Mike's Heidelberg Diary

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Friday, 5th December

I woke up at about 8.30a.m. in my house in Kenilworth. I felt a certain excitement because, for me at least, the Heidelberg experience would soon begin. I got up and showered, before settling down with a bowl of Fruit and Fibre and watching a little television. Once I'd woken myself up sufficiently, I went back upstairs and packed my suitcase for the journey. After Rupert's blunder in Chicago, I always triple-checked that I had my passport before going anywhere on holiday.

At around ten o'clock I sent David a text message to tell him that I was on route and then set off in my car for the drive to Thatcham. The drive was pleasant as I listened to the sounds of Bon Jovi and Busted and got myself in the mood for my holiday. After about an hour and a half, I found myself outside David's house. We greeted each other by saying that the Heidelberg experience had started.

I had time for a brief hello to the Little Lucky Leprechaun, Kurt and Shaft before we set off for the walk to Thatcham station to catch a train to Reading. Our timing was impeccable—we had just enough time to quickly buy a ticket off the miserable bloke at Thatcham station before our train arrived.

Twenty minutes later the train arrived in Reading and we made straight for the Oracle centre and the promise of some form of sustenance. This came in the form of sausage rolls, muffins and soft drinks at the local sausage roll, muffin and soft drink seller. We settled down and watched the world go by and chatted about the prospects for the break. I noticed a barge on the canal outside and mentioned that the Moules family were having a weird Christmas this year.

Once we had relaxed sufficiently, we began to browse the shops. We were keen to find some cool clothes to take to Heidelberg, so we wandered around Next and River Island and the other usual suspects (with a brief stop in HMV on route) before wandering along to another mini shopping mall. In here we purchased some Christmas cards and found a cuddly reindeer. I noticed it had a hand that you could squeeze so I did. It proceeded to ask me what my name was. I said, "Mike Nolan" in a voice resembling Mike Nolan's. It then started to sing about how I was a teddy bear friend called Mike Nolan and every time it said "Mike Nolan" it did it in my voice. I thought this was hilarious and called David over to see a repeat performance. We left the card shop singing this merry ditty (us, not the card shop) and decided to return to the Oracle centre for another coffee. A new Starbucks had just opened on the waterfront area, so we made for this via Debenhams. We began to look for a present for our Grandma, but got distracted by a "Create your own-opoly" that was for sale. It was basically a Monopoly game that you could customize. What caused us hysteria was that the example on the back of the box was "Johnson-opoly" (probably complete with Johnson picture framing and the Shoe Doc Trailer). After this hilarious discovery we headed for Starbucks and ordered a pair of Chocolate Mint Blisses and a couple of caramel waffles.

We decided it was time to think about heading back to David's house to prepare ourselves for the evening meal, so we left and made a couple of purchases in Next and Marks and Spencer's before returning to the station. Again we had timed our arrival to perfection as a train was just about to depart in the direction of Thatcham. We climbed aboard and settled down for the short journey back to David's house.

Back at David's house, we both showered and got ready to drive back into town for the traditional pre-break meal. This one would be taking place at Chillis in Reading.

At about half past six, we left the house and piled into David's car. I quickly phoned Steve to coordinate with him for the following morning. We made a quick stop in Sainsburys as I'd failed to pack bathroom equipment or bring a camera for the holiday and at this point Rupert phoned to say that he was just leaving Paddington. We were somewhat surprised as we'd expected him to be well on the way by now, but promised to meet him at the Oracle centre once he arrived.

About half an hour later we found ourselves at the Riverside car park. We phoned Rupert again and he said he'd just gone through Maidenhead. Apparently he'd got on a slow train, assuming it would be only about ten minutes slower than a fast train. David told him it was more like twenty-five minutes slower, and was unimpressed. We told him we'd go and get a table, then thought again and said we'd meet him at the station.

Somewhere along the line, wires got crossed, and we arrived at the station to find that Rupert wasn't there. He then phoned us to say he was in the Oracle centre. The evening was turning into a comedy of errors. Eventually we met up with him and put our names down on the waiting list for a table at Chillis. We had about half an hour to wait, so we deposited Rupert's rucksack in the car and then made for the bar and got a round of drinks in. Unfortunately, we were being attacked on all sides by fag smoke, but we didn't have too long to wait before being directed to a table upstairs.

Our waiter was a very friendly Chinese guy who made us feel right at home and took our order. We ordered a chicken nachos between us for starters, followed by a cajun chicken sandwich for me, chicken crispers for David and some weird stuff for Rupert. We had a very pleasant evening relaxing and enjoying our food. We were all looking forward to Heidelberg and were delighted that the Heidelberg experience had started for the three of us and the Little Lucky Leprechaun (who was sat on the table with us).

After rounding the meal off with cappuccinos, we left Chillis and headed back to the car. It was about ten o'clock and I was anxious to get to bed, as I was the designated driver for the trip to Stansted airport the following morning. Half an hour later, we were back at David's house. Pausing long enough to take a toilet stop and to brush my teeth, I transformed the sofa bed into bed mode and settled down for as much sleep as I could manage before my alarm went off.

Saturday, 6th December

My alarm went off as planned at 3.45a.m. I couldn't believe it. I was knackered, but determined not to show it. I dragged myself out of bed and climbed the stairs to visit the bathroom. Having revived myself with the three "sh"s, I went back downstairs to discover that David and Rupert had transformed the bed back into a sofa and that coffee was being prepared in the kitchen. I was feeling reasonably awake and I settled down with my coffee for a few minutes before it was time to leave.

At about half past four we decided it was time to get on the road so we all piled out of David's house and made for my car. Myself, Rupert, David, the Little Lucky Leprechaun, Kurt and Shaft were all on our way to Heidelberg and we commented on the fact that the Heidelberg journey had started.

We made a brief stop for petrol at Sainsbury's on the outskirts of Reading before making our way onto the M4. Busted blared out from the radio and we really knew we were on our way. About twenty miles down the M4, my worst fear was realised as suddenly the accelerator on the X2 cut out again. I told David and Rupert and David began to get a little worried. Eventually I decided that I was going to have to stop the car, so I pulled onto the hard shoulder and turned the engine off. We sat there like lemons for five minutes. David was, by now, very concerned, as he feared we were going to miss the flight. I was simply hoping that the car would start again. I turned the key and the engine caught. Relief all around, but we were all worried that this could be the first of many problems with the car before we arrived at Stansted.

I drove the car back onto the M4 and we resumed our journey. I made the decision to drive relatively slowly, since I was aware that the car was more likely to have problems if it was travelling at speed. Rupert phoned Steve, who was on his way to Stansted from London (he'd been staying there with his mate Rob at Tweedy's house since they'd attended a concert the night before). Rupert spoke briefly to Rob, telling him that we were on our way but were having car problems.

We joined the M25 without a hitch, and about 45 minutes later we left the M25 and joined the M11. We were all feeling a little better, as Stansted was approaching and the car had survived thus far. Rupert phoned Steve again to discover that they had just joined the M11 and were about 5 miles behind us. We soon pulled off the M11 into the Stansted airport area and made straight for the mid-stay car park. I inserted David's credit card into the machine and we headed for zone E. We all breathed a sigh of relief as we parked. We'd all been perturbed that the car would break down on route, but fortunately it hadn't. Once the car was unloaded, we made our way to the bus stop. I walked into the crowded bus shelter, but David, noticing people preparing to perform bus shafting, remained outside. When the bus arrived, he darted around the outside of the shelter and got on at the back, thus avoiding being shafted. As the bus pulled away, we spotted the Fox pulling into zone E. Clearly Steve and Rob had arrived too.

We disembarked at the terminal and made our way to the check-in desk. Another phone call to Steve reassured us that he had arrived at the terminal too and we soon saw him wandering over to us. We greeted him and I shook Rob's hand too, before introducing him to David and Rupert. He was due to fly back to Newcastle that day, but Steve told us that his flight didn't leave until midday, some six hours away. We had to laugh.

Once we'd checked in, Steve made a quick visit to Captain Mainwaring to get some currency. Unfortunately, Captain Mainwaring was dicking around as usual, and this took some time. Steve also noted that he had been screwed out of a couple of Euros compared with what David and I had acquired for ourselves. Once Steve had secured his cash, we bade farewell to Rob and made our way through passport control. I was a little anxious that we wouldn't have time for breakfast before our 7.45a.m. flight took off, since we were required to report to our gate half an hour beforehand. Whilst Rupert had to undergo the customary search, the rest of us gathered our belongings and made for Garfunkels. Rupert caught us up and we queued behind some people who were dicking around. Steve expressed concern that we didn't have time for breakfast, but someone directed us to a raised booth table before there was time for debate. The waiter was dicking around and it took him a good ten minutes to take our order. David decided to order the breakfast burger with coffee whilst Rupert decided upon an omelette with orange juice and Steve and I selected toasted sandwiches both with orange juice. As the waiter arrived, we prepared to put in our order, but Rupert leapt in and reeled off the entire order without checking what we wanted. He ended up ordering four orange juices instead of coffee for David. He told the waiter that we were a bit rushed so would like our food as soon as possible. As the waiter left, I asked Rupert why he had done this, as David had wanted coffee, not orange juice. Rupert replied that he thought we were in a hurry, but we weren't sure that the 10 seconds saved by Rupert doing the entire order were really worth it. Five minutes later, the waiter returned with four orange juices.

The waiter proved fairly efficient with our food order, delivering it a few minutes later. I asked for the bill immediately as we were in a rush. Once everyone had finished, we paid up and, after I took a quick pot stop, we headed through the underground passageway to our gate. What followed was the biggest amount of dicking around I'd seen for some time in an airport. We joined the queue for boarding, making sure we were in the correct queue for our boarding numbers. Steve was thirsty, so he and I wandered over to a drinks machine and acquired some water. The machine was a masterpiece of modern engineering — as we inserted our money and selected the drink, it was tipped out onto some sort of conveyor belt, which then raised up and ejected the bottle into an exit ramp. I returned to David and relayed this incident and he decided he wanted one too. So he got one. An announcement came over the tanoi (speaker system) that we would be boarding in ten minutes.

Whilst we were queueing, an attractive German girl queueing in front of us turned around and asked us the time. Rupert obliged by answering her, and I whispered that he was in there. Rupert was unimpressed. I commented that the bloke with her was likely to be her brother and not her boyfriend since they looked so similar so he was in with a chance.

About twenty minutes after the flight was due to take off, we found ourselves on the aircraft. I secured a window seat with Steve taking the aisle seat in my row. David sat in front of me with Rupert next to him. David commented to me that he didn't think that bloke with that girl was her brother since they looked to be getting quite intimate on the plane.

