David's Heidelberg Diary

From the Colonel's Regiment

With Genoa many months behind us, it was time for our thoughts to turn to Mission 6. The last, parting shot from the Ministry of Shafting had been to make the victory of Heidelberg seem like a defeat simply because Copenhagen was beaten into second place. It seemed that the arm of the ministry had grown long when Amal suddenly announced, on a visit to our house, that he would not be going on the next break. With Chris and Dave already out, it all depended on Steve. Fortunately, he held true to the promise he had made before Genoa, and informed us that he would be going to Heidelberg. Mission 6 was cleared to go.

As we met up in Warwick to make the arrangements, all these troubles were forgotten. Heidelberg was to be a gamble, since it was not a Ryanair destination, and would require us to fly into Frankfurt-Hahn and then take a bus to Heidelberg. We were, however, keen to make a success of it. We therefore snapped up some one penny flights to Frankfurt and secured two rooms at the Crowne Plaza, the second best hotel in Heidelberg. Of course, with all the comedy of Genoa, Heidelberg couldn't possibly compete, could it?...

Table of contents

Friday, 5th December

Having decided to avoid the difficulties of surviving a full day's work before the start of the experience by opting to take the day off, I spent the morning getting my house in order ready for the arrival of Michael and Rupert. I had a relaxing breakfast and then did some quick tidying up, knowing that Michael would not be long in coming. Sure enough, he sent me a text message at about ten o'clock, telling me that he was setting off.

An hour and a half later, there was a knock at the door, and I opened it to allow Michael to enter. The Heidelberg Experience had begun. We quickly said goodbye to the Little Lucky Leprechaun, Kurt and Shaft before we left the house and made for the railway station. It was our plan to spend the day chilling in Reading, and maybe buy some cool clothes if the opportunity presented itself.

We purchased day return tickets from the miserable bloke at the station, and twenty minutes later arrived in Reading. We had decided to make for the Oracle centre in search of some coffee and food. The coffee and muffin shop in the Oracle provided the venue for our lunch. We purchased sausage rolls, muffins and lattes and sat down over-looking the river.

After we had finished our food and our long chat about the break, we decided to browse the shops. In addition to the usual perusal of the features at HMV and Virgin, we were hoping to pick up some cool clothes at a bargain price.

The features proved disappointing and the clothes stores had not yet inspired us to make any purchases, so we decided that another coffee was called for. We headed back to the river side, where a new Starbucks had just opened, via Debenhams, where we hoped to find a Christmas present for our Grandma. We failed to find anything suitable, but did spot a Create-your-own-opoly pack, which was essentially a version of Monopoly that could be personalised. The most amusing thing about it was the example on the back—Johnson-opoly. We speculated that this must include such things as the shoe-doc trailer, the beta-max and the sitting round in circles do.

Having finally made it to Starbucks, we settled down with chocolate mint blisses and a couple of caramel waffles. Several minutes were spent chilling before we decided to head back to my house and prepare ourselves for the evening. We called in at Next and Marks and Spencer to make some purchases on our way to the station. Things seemed to be going rather smoothly since our train was just about to depart as we arrived on the platform. We quickly hopped aboard for the short ride home.

Once back at my house, we showered and dressed ready for the traditional pre-break meal, which was due to take place at Chilis in Reading. We had arranged to meet Rupert at the meal venue, so at about half past six, we climbed into my car and set off. Michael made a quick phone call to Steve to make sure that he was prepared for the following morning.

A quick stop was made at Sainsbury's on the way in to Reading, made necessary after Michael realised that he had forgotten to bring any bathroom equipment for the holiday. We bought the essentials and decided to phone Rupert before continuing the journey. We were somewhat surprised to discover that he was just departing Paddington, but said that we would meet him when he finally arrived.

About half an hour later, we arrived at the Riverside car park, expecting that Rupert would probably have reached Reading and would be on his way to Chilis. We phoned him to make sure and were annoyed to discover that he had only just passed through Maidenhead. He had made the rather basic blunder of getting a slow train out of Paddington. We said that we would check the situation at Chilis and see if we could get a table, otherwise we would meet him at the station.

As we passed Chilis, it appeared fairly busy, so we decided to head immediately for the station, knowing that we would arrive before Rupert's train, which was still somewhere near Maidenhead.

