Mini report here for some destinations and attractions that aren't covered in most English-language guidebooks, but are hidden close to other things that many travelers from North America will likely visit. I've lived within a 20 minute drive of Ladenburg for almost 3 years, and I pass it on the Autobahn all the time, but I never stopped to check it out until this weekend. Wow, I can't believe that gem has been sitting right under my nose all this time! It's a small city that sits on the Neckar river between Heidelberg and Mannheim. The old wall with several towers and gates still surrounds most of the center. And of course, the town is filled with the sort of winding streets, restaurants, churches, Fachwerk buildings and public squares that most people imagine when they think of Germany. Not a single trinket shop or tour bus, though. The city has existed since Roman times, and you can still see some of the original fortifications at the local archeology museum. Karl Benz spent the last few years of his life in town, and there's a musuem dedicated to him and the automobile company that bears his name.I spent less than two hours in Ladenburg, and that was probably enough to explore the town. Those who have been on this website for a while are probably tired of hearing me beat this same drum over and over again, but here goes... Germany is packed with colorful, historic towns, more than a handful of which still maintain their defensive walls. If you're traveling more than an hour or two out of your way to see Rothenburg odT, you have inevitably passed anywhere from one to several good alternatives that offer much of the same ambience, but few to no trinket shops or tour buses (cont).
So far this year, spring has mostly been darker and colder than normal. Yesterday was the first really bright, warm and sunny day we've experienced since the fall, so I decided to drive up into the Taunus mountains overlooking Frankfurt to visit Opel-Zoo. I'm always looking for new things to do with our dog, and Opel-Zoo is one of the few that allows dogs. It's about an average zoo. Lots of hooved mamamal and birds, a large petting zoo, camel and pony rides for kids, elephants, giraffs, hippos, etc. Not too many large cats, canids, and no bears. Still, I enjoyed it, even though it was packed. But it's in a simply gorgeous location, even more so on a clear day like yesterday. The zoo sits between the two elegant spa resorts of Königstein im Taunus and Kronberg iT. From certain perspectives in the zoo, if you look in one direction, you can see one of Königstein's two castles, and look in another direction and you can see Kronberg's castle and beyond to the skyline of Frankfurt below. I won't go into more descriptions here, but just to note, I would place Königstein iT in the top level of Germany's most attractive spa resorts (along with Wiesbaden and Bad Kissingen) (cont).
(cont.) Finally, after visiting the zoo, I drove a little higher into the Taunus mountains, parked the car, and me and the dog hiked the rest of the way up to the summit of Großer Feldberg. If you're looking north from Frankfurt, this is the highest mountain with the radio and TV towers on top. Because yesterday was one of the first warm, clear days we've had in months, there were lots of people out for a Sunday hike. My dog and I reached the summit, and there were well over a thousand people up there, enjoying the view and having beer and food at the restaurants and beer gardens. If you want, you can drive all the way to the top, but the parking lots appeared to be completely full. The view was stunning. From this vantage point, you can see southeast to the Spessart mountains, south beyond Frankfurt and Darmstadt to the Odenwald and all the way to Mannheim, the broad Main and upper Rhine valleys, and southwest to the Pfälzerwald. If you're in the Frankfurt area and have some extra time, a hike or drive up to the top of Großer Felburg is well worth the time for a nice change of scenery.
Thanks for the report, Tom. I keep coming up with reasons why I don't want to go back to Germany just now (i.e. I want to visit other countries) but your descriptions of places like Ladenburg whet my appetite for another German adventure. Sounds like you missed your true calling: travel writer of little-known but fascinating German cities.
"Sounds like you missed your true calling: travel writer of little-known but fascinating German cities." No thanks. I enjoy my real job and it pays much better than any travel writing gig could offer!
PS- This is kind of unrelated, but an interesting aside. I was walking my dog this morning and to my surprise, I saw a parrot sitting on a fence in my village. I assumed somebody's pet escaped, so I asked my neighbor if anybody had reported a missing parrot. Turns out, the upper Rhine valley has a stable population of feral parrots! Nobody seems to know exactly where they came from, but one of the theories is that they're the descendents of a flock that originated in one of the aviaries at Schloss Schwetzingen. The acophryphal story goes that as Napoleon's army approached, the lady of the house was concerned that the French army would slaughter the estate's menagerie of exotic animals for food. She therefore decided that it was better to let the animals fend for themselves, and released them all. This particular species of parrot was the only one able to survive life in the non-native environment. Is this story true? I don't know, but it seems like as good an explanation as any for why I saw a wild parrot in my neighborhood today.
Sounds like the parrots are moving South! There is a huge flock that has lived in Cologne for many years. One of the parks seems to be their favorite and you can't even hear yourself think when they are settling down for the evening in the trees there. Really loud birds. I had heard they were moving down the Rhine and then about 3 years ago, I started seeing them in Wiesbaden, up near the Commissary and PX. Haven't seen them in Frankfurt yet, but will keep my eyes open for them.