Day Fifteen

20 09 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006. Heidelberg and then on to France.

Jeff had a doctor’s appointment in downtown Heidelberg, so he dropped George and me off to visit the museum a couple of blocks away. We crossed the bridge over the river and strolled along Hautpstrasse (High Street) past cafes and upscale clothing stores. We stopped at a bakery and bought a walnut sweet roll. We nibbled on it outside in the refreshing morning air. George drank kaffee, and I sipped a cappucino.

The museum had four or five levels, including sections for a lapidarium, city history, paintings, furniture, clothing, sculpture, and archeology. We saw lots of porcelain dishes and figurines–with delicate details like a lady’s graceful fingers surviving through the centuries somehow. I loved examining the poses and expressions on the portraits. One jolly, red-faced fellow grinned at us from the canvas, a shot glass of amber liquid in his hand. Some of the women looked coquetish, some humorous, and some severe.

We connected with Jeff in the museum and ordered lunch on the terrace–salad and flammkuchen. George and Jeff shared a carafe of Dornfelder. After lunch we wandered down Hauptstrasse, people watching and window shopping. We bought gelato (eis) cones. I got two scoops: chocolate and hazelnut. Then we made our way to the parking garage and drove up the mountain across the river to see the ruins of St. Michael’s Basilica.

Just below the ruins there’s an arena with a platform and seating for 8000 carved into the hillside. A small sign explains that Hitler’s propaganda chief held meetings here for stirring up German youth toward his agenda. Now weeds and wildflowers grow amidst the silent stone benches, irrepressible life overcoming a blood-stained past.

We climbed to the top of the arena steps and continued up the hill to St. Michael’s. The foundation, partial towers, and half walls indicate the floor plan of a once-thriving monastic community. A grave marker in the stone floor bore the date 1020. The walls were several feet thick. We took the winding staircase up the highest remaining tower and looked out over Heidelberg far below.

When we returned to the car we headed straight to the Franfurt airport, an hour away. We hugged Jeff good-bye and gave him some chocolates we’d bought as a thank-you gift. Then he drove off and we headed inside just a litle before 4:30 PM. Our flight was scheduled for 6:55, so we had plenty of time to check our bags, pass through security and passport check, enjoy a beverage at a restaurant, and get to our gate. When we reached the gate we discovered our departure time had been delayed to 7:30. A little later it was changed yet again to 7:45. We finally took off at 8:10.

Our original flight duration was posted as 1 hour and 40 minutes, but the captain announced it would take only an hour and ten minutes. If that proved true, we’d have exactly 15 minutes to navigate Heathrow in London to make our connecting flight to Nice. As it turned out, we reached London with 25 minutes to spare, but then we had to circle for 15 minutes before we were cleared to land. We taxied to our gate at the scheduled departure time of our next flight.

I had alerted a steward on our flight to our dilemma, and he’d been scouting our options. Both London airports are running consistently behind these days on most flights, because they’ve implemented such rigorous security measures. Shortly before landing one of the stewardesses moved us to first class seats so we could make a mad dash off the plane, but even so matters appeared hopeless timewise. However, as we deplaned the steward told me the plane we were exiting would be the one flying to Nice. All we had to do was make our way to Flight Connections, go back through security with our carry-on luggage, and return to the same gate. The next flight was scheduled to depart in 45 minutes.

Heathrow is a huge airport. We power-walked on moving sidewalks through several long passageways, following the signs to Flight Connections. Then we had to go through security, down an escalator and all the way back to reboard the same plane. The flight departed an hour and a half after the original scheduled time, but we just felt thankful not to be stuck in Heathrow for the night. And, I thought, how great that our luggage was already on this plane! The worst thing was that Patrick DeMuth was picking us up in Nice. We’d already felt bad that our flight wouldn’t be arriving until 11:25 PM. Now it would be more like 1:00 in the morning.

As soon as we deplaned we saw Patrick through the window that separated the baggage claim from the waiting area. He even smiled and waved. What a nice guy! We joined the crowd at carousel four to await our bags. A few minutes later we heard our names and then an announcement in French over the intercom. We approached the service desk and a very friendly woman told us in French-flavored English that she’d received word from Heathrow that all our luggage was still there. Apparently all the luggage had been removed and ours hadn’t made it back on. Friendly madamoiselle said our bags were scheduled to arrive in Nice at 11:00 AM the next day and would be delivered to our hotel. She gave us two British Airways toiletry bags and sent us luggage-less to meet our patient chauffeur.

St. Patrick had already gone by our hotel in Valbonne, checked us in, and obtained the key. He drove us to Les Armoiries, walked us to the lobby, and told us where to find our room. What a nice guy! I asked him and his friend Clay (who’d come along to keep him company) if they wanted to stay and chat a while, but surprisingly they declined. I can’t imagine why.

We hauled our weary selves up the stairs to find room 1625. The hotel dates back to 1628. The hallways are irregular and very dark. We knew there must be light switches somewhere, but we weren’t sure where. We saw some small lights along the walls that might have illuminated switches, but they seemed too low. We didn’t want to set off a fire alarm or turn on a light in someone’s room, so we tried to find our door in the dim light of the exit sign. Room numbers had been handwritten on the doors. We could only make out the ones closest to the faint light, so we guessed which one would be ours and tried the key. It slipped right in but wouldn’t turn. After rattling it around several times someone inside the room beat on the door, then opened it slightly and grumbled, “wrong room!”

“I’m so sorry!” I whispered. Nothing like being awakened at 2:30 AM by bumbling Americans. We tried the next door and it opened easily into a pitch black room. We groped along the wall and in the bathroom for a light switch, finally finding it low on the wall outside the bathroom door. We brushed our teeth and showered using our British Airways supplies. Not exactly my usual Origins facial routine, but at least we were clean. It must have been 3:00 AM when we finally collapsed into bed.

Bon Nuit et Bienvenue a France!


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