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Our empty first-class ICE car

Odd rail happening. Today we traveled from Heidelberg to Lucerne. It required changes at Mannheim and Basel. Most of the journey was aboard German ICE 73 that starts at 0647 Kiel in the north and rolls into Zürich at 1600 (4pm). In order to get seat reservations on the Mannheim-Basel leg we arrived about an hour early at Heidelberg Bahnhof and stood in line for a few minutes to request the two first-class seats (we have rail passes). After a couple of minutes of peering at his screen the agent said that first-class is sold out on that train.

With a train to catch for Switzerland, there wasn't time for breakfast at Merlin, so we ate at the hotel. The choices were €15 euro per person for a continental breakfast of coffee, juice and rolls; €17 to add fruit, yogurt, and cereal, and €22 for the “full monty,” waffles, bacon, sausage, eggs cooked to order, and so on. We chose the €17 option and ate in the pleasant dining/breakfast room overlooking the Neckar.

I figure being picky is in my job description, so here goes; the OJ wasn't fresh nor were any of the hard rolls. The fruit included no berries, just the usual pineapple and rock-hard melon chunks. The selection of items was extensive but yesterday's baked goods is inexcusable. The previous two mornings at Merlin, at about half the price, the coffee was better, the OJ freshly squeezed, and the bread and rolls fresh from the oven. Half an hour later, at checkout, the final bill contained a breakfast charge of €44, not the €34 I had ordered in the breakfast room. While six people in a hurry waited behind me in the checkout line, the desk clerk left her post to go to the breakfast room to see for herself what I had actually signed for. She returned all apologetic adjusted the final bill (another five long minutes for those behind me) but my suggestion to Marriott is this: It was €10, take the customer's word for it, apologize and move on. And donate your day-old baked goods to a worthy charity.

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Heidelberg Marriott

American chain hotels in Europe are seldom our choice unless the deal is too good to turn down. This is one of those times. With a travel agent coupon we're paying €83 per night for a double room, not including breakfast, at the Heidelberg Marriott.

It was one of those nights. Gasthof Hackteufel and Zum Roten Oxen. One of those nights that keeps me coming back to Europe.

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Nearby table at Hackteufel

Gastho Hackteufel, an inn with 20 guestrooms, is a longtime Gemütlichkeit favorite whose cozy restaurant serves plentiful and traditional meals. You won't go wrong here.

That's our own advice from a 1995 review in our paid subscription publication, Gemütlichkeit, The Travel Newsletter for Germany, Austria & Switzerland. Seventeen years later it's still right-on. We returned tonight to Hackteufel and found it little changed from our last visit. The moment we walked through the door a young server approached with a smile and a questioning 'table for two?' look on her face. Almost instantly we were looking at menus and two beers. This is not Michelin cuisine but still hearty, tasty stuff served by friendly people in a wonderful room. Hackteufel, steps from Heidelberg's historic bridge across the Neckar, is still a strong recommendation as both a restaurant and hotel.

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Past customer

Zum Roten Oxen is a famed tavern frequented by Heidelberg students for nearly 600-hundred years. We came here Saturday night for a final beer after our dinner at Hackteufel and wound up staying until the piano player's encore, Let It Be, sung in English by the almost all-German patrons. There's hardly space on Roten Oxen's chalkboard ceilings for even one more scrawl, and the imprint of hundreds-of-years-old carved initials on elbows propped up on a Zum Roten Oxen table, makes for a rather powerful sense of history. Touristy, yes, but this is can't miss.