Eventually, the plane took off and we made our way across to Frankfurt-Hahn airport. I relieved Rupert of the pieces of paper printed out from the Heidelberg website which were to serve as our guide for mission 6. What I was most concerned about was finding the bus to take us from the airport to Heidelberg itself. The guide said it picked people up just outside the terminal, so it looked fairly straightforward.

After about an hour and a half, the captain announced that we were circling Frankfurt-Hahn but hadn't been allocated a slot to land yet. He said we would be landing in ten minutes. About twenty minutes later, we did land, amid heavy fog, which was a little perturbing. We came to the conclusion that ten minutes was a standard time that Germans used just to say that they were going to be late, regardless of the length of the delay.

We disembarked and made our way to passport control and baggage reclaim. Shortly, we found ourselves in the arrivals area. It wasn't entirely obvious where we picked up the bus from, so Steve decided to go and ask in the tourist information centre. The first communication with German locals was carried out successfully, and Steve returned triumphant with a bus timetable and instructions as to where we picked up the bus from. We left arrivals, turned right and walked across a road to a bus stop with the words "Hahn Express" printed on it. There were about ten other people at this stop, so it looked vaguely promising. The bus was due depart at 11.40a.m. so we had about twenty minutes of standing around in the freezing cold before it showed up.

The bus driver was some sort of butch German woman. She helped to load the cases before getting back on the bus and issuing tickets. I decided it was my turn to get in on a bit of communication, so I collected some money up from the rest of the Colonel's Regiment and asked for four tickets to Heidelberg. She seemed surprised I was asking for four tickets, so she repeated "four" to me in English, just to check that it wasn't my being rubbish at speaking German that had caused me to ask for four. I assured her that I was correct, I did want four. She gave me four. Amazed that so much trouble could be caused over my requiring four tickets, I had nonetheless acheived my aim of communicating with a German so I headed for my seat and sat down happily. Steve sat next to me, with Rupert and David on the seat in front. However, it soon became obvious that the bus would not be full, so we spread out, taking a double seat each.

We began the two and a half hour journey to Heidelberg via Worms, Frankenthal, Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. We chatted excitedly about Heidelberg and also about the fact that we were approaching an amusing sounding city called Worms. As we passed by, it became apparent that we wouldn't be stopping in Worms, so I asked Steve to get me a photo of the city with my disposable camera.

The bus shortly pulled off into a service area. We were a little puzzled as the bus stopped and one man leapt of and hurried into the restaurant. Unsure of what was going on, we speculated that he had gone in to pinch a loaf. Sure enough, ten minutes later, the man returned and the bus continued on its merry way. We could only assume that he had indeed stopped to dump cargo.

We proceeded to pass through both Frankenthal and Ludwigshafen without stopping. Apparently no one was getting off there. In Mannheim (which seemed to be joined onto Ludwigshafen) the bus stopped and some people got out. David asked whether the loaf pincher was leaving the bus. This caused mass hilarity. We reassured ourselves that the Loaf pincher was indeed on board as the bus continued towards Heidelberg.

A further twenty minutes passed before the bus pulled up in front of Heidelberg train station. We disembarked and bade an emotional farewell to the loaf pincher. We had no idea how to find our hotel so I suggested Rupert and Steve head for the tourist information centre whilst David and I made for the train station to investigate possible destinations for the third day excursion. David and I did a little searching around the station and acquired train times and costs for trips to Frankfurt and Stuttgart (and also Salzburg, but that seemed just a little too far away). We walked outside the station and couldn't find Steve and Rupert, so turned to walk back into the station only to discover them coming out of the station themselves. They had acquired a couple of maps of the city and also fairly competent directions to our hotel, which apparently lay about ten minutes' walk up the road leading directly away from the main entrance to the station. Steve had also acquired tram information, but we decided to walk instead. We crossed a busy street, though Rupert and Steve were not quite as awake as David and I, as they succeeded in getting shafted by the lights. David and I thus waited for them to arrive before setting off along the pavement towards our hotel. Immediately, we heard a shout by an old native German with a moustache. He said, "Das ist fur Fahrrade!" at Steve, who was walking closest to the road. At least, this is what it must have been, but at the time we didn't know the word for bicycle. It seemed that the pavement was split into two, with the side nearest the road being reserved for cyclists. We thought this incident was hilarious, but were unimpressed with the city thus far. It appeared to be a big urban sprawl. I was confident that it would improve once we got to the old town, but that seemed to be a fair walk away.

After a walk of about fifteen minutes alongside a busy road, and with several near misses with bicycles (and one comedic comment from David when we passed a run down restaurant which he suggested as a destination for our final meal) David spotted the Crowne Plaza in the distance which was to be our home for the next three nights. Our rooms were not available immediately, so we had to wait in the lobby for about ten minutes before being given our keys. It was explained to us that continental breakfast was included with our rooms, but we could pay extra if we wished to have the cooked breakfast too. We speculated that Chris would be paying the extra if he were with us.

Steve and I made for our room on the first floor, whilst David and Rupert entered the room next door. We spent a few minutes unpacking, emulating the loaf pincher and generally relaxing before leaving to check out the centre of Heidelberg. I picked up Kurt as I decided he would join us on the first outing. I wrapped up very warm, selecting four layers. David only had his fleece on and I suggested another layer might be useful. Outside, it was bitterly cold, and I decided I was going to return for my scarf. David used the opportunity to return for his winter coat too. Outside again, we all walked along the pavement in the direction of some sort of modern sculpture we'd spotted in the distance. At this point we made our first mistake. We'd arrived at a road with no obvious crossing point. David and I spotted a gap in the traffic so made a dash across. We'd clearly cut it fine, as a van beeped its horn and whizzed behind us. Steve and Rupert made a more sedate crossing later on. I pointed out to them that that was David and I on a 7 and they should wait until they saw us on a 9 or 10. We posed for photos by the somewhat unimpressive sculpture, before continuing on towards what we believed to be the old town. A few minutes later, we looked on the ground and spotted some massive leaves. David posed with one stuck on his face like in Alien, which Steve and I photographed. Shortly we spotted what looked to be some market stalls and we realised we had arrived at the first section of the Heidelberg Christmas market. We were all hungry, so decided to buy the first food we found. Unfortunately the first food stall we came to was a nut stall. We paused for a moment and decided whether to buy anything. Steve persuaded us not to, and we walked on. The next stall but one served sausages and this appeared to be just what the doctor ordered. David was eager to have a hunk of meat between two bits of bread, but decided that he would content himself with a bratwurst for now. We ordered four bratwurst sausages, along with a bottle of coke for David, diet coke for Rupert and sprite for myself and Steve. Steve handled the communication fantastically and felt very pleased with himself.

We finished our bratwurste and David was tempted to have another one. However, Steve advised caution, pointing out that the Christmas market was likely to be big and there would be many more food opportunities to come that day. We turned away from the sausage stall and waited at a very crowded crossing. David and I spotted an opportunity for another 7, but decided against it and crossed when there was no traffic coming.

Across the road, we found ourselves on Hauptstrasse, or main street. It appeared to run into the heart of old Heidelberg and was pedestrianised. The shop windows were lined with Christmas decorations and lights and the streets were crowded.

More market stalls were sighted on the left hand side of the street. The first one we came to was a crepe and waffle stall. It quite simply had to be done. I decided to deal with the ordering, so David provided the Euros and I put in the order, which went something like, "Zwei Schoko, eine banane und eine schoko-banane." The bloke (who was from then onwards referred to as "Crepe guy") repeated my order back to me and then told me how much money it was in English. Slightly gutted that he had resorted to English, I nevertheless paid the man money and received four crepes in return. Rupert received the banana crepe, with Steve and David electing chocolate, whilst I plumped for banana and chocolate. Whilst we ate our crepes (which for some reason were put on top of wafers to aid consumption), we speculated about some of the other items on the menu. In particular, we were curious as to the nature of two crepe items, "Mandelsplitter" and "Kokosflocken". We decided these would have to be sampled another time.

The old town appeared quite sizeable and we soon found ourselves at yet another section of the Christmas market. This one appeared much more sizeable than the previous two. We walked into the heart of the market and were delighted to find several gluewein stalls. I decided to shout a round of glueweins. Rupert expressed his desire to miss out on the gluewein, so I ordered three. They were presented in Heidelberg commemorative mugs. The gluewein man asked me if I wanted a loyalty card. I said yes, so he handed one over, having stamped three of the slots on it. Apparently you got a free gluewein if you had ten. Steve looked at the menu and realised that we'd been conned. It actually cost more to get a gluewein with a commemorative mug than just to get a gluewein. He assumed this meant that we'd paid for the mug as well. Unimpressed with this shafting, we vowed that we would not be caught out by this next time.

We carried on walking through the Christmas market for a while, before returning to the main street to continue our exploration of the old town. Further up the main street we came to yet another section of the Christmas market. How big could this market be? Steve noticed the abysinth stall and we promised to try that out later on. I was desperate for a toilet stop and made use of some bright red mobile pot before we moved on.

Having now had our fill of the Christmas market, we headed for the river to check out the old bridge. On the way, we passed a pub called Vetters. I had read about it on the Heidelberg website and had decided it would be a great place to have food, as it marketed itself as serving, "traditional German food". Sounded good. We decided to try it out that evening. At the waterfront we came across another busy street. David and I attempted to notch up another 7 and then we relaxed by the river and took some photos. The old bridge was to our left, so we wandered over to it, taking some more quality photo there. By this stage, Rupert was getting a little tired of having his photo taken, so we suggested finding somewhere to sit down indoors with a coffee for a while. We paused briefly to look at the "Heidelberg monkey" (which appeared to be some big monkey thing with a hollowed out head that you could step under and have your photo taken with a monkey mask) and also the "Heidelberg mice" (which were some metal mice stuck on the wall next to the monkey). David said that the mice were much better than the monkey and we all agreed. We soon found ourselves back on the main street in Starbucks. I suggested that Rupert did the ordering this time, which he did. Steve and David secured a table as it was very crowded and lots of people were saving tables. We chilled out for some time with coffees (David noticed a fantastic chilling out zone up some stairs with one table in it, but tragically it was occupied) before deciding it was high time to head back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for the evening meal. I was eager to check out the pool and sauna facilities, but was concerned that the sauna would be a nude one and I was determined that I wasn't having any of that.

David's suggestions of stopping for a crepe fell on deaf ears and we sped across towards the Crowne Plaza. Steve noticed a sign on our walk back that was clearly aimed at cyclists and that was when we realised that the German for bicycle was "Fahrrad" so we deduced that the mentalist we had encountered earlier must have been shouting "Das ist fur Fahrrade!" We repeated this phrase several times to make ourselves comfortable with it.