Unfortunately, this proved to be a flawed assumption, probably because we had been given incorrect information in the first place. It led to us arriving at the station to discover that Rupert was nowhere in sight, and that there was no arrival from London due in the next few minutes.

Eventually, Rupert phoned to say that he was in the Oracle centre, but could not find us. The evening was going down hill fast. I was rather annoyed, but Michael reminded me that it would be a bad idea to start the first major event of the break with bad feelings. I therefore resolved to keep my opinions to myself.

We finally met Rupert outside Chilis and put our names down for a table. There was about half an hour to wait, so we decided to take Rupert's rucksack up to my car. Returning to Chilis, we propped ourselves up at the bar and got a round of drinks in. The air was rather foul in that vicinity, polluted as it was by clouds of fag smoke, but fortunately it was not long before we were directed to a table.

We were seated upstairs with a fine view of the river and a very friendly work chink for a waiter. For starters, we decided to take a gamble on the new steak nachos, which I would follow with the chicken crispers. Michael went for the cajun chicken sandwich and Rupert opted for his customary weird stuff that he thinks is delicious. As we waited for the food to arrive, we pointed out that the Heidelberg Experience had begun for the three of us and the Little Lucky Leprechaun, who was sat in the middle of the table.

The meal was extremely pleasant and we rounded it off with some cappucinos. Once we had paid the bill and left a rather generous tip for our attentive work chink, we left the restaurant and returned to my vehicle. Michael was keen to get home and get some sleep, since we had an early start the next morning and he was the designated driver.

Back at my house, there was little to do except get ready for bed. It was just after eleven o'clock by the time I finally settled down, hoping that I would manage a reasonable amount of sleep ready for the morning.

Saturday, 6th December

I was woken at 3:45 by the alarm beside my bed. I was absolutely exhausted, but much as I wanted to grab an extra couple of hours of sleep, I forced myself to get out of bed. While Michael made his way into the shower, I decided to put the coffee on so that it would be ready when he had finished.

Rupert arrived downstairs moments later, and we decided to transform Michael's bed back into sofa mode to create more space in the lounge. The coffee helped to wake me up a little and I felt energised enough to complete my packing while Rupert went through the shower. When he had done, I took my shower, which completed the process of waking me up.

At about half past four, it was time to depart my house and head for the airport. Rupert, Michael and I loaded the car while the Little Lucky Leprechaun, Kurt and Shaft watched from the comfort of the sofa. When we had piled the luggage in the boot, I returned for the mascots, checked that everything was turned off in the house, locked up and ran for the car. As we drove along my street, dark and silent at that time of the morning, we commented that the Heidelberg Journey had begun.

After a brief stop at Sainsbury's to fill up on petrol, we made our way onto an almost deserted M4. The journey seemed to be proceeding rather well, with Michael's Busted CD at full volume. Unfortunately, that was the best it got. The problems that had been plaguing Michael's car came back to haunt us. As the car began to slow, Michael informed us that he was going to have to pull over.

I was mildly disturbed. My unspoken thought was that, once stopped, the car would never start again, Steve would be off to Heidelberg on his own and we would be left stranded on the M4 beside a sign for the Slough trading estate. Fortunately, these concerns proved unfounded as the engine fired again after a five minute delay, which had seemed like an hour or more. However, we were worried that this would be the first of many stops on the long journey to Stansted.

As we rejoined the M4, Rupert phoned Steve to find out how things were going. He ended up talking to Steve's mate Rob, who was getting a lift from London to Stansted with Steve. He explained the problems we were having and said that we would be in touch with a progress update later.

We reached the M25 without further problems, but the thought was constantly at the back of our minds, making for a tense journey. I counted off every mile in my head, continually working out how far we had still to travel. When we reached the M11 without further difficulty, things were looking a little better. A phone call to Steve revealed that he was on the road not far behind us. I remarked that at least he was in a good position to pick us up should further problems arise.

Finally, we reached the Stansted exit and pulled off the motorway. A few minutes later, we arrived at the entrance to the mid-stay car park and Michael inserted my credit card into the barrier to gain entrance. Michael drove us around to the correct zone and we quickly located an empty space. As we pulled into the space and Michael switched off the engine, we all breathed a sigh of relief. The journey had been quite a trial, but at last we had made it.

