It’s 4:45 AM in Cologne (Koln) and the throngs comprising the Cologne party brigade have gone to their homes FINALLY, so now I can get 15 minutes sleep before my alarm goes off at 5:00. Another typical night in Koln on the banks of the Rhine. Our hotel named Das Kleines Stapelhauscen (that’s a German mouthful) as I wrote before, it means a house where the goods from the river boats are stored. Our hotel is the oldest (and coolest) hotel in Cologne. We are sandwiched between one of the massive “Romantic Romanesque Churches” on our right and the Beer Museum on the left--go figure. This seems to be the favorite place where the nocturnal revelry takes place--the sequential move from beer consumption, to dancing on the cobblestones in front of our hotel, to repentance and confession next door at the church--all three moves within 50 meters of each other. And so it goes. I open my windows because it’s hot. I close them because it’s too loud...and so it goes. Now it’s finally 4:45 and I will savor every minute of sleep--all 15.
Morning in the breakfast room brings no shortage of stories about the night--from high school girls from Wisconsin, who apparently missed the “This will kill you memo” on the Marlboro box; to the weird man in the hallway; to the viewing place on the 5th story room with roof access. The David Duo found decided to capitalize on this choice location by attempting to sell tickets (or so I’ve heard). The yogurt is tart, the berries are sweet, and the hard-boiled eggs are neither hard nor boiled--I slurp the yellow ooze and the girls cry “Fowl.” I stop.
It is now time to board the bus down by the Hotel Philharmonie. This was the hotel where the adults stayed last summer. I offer to pay a reasonable amount of euros to the Strahm Sisters to get me a Starbuck’s grande extra-hot nonfat latte...after negotiating down the Strahm scalper prices, I lose resolve and acquiesce. There go my euros. I’ll find an ATM soon...(just kidding). I look up the street and here comes Kayla, Kendra, Morgan--it’s like the three magi bearing gifts--gold, frankincense, and Seattle java. Oh, bless their little hearts. Glory in excelsis Deo. Peace on earth, goodwill to all. I try to get the students to sing carols with me, but they are not so moved.
Wonder of wonders, no early morning surprises from the Wonder Bus. But one and a half hours later, the Wonder Bus does its thing. Some kind of mechanical failure strikes the back of the bus on the right side--this time with a cruel twist. An increasingly vile and offensive odor winds its way from the back of the bus forward in a slow sadistic methodical march of madness. It’s like vocal dominos--every row in its time--”OH NO...WHAT IS THAT SMELL...WHO DIED?” I don’t want to embarrass anyone, so I try to stay out of it, by trying to pretend I don’t notice the utterly repugnant and gag-inducing smell from hell. We identify the problem--the toilet in the back of the bus has gone volcanic. Most of us choose not to identify the culprit who was the precursor to the toilet gone Vesuvius...but some cannot constrain their probing questions or heavy accusations. Formolo and Higgins rise to the top of the “Most Likely Perpetrator” list.” Why? Formolo is wearing a hat with the capital letters PV, which has been enigmatic up to this point, but some now assume it stands for “Poop Vapors.” They also notice that Higgins is smiling way too much and he sits in relative close proximity to the source of the problem. Who knows? The mystery remains. I wish we had video tape of the moment the bus door opened at the next rest stop, some 40 kilometers down the Autobahn. I almost got trampled myself. The Germans in the parking lot probably thought it was a bomb threat or something. No, just a stink bomb of sorts.
About 20 minutes after running into the rest stop to wash our faces and collect ourselves, Marcel and Viki proceed to open bus doors, windows, roof vents, etc. Eventually we muster the courage to re-enter the bus, but now with a significant level of distrust and lurking trepidation. Who will go first? I enter. It’s better, not ideal, but better. Viki and Marcel both have emptied aerosol cans by spraying heavy scents in the air creating a an ominous mist. But even the smell of misty chemicals is a significant improvement. Marcel starts the bus; we get on the autobahn, and then it happens. Marcel turns on the air conditioner--A STRATEGIC ERROR OF THE FIRST ORDER--it pumps the foul angry odiferous remnants, trapped in the ventilation system, directly into our unsuspecting faces from two vents at high noon above each seat. I don’t think I have ever heard the group SHRIEK and then LAUGH so hard. This experience will surely make it into the annals of SVAOL legend and lore. Enough already. Sleep deprivation can do funny things to one’s sense of propriety. Mea culpa.
A few hours later, we arrive in Heidelberg. A city of great beauty and learning. It is the proud home of the University of Heidelberg. Throughout the city you will find many statues of some of Europe’s leading intellectuals, who have been associated with this proud university--including Professor Bunsen, from whom we get the Bunsen burner used in our science labs.
First stop the Ritter St. Georg one of Gemany’s famous hotels and the oldest and most revered hotel in Heidelberg--our only 4 or 5 star stop. The stunning Renaissance facade draws crowds of picture-takers day and night. I have known the manager for the last 15 years and he has made the financially impossible possible for us. We are very grateful indeed. This is the kind of hotel that will often greet its guests at check-in with a glass of champagne. We will pass on the bubbly.
Next we walk to the archeology and Roman engineering museum. They have the Heidelberg Man jawbone on display. On of my favorite parts of this museum are the educational displays showing the pure genius of Roman engineering--for example how the Romans build the massive bridge over the Neckar River (an incredible feat).
Next stop the tram that climbs the mountain upon which the Heidelberg Castle was built. Here comes the rain but that will not deter group. John, Erica, and Stephanie lead the charge. They walk the Castle grounds, take pictures from the Castle overlooking the city and the Neckar River, walk the gardens surrounding the Castle, and of course taking time for the now standard group picture in front of a tipsy Bacchus laid out in a massive fountain (see the picture below). Every group has done this since 1992. The 2009 students join the picture gallery.
Everyone takes a break for rest, some for shopping, others for both. Heidelberg has the longest pedestrian shopping promenade in Europe. Morgan’s eyes light up. Riley finds a store solely dedicated to gummy bears. I hit the computer and try to catch up on blogging.
Now it’s dinner time. The group heads to the Heidelberg Hard Rock Cafe with the advisors. Riley and I go in search of a good German vegetarian dish for her. Ironically we end up at the microbrew establishment called Vetter--some of you know this place. They have world famous beer but also fantastic food. Riley consumes, in record time, a fresh green salad and some superb spätzle. I wish you should have seen here smile. We walk back to the Hard Rock Cafe so she can join the group and so I can find a pizza to take back to my room to guess what? To catch up on my Captain’s Log. This will prove interesting. There’s a huge and noisy wedding going on in the hotel so I do the Cologne thing--close the window because it’s to noisy, then open it because it’s too hot--and so it goes again and again and again...bis morgen....
See you in Munich!
Hotel Ritter St. Georg--amazing isn't it? The French, on numerous occasions, leveled the town after it converted to Protestantism. This hotel was owned by a French family, so it was spared. LIttle did the troops know--the French family who owned the hotel converted as well.
The group up at the castle.
Bacchus and the gang at the fountain on the castle grounds.
A picture from Cologne. Our girls trying to thumb a ride on the Rhine. Can you hitchhike on rivers? We'll see.