Back at the hotel, Steve decided he was going to rest whilst the remainder of us headed for the swimming pool. The pool area had been modelled in the style of an old roman bath, complete with solarium, caldarium and frigidarium. We signed in at the door and were given towels. Having been instructed to place our shoes in the shoe rack, David and I made for some seats and decided to put our towels on them, since we were fairly certain that that was okay in Germany. We got into the frigidarium (cold swimming pool) and waited for Rupert, who had decided to use the changing room. After a few lengths and a relax, we decided to head next door to the caldarium (jacuzzi room). I spotted a doorway through to another room, but upon checking it out saw the sign that said, "You are now entering the nude zone". I decided to go no further. Rupert, David and I relaxed in the caldarium for some time. It was very pleasant—the roman pillars and painted views over the ocean really added to the experience. We also noted that the lights kept going on and off to simulate night and day. This was a nice feature. Eventually we had relaxed enough, so we had another quick dip in the frigidarium (during which time I was treated to one of the exiles from the nude zone dropping her towel accidentally right in front of me) before returning to our rooms to prepare for the evening meal.

Steve was on his way into the shower when I got back so I flicked through the television channels and was shocked to discover that Al-Jazeera was available. I decided to avoid the inherent propaganda and turned on Eurosport instead to watch some women's winter biathalon event.

After we'd both been through the shower, we headed next door to see how Rupert and David were getting on. They weren't ready. It seemed that Rupert was dicking around in the shower, as he'd been in there for some time. I suggested that Steve and I made our way over to Vetters to secure a table. David wasn't too happy about this suggestion but agreed that it might be sensible.

Steve and I made our way over to the old town and about twenty minutes later we found ourselves at Vetters. We walked in and were collared by a waitress who told us that the place was very busy, but she would try to seat us. She started laying out places on a table that was already occupied with two people. We decided that sharing tables was a little strange, so tried to communicate that we would try elsewhere and left. We checked out some alternative establishments in the local area, finding a few possibilities. Steve phoned Rupert and discovered that he and David had just arrived at Vetters. We were, at that time, standing outside a bar called I-Punkt that I recognised from the Heidelberg website. We returned to Vetters promising to check out I-Punkt later in the evening.

We explained the deal to David and Rupert and then proceeded to try a couple of other restaurants. They were full and we were beginning to get a little demoralised. We returned to the square with the abysinth stall we had spotted earlier on and tried to find a restaurant. We located one at the other side of the square. It looked quite full, but David said, "Hang on, a couple of Chinese guys are leaving." What followed was perhaps the most amazing thing to date on a Colonel's break. Steve entered the restaurant, and I tried to follow, but had to step back as a couple of Chinese women left. Behind them were two more. And then two more. Very soon, a whole flood of Chinese tourists left the restaurant. Their departure seemed to go on for ages. We counted that over sixty Chinese tourists (most of them women) had left the restaurant. What had previously been a full establishment was now virtually deserted.

We were directed to a table that had previously been occupied by some of the Chinese tourists. The waitress handed us menus and we all shared our amazement at what we had just witnessed. When the waitress returned, we put in our order. Steve ordered tomato soup for starters, followed by some form of schnitzel. I plumped for tomato soup and what appeared to be described as sausage steak. David ordered soup and the same sausage steak. Rupert slightly broke the mould, ordering a fancy potato fritters starter and a different steak for the main course.

The waitress soon returned with our drinks—beers for myself, Steve and Rupert and coca cola for David. Soon our starters arrived, along with a sizeable basket of bread. We consumed our soup whilst Rupert partook of his much more expensive, but not better looking, starter.

The main course was interesting—David and I appeared to have selected some steaks that were shaped like burgers but made out of sausage meat. They were actually very tasty. I did a swap with Steve and sampled some of his steak. That was pretty good too. Too stuffed to manage dessert, we finished off with a simple round of coffees, and then paid the bill.

We left and decided that it was time to check out I-Punkt. Unfortunately, with it being Saturday night, it was somewhat crowded with students from Heidelberg university. Steve and I made for the bar and got a round in whilst Rupert and David made for a table. David was slightly unimpressed with the loud music and smoky environment, so we decided not to get a second round in, and left in search of a place where we could buy gluewein. The obvious place to look was the Christmas market, but this seemed to be closed. We went into one bar on the main street which had gluewein on the menu. A waitress asked us if we wanted food or drink. I said simply drinks, so she told us to prop up the bar. We studied the menu and decided we wanted gluewein. At this point, she turned around and said, "We have no gluewein", in English. Disgusted with this short-handed behaviour, we left.

A bit disillusioned at this point, we decided to take a walk to find a traffic cone. We headed down some deserted roads until we found one screwed onto some sort of pole. We decided it was too risky to do a shout of "Stop telling me what to do!", since it was close to a taxi rank, so we left it and headed back to the main street.

As we passed C&A, we thought we were nearly at the end of the Hauptstrasse. However, this turned out to be a case of shafting, as it was some distance from here back to the hotel.

Eventually, we arrived back at the busy road with the first Christmas market section in the area next to it. We went straight across here, past lots of bus stops, and across another busy street at the other side. At this point, Steve and Rupert found themselves walking in a cycle lane. David shouted, "Nein, nein!" at the top of his voice. A cyclist was coming past us at this point and he nearly fell off his bike in shock. We soon found ourselves back on the street with the Crowne Plaza on it. The pedestrian crossing lights were just turning red, so as the traffic started to move, David went for a 9. He got across safely, and we all waited for the lights to change again before crossing.

Back at the Crowne Plaza, we decided to head for the hotel bar for a final drink before punching the sack. We had some trouble finding a table, so I left the others to sort it out whilst I made a quick trip to the toilet. I was fascinated to discover that the paper dryer was automated—it sucked the towel back into the machine after you'd used it. I returned to the others and imparted this knowledge to them. Steve became engrossed in the Newcastle-Liverpool game that was being shown on the televisioin. It had been played earlier in the day and we already knew it had finished 1−1 courtesy of text messages from Rob (who'd clearly made it back to Newcastle after his six hour wait at Stansted). Our gluewein arrived and we spent a while chilling and watching the match. Once the game had concluded and we'd finished our glueweins, we decided it was time to punch the sack, so we headed back to our rooms. David and I paused briefly to make use of the shoe cleaning device on our floor, before returning to our rooms for a well-earned rest.

Sunday, 7th December

I woke up at around eight o'clock in the morning, completely knackered and feeling fairly grim after all the food I'd consumed the previous day. By the time I'd been through the shower Steve was also awake. We got ourselves ready and then headed next door to find the others.

David was just about ready, but Rupert was still dicking around in the bathroom. We waited a few minutes for them to get ready and then we all headed downstairs to the restaurant. We were informed by a waitress that we would only be able to have the buffet breakfast unless we paid a supplement for the hot food. We said that was fine and she guided us to a table in the non-smoking area.

Our table was unmade, so we were a little unsure what to do. A group of Germans were guided to a similarly unmade table next to us, but when a waitress moved to set their table immediately but did nothing about ours, we began to get a little perturbed. Eventually I decided that enough was enough—I was going to help myself to some orange juice at least. I wandered over to the breakfast bar to check out what was on offer. It appeared that smoked salmon and champagne were available, but we deduced later that they must be for people who had paid the breakfast supplement. What was most concerning me at this point, however, was the lack of orange juice. There appeared to be some sort of multi-vitamin drink that was dark red, and another juice that was dark orange. I didn't know which one to go for. Eventually I plumped for the dark orange drink and returned with enough for everyone. A waitress had finally arrived to lay our table, and we ordered some coffee. She brought across a coffee pot that seemed to have been discarded by a previous table. The coffee wasn't particularly warm and there wasn't enough for all of us either—I had to settle for half a cup. We were somewhat unimpressed by this and David commented that he wasn't too keen on the juice either. I had to agree with him. I consoled myself with some croissants, a pastry and some chocolate spread from the buffet. The others followed suit. We weren't too impressed with the breakfast items available, though Rupert, predictably enough, seemed to enjoy the weird fruit juice. He went back for more, returning with some of the multi-vitamin drink this time.

Having tired of the breakfast and the constant aroma of fag smoke that seemed to be spreading across the restaurant, we decided it was time to head out for the day. We returned to our rooms to gather our belongings (and the Little Lucky Leprechaun and Shaft, who would be joining us for our day out), before heading out. It was decided that we would check out Heidelberg castle (or the schloss, as we came to refer to it as).

We left the hotel and headed through the old town. We were delighted to see that crepe guy was working at his stall as we passed. David suggested stopping for a crepe, but we said we'd get one later. As we passed Starbucks, we decided it would be a good idea to stop for some take out lattes to warm us up. We got a round in and carried on our walk through the old town. We spent a while browsing some of the market stalls for a suitable mascot for the break, but could only find bears wearing laderhosen. They looked very much like Kurt, so we decided to leave it for the time being. We soon arrived back at the restaurant where we'd met the sixty Chinese tourists the previous evening. Just around the corner we discovered yet another section of the Christmas market. There was a man serving pizzas cooked in some sort of pot oven and also several donkeys cruelly kept in some sort of barn. It appeared that children were charged to go in and feed them with straw. We decided to check that out later.

Having disposed of our coffee cups, we began our walk up the slope to the castle. A group in front of us appeared to be enjoying some fags. We had no wish to smoke half, so ran ahead of them. As we reached the top of the slope, we turned around to admire the view over Heidelberg. It certainly was impressive. We entered a small courtyard with look-out alcoves in, so we meandered around there for a while and took in the atmosphere. We carried on into the core of the castle (spotting a cannon in the gardens on route) and found ourselves at a pay booth. David was reluctant to go in, but I pointed out that it was only two Euros and that included the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum and the Grosses Fass. David was convinced, so I went to the pay booth and acquired four "Erwachsene" (which I discovered meant "adult") tickets.

We all walked in and climbed up a slope to find ourselves on the battlements. The view over Heidelberg was impressive to say the least. We admired it for a while, and it was suggested that we climb up the hill on the other side of the river the following day, as there was some sort of castle structure that looked interesting at the top. There were lots of Chinese tourists in the area, quite a few of whom seemed to be smoking fags. We took a couple of photos and then walked over to examine some covered part of the battlements in the corner. We went in, but David was disgusted to see that one of guys in there was smoking. He said, "Stop polluting my air. Get out!" To our surprise, the guy in question left without a word.

I suggested we head for the main courtyard, so we walked through an archway and there we were. I immediately said, "I don't believe it!" There in the middle of the courtyard were (probably) the same sixty Chinese tourists we had seen leaving the restaurant the previous evening. We burst into hysterics, and Steve and I hurried over to them to have our photo taken. One of the Chinese tourists was stood slightly in front of us as David lined up the photo and her friend tried to pull her out of the way. We tried to communicate that we wanted as many of the tourists in the photo as possible, so it was okay for her to stand there. We stood around for a while examining the architecture and taking a couple of Brent photos, which involved us posing in the style of David Brent from the Office. We spotted some people coming out of a door and decided to check it out. We soon realised that it was the exit to the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum. Having nothing better to do, we decided to check it out, so wandered around to the entrance and walked in.