The car was unloaded quickly and we made our way to the nearest bus stop. It seemed a little more crowded than it was the previous summer so that we didn't expect the problems that we had on the way to Genoa. Sure enough, a bus soon arrived and I, having noticed that a few people were preparing a shaft, darted around the outside of the shelter and beat them onto the bus. As the bus pulled out, heading for the terminal, we saw the Fox drive into the parking area, signalling the arrival of Steve and Rob.

We decided to make for the check-in desk and meet Steve there. A quick phone call to him as we reached the terminal confirmed that he had caught a bus and was on his way. We had not been in the queue long when Steve and Rob showed up. This was just as well since it was our turn to check in.

Having checked in, we accompanied Steve to the Foreign Exchange counter so that he could purchase some Euros from Captain Mainwaring. As usual, Captain Mainwaring was dicking around and it took several minutes for Steve to obtain his currency. It also transpired that he had been given an inferior exchange rate. We took great delight in pointing out that everything he bought in Heidelberg would be that bit more expensive for him than it would be for us.

Fearing that we would not have time for breakfast before the flight, I suggested that we immediately make our way through the security checks. We bade farewell to Rob, after supplying him with several useful suggestions for wasting the six hours he had to wait for his flight.

Not surprisingly, since Stansted seems unable to cope with the number of passengers that use it every day, the queues at security were huge. It took ages to pass through to the departure area, but once there I made a dash for Garfunkels. Some people in front of us were dicking around and so Rupert, who had been subjected to a search, managed to catch up with us before we had been seated. Steve expressed reservations about how much time we had, but I secured us a booth for four before there was time to debate the matter.

We quickly decided upon our breakfast. I went for the breakfast burger, chips and a coffee, Rupert for an omlette and orange juice and Steve and Michael, who clearly wanted something hot, for toasted sandwiches and orange juice.

The waiter was dicking around so there was a delay before we could place our order. When he arrived, I was about to start ordering for myself when Rupert leapt in and ordered for all of us. To make matters worse he had ordered four orange juices and so screwed me out of my coffee.

Once he had taken our order, the waiter proved to be fairly efficient. He returned a few moments later with the orange juice and within minutes the food had arrived. Michael immediately requested the bill, explaining that we were in a hurry. Steve was clearly a little worried so we paid up and left before I had completely finished my burger. I simply carried the remainder with me and ate it as we left the restaurant.

There was just time for a quick pot stop before we took the long walk to the departure gate. Once there, we were subjected to the greatest display of dicking around ever experienced at an airport. Our flight had been called for boarding so we joined the queue that corresponded to our numbers and waited. Nothing happened. We had been requested to arrive at the gate forty minutes prior to departure, only to stand in a queue and wait.

Eventually Steve observed a rather comedy drinks machine on the far side of the concourse. He decided that he was thirsty and went to buy a bottle of water. When he inserted his money, the bottle was knocked off the shelf onto a small platform. The platform then lifted up and tipped the bottle onto a ramp which led to the exit hatch. Having observed this amusing way of purchasing a drink, I decided to get one myself. I returned to the queue to discover that we still hadn't moved.

About twenty minutes after we should have taken off, we were allowed onto the aircraft. I sat by the window with Rupert next to me. Michael and Steve were on the row behind.

As the plane pushed away from the gate, I thought that we were finally on the way. This turned out to be over optimistic and we were informed that there would be a ten minute delay before take-off while we waited for a suitable slot on the runway.

Twenty minutes later, we finally managed to depart Stansted. At last we were on the way to Heidelberg. The journey passed uneventfully until we arrived in the vicinity of Frankfurt-Hahn. Several minutes after the captain had announced that landing was imminent, it became clear that more dicking around was afoot. After a further delay, the captain announced that we would be landing in ten minutes. Fifteen minutes later, there was a second announcement that we would be landing in ten minutes. This was becoming a joke.

Twenty minutes later, we were finally on the ground at Frankfurt-Hahn airport. The concept of the Ryanair ten minutes had been invented. We hastily disembarked, made our way through passport control, reclaimed our luggage and emerged in the arrivals area.

