Sunday, August 25, 2013

Idyllic Heidelberg - Getting There

My sister's been studying in Heidelberg University for a year now, and before winter set in, we wanted to visit. There isn't a lot to do or see within the small city and that suited us just fine. It would be a relaxing trip.

The visa process wasn't as drawn out as long as we had all the paperwork. Since we were staying with my sister, we needed a letter (emailed) from her stating that, the dates we would be there, and her contact details along with a copy of her student visa. We were going to Paris after that for 4 days, but since the main reason for visiting was to meet my sister in Germany, we applied at the German embassy.

We also needed confirmed air tickets, insurance, and complete booked itinerary. For financial proof, my husband showed his bank account statements for the last 6 months (no minimum balance required as such but it helps to have a minimum of Rs 1lakh in credit), IT return form for last 3 years, salary slips for last 6 months, and a letter from his office stating he's been working with them and his leave for the travel period has been approved. The visa form is available for download online. I applied from Bombay and their helpline was readily available to clarify any doubts I had. I was told that I could collect the passports in 3 days, but when I drove all the way there in the pouring rain and peak traffic, I was told it wasn't ready to be collected as yet. This was a common occurrence as I found out later. Thankfully we had applied a month in advance and had time to spare unlike some in the line who were to leave the same evening and still hadn't gotten their passports back. The next day I called before setting out, and thankfully they told me it was ready for pick up. I only found out the visa had been approved after I got my passport....valid only for the dates of our travel, not a day more.

We had opted for Turkish Airlines since the direct flights had spiked their rates by over Rs 15,000 per ticket. But we found that it suited us because we could step out and stretch our legs and get into a cleaner, more modern flight from Istanbul to Frankfurt. All airlines have one of their oldest carriers and grouchy stewardesses on the India leg of the flight - but then again, they have good reason to. The flight had better leg room and only 3 seats in the middle row. The food and in-flight entertainment was also better than most other airlines.

We reached Frankfurt early in the morning and the immigration lines moved quickly. The lady at immigration was the friendliest we've ever come across, actually making time for small talk while going through the paperwork. Carry the invitation letter or hotel reservation for your stay, and return tickets to show at immigration. They might also ask to see how much cash you are carrying (they won't count it but will ask you to show it). The airport is huge and easy to get lost. Thankfully we had someone picking us up so we didn't have to navigate the bus or rail system.

The autobahn stretches out for miles, and it took us about 2 hours to reach Heidelberg. the weather was pleasant in August and in the quiet, scenic surroundings we didn't even feel the tiredness of the long journey. We quickly freshened up, picked up a picnic basket with some beer, grabbed some doner kebabs from a nearby restaurant, and walked to the Nekkar River picnic area just 10 minutes away by walk (but we took much longer stopping to admire the quaint houses with flowers overflowing from every balcony). We had the place all to ourselves that day.

Our apartment in Bombay faces the hill and apart form the screaming children we barely hear much noise (unless it's festival time and everyone has loudspeakers on full), but here, you could hear a pin drop. We had a restful sleep.

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