It appeared to be a dicking around boys' paradise. How ironic it was that there was only Rupert available to fly the flag for them. It was an Olde Pharmacy museum. Steve, David and I whizzed straight through the earlier rooms, leaving Rupert to read all the shit. Eventually, we found ourselves in a room containing bottles with "Semen" written on them. We made several childish jokes which gave Rupert plenty of time to catch us up. We then walked into a room with lots of drawers in with names of medicine on them. There was also a donation box (which Steve donated 5 cents to). David pretended to put our 100 Euro note into it. I got a bit panicky and told him not to. There was also a bell in the room, which we rang. Thoroughly unimpressed with the museum, we were about to leave when we noticed some steps leading down to the laboratory. Deciding this might be worth a visit, we descended the steps. It wasn't worth a visit. There was no laboratory visible, only lots of bottles (some of which were distinctly penis shaped) and some things that looked like torture devices.

Having decided that the museum was crap, we exited via the gift shop. There was only one thing left to do—go and visit the Grosses Fass. We followed the signs and walked down a slope towards a doorway. We were quite excited about seeing the Grosses Fass and we speculated about how Grosses it would be. At the doorway, we found ourselves halted in our tracks as wave upon wave of Chinese tourists exited. I began to get disgruntled with all of the waiting, so ducked inside the doorway and went through the curtain to the room beyond. I was immediately greeted with my first sight of the Grosses Fass. I was not disappointed. It was huge. I decided I should wait for the others, so I walked through the curtain again and waited for them to make it through the doorway. Eventually the line of tourists ended and I was joined by Rupert, Steve and David. I told them I had seen the Grosses Fass and that it was Grosses. We all walked through the curtains and were amazed by the sight. The Grosses Fass was to our right, with an ordinary Fass next to it. All of us expressed our amazement as to its size. We posed for a couple of photos with it, as several people seemed to be doing. We also sat the Little Lucky Leprechaun and Shaft on the Grosses Fass and took their photo. Once we'd tired of this, we decided to check out the rest of the room, still stunned by the size of the Grosses Fass. I led the way around the corner of the Fass and stopped dead in my tracks. In front of me was a set of stairs leading down into another room and in that room was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. It was the Grosses Fass. It was about four times the size of the one we'd just had our photos taken standing in front of.

We all burst into hysterics. David commented that we'd been duped by the Fass by the entrance, and we assumed that it was placed there for just that reason. We rapidly coined the term Intermediate Fass to describe the Intermediate Fass situated at the door.

We were very excited by the real Grosses Fass and we descended the stairs into the chamber containing it. There was another set of stairs leading up one side of the Grosses Fass and we ascended these. We soon found ourselves standing on top of the Fass. Steve, David and I were all in awe of its size, and perhaps were showing signs of shock. Rupert had clearly taken it all in his stride and was unphased by the Grosses Fass.

After a while stood on top of the Grosses Fass, we descended on the other side down a spiral staircase. Someone had placed a normal-sized Fass on the floor in front of the Grosses Fass to give an idea of its size. This proved an ideal spot for punters to sit and have their photo taken with the Grosses Fass. I spotted a bell on the wall and rang it excitedly before climbing the stairs and leaving the chamber.

We were all reluctant to leave the Grosses Fass, so excited were we by it, but we came to the conclusion that it was a good time to find somewhere for a drink. We briefly debated buying some of the wine made in the Grosses Fass but decided it wasn't worth it. Steve led the way out of the room housing the Intermediate Fass and we allowed ourselves a chuckle at all of the people that had just entered the room and made the foolish error of assuming that the Intermediate Fass was, in fact, the Grosses Fass. We pitied their stupidity.

Having walked through the courtyard, we made for the exit at the back of the castle and found ourselves in the gardens. They looked pretty impressive, but we were all eager to sit down so we made for the building opposite which seemed to have a cafe inside it. I got in a round of soft drinks for everyone, and we walked up some stairs onto the mezzanine level above.

We chatted for a while about how Grosses the Grosses Fass whilst we warmed up a little. After about half an hour we decided to continue our route around the castle grounds so we left the cafe, turned left and walked alongside the battlements. We spotted a tour group across the other side of the moat, looking at some sort of ruined part of the castle. David and I paused for another Brent photo on a bench whilst Steve took the picture. As we did this, a couple of Germans walked passed and said, "Wow!" whilst looking at our poses. Clearly they were amazed.

Having exhausted the entertainment in this area, we walked back past the cafe to the gardens at the other side of the castle. As we arrived at another bench, I suggested that Steve, David and I all put on a different David Brent pose and add to our vastly growing collection of Brent photos. We offered Rupert the opportunity to pose also, but he said he'd rather take our photo, so we handed him my camera and took up our positions.

This done, we meandered through the gardens a bit more, admiring the castle from various different vantage points. There appeared to be several paths leading both up into the hills and down into Heidelberg. I suggested taking one of these, but Steve was desperate for the toilet, whilst David and I were desperate to go back and see the Grosses Fass. We decided we'd chance trying to get back into the castle on the same ticket, so returned to the entrance opposite the cafe and showed our tickets at the ticket man. He happily waved us through so we walked back into the courtyard, delighted by the discovery that we could have as many visits to see the Grosses Fass as we wanted on that day.

We checked out a path in the courtyard that we'd previously not seen, but it appeared to lead up a slope to some wood storage area so we turned around and headed back to the room containing the Grosses Fass. As Steve made for the toilets next to the room housing the Grosses Fass, I informed him that he knew where to find us. David, Rupert and I then took the walk around the Grosses Fass again, this time wandering all the way around the back. We were simply amazed, but admitted that it wasn't quite as impressive as on our first trip.

It was time to go and head back down to the Christmas market for some lunch, so we reluctantly said goodbye to the Grosses Fass and left. We departed the castle the same way as we had entered at the start of the day. As we passed the ticket booth, Rupert, David and I all said "Danke" to the man inside. Steve went one better and said, "Danke fur die Grosses Fass." We all burst into hysterics and repeated the phrase.

The descent to the Christmas market was relatively rapid. We found ourselves back at the donkey enclosure and we watched kids get conned into feeding them. We briefly discussed the possibility of the donkeys breaking out by going up the ladder in their pen. Next to the donkey enclosure was a nativity scene and suddenly the existence of the donkeys began to make sense.

David and I made a rapid trip to the bright red pots before the decision was made to make for the main section of the Christmas market for lunch. We walked along Hauptstrasse and dived down a side alley into the Christmas market. Despite the fact that we were hungry, we decided not to stop at the first stall we came to and instead made for the main food area in the centre of the market.

I put in a sausage order at the largest stall in the area. David went for a Bratwurst, whilst Rupert and I plumped for the Feuerwurst and Steve took the risk on another kind of wurst. We also got in an order of sprites and cokes and diet cokes to wash these tasty morsels down. We consumed these quickly and were eager for more food. We decided to have a quick break for gluewein, so David and Steve made for the gluewein stall whilst I chatted to Rupert. Our fear was that we'd be victims of a cup shaft so we instructed Steve to ask for it without cups.

Steve and David rejoined us complete with four gluewein cups. Rupert had decided to join us this time around. Steve had tried to ask for the drinks without cups, but someone in the queue behind had told him that if we returned the cups we got our deposit back. Hence we discovered that we hadn't been shafted the previous day. We counted ourselves lucky that we'd found this out, otherwise we'd have been returning to England with loads of commemorative mugs.

Rupert disappeared in search of a toilet, whilst we contemplated what to purchase next. We were a little upset that we'd been unable to get a hunk of meat between two bits of bread, but we weren't quite sure what to ask for. David spotted a stall nearby that had several hunks of meat in a fridge, and he speculated that these corresponded to a sign above them which said "Backschinke". Steve and I agreed, but thought it might be a bit of a risky strategy. As Steve made to return the gluewein mugs, David came up with an idea. He would stand behind the next people at the stall and see what they order. Should they order Backschinke and get something worthwhile-looking, he would then follow suit. At this moment an old couple walked over to the stall and David made to stand behind them. As luck would have it, they did indeed order Backschinke, and were rewarded with what could only be described as a hunk of meat between two bits of bread. David celebrated his victory by ordering a Backschinke himself. As she sliced the meat, the serving wench asked him a question in German which neither he nor I understood. Eventually she gestured towards the fat on the meat and mimed a cutting motion. We realised she was asking if he wanted the fat cutting off. We mimed for her to leave it on. We rejoined Steve and Rupert, who had finished his search for a pot with something resembling victory. David brandished his Backschinke and sampled it. It looked just what the doctor ordered, perhaps without the fat, which seemed to be a bit grim. Steve and I decided to take the plunge too and got a Backschinke each (without the fat on). We sat around and devoured our food whilst chatting about our amazing powers of deduction which resulted in us finding a hunk of meat between two bits of bread.

As we finished off our Backschinke, we began to discuss the possibility of a gluewein seller being just like Basil Fawlty. Several applications of Fawlty Towers then ensued.

Once we'd eaten our fill, we browsed the Christmas market for a while. We wandered round a shop that seemed to be selling predominantly coffee, but were unimpressed by this so left quickly. David and I wandered into a covered stall and examined some model houses with lights in them. We decided one of these would be ideal for our Grandma for Christmas, so I used my negotiation skills to acquire one.

Pleased with our purchase, we meandered around the main Christmas market for a while, before deciding to walk on to the second section of the market again (the one with the red pots). After some more browsing, David and I stopped to purchase some circuloids from a market stall. I did the negotiation, but when the shop girl asked me something, I didn't have a clue what she'd said. Eventually she said, "Eine packe?" and it became obvious that she was asking if we wanted our circuloids in a bag. I replied that I did and paid up. It turned out that the two circuloids contained marshmallow. They were okay but we weren't sure whether they'd been worth the time and effort to acquire.

It was fast approaching time to wander back to the hotel, so we began to make our way towards the main street again. We had one final look for a mascot and David and I spied a creature that looked a little bit like a cross between a sheep and a pig. It cost two Euros 50, so looked a good purchase. We picked it up and it emitted a baaing sound. We surmised it was supposed to be a sheep.

David purchased the creature, which we duly named "Grosser Vass" after the Grosses Fass. We began the trek back to the hotel. I suggested a coffee stop, but no one was particularly keen on going to Starbucks again, so we made instead for a place opposite Starbucks called the "Coyote Cafe". It looked okay. We walked inside to discover that the only seats left were bar stools. We selected a set of four bar stools either side of a tiny raised table and studied the menu. Steve and Rupert selected Lattes whilst David and I decided to go with hot chocolate. As the waitress arrived, I took charge for the group and put our order in. I was obviously doing okay with my German, because she didn't switch to English, instead asking me in German whether I wanted cream with the hot chocolates. I asked David, in English, whether he wanted cream. He replied that he didn't, so I switched back to German and replied that we didn't want cream. Steve was particularly impressed and said that he thought I was the best German speaker out of the four of us. I replied that it was slightly tragic that I was the best, but thanked him for the compliment.

