Christmas ended up being really nice. We all Skyped our families and hung out around the apartment. It was a totally lazy, junk food filled, comfortable day.
I Skyped with my family while they opened presents, then called my family in Colorado, then Skyped with family in Texas. The worst part of the day was waiting for everyone in the US to wake up so I could talk to them.
The next day we woke up early to catch our train to Frankfurt. Once in Frankfurt, we picked up our rental car, and ran to check into our hotel.
That day, we visited our first castle, Marksburg. This castle has been lived in for 700 years and has never been destroyed. It was here that we got our first taste of winter in Germany. It was cold. It hadn't even snowed yet and we were freezing. We took a tour of Marksburg, then went back to the car as fast as we could to turn on the heater.
The next day, we woke up to snow falling. The roads were slick so we had to drive slower than we would have liked. We visited four castles, but we weren't able to go into any of them. They were beautiful from the outside, but it would have been nice to see more of them.
That night we stayed in Mannheim. The next morning, we went to Heidelberg to see their castle. It didn't open until mid morning, so when we got there we had a couple hours to kill. We started with a nice breakfast at Starbucks. It was so cold outside that early in the morning. Heidelberg was absolutely beautiful, though. I would like to go back and see it when it's a bit warmer and I have more time to spend there.
Even after Starbucks, we had some time before the castle opened. We drove up one of the mountains to see an amphitheater that was built to present Nazi propaganda. It was so incredible. You may not know this about me, but my favorite thing to learn about in all of history is the Holocaust. I think it is so interesting. I've read personal accounts and memoirs and history books all about it. This is why coming to Germany was so exciting for me.
Anyway, this amphitheater was huge. It's called Thingstätte. Standing on the stage, I could just imagine the kind of things that went on there and the people who had sat in the stands listening to what was being taught. The rallies were probably amazing. They still hold festivals there today.
Also on the mountain was a nice tower that looked out over the town and had a clear view of the castle on the other side of the valley. It was open, so we climbed to the top to take pictures. It was very cold and icy up there.
Thingstätte was probably my favorite part of the trip so far. When we came down the mountain, the castle was finally open. After finding a place to park, we took a bus and a train to get to it. Once there, we took a tour. It was kind of nice. So much of the castle has been destroyed, but what was left was neat. There were so amazing views of Heidelberg from up there. Heidelberg is a very picturesque town.
From Heidelberg, we made our way to Stuttgart for the night. The next day we visited Hohenzollern castle. It was on the tippy top of a mountain and I don't think I've ever been as cold as I was that day. I thought I was going to die up there. (Or maybe just lose a few toes.) At the car, the temperature was -8° Celsius (17° Fahrenheit), but I think it was probably colder than that at the top, plus there was wind chill.
The castle itself was beautiful. It felt more like a palace than the other castles we had been to. Also, there were two chapels-- a Catholic chapel and a protestant chapel. I'm not sure why. This particular castle overlooked a major trade route and would help protect the merchants who passed by.
Inside the castle, it wasn't much warmer than outside, but at least it was protected from the wind. In some rooms, the snow was coming in through the cracks in the windows. We were on a German tour, but we had talked to the tour guide on the way to the castle so she knew we spoke English. She was kind enough to repeat a lot of the tour to us in English.
By the end of the tour, Lizette and I were miserable. I'm sure I've experienced colder temperatures, but I've never spent several hours in freezing temperatures before. I don't like to be outside in the snow at all. (We'll call this whole trip an opportunity for me to grow a little.)
When we finally got back to the car, we turned the heaters on full blast. It took a solid hour for my feet to feel normal again. Thankfully, our plan for the rest of the day was just to drive through the Black Forest. We got there just before it got too dark to see anything. We took the road called Schwarzwaldhochestraße. The forest was beautiful, especially with all the snow on the trees. The Black Forest was more white than black!
Our GPS (we named her Frau Helga) took us on every back road to get us home that night. It was pitch black outside and a lot of the time, I think we were the only car on the road for miles. It was snowing pretty heavily for awhile, so I was nervous until we made it back to the hotel. (Joe is a really great driver and wasn't even a little bit worried.)
The next day, we went to Ulm. The Ulmer Münster (Ulm Cathedral) is the tallest cathedral in the world. (At least it will be until (if) the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is completed.) It stands 161 meters tall. On a sunny day, visitors can climb to the top (768 steps!!). Unfortunately, we did not visit on a sunny day, so we only got to climb 70 meters. (Which was quite the workout all by itself. I was definitely out of breath and a little dizzy.)
At first, the spiral staircase was completely enclosed, but after maybe 20 meters, there were windows that were open to the outside. There was snow on the steps and it was still snowing, so it was pretty chilly up there. I'm afraid of heights to begin with, so anytime we climb a tower or any spiral staircase I find it challenging. I've never climbed one with windows to the outside that went up so high. I was hanging on to the center column for dear life.
When we finally reach the landing, we were all out of breath, but the views were amazing. I would like to try to climb to the top one day, so hopefully I'll make it back to Ulm, Germany.
From Ulm, we made our way towards Füssen, where Neuschwanstein Castle is located. We barely missed the closing time, but we're hoping to make it back later in the trip.
The town of Füssen is really cute. It didn't stop snowing the whole time we were there. I walked the streets for a little bit after we arrived and there were kids and families out in the streets playing in the snow together. It was such a pleasant evening.
On Christmas Day, we hit the 4 month mark of being in Europe. The halfway point is coming up soon too. I find myself feeling more homesick than usual. I long for the familiar. In Poitiers, I've gotten comfortable, but it's not familiar to me like home is. I know that so much will be different when I return because that's just how life is. While I'm living my life here, everyone I know has lived their lives too. I won't be the same when I get back and its likely that the people I know won't be the same either.
I've got 4 more days in Germany, then I'll be gone in Poitiers briefly before we take off on another trip. Unfortunately, that trip won't be any warmer than this one has been!
Click here to see the rest of my pictures from Germany!