We weren't quite sure where to pick up the bus to Heidelberg, and time was now running short due to all the delays. Steve decided to ask at the tourist information office and was presented with a timetable and instructions on where to find the bus stop. Tickets could be purchased on board, apparently.

It turned out that the bus stop was only about a hundred yards to our right once we had left the terminal and we had a good twenty minutes since the next bus was due to depart twenty minutes later than we had been led to believe when we had checked a few weeks earlier.

We stood around in the drizzle for several minutes before the bus turned up driven by a butch German woman. She/he helped us to load the cases into the luggage compartment before returning to the drivers seat to hand out tickets. Michael purchased four tickets to Heidelberg and we took our seats. Initially, Michael sat next to Steve and I sat next to Rupert, but it soon became obvious that the bus would be nowhere near full, so we took a double seat each.

As the journey began, I checked with Michael where the stops would be. He referred to the timetable and told me that we were due to stop at Worms, Frankenthal, Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. I thought that Worms sounded like a hilarious place.

As we passed by Worms, it was immediately obvious that we wouldn't be stopping, so I took a picture of it with Michael's disposable camera.

Moments later, the bus left the autobahn and entered a service station. We were a little bit surprised, especially when one man leapt off and dashed into a cafe. He emerged a few minutes later and our journey continued. We speculated that he must have gone to pinch a loaf.

The bus passed through Frankenthal and Ludwigshafen, again without stopping. We entered Mannheim, which appeared to be attached to Ludwigshafen, where the bus stopped to allow some passengers to disembark. I asked if the Loaf Pincher was still with us, which seemed to cause much hilarity. As we pulled away from the stop, we reassured ourselves that our friend the Loaf Pincher would indeed be joining us in Heidelberg.

It was not long before we reached Heidelberg's railway station, where the bus dropped us off. Having no idea how to reach the hotel, we decided that Rupert and Steve would head for the tourist information building a few yards away and get directions while Michael and I would check out the station for possible excursions for day 3.

Inside the station, we located a train timetable and got an idea of train times. We also managed to find out the cost of trips to Frankfurt, Stuttgart and, in an attempt to recreate Mission 4, Salzburg. Unfortunately, Salzburg seemed a little far.

We headed out of the station to find Rupert and Steve, but couldn't see them anywhere on the street. As we turned round to head back into the station, we saw them coming out behind us. They had acquired some maps and directions to the hotel, which was a few minutes walk away. Steve also had some tram information, but we decided that the walk would be fine.

As we set off towards the hotel, I hoped that the city would improve considerably since the area around the station was not great. We crossed a busy street, though Rupert and Steve were not quite on the ball and missed the lights so Michael and I had to wait for them at the other side.

We walked along a wide pavement beside a row of buses, and parallel to the tram lines. We had to move across the path to avoid a group of people waiting for one of the buses, but an old man beside the bus clearly took exception to this. He started gesturing and shouted, "Das ist fur Fahrrade!" at Steve, who was the nearest to him.

We looked down and noticed that the pavement was divided into two sections by a solid white line and that the half nearest the road was reserved for cyclists. I had been vaguely aware of this before the man had shouted, but the group of people waiting by the bus had taken up the whole of the pedestrian area so we had no choice but to stray onto the cycle track.

A further ten or fifteen minutes of walking, during which time we passed a dilapidated restaurant that I suggested would make a great location for the final night meal, took us to the Crowne Plaze, the second best hotel in Heidelberg and our base for Mission 6.

We entered the building and checked in. Unfortunately, our rooms were not yet available, so there would be a short delay (of ten minutes, not surprisingly) in the lobby while we waited for them to prepare the rooms.

Eventually, we were presented with our keys and informed that we were entitled to a free continental breakfast each morning, but that we would have to pay extra for the full cooked breakfast. None of us felt the need to pay extra, but speculated that Chris most certainly would have done had he been there.

Rupert and I entered our room, which was next door to Michael and Steve's room. It was of a generous size and included two double beds. We used the time to freshen up and prepare for the traditional orientation day.

When Michael knocked on the door, I noticed that he and Steve were in full winter attire. I had selected only my fleece, deciding to chance it despite Michael's advice.

Outside, it was bitterly cold and Michael soon decided to go back and get his scarf. The icy wind went right through my fleece, so I decided to go back as well and collect my winter coat.

