Five years ago my family hosted a foreign exchange student. Her name was Laura, and she was from Germany. This weekend I had the privilege of turning things around and visiting her!
I landed in a teeny tiny airport, and arrived to see Laura and her dad standing there waiting for me. We hopped in the car and headed to her home, Laura playing tour guide in the front seat, pointing things out to me. Laura lives in a small village called Birkenau. Her mom and uncle own a bakery, so she gets fresh bread every day!! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We got to her home where I met her mom and her dog, Emil. Her family took me out to dinner, where I got schnitzel and Radler, a delicious beer/lemonade drink. The schnitzel was a regional type, made of pork with cheese spread on top. And the fries that came with it were the best dang fries ever.
After dinner Laura took me up a mountain to the ruins of a castle where local teenagers go to hang out. We had a fantastic view of the city; several of them, actually.
After leaving the castle we took a walk in downtown Weinheim. The traditional houses with the crisscrossing wood beams were protected by law, so it was absolutely beautiful there. We walked through a park and around downtown, while I squealed at the wonderful buildings that were too dark to take pictures of.
We got to sleep in the next morning, and when we woke up we went to the bakery to get breakfast. I assumed we’d get a roll and a pastry each, something reasonable like that, but we ended up leaving with two big bags full of food! Back at the house we stuff our faces full of pretzels, danishes, croissants, and rolls.
Around noon we left for Frankfurt, which is about an hour away. What a difference being in a car versus a train! Even though the speed was about the same since we were on the autobahn!
The first thing we did upon arrival in Frankfurt was go up the Main Tower to get a panoramic view of the city. From up there Laura pointed out everything we were about to go see.
First on our list was the Alte Oper Frankfurt, the opera house. Laura says lots of romantic scenes in German movies are filmed here, and I can see why!
We walked through Frankfurt, visited churches, and just got the vibe of the city. It’s very different from Italy! There are lots of old buildings, but they’re right next to shiny new buildings twice their size. And no wobbly cobblestones, either! Until we got to the main shopping street, it was also surprisingly quiet for such a large city. Germany is definitely more relaxed than Italy.
After spending the day in Frankfurt, we went back home and had dinner with her parents: bratwurst! After dinner we played a German game that is essentially Trouble without the automatic dice roller in the middle. Then Laura and I watched a movie then went to sleep!
The next morning was essentially the same: sleep in, stuff our faces, full of bakery food, and then we were off to Heidelberg, a darling city thirty minutes away. This city has castle ruins overlooking it, and Germany’s largest shopping street. We went up the tower of the church to get a view of this stunning town.
After coming down we headed right back up again, this time on a funicular climbing all the way up the mountain.
On our way down we stopped to see the castle ruins, which houses enormous casks of wine and an apothecary museum. We spent way longer than we should have sniffing jars filled with cinnamon, rose, lavender, and any other scent you can think of.
After walking down the shopping street for a bit and eating a döner, we went back home. I took a quick nap, then we went to a local restaurant that was very familiar with Laura’s family. They ate here for every occasion. You could see their bakery from the restaurant, and the bread they served was from there! I got schnitzel again, this time weinerschintzel, or traditional schnitzel made with veal.
After dinner we went to a video store to rent movies. Yes, they still exist in Germany for some reason. And we weren’t the only ones in there, either! After a movie and snacks, it was time for bed.
Sunday we went out for brunch, where we ate just as much. Cold cuts are apparently very common in Germany, as is endless bread, because both were served with our meal.
After lunch we went to Mannheim, where Laura attends school and has an internship. Laura literally goes to school in a castle. Suddenly I feel like HPU’s not doing enough!
We walked around and sunned ourselves in the main park in Mannheim, which features a huge ornate water tower.
Then we got spaghettieis! The fact that this is actually a thing makes me so happy. And it’s not American, it’s not Italian, it’s German! Spaghettieis is vanilla ice cream shaped to look like spaghetti, with strawberry sauce and coconut flakes on the top and frozen whipped cream on the bottom. It’s absolutely delicious, and totally hilarious-looking.
From Mannheim we went to Speyer, which is home to one of Germany’s largest churches, then Schwetzingen, which has a palace with huge, beautiful gardens.
After walking around in the sun all day, we were tired and sleepy! We went back home, ready for dinner and bed.
Monday morning we had one last enormous breakfast before I had to go back to the airport. I didn’t leave empty-handed; Laura and her parents gave me literally a huge shopping bag full of breads, pastries, and German chocolate. I could barely fit it all in! Luckily security did not care one bit that I had boxes of danishes passing through the x-ray machine. I’ll be fed for the next week (at least) on all they gave me!
This weekend was wonderful on so many levels. It was relaxing and slow-paced, but I still got to see amazing things in a brand new country. Plus I got to experience them with Laura, whom I haven’t seen for so many years! Having her to take me around these places was absolutely amazing. I had my own personal, local tour guide! Some of the towns we saw were tiny, with only one or two things of note in them, but I’m so glad I got to go to them with Laura, because when would I ever go to someplace like that while traveling normally?
My only regret is that I didn’t get to find somebody to read my last name out loud.