Our drinks arrived and we were pleased to see that we had ordered what we thought we had. We chatted about the plans for the evening and came to the conclusion that we would try Vetters again. It was the obvious place in Heidelberg to sample some traditional German food and we felt we should check it out before we left.

Once we'd relaxed sufficiently, we paid the bill and left Coyote Cafe to return to the hotel. As we approached Crepe guy, David decided he'd like to have a crepe and was eager to get some ordering experience in. Everyone was in agreement that a crepe would go down a treat, so we queued up and made our selections. David went for a Banane-Shocko, whilst Steve went for a Schokolade and Rupert went for a Zucker-Zim. I briefly debated having a Banane-Shocko-Mandelsplitter, but decided that would be a bit greedy and selected a Shocko-Mandlesplitter instead. We were all excited about finding out what Mandelsplitter was. It turned out to be chopped nuts, but mixed with the Shocko it tasted great. David was delighted with his bargaining skills, and happily tucked into his Banane-Shocko. We all decided that at least one of us would have a Banane-Shocko-Mandelsplitter before we left.

We arrived back at the main road with the Crowne Plaza on it and this time David decided to go for a ten, charging across the road just before the oncoming traffic arrived. Steve, Rupert and I sensibly waited until the crossing went to green.

Back at the hotel, we all decided to head for the pool area this time. We spent a lazy hour in the caldarium and frigidarium. Steve discovered that the reason the lights went out every so often were because they were in the jacuzzi and we occasionally sat in front of them. I was disappointed that that was all it was. Once we'd fully recovered, we returned to our rooms and prepared for the night out.

An hour later, we left the hotel and made our way back through the old town towards Vetters. We decided to stop in the Christmas market on route for a gluewein to get ourselves in the mood for the evening ahead. The Christmas market was fairly crowded even at that time of night and there was a fairly lengthy queue for gluewein. Rupert had decided to pass, so we ordered two glueweins and an orangensaft for David. The serving girl asked if he would like it hot or cold. He replied he would prefer it cold, then commented to us that we should take her with us for the meal that evening.

Having returned our commemorative mugs for the traditional deposit, we continued through the old town and arrived at Vetters. Again, it appeared quite full, but just as we were about to leave and go somewhere else, a couple got up from a nearby table and indicated to us that we could take it. We thanked them and sat down. The table was big enough to seat about eight, with bench seats on all four sides of a square table. I slid in first, with David seated alongside me. Steve took a seat opposite us and Rupert sat to David's right.

We studied the menu and were delighted to see the wide variety of meat available. Various things appealed—we noticed that you could get 4 schnitzel, which roughly translated to a whole pig. However, my eyes were drawn towards the massive plate of sausages. I suggested we order one of these between us. Everyone seemed keen on this idea, but Rupert thought it might not be enough and asked whether we should get 4 schnitzel as well. The rest of us thought this might but too much, but did decide to get a pretzel each for starters. The waitress soon arrived and I did the honours, ordering the sausages, pretzels and drinks—coke for David and some of the home brewed beer for the rest of us. Very soon, the waitress returned to our table with our drinks and a basket containing 4 warm pretzels. We were all starving so we tucked in. The pretzels were very salty, and I wasn't too keen, but they were food, so it didn't matter too much. I had to confess that I wasn't too keen on the home brewed beer, but Rupert and Steve seemed to enjoy it.

Naturally, conversation turned to the Grosses Fass. Rupert didn't seem as in awe as the rest of us at it's sheer size. David pointed out that we had all day tickets for the Schloss and, if we were lucky, we'd still be able to go there after our meal. After twenty minutes or so, the plate of wurst arrived. It was absolutely massive, and this caused much hilarity. David took a couple of photos, including one with me posing with a sausage on a fork, in the style of the opening credits of "Grange Hill". We discovered that the sausages were on a bed of fried potatoes, which further added to our delight.

We divided the plate of sausages into quarters and tucked in. We were not to be disappointed. I was particularly taken with the Feuerwurst whilst David helped himself to a mini suasage before making a beeline for the massive Bratwurst in the middle of the plate. Once we'd consumed our fare, we were all stuffed. Steve struggled to finish his last sausage, but he bravely forced it down. We were all too full to manage desserts, but when David mentioned that apfelstrudel was on the menu, we were almost convinced to change our mind. David then suggested that we relax for a while, get an extra round of drinks in and maybe have some apfelstrudel a little later on. We thought this was a fine idea. As the waitress came, I asked for some schnapps, but she said they didn't have any. Somewhat disappointed, I ordered an extra home brewed beer for myself, Steve and Rupert and a coke for David. As she left to fulfill our order, I commented that I should have ordered a coke for myself. Our drinks arrived and we spent a good half hour chilling, before attracting the attention of the waitress to order a round of apfelstrudels. It proved to be a fantastic choice. As we finished our desserts, David said that it was a shame Moules wasn't there to enjoy the apple dessert. In view of this comment I initiated a toast to the absent Colonel's men, Moules, Amal and Dave.

Eventually we decided it was time to relocate to an alternative drinking establishment. We paid the bill and bade farewell to our friendly waitress, before leaving Vetters.

Outside Vetters, we discussed our next plan of attack. The idea was quite simple, to find a drinking establishment and continue our entertaining evening. We walked down the street upon which was situated I-Punkt. I-Punkt itself was deserted, so we walked past it and soon came to a bar on our right called Destille. It looked like an interesting joint, so we headed inside to check it out. The bar was situated in the centre of the room, with bar stools all around it. There were about three tables, all of which were occupied, so we propped up the bar. I walked to the back to see if there were any vacant tables, but it appeared that there weren't. Steve and Rupert ordered beers from the rather nice bar girl, whilst David and I ordered cokes. Once she'd given us our order and written down the price on a piece of paper so we knew how much it was, the girl came around to our side of the bar and asked me, in English, if I was looking for the gents. She then pointed it out, and I thanked her profusely. I hadn't been looking for the gents but as I didn't want to embarrass her, I decided I'd better go anyway. It was in the far corner, the other side of the bar and the nature of the room was such that I had to squeeze past several Germans propping the bar up on route.

When I arrived back at the bar, Steve suggested that the bar girl had been trying to chat me up. I was unsure. David then suggested that Destille might be made out of a Grosses Fass. This caused much hilarity. The Grosses Fass conversation continued and David chipped in with a "Gareth from the Office" application, asking if there'd ever be a Grosses Fass that would be bigger than the universe. This led to the suggestion that the universe might, in fact, be a Grosses Fass.

We decided to get a second round of drinks in. Steve was interested in the schnapps that was being poured for customers from some Fass on the bar. He suggested we asked for "Vier schnapps vom Fass" and point at the Fass on the bar. I then asked the bar girl for four schnapps. She then handed us a drinks menu and very helpfully pointed out to us where all of the drinks were.

Rupert and Steve decided to order flaming sambukas, whilst myself and David plumped for Sauerapfel. The girl served our schnapps and, since Rupert was unsure how to drink from a glass that was on fire, she showed him how to do it. She put the fire out using his beer mat and then indicated for him to down the drink. This he did and then proceeded to nearly choke. David and I took a little more time with our sauerapfels, which were pretty good.

Once we'd finished our schnapps, we decided it was time to move on. We bade farewell to the bar girl and left Destille in search of an alternative venue. We soon found ourselves outside I-Punkt but it still appeared to be deserted. Rupert saw a group of girls walking past us and suggested we persuade them to join us in the bar. He then proceeded to spin and do a moonwalk, apparently as a way to entice the girls to join us in I-Punkt. Steve burst out laughing and asked Rupert why he'd done a moonwalk. David and I cracked up too and Rupert proceeded to get very embarrassed.

We carried on walking and, after a few turns, found ourselves outside Coyote Cafe again. After a brief discussion, we decided to wander inside and take a seat. As Steve wandered to the bar to order, a waitress came up to take our order. I waved Steve back and ordered cokes for myself and David and beers for Rupert and Steve. What followed was the most intense period of applications ever on a Colonel's break. Naturally most revolved around the Grosses Fass. David chipped in with an absolute classic, saying, "Well, we can't leave the Chinese tourist with the Grosses Fass," (in the manner of Tim from "the Office") and continued with, "Oh, I'm a Chinese tourist. Thank-you Tim for leaving me with my favourite Fass." This caused Steve and I to crack up continually for several minutes. Steve put in the extra application of, "Well, we can't leave the Grosses Fass and the Intermediate Fass unattended", with David supplying, "Unattended Fasses, wine bath!"

I then turned to Steve and said, "Have you ever been to see the Grosses Fass?" He said, "Yes", so I said, "Right, well I went down there the first day it opened with sixty of my mates, all dressed the same. The guy said, `Oi, no Chinese tourists.' I said, `I'm not a Chinese tourist' He said, `Well, you should be. In fact, if I were you I'd dress like that all the time, and if you carry on like that you'll be President of China.' I said, `I'm not interested. I'm just interested in making shitloads out of the Grosses Fass.'"

More mass hilarity ensued and when David added a, "I put that there. Just an example of the laughs we have around here!" whilst pointing to an imaginary Grosses Fass, Rupert began to wonder what he was doing hanging around with us.

Similar Office applications followed, such as, "What's the Grosses Fass doing with a Chinese tourist anyway? A Chinese tourist is a Grosses Fass' worst enemy. It should just drown the Chinese tourist in the wine." and, "`Why doesn't the Chinese tourist just put the Grosses Fass in the cellar?' `This schloss doesn't have a cellar.' `All schlosses have got cellars.' `Not this one. It's ruined.' `Well, you shouldn't let it near a Grosses Fass then.'"

As if this wasn't too much for Rupert to handle, the "Fawlty Towers" applications began again with, "`Can you make me a Banane-Shocko-Mandelsplitter?'" `Well, I think we're just out of splitter.' `I don't believe this!'" Following on from this, we had, "`Well, the crepe man is not sure, he thinks it's banane, chocolate, splitter...' `No, it's banana, chocolate, chopped nuts, in a pancake!" And again followed by, "`I'm sorry, he's forgotton again, it's banana nuts, cream...' `No, no cream! It's banana, chocolate, chopped nuts, in a pancake!' `Right, now come on!'"

I then came in with, "`Two glueweins please' `Ah, so nothing to drink, then?' `What?' `Well, you can't drink your glueweins, can you?' `What else do you expect us to do with them?' `Warm wine.' `Make that two and forget about the glueweins.'"

