(The back streets of Heidelberg)
Finally, here is the last installment about my Europe trip (finished, oddly enough, four weeks to the day since returning to the States). The last stop on my trip was Heidelberg, Germany, which has a special place in my heart. This is where I studied abroad for the first time after my freshman year in undergrad. I struggled with the German during my time there, but I learned a lot of other things that helped my language acquisition later on. I was only in Heidelberg for six weeks about three years ago, and going back makes me feel both as if I never left and that so much time has passed.
The strange time-feel paradox was especially felt when I spent time with my host family. I think that one reason that I remember my time spent there so fondly is because of my wonderful host family. My visit with them lasted four nights, and once again they welcomed me with open arms. I was given a key and bike and told to treat their home as my own. So much kindness in that house, and just as before, I found myself enjoying a relaxed breakfast with my host mum almost every morning.
(View of the Schloss and Alte Brücke from Philosophen Weg across the Necker)
Another great feeling during my stay was that I had a great time reveling in the German tendencies that I have picked up during my various stays. Since I was given a bike to use, that and walking were my only methods of public transportation while I was there. It felt great to bike to the health foods store as I stocked up on German goodies to take home or going to park near the Altstadt before walking or hiking somewhere. Plus, I was able so speak so much German with my host family. I struggled to string together a few sentences three years ago, and this time, like last summer, I was able to carry on long conversations about my future plans, my family, politics, or describe all the things that I did that day. Knowing that I have a decent grasp on the language is a wonderful feeling, even though I know that I still have lots of work to do before I become truely fluent. Another highlight of the visit consisted of briefly meeting the program director of my old study abroad program. She was just as energetic as I remembered her to be and so proud of my language improvements and impressed with my graduate study plans. The visit was great fun but almost embarrassing at times since she gushed over me so much, but that is why she is such a great director, I suppose.
(Directional stone on the trial while hiking Heiligenberg)
Eating vegan in Heidelberg wasn't any harder than eating vegan in any other part of Germany. I found a health foods store located between my host family and the Altstadt, and I visited there several times during my stay. I honestly didn't do much eating out because my host mum insisted that I join them for many of the evening meals and was amazing about accommodating my diet preferences. Even if dairy or meat were eaten at a meal, the other components were prepared separately so that I could eat a majority of the meal as well. Such great hospitality has been a trend that I have seen in most of the Germans that I know, and it makes me what to emulate that kindness for any future house guests of mine.
(View from the Königstuhl Bergbahn looking down on Heidelberg)
Another thing that I did plenty of in Heidelberg, if you haven't guessed yet from the pictures, is hiking. Until my Europe trip, I had not realized how much that I enjoy hiking. Cinque Terre was great, and Heidelberg was as well, but it held a different kind of beauty since I was already familiar with the area. Most people know of Heidelberg because of the Schloss and being the home of the oldest University in Germany, but not everyone realizes the great hiking that can be found in the area. With mountains on either side of the river, there are plenty of forests and trails. I had hiked parts of Heilingenberg three years ago, but this time I took a different way up and went even higher. The trails were great because not a lot of people were on them. It was great losing myself in the nature as I went without a map, only knowing that if I kept going up I would be fine. Hiking up to the Königstuhl was quite the feat as it 1436 feet above the town, and even my host family was quite impressed with me when I told them that I hiked up to the top.
(Monestary ruins at the top of Heiligenberg)
All in all, I had a wonderful trip. Visiting new and old places as well as getting to know both new and old friends better was a great way to reset my mind before graduate school. Even though I have no idea when I'll get to go back and miss it already, being on my own for a month has helped me relax enough so that I'm excited for what is to come in the next five years that I've got ahead of me.