Port of Heidelberg
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With a population of 150,000, Heidelberg remains a small, charming city in a beautiful setting nearly 150 years after Mark Twain penned a glowing review in his 1879 travelogue "A Tramp Abroad." And Heidelberg's most charming aspects are, just as they were in Twain's day, focused on the quaint Altstadt (Old Town) and its surroundings. Below the ramparts of Heidelberg Castle nearly 300 feet above, the Old Town and its narrow, cobbled Hauptstrasse (main street) are nestled in snug, picturesque fashion between the Neckar River and the castle hill.
Heidelberg has truly ancient roots. Evidence of human habitation dates back thousands of years -- 500,000-year-old fossilized remains of a likely human ancestor were found nearby and named after Heidelberg -- and the city is also rich with a more tangible history, in its mishmash of ancient, medieval and modern architecture. And this is, perhaps, what makes Heidelberg such a pleasing place to visit. Amid its beautiful natural surroundings, the city's cultural landscape creates a kind of continuous historical narrative that visitors can follow back through the centuries. From the "Old Bridge" -- originally built of wood in the 13th century and most recently rebuilt after much of it was destroyed in the final days of World War II -- to the 2,500-year-old Celtic ruins of the Heiligenberg, you can hardly turn a corner without being confronted by some enduring edifice and its fascinating stories.
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Where You're Docked
Because Heidelberg lies about 10 miles east of the Rhine along the Neckar River, most visits to the city begin after disembarking the ship at the nearest major port, often Mannheim, and boarding a shore tour bus.
Good to Know
The city has a comprehensive network of well-marked cycle paths, but jaywalking visitors distracted by the surrounding sights can pose a hazard when they meander in front of oncoming cyclists. The cyclists don't always pay close attention, so look carefully before you cross.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Germany's currency is the euro. For current currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. ATM's and banks are plentiful, particularly at the west end of the Altstadt, and credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants, bars and shops.
German is the local language, but English is widely understood and spoken in Heidelberg and much of Germany. A few handy phrases in German will always enamor you to the locals, though, so try these:
Hello / good afternoon: Guten Tag (GOO-ten tahg)
Please / Thank you: Bitte / Danke (BIT-tuh/DAHN-kuh)
Yes / No: Ja / Nein (yah/nine)
Excuse me: Entschuldigen Sie (ent-SHOOL-de-gen zee)
Beer: Bier (beer)
The Hauptstrasse and side streets leading from Heidelberg's Old Town offer plenty of boutique shops to explore. Everything from ceramics and leather goods to specialty foods and alcohol are within convenient reach, but the sweetest souvenir certainly comes from the Cafe Knosel.
As the story goes, the family-run 19th-century shop -- named for its founder Fridolin Knosel -- was a favorite of young women from the city's finishing schools, who were accompanied on trips there by their protective governesses. Young men from the university quickly became enamored of the shop as well, and in order to foster young romance (or make a little extra dough), the owner created a confectionary called the Studentenkuss (students' kiss). A gentleman could present these sweet treats to a young lady who caught his eye without arousing the ire of her governess. Herr Knosel's chocolate-dipped praline, nougat and wafer confection has been winning hearts since 1863 -- and you can surely win some by bringing a box home with you for friends and family. (Haspelgasse 16; open daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)