Playing the Tourist Card

Heidelberg a very old and romantic city, also very easy on the eyes; the old part that is. That was one of the reasons running through my head when I formed the idea to visit there with my daughter who was visiting Europe/Germany for the very first time.It’s a city in Germany. You may have heard of it. It’s kind of popular with the tourist crowd. It’s also renowned amongst the academically minded for it’s institutions of higher learning. Heidelberg is Germanys  oldest university town.

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rail lines

Driving there from here was not an option as although there is a rapid route of travel known as the Autobahn here in Germany, it is also plagued with congestion issues that do not make for rapid travel as one would reasonably expect. Instead we opted for the logical alternative, the train. Even that option offers various modes from the normal commuter train to the high speed ICE experience. In this Bundesland/state/province of Baden Württemberg rail tourism is encouraged with discounted tickets offered at attractive prices (on the normal trains). For those with deeper pockets and less time the highspeed rail transit costs considerably more. We did the math and picked the rediculously low cost return ticket for two persons at 26 Euros as compared to the nearly 200 Euros for the high speed option.

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train waiting

The drawback to cheap travel are certain restrictions such as not being able to ride until 09:00 (a civilized time to begin anything), however when one considers the nearly four hour travel time to get to Heidelberg and adding in the equally long return trip and realizing the remaining available time between arrival and departure if one doesn’t want to get home too late, things begin to feel compressed.

Add to that that I forgot to take a look at Google Earth to see how the city was laid out. Erroneously I had assumed that Heidelberg might be similar to Freiburg (im Breisgau) ala step off the train, walk out of the train station and straight into the interesting bit of the city. I was wrong in that assumption, ill prepared and as blind as a wide eyed tourist set adrift in a strange new place.

In short time we realized the error of our pedestrian ways and jumped onto the next available bus in hopes of getting to the good parts of town quicker. With success. And only a vague feeling of confusion. But we had to make a choice, would we try to get to see the Schloss (romantic castle) or check out the ‘Alt Stadt’ (old city). Time was like mercury, running out if we were to keep our return schedule. Not a fun situation to be in when there is lots of cool things to see and I tried as best as I could to banish the thought that this little sightseeing jaunt was going to turn out to be a long train ride with a stop-over in Heidelberg.

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Heidelberg castle above the academy sciences

As fortune would have it the rail line up the the castle was broken (technical issues we were told). That decided things for us and we relaxed and took it easy as we strolled the narrow streets of the old town on our way to the picturesque bridge spanning the Neckar river. From there we got a lovely touristy view of the castle up on the hill and mingled with the new invading hordes/tourists from nearly every corner of the globe.

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tourist in orange

Honestly, I don’t much care for being a ‘tourist’ but no matter how I look at it, even though I live in Germany, I am a tourist when it comes to seeing new places. It can’t be helped I’m afraid.

We spent our time enjoying ourselves and after viewing the typical sights without wasting the little time we had, we stopped into an quaint old Brauhaus for something to eat and some local beer. As the tables along the front outside in the laneway were all occupied we sat inside with a view to the outside. The unexpected surprise of this lunch stop was a beer with the insane alcohol content of 33% touted as the strongest beer in the world.  A rather sweetish treat on a warm day.

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Vetter 33 beer

The rest of our remaining time was spent walking back to were we left the first bus that dropped us off at Universitaets Platz (not my own video; voice is not myself).

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retro tour guide Heidelberg style

Just  thinking about our return rail trip makes me tired and suffice it to say that you should take more than three hours to visit this charming city to really absorb some of the atmosphere and sense of it all. We rather enjoyed it and would gladly come back.

But we would want to do it without the three train there and three train back bit. To say that we were tired when we got home that night would be an understatement.

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tired feet

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Thoughts from inside a Smart Car

I own a smart car. It is all I need in a vehicle. I am not a car guy.

It is a fortwo and as the name implies that it is for two persons; not like the slightly dense person who one day asked me how many people my car seats while he/she was looking right at the only two visible seats in the small car. I answered their question with ‘two’. “It seats two people” I said. Their prompt reply to my elucidation perhaps an indication of disbelief or simple nitwittedness, “… but you can fit three people in there, right?” Haha, good one inquisitive person, but no cigar.