Rupert eventually got a word in and pointed out that he thought that "Grosses Fass" was pronounced "Grosses Fass" and not "Grosser Vass" which was apparently how we'd been saying it all day. This caused Steve, David and I to crack up again, as David pointed out that Rupert must have been laughing at our stupidity all day, having a quiet laugh to himself every time one of us said Grosser Vass instead of Grosses Fass.

We decided it was time to leave Coyote Cafe and head home. We took a brief detour through the market in search of a traffic cone, but there were none in sight and it appeared that there were security guards watching the market place anyway, so shouts of "Stop telling me what to do!" probably wouldn't go down very well. We therefore went back to the main street and headed back to the hotel.

It was late by the time we'd got back and the bar was already shut, so we decided to call it a night.We paused briefly to polish our shoes on the shoe polishing machine on our floor, before Steve and I said goodnight to David and Rupert and returned to our room to punch the sack.

Monday, 8th December

I woke up at around 7.30a.m. and went through the shower. Once I'd finished in the bathroom, Steve was up and about too. We went next door and saw that Rupert and David were just about ready for breakfast, so we all headed for the lift and descended to the ground floor.

The breakfast room was, once again, quite busy. We were directed to a table in the centre of the room next to the large fish tank. We got in a coffee order and David and I made our way over to the breakfast buffet. I was first there and David found himself two behind me in the queue. I noticed that there were only three croissants left, so I took only one, realising that there was a man behind me, and then David, each of whom probably required a croissant. As I moved down the line to the rolls, I noticed the hairy man behind me take both of the remaining croissants. I couldn't believe it! He then hurried to his table as if to avoid conflict. David came up to me and said, "Did you see what that hairy neanderthal just did?" I replied that I had noticed that the monkey man had just walked off with the last two croissants. David returned to his seat with some orange juice and a couple of rolls which he proceeded to smear with chocolate sauce. The next ten minutes were taken up with David and I delivering curse after curse aimed at the monkey man (from a distance), whilst Steve and Rupert looked on. Eventually one of the chefs did return with more croissants, so we were able to put the event behind us. However, the shear selfishness of the monkey man was breathtaking.

We finished breakfast and then headed back to our rooms to prepare for our day out. Our plan was to go for a trip up the Philosophenweg, which was a big hill on the opposite side of the river from the old town. Shaft was fairly exhausted from his trip to see the Grosses Fass the day before, so he stayed in the room whilst Kurt, the Little Lucky Leprechaun and Grosser Vass joined us for the excursion day.

Steve and I collected Rupert, David and the mascots and we left the hotel. We crossed the road, walking past the large mock up of a razor and headed for the bridge across the river. Having paused briefly to admire the view, we continued across the bridge and descended the stairs at the other side.

The walk alongside the river was a lengthy one, as the path which would take us up the Philosophenweg was situated opposite the old bridge. However, the fact that we were on this side of the river meant that we wouldn't be fooled by the C&A shaft. Eventually we found ourselves at the old bridge and I spotted the path that would lead us up the hill. We walked in between several houses, as the path wound itself up the side of the hill. I accelerated ahead of the others, passing several Germans on the way, and soon found myself at a viewing platform. I stood around for ages, wondering what had happened to the others. Just as I was coming to the conclusion that they must be dicking around, I espied Steve's head some distance down the path. A couple of minutes later, all three of them had joined me on the viewing platform.

Realising that we were nowhere near the top of the hill, we continued along our merry way. We eventually emerged on a road that ran around the side of the hill. There were no obvious paths leading upwards, so I followed the vague instructions of our makeshift guidebook and turned left. David spotted a tower halfway up the hill and decided it was worth checking out. We walked for some time and there were no paths leading either down or up the hill. Also, the road appeared to be heading slightly downhill, which was a little disconcerting. I commented that the road was somewhat reminiscent of the path at the start of the labyrinth in the movie of the same name. David and Steve agreed wholeheartedly.

Eventually we found a path to our right, next to a small playground. It appeared to lead up, so we took it and continued our ascent. By this time I was beginning to get quite hot, so I took off my jacket and arranged it around my waist. After another steep climb, we arrived at a road and opposite this was another playground. Behind that was the tower David had spotted earlier. David then said that the Grosmogesson was directly in front of us. I pointed out that there were two possible approaches to the tower, either up the path to the left or via the road to the right. David pointed out that this was one of the features of a Grosmogesson—it had two distinct access routes.

We walked into the playground and I spotted some kind of weird seesaw/swing, that appeared to be made up of two metal bars attached together at a pivot with tyres to sit in. I suggested that Rupert and David should have a go on it, and I could take a photo. Rupert wasn't keen, but was eventually persuaded, and seemed to enjoy the experience. David then decided that it was time to check out the Grosmogesson. We took the path to our left (deciding randomly on one of the two distinct access routes) and climbed up to the tower. Once there, we paused for a couple of photos, before discovering that we could actually climb up it. The Grosmogesson was hollowed out and there was a spiral staircase around the wall inside. David informed us that this spiral staircase design was another feature of a Grosmogesson. We arrived at the top and admired the view. There was some sort of strange dish on top of the tower above our heads, the purpose of which was not obvious.

We decided to take a photo of the Little Lucky Leprechaun at the top of the Grosmogesson. I was worried that he might blow off in the wind, particularly as there was a ledge halfway down the Grosmogesson that he might get trapped on. I pointed out that if he fell, we might have to poke him off the ledge with a stick and collect him at ground level. Fortunately this didn't happen and the photos were taken successfully.

I turned to take the stairs down to ground level, when I spotted that Rupert had climbed up onto the side wall of the Grosmogesson and was attempting to discover what was in the dish above our heads. I suddenly got very worried, and shouted for him to get down. Steve and David were similarly concerned and told him sternly to do the same. Rupert didn't seem to understand what the problem was, but eventually obliged and got off the wall. We were all really stunned, as it seemed that Rupert could very easily have slipped and fallen to his death. As we walked down to ground level, David pointed out that it was very selfish of Rupert as him dying would have ruined the whole holiday. I pointed out that him breaking a leg would have been worse, cos then we'd have been forced to go for help, which would have been a real waste of time. David then said that Rupert could have fallen onto the ledge, and then we'd have had to poke him off with a big stick. This caused David, Steve and I to break into hysteria once more.

We took the second access route away from the Grosmogesson, descending down to the road, before taking a path through the forest that looked like it would lead to the summit of the Philosophenweg. Some time later arrived at a junction, with a path leading almost back the way we'd come from, but at a much steeper angle up the hill. We decided to take this route. About ten minutes later we found ourselves at a look out point. There was a small wooden outpost that looked like it would be more at home in a Vietnam movie. We stood here and admired the view briefly, before walking a little bit further and sitting down to admire the view of Heidelberg and Mannheim beyond. It was certainly impressive. Talk turned to Rupert's behaviour at the Grosmogesson and what would've happen if he'd died. I then asked if we'd still write a diary when we got back if Rupert had died on the Grosmogesson. This caused much hilarity. There was a brief pause, until David said that he was having problems with his eyes and it seemed as if they were overestimating the size of the boundary layer. Steve replied with, "you bastard, I'd forgotton about that!" David and I thought it was hilarious.

We began to walk further up the path. The path was rapidly winding around the edge of the hill and we soon found ourselves on the far side. There was a huge forest stretching out into the distance. Ahead of us was the tower that had been visible from ground level and after crossing another road and doing a bit of cross country (as we chose the wrong path once we'd crossed the road) we found ourselves in a car park. The place was deserted and were able to admire the small tower and the surrounding ruins with no disturbances. I instructed the others to climb up the tower so I could take their photo from ground level. Halfway up, they emerged on some sort of balcony and they paused to admire the view. I took a couple of photos before joining them. We continued the climb up a spiral staircase to the top of the tower, emerging to be greeted by a spectacular view of the old town and the Schloss. Above us was a flagpole and I commented the Rupert may wish to clamber up it and sacrifice himself as he nearly did at the Grosmogesson. The floor was covered in ice and hence very slippery, so I decided to head back to ground level before someone did have a nasty fall.

We walked through a set of rather pathetic ruins next to the turret and then headed up the road which was supposed to lead in the direction of an amphitheatre. We were all very excited by this prospect. On route, we walked past what appeared to be a cafe, though any thoughts we might have had of stopping for a swift beverage were dashed when we discovered it was closed.

About ten minutes later, we emerged at the front of the largest amphitheatre I'd ever seen. It was absolutely massive. About a hundred rows of tiered seats stretched upwards towards a plateau at the top and behind us steps led up to a platform above the main stage area. David and I immediately suspected that this amphitheatre could have been the site for a Nazi rally during the 1930s or 40s. It was somewhat spooky. A suggestion of photographs with us doing Nazi salutes wasn't generally accepted, so I settled instead for running up all of the steps in the amphitheatre Rocky style and having my photo taken at the top. Steve collapsed on one of the seats whilst I did this and started texting his girlfriend.

At the top of the amphitheatre, behind the seats, David, Rupert and I discovered a plaque which said that the amphitheatre had indeed been the site for a Nazi rally held by Goebbels in 1938. We were not surprised. We waited for Steve and then continued our walk. Behind the amphitheatre was a ruined monastry, so we spent a while checking that out. What most amused us was a room called the "Queeraum". We suspected this was a room populated by gay monks and they hung around here hoping to pick people up. What made it even more amusing was the fact that the toilets were right next to the Queeraum. We spent a while plotting a route to the toilets that avoided the Queeraum, presuming that straight monks would take this precaution to avoid having to go through the Queeraum. Unfortunately the only route we could find was much longer from most places in the monastry than via the Queeraum, making it somewhat inconvenient for straight monks who were desperate for the toilet.

Having done this, we wandered over to two small towers at one end of the monastry, past a couple of sets of steps leading down that were chained off. The towers had staircases inside leading to their tops. David and I headed for the smaller one first, deciding to save the fun of the taller one for later. Rupert skipped it, however, and went straight up the big one. Not to be outdone, David and I retreated from the top of the small one and headed up the big one instead. The view over the monastry grounds was fairly impressive. Steve finally joined us at the top and David pointed out that it'd be hilarious if the three mascots were sat on the wall of the smaller tower, thus allowing us the possibility of a comedy photograph. Rupert immediately grabbed the Little Lucky Leprechaun, Kurt and Grosser Vass and sprinted down the stairs, across the courtyard, into the smaller tower and up the stairs again. The mascots then posed for a photograph on the smaller tower. We walked over to join Rupert before deciding it was time to head back down the hill for some lunch.

