Despite the gloomy weather prediction of the restaurant manager the previous evening we opened the metal shutters on our last day to see some promising patches of blue sky and whilst we had our final breakfast the sun began to shine and it looked as though we might finally get some better weather.
As we packed our bags before checking out and leaving we had to decide on an itinerary that would pick up as many towns and villages as possible for the blue sky pictures that we wanted and we eventually agreed on Gengenbach and Freiburg and once we had paid up and said goodbye we headed out of Offenburg on the familiar route south.
We had only gone a short way and reached the village of Ortenberg however when cloud began to build up and out on the other side we could see thick mists obscuring the top of the forest so we had to make a quick decision before we had travelled too far because if we were going to turn back we needed to do it soon.
In the rear view mirror we could see that it was still sunny behind us so we didn’t take long to decide that that was where we needed to be so we agreed to change our plans and visit the city of Heidelberg about a hundred and fifty kilometres to the north and not soon after the 180º turn we were heading back into the sunshine.
Just outside Offenburg we joined the Autobahn number 5 and headed north. Although there was fierce competition for road space with BMWs and Mercedes, with considerably more power than I was packing, the little Ford Fiesta exceeded my expectations and did very well indeed and was soon holding its own at a steady one hundred and twenty kilometres an hour and the thing really could go. Although it was fast and busy the Autobahn felt strangely safe, much more so than our UK motorways, and I put this down to the fact that the lanes seemed wider, it was not so cluttered with barriers and bridges, the entry slip roads are more generous and it felt more spacious and for these reasons the lorries felt somehow less intimidating.
It wasn’t all plain sailing however because there were long stretches of road works for the first eighty kilometres all the way to Karlsrhue which kept slowing things down and then just when the road cleared the satnav lady did something inexplicable and slowed us down even more. The A5 went all the way to Heidelberg but at Karslrhue she took us off and dragged us on a detour through an industrial estate and then the outskirts of the city. I had another argument with her and after the unnecessary detour she took us back to the A5 at the next junction after wasting twenty minutes of our time. I can be completely accurate about that because almost immediately we overtook an army convoy that we had passed twenty minutes earlier back down the motorway.
I had imagined Heidelberg to be a sleepy little medieval university town so it was disappointing to find that it is really quite large on account of it being part of a densely populated region called the Rhein, Neckar Triangle. Heidelberg lies on the river Neckar, twenty kilometres below the point where it joins the Rhine at Mannheim and turns out to be an important industrial centre which was a bit of a surprise.
To get to the tourist old town required a drive through the busy commercial centre before arriving on the western bank of the river. We arrived just after midday and we set about looking for a car park. We were nervous about this because we visited the city once before in 2007 and had completely failed to understand the car parking arrangements and we had driven around in circles before stopping for only the briefest of stays and then giving up and going to nearby Speyer instead.
We were determined not to make the same mistake this time but despite, as I thought, following all the signs carefully we found ourselves missing them all and doing the circuit again. I concluded that the signs are either very confusing or I am incredibly stupid! Luckily lust a millisecond before my patience expired we found an underground car park right in the altstadt.