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Smart Fortwo Pure Black

Way back in the mists of 2006 I first glimpsed this little car. It was parked at the local Mercedes Dealership and struck a very distinct contrast to the usual types and styles of vehicles sold through that franchise known for its star logo, top notch quality and high prices. This little car looked very different from anything I had ever seen on our city streets and pretty much the smallest too; nearly one meter or three feet shorter than the MINI Cooper. And it looked cute but in a no nonsense kind of way. It also looked like it made sense. It made sense to me. And reading the specs on the window sticker, this little car began to make even more sense. I liked what I read and saw.

Designed around a sturdy frame designed to withstand, but not impervious to crushing impact, the smart choice was a no brainer for me. Also fuelling my purchase decision. This roughly 800kg vehicle is powered by a 0.9Liter three cylinder turbo diesel Bosch engine. That the gas tank under the passenger seat only held 22 Liters … I swear I heard my wallet sigh.

It felt notably awkward strolling into that status palace (not being too worried about status status) but ordering something off their usual menu felt good. Knowing that this little car was birthed and designed in partnership with one of the most recognizable car manufacturers world wide and given their reputation on all things safety and quality, there was not much to think about other than getting rid of the larger than my needs gas sucking north American ride that was causing me monthly wallet pains, both at the pump and in more frequent repair costs for things that started to go sideways.

I still own this smart car today and it still has less than 100k km, just, hehe. It is the only car I own and it has held up marvellously well. It even takes me into places normally ventured into only by mud tiered off road type vehicles and the looks on their drivers faces when they swing around sharp bend in what passes for a logging road is always worth it. Makes me chuckle.

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Smart car in the Canadian Wilds

I also chuckle when I sip fuel from a pump when parked beside some oversized behemoth that is driving it’s poor owner straight to the poor house. I get 100km on 4Liters. One of my longer trips was 1,000km from Vancouver to Calgary, Alberta (one way); the cost approx. $50; closer to $70 these days but still a bargain. Top speed for this puppy is a regulated 140km p/h and it likes hanging out around 120-130km p/h on the highway. I’m surprised that I’ve never been pulled over for speeding because I seldom do the speed limit, but I may be wrong on that, wink wink. As for other economic efficiency, a drive downtown and back for example without worrying about parking fees, costs me less than public transit AND I don’t have to smell strangers while doing it.

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Driving my smart car

I’m 185cm tall or just over six feet and have more room in the drivers seat than I did in the Ford station wagon I piloted before I downsized, that was a pleasant surprise to me. And to be fair, I don’t have a family to haul around, no dog to smear up the rear window, so this car was a good fit for my needs. I can pack it full of stuff and it doesn’t mind but I do keep an eye on the weight that I pack in. A few summers ago I went camping with my daughter and had to get creative when it came to bringing all the necessities for a good time. I shipped the food cooler ahead via Greyhound bus and picked it up at the local stop after we set up camp. Rolling into the campground and unpacking the car looked a bit like a clown car in a three ring circus number, funny to watch but doable.

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Smart Camping or Clown Car Tricks

I must admit that there are thing about this vehicle that I don’t much care for. Things like no spare tire, different tire sizes for front and rear, flat bed truck towing requirements, mind numbing dealer hourly rates and service charges, required service every 8k km … but that is it. I don’t mind all the rest that this no frills version provides in fun. It has power windows, radio/CD as basic frills. I don’t need more although I think that my fuel economy goes downhill when I drive with the windows open in summer to try and keep cool.

In winter conditions this little black ball rolls along quite well too, what with brake assist and anti slip features. You just have to drive smarter. And by the numbers of smart cars out there now, it appears that more people are.

Some facts about this model:

  • Body Type: 2-door coupe, space frame with polycarbonate panels
  • Layout: rear engine, RWD
  • Engine: 40.2 hp, 73.8 lb-ft, 799 cc, common rail turbodiesel, I-3
  • Transmission: 6-spd clutchless auto (with manual mode)
  • Brakes (front/rear): disc/drum, ABS and EBD
  • Curb Weight: 730 kg (1,609 lbs)
  • Seating Capacity: 2
  • Cargo Volume (trunk): 260 L (9.2 cu ft)
  • Exterior Dimensions (L/W/H/WB): 2,500 / 1,537 / 1,549 / 1,812 mm (98.4 / 60.5 / 61.0 / 71.3 in)
  • Acceleration (0 – 100 km/h): 19.8 seconds
  • Top Speed (electronically limited): 135 km/h (84 mph)
  • Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 3.9 / 3.1 L/100 km (72 / 91 mpg)