel, we only had 30 minutes before we had to leave for Heidelberg Castle. After a (very) short nap, three tour buses took the entire conference up to Castle Heidelberg, where the large group split into smaller tour groups. Our group was led by a woman who conducted the tour as a lady in waiting from medieval times. She was amazing. I had a hard time remembering what happened the night before and she was doling out Heidelberg Castle info, over 600 years worth of history, like it just happened yesterday. After the tour, our group came together for champagne at sunset, on one of the castle's patios overlooking Heidelberg.
Upstairs in the castle's banquet hall, dinner was served. Black vodka was served by one of the founders of Jim's company, and then a really bad hippie magician got the group cheering to his own entrance. I could've done without him. I much preferred the part of the evening where Jim's co-workers from different countries delivered heart-warming (and ear-splitting) drinking songs of their nations. Good times.
One of Jim's co-workers from Sweden, Magnus, told me about one of the previous company conferences in Mexico. Like I said before, it's a hard-drinking company. They were in a bar, ordering drinks, and someone in his group ordered a virgin margarita. Magnus had never tasted a virgin margarita and didn't know what was in it, but he said, "Every experience I've had with the word 'virgin' was a good one, so I ordered one too." Luckily, someone informed Magnus that it meant no alcohol, so he promptly changed his order, and consequently didn't remember much about that conference.
I think that's part of the reason why I'm having so much trouble blogging about Heidelberg and Munich. In any case, Oktoberfest pictures are coming soon so stay tuned.