We descended the tower and walked through the Queeraum, pausing briefly to investigate a little room down some stairs that had a couple of candles burning in it. After a brief clamber on the walls, we left the grounds of the monastry. I was a bit behind Rupert and Steve and I hurried to catch them up. The ground was covered in leaves and so I couldn't see where I was going. Suddenly my feet gave way under me and I found myself in a rather large hole. I managed to grab hold of a set of railings which prevented me from falling into an even bigger pit next to the hole I'd found. Steve cracked up—clearly it had looked somewhat comical from his position. I then informed the others that they should be careful of the hole I'd just found.

David finally clambered over the walls and joined us, so the four of us set off back down the hill. We walked through the amphitheatre again, which was at this point being staked out by a guy who looked like he might belong to the Nazi party. We walked up the steps onto the platform behind the stage and David and I muted whether we should take a photo of the guy whilst he wasn't looking. We came to the conclusion that it probably wasn't such a good idea.

We passed the tower and after a long walk, found ourselves back at the Grosmogesson again. Deciding we were all starving so didn't have time to stop, we walked straight past it back to the Labyrinth-style road. Eventually we rejoined the path that took us back through the houses and I noticed that we passed two viewing platforms. I was a little puzzled as I'd only remembered one on the way up. Steve pointed out that this was why they'd been so far behind me on the way up—I'd walked straight past the first one.

The path brought us straight out at the old bridge, so we walked straight across that and took the quick route to the main section of the Christmas market. We decided that the area that we'd sampled Backschinke the previous day was probably the best place to get a late lunch.

Back at the Christmas market, we finally settled on Steak mit Zweibeln for our lunch, along with a round of sprites and cokes (diet coke for Rupert). The Steak mit Zweibeln was served from a massive frying pan. It appeared to be some sort of Steak covered in onions and was served in a crusty roll. We tucked in happily and chatted about the day so far. David was not enjoying the fact that his roll contained onions and he removed them. Steve pointed out that if he didn't want onions he should have asked for it without Zweibeln. David and I both suspected that Steve hadn't known what Zweibeln was until he'd received his lunch.

As we were in the vicinity of the gluewein stall, the Basil Fawlty applications started up again. In order to get away from the concept of gluewein guy, Rupert suggested getting some desserts in. I thought that the waffles looked particularly appealing, so we headed over to the waffle stall. As Rupert got in an order for one cream and strawberry sauce waffle and three cream and chocolate sauce waffles, I purchased a circuloid filled with cream that looked rather tasty. It was pretty good. We returned with the waffles and handed them out. We were all fairly impressed.

After a while we were beginning to get cold, so we decided to make another trip to Coyote Cafe. It was quite busy, but we secured a table at the back, unfortunately right next to the toilets. The waitress from the previous day came to take our order and I took charge, ordering lattes for Steve and Rupert and hot chocolates without cream for myself and David. We chilled in Coyote cafe for a while, before deciding it was time to head back to the hotel to prepare for the final night meal.

The walk was a long one, and we were fooled by the C&A shaft once again. David was keen to stop and purchase a Banane-Schoko-Mandelsplitter from Crepe guy, but I suggested that he get one of the way to the Stammtisch instead. As we reached the outpost of the Christmas market, we spotted a guy doing a massive pavement picture with chalk. We had to admit that it looked fairly impressive.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we arranged to meet in the pool area for a spot of chilling. Steve and I headed down and after a brief swim, relaxed in the jacuzzi. Rupert and David finally arrived in the pool area about forty minutes later, by which time Steve and I were almost ready to go back to our room. We left Rupert and David and headed upstairs again to get ready for the night out.

It had been decided that the Stammtisch would take place in I-Punkt, so as soon as Steve and I were ready, we left the room and headed for the centre of the old town. Just as we began our walk down the main street, I stopped in my tracks, realising that I'd forgotton to bring the list of destinations for the draw from Amal, Chris and Dave. There was nothing for it—we would have to head back to our room to collect them. We were a little nervous about this, as we were keen to arrive at the Stammtisch somewhat prior to David and Rupert, otherwise the idea of a Stammtisch would be redundant. We now suspected that they would be just about ready to leave as we returned to the hotel. Thankfully, we didn't pass them on the way back to the hotel, nor did it seem that they'd left already when we got back to our room as I could hear signs of life from the room next door.

Steve and I left the hotel once again and made for the main section of the Christmas market. We were delighted to see that Crepe guy was still working on the crepe stall, but we decided we didn't have time to stop and partake of his food. In the main section of the market, Steve and I selected a gluewein stall with two rather attractive German girls working at it, and put in an order for two glueweins from one of the girls, who appeared to be fluent in English. We took in the atmosphere for a while, savouring our glueweins, before deciding to move on to I-Punkt. Steve had decided it was up to me to get our deposit back on the cups, so I took them to the counter. Unfortunately the girl whom we'd spoken to before was busy taking an order and it was the other girl who returned for our cups. She couldn't speak quite such good English and my German was shown up as I couldn't understand what she was asking. Steve and I looked vacant so she just said, "Ok" and gave us our money back. We left, realising that she must have thought we were stupid.

We took the short walk to I-Punkt, which was fairly deserted. The barman was very friendly however, and he took our order for beers and schnapps (I went for an interesting sounding schnapps called Apfelkorn). We propped the bar up and spent a while having a good chat with each other and occasionally with the barman too. I was enjoying being part of the first group to arrive at the Stammtisch—an experience I had never had before. After about forty-five minutes, we were beginning to wonder what had happened to David and Rupert. They eventually arrived at the Stammtisch after we'd been there for about an hour. Steve and I weren't entirely sure if there was a problem, but there seemed to be a bit of an atmosphere between the two of them. However, we quickly forgot about this as Steve got another round of drinks in. We moved to a high table and sat on bar stools. As Rupert moved to sit down, something fell out of the ceiling and smashed on the floor beside him. Looking up, we discovered that one of the ceiling lights had come off. David noticed that they were shaped rather like penises and afterwards were referred to as penis lamps. The barman was very apologetic and tried to reattach the penis lamp, to no avail. Rupert suggested a second round of drinks, but wondered whether we had time. I replied that it was a Stammtisch and it didn't really matter when we left, so we got a second round of drinks.

Eventually we decided it was time to head for the final night meal and the draw. We were all excited, but a little wary at the same time. I didn't even want to think about what destinations lay in the three envelopes from Chris, Amal and Dave. As the final night meal was traditionally an Italian affair, I suggested we head for the Hauptstrasse, as I had seen an Italian restaurant on that street earlier.

I was proved to be correct, as we soon found ourselves outside a restaurant called "Restaurant di Milano". It looked pretty good, so we headed inside. Steve asked for a table for four people and we were directed into the centre of the restaurant by the waiter. At this point, a waitress stopped him, asked him what he was doing and then proceeded to take us to a different table in the window. As we sat down, David suggested that maybe they put the best looking diners in the window to entice people into their restaurant. The waitress was Italian, so we began to converse with her in a mixture of Italian, German and English. The Little Lucky Leprechaun, Kurt, Shaft and Grosser Vass took their seats in the window (much to the amusement of the waitress) and we began to discuss the format of the draw. For the first time in the draw, there would be a Shaft round, which would occur after the destinations had been revealed and the subsequent Kurt's Veto round.

The waitress came to take our order and once we'd put in orders for starters, main courses and drinks (coke for David and wine for the rest of us) we prepared for the first draw. As Dave, Chris and Amal were not present, we had to draw straws to see who would represent them in the draw. Someone also had to play the part of the Little Lucky Leprechaun. The glass containing the pieces of paper was handed round and we all picked one out. David revealed, to his disgust, that he would be playing the part of the Little Lucky Leprechaun, whilst Steve would be playing Dave, Rupert was taking on the role of Amal and I would be playing Chris. I then handed around the glass for the second draw, which would be for the order in which you revealed your destinations. Everyone picked their numbers out for themselves and the person they were representing (except for David as the Little Lucky Leprechaun, since he traditionally went last)

The starters arrived and we tucked in. Myself and Steve had ordered the tomato soup, whilst David had gone for the potato and leek soup and Rupert had ordered some weird cold ham and melon starter that cost about ten quid.

David was first up to reveal his destination. As the drinks arrived and I poured out the wine, he explained that he had been debating for a while whether to return to Scandanavia for his choice, but had this time decided to move away from this region. Instead, he was going for an old reliable in the shape of:


I was next. I explained that for the first time, I was going to put a repeat destination into the draw. This was not something I was hoping to do, but as I thought my choice was such a good one, I couldn't resist. My choice was:


David and I were fairly pleased at the way the draw was shaping up, but predictably, worse was to come. Rupert opened the envelope entitled "Amal's shite destination for crappy Colonel's breaks". Inside was written one word -


David wasn't too impressed, though I thought Amal's choice could have been much worse.

By this time we'd finished our starters, which were pretty decent (though Rupert's starter looked distinctly suspect) and the Italian waitress arrived with our pizzas. They looked like complete beasts and we tucked in eagerly. Rupert began to discuss his choice. He said that he had decided to go for a traditional summer destination and with that in mind, he was choosing


David let out a curse. He couldn't believe it. Things were appearing to take a turn for the worse. David pointed out the Palma would be full of lager louts in the summer, whilst Steve said that there would be other parts of Majorca that might be worth going to from Palma. I thus wrote down Majorca as Rupert's choice to allow more flexibility away from the lager louts should it win. As we finished the pizzas, I opened Chris' envelope, which was imaginatively labelled "Destinations". Inside was a list of Chris' top three destination choices with reasons. His first choice caused groans from myself and David. Owing to its proximity to the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, Chris was going for


This deal was getting worse all the time.

Steve was next and after very little explanation, he revealed his choice to be


Only Dave was left. Steve opened his envelope entitled "Dave's wacky destination for Colonel's break mission 7" and read the letter. Dave said that he wished to take advantage of the expanding EU and so his choice would be


To get there, we would have to fly into Trieste and take a train which took three hours to get there. He finished his letter by saying that if we didn't like this he'd settle for Lisbon. Well, David and I pointed out that we couldn't really go to Lisbon anyway, as we'd be travelling during Euro 2004, which wouldn't be ideal. Ljubljana it was.

The waitress came to clear our pizza plates away and we ordered desserts. Steve and I went for the lemon Tartuffo ice cream whilst Rupert and David went for the chocolate one. Finally it would be the turn of the Little Lucky Leprechaun to put his destination into the hat. After much discussion, we decided that the Little Lucky Leprechaun's choice would be


We moved straight into Kurt's veto round. David said there were several destinations he'd like to veto. He was fairly unimpressed with Perpignan, particularly as we'd been to France so many times. Steve pointed out that we should separate our own personal history from the history of the Colonel's breaks. David came straight back and asked him why he had so much of a problem with Munich if that were the case. Steve admitted that that was a fair point.

I handed round the veto sheets for Kurt's veto and when everyone had voted, I passed the pot to David, who said, "I'll count the votes." He pulled the pieces of paper out one at a time, saying, "Perpignan", "Perpignan", "None", "None". Perpignan had received two votes, from myself and David, but needed three to be eliminated, so no destination was vetoed.

The waitress returned with an array of Tartuffos and we began the Shaft round. For the Shaft round, all destinations chosen by people not on the break along with the Little Lucky Leprechaun's choice were put into a hat, along with twice as many blank pieces of paper. One piece of paper would be picked out at random. If it was blank, nothing would happen. If it had someone's name on it, that person's destination would be removed from the draw.

I wrote "Chris", "Dave", "Amal" and "LLL" on separate pieces of paper, deposited them into the glass along with eight pieces of paper, and passed it to Steve. Steve mixed them around, before passing it to David. David did the same, before passing it to Rupert. He then instructed Rupert to draw out a piece of paper for the Shaft round. I was praying that neither the Little Lucky Leprechaun nor Amal would be shafted, as it would severely weight the draw against decent destinations. Rupert selected a piece of paper and revealed it. He said, "It's Chris" and turned it over to show the rest of us. We all cracked up into hysterics and David pointed out the irony of Rupert shafting his best buddy Chris. I picked up the pieces of paper for the draw and the rehearsal draw and passed them to David so he could cross them with "SHAFTED" in block capitals. Perpignan would thus play no further part in the draw.

We ordered coffees and proceeded straight to the rehearsal draw. As Chris had been shafted, it meant that the Chris would play no further part in the draw, so I would only eliminate one destination. I prepared the glass for the rehearsal draw and passed it around for everyone to mix up the destinations. David eliminated Copenhagen and Steve did a Barthez, before Steve removed Ljubljana and Helsinki. Rupert then picked Holland and Barcelona, leaving me to eliminate Geneva. David then revealed Majorca as the winner and Rupert celebrated with a fairly poor Shearer.

The coffees arrived and we decided it was time for the draw itself. We were all nervous, David and I particularly. I prepared the pieces of paper and put them into the glass. We all shook it to mix the destinations, before it was passed to David for the first elimination. On behalf of the Little Lucky Leprechaun, David took out a sheet of paper, looked at it and said, "Yes!" He revealed


Rupert did a fairly bad Barthez. The glass was passed to Steve and on behalf of Dave, he eliminated


David and I groaned. The destinations were mixed up, before being passed back to Steve. He then eliminated


At this point, the draw was looking bad. David and I began to panic. The glass was then passed to Rupert and he eliminated


Only Ljubljana, Holland and Barcelona left. My favourites were dropping out rapidly. Rupert received the glass again and on behalf of Amal, he eliminated


I was a little happier, as Holland and Barcelona were definitely my preferred options of the three. I took the glass for the final elimination, knowing full well I'd probably eliminate Holland, as it was my preferred choice. I selected a piece of paper, took it out and David took the last one. I then opened it up, turned it to face the others and announced the second place destination:


I groaned. David then revealed the winner:


Rupert celebrated with a Shearer on behalf of Amal, whilst Steve and I said, "Well, it's Barcelona next time!" David wasn't too happy, but admitted that it could have been worse. We texted Dave and Amal to inform them of the result. Dave replied that he was secretly hoping that would win, whilst Amal simply said, "You're kidding!" Chris' lack of a mobile phone meant that he would have to wait until we returned to discover the result. David suggested the first thing he would say was, "What did you think of Perpignan?" We could then take great pleasure in telling him it was the victim of a shafting.

We decided it was time to make tracks, so we paid the bill, picked up the four mascots and left the restaurant. We decided we would pay a final visit to I-Punkt, so we wandered around the corner and entered the bar. It was slightly busier than it had been earlier, but we managed to find a high table next to one of the walls and we arranged ourselves on bar stools. I ordered some Apfelkorn, whilst David ordered a coke and Steve and Rupert got beers in. We spent a while chilling and chatting about the break, before we decided to head back to the hotel. There was one thing we still had to do, however, and with that in mind, we headed for the taxi rank near the river. The traffic cone was still there, but the area was quite busy.

Rupert was fairly wasted, and we persuaded him that it was his turn, so Steve unscrewed the cone from the pole and Rupert lifted it off. He quickly shouted "Stop telling me what to do!" whilst David took a photo, before returning it to its position on the cone. Steve then screwed it back down. The whole procedure was completed within a minute. We wandered over to the river and decided to walk back to the hotel along the river path. We speculated about how long you could live for if you fell into the river, as it looked absolutely freezing and the strong current would make it very difficult to get out. Rupert seemed to think he would manage to get out okay. Just before arriving at the road bridge, we walked past what looked to be a prison, but turned out to be a mental hospital. We turned left when we arrived at the bridge and soon found ourselves back at the Christmas market outpost where we had ordered sausages on the first day. The pavement picture was still there, surprisingly, as we'd expected it might have been ruined by that point.

Ten minutes later we were back at the hotel. The bar was shut, so we decided it was time to return to our rooms. Steve and I bade goodnight to Rupert and David, before entering our room and punching the sack.

Tuesday, 9th December

I woke up at about half past seven, and dragged myself through the shower. Steve roused himself as well, before there was a knock on the door. Steve opened it to discover that Rupert and David were ready for breakfast.

We all went downstairs and took our seats in the left hand section of the restaurant. We were all fairly subdued as we were going home, but had to admit that we'd had a fairly fantastic break. Talk turned to the events of the previous night, particularly the victory of Barcelona and the shafting of Perpignan. We couldn't wait to tell Chris about that!

Once we'd finished breakfast, we went upstairs and packed, before checking out and beginning the long walk back to the train station. Fortunately there was no old German shouting "Das ist fur Fahrrade!" this time, and we made it back to the station with no problems. As we passed the run down restaurant that we'd spotted on the way to the hotel on the first day, David speculated about what a final night meal there would have been like.

We were about half an hour early for the bus, so we wandered into the train station. I bought a couple of postcards, one for people in my research group and the other for myself, as it was a postcard of the Grosses Fass. Proud of my purchase, I rushed back to the others and showed it to them.

Eventually the bus showed up and we boarded. The journey back to Frankfurt airport was a long one, but it was broken up by a stop at Worms on the way back. We were delighted about this, even though the only feature of Worms that was notable appeared to be a big bridge over the river.

After about two and a half hours on the bus we arrived at the airport. We checked in and then decided to find a cafe for some lunch. There wasn't a great deal of choice, but we did find one restaurant on the concourse that appeared to sell sandwiches. It was obvious that I'd have to do the ordering, so I took everyone's sandwich orders and then placed our order with the lady behind the counter. We sat down and consumed our meat sandwiches in fairly quick time so, in order to kill a bit more time, I got a round of cakes in for everyone. After a brief walk around it was obvious that there was nothing to do so we wandered through passport control and checked out the duty free area. Steve was keen to get some perfume for his girlfriend, so he and I investigated that (I commented that two blokes choosing perfume was a little bit gay) whilst Rupert and I checked out what we could get for the three Euros we had left in change. None of us bought anything and we headed over to the gate opposite the shop.

Each departure gate had its own mini security section and we had to have our tickets checked and walk through a metal detector before being allowed into the seating area surrounding the gate. After a lengthy wait, the boarding of our flight was announced, so we wandered out to the tarmac and boarded the plane.

A couple of uneventful hours later, we were back at Stansted airport. Rupert used the opportunity to phone his Mum to tell her we were back, whilst David, Steve and I located our baggage retrieval zone. I took a quick pot stop and when I got back our bags were emerging. We walked through customs and bade farewell to Rupert, who had decided to take the train back into London. The Heidelberg experience was already finishing for one of the Colonel's men. Steve, David and I took a bus back to zone E of the midstay car park and were reunited with the Fox and the X2.

David and I said goodbye to Steve and got into the X2. Fortunately the car started—something we were somewhat concerned about. As I prepared to drive away, I noticed that Steve was standing outside his car. Concerned that he might have a problem, I drove over to see what he was doing. It transpired that he was simply checking the oil and there wasn't a problem.

David and I then began the long drive back to Thatcham. We were doing fine until we passed the M40 junction on the M25. At this point, the motorway ground to a halt and we found ourselves in a traffic jam. We weren't too far from the M4 and, assuming it would quieten down a little on the M4, we pressed on. After about an hour, we managed to get onto the M4, but this proved no better. We went through the Slough junction at snail's pace, and eventually made the decision to leave the motorway and try a different route. David suggested we take the road through Maidenhead, so I took the next exit we came to. We ended up on a back road through Maidenhead and Reading, but it was probably quicker than it would have been if we'd kept on the M4. By the time we got back to David's house we'd been on the road for over four hours and were thoroughly exhausted.

It was, by now, approaching seven o'clock, and David had a skittles match to get to that evening, so we weren't blessed with time. I chilled at his house for about half an hour (enjoying a pint of milkshake in the process), before saying goodbye to David, the Little Lucky Leprechaun and Grosser Vass and beginning the drive back to Kenilworth, along with Shaft and Kurt. It was obvious at this point that the three of us were the only members of the Colonel's Regiment still getting home from Heidelberg.

I was very nervous as I drove back, convinced that the accelerator on my car would pack it at any time. I ticked off the miles and as I passed Warwick services, I began to believe that I might make it home after all. Unfortunately a couple of miles further on, my worst fear was realised. I pulled out to pass a couple of trucks and my accelerator went. One of the trucks passed me and I had to pull in between the trucks and onto the hard shoulder in order to get out of the middle lane as soon as possible. Very shaken by this manouevre that was forced upon me, I was delighted when my car started to kick a minute or so later. I carried on driving and a couple of miles down the road I passed the two trucks again. Very spookly, my accelerator gave up the ghost again, and I had to pull the same manoeuvre on the same two trucks. This time the accelerator gave up completely and I found myself parked on the hard shoulder, literally two hundred yards from the exit to the A46—a mere 10 miles from home. I turned the engine off and left it for about five minutes. However, when I tried to restart it, nothing happened. I was beginning to get very perturbed as I had visions of being trapped on the M40 all night. After three failed attempts and a further twenty minutes, I managed to start the car. I breathed a sigh of relief and started moving again, hoping that I would make it home this time. Fortunately the car managed to complete the journey and twenty minutes later I was back home. It was now about half past ten and I was thoroughly exhausted, but was relieved to be home. I gave David a quick ring to tell him that I'd got back and to find out that he'd won the skittles game, before sitting down and relaxing before going to bed. For myself, Kurt and Shaft, the Heidelberg experience was finally over. We hadn't thought it was possible that a break could be funnier than Genoa, but Heidelberg had surpassed all expectations and then some.

As I punched the sack and drifted off to sleep, one thought resided in my mind...

It's Barcelona next time!