Suitably dressed in warm clothing, we headed along the pavement towards some sort of modern sculpture. We soon realised that there was no obvious way to cross the street, so Michael and I, spotting a gap in the traffic, dashed across. Steve and Rupert decided to wait for a much bigger gap and it was several seconds later when they joined us beside the sculpture.

We paused to take the first photos of the break before moving onwards towards the old town. As we walked down a wide street, we spotted some huge leaves on the ground. I decided to pose for a photograph with one of the leaves over my face Alien style. It seemed a little tragic, but this was the funniest moment of the break so far.

I was keen to get a hunk of meat between two bits of bread for my lunch; indeed I had been looking forward to the opportunity since we had booked the trip, so we pressed on towards what looked like the beginning of the Christmas market. Sure enough, as we entered the square, we located a small number of market stalls. The first food stall we came across was selling nuts. I was absolutely starving and was therefore tempted to buy some just to keep me alive until we found something more appetising, but after a short discussion I was persuaded to wait.

This turned out to be a fortunate decision. As we turned the corner, we realised that the next stall was a German sausage stall. This was a hunk of meat between two bits of bread of a kind, though not exactly what I had hoped for, but since we were all hungry, we decided to make some purchases.

I offered to treat everyone to a round of bratwurst and cokes, though I allowed Steve to take care of the communication with the locals. He proved equal to the task, though for some reason ordered a diet coke for Rupert and sprites for himself and Michael, thus violating the terms of my original deal. While Steve basked in the glory of his achievement, I handed over the money. We then found a quiet location beside a sign post to eat our lunch. Bratwurst devoured, we opted to press on into the heart of Heidelberg's old town.

Such was the quality of the sausages that I was tempted to get another to take with me, but Steve pointed out that there were likely to be plenty more opportunities to buy food when we reached the main section of the Christmas market.

We headed away from the small outpost of the Christmas market, crossed a busy street and found ourselves walking along the main shopping street. The street was absolutely crowded and, as is common with crowds, there was much dicking around, so we were forced to keep weaving in and out in order to make progress.

Eventually, we noticed more market stalls up ahead. One of them was a crepe and waffle stall, which caused some excitement. Michael took the responsibility of ordering for us and conversed with the man in charge of the stall. He was a middle aged, balding man wearing a green sweater, which seemed to be the uniform of the crepe stand, and was to become such an iconic figure during the break that he would forever be referred to as "Crepe Guy".

Michael ordered chocolate (or schoko) crepes for myself and Steve, a banana (or banane) crepe for Rupert and a chocolate and banana (or schoko-banane) for himself. We then watched with interest as Crepe Guy's assistant made the crepes for us on the hot plate in front of her.

Once we had all collected our food, we continued our walk along the shopping street as we ate. The crepes were generously supplied with a wafer which acted as a base, and added to the overall flavour. Mine was absolutely delicious and it seemed that the others, with the possible exception of Rupert, were equally delighted with theirs.

As we walked, we speculated as to the constituents of some of the other pancakes on offer. Of particular interest was the interestingly named banane-schoko-mandelsplitter. Unfortunately, none of us could work out what this might include in addition to chocolate and banana. There were, however, two more days in which to sample some.

As we journeyed deeper into the old town of Heidelberg, we came across yet another section of the Christmas market, this one much more sizeable, and seemingly the main section of the market. I was keen to get some more food, but the others didn't seem interested in that. I began to wish that Chris was with us.

Turning a corner in the heart of the market, we were delighted to discover an array of glühwein stalls. It had to be done. Michael expressed his desire to purchase the glühwein, though Rupert sadly decided to miss out.

The glühweins were delivered in souvenir mugs and Michael was also given a loyalty card, which the glühwein seller had stamped three times. It seemed that after collecting ten stamps you were entitled to a free glühwein. At this point, Steve realised that there were two separate prices for glühwein and took this to mean that we had paid for the cups as well. Until this point we had assumed that it would be the same deal as Salzburg, where you paid a deposit on the cup and then had it refunded once you returned the cup. However, our rudimentary knowledge of German led us to agree with Steve that we had, in this case, bought the mugs. Unimpressed with this shafting, we looked around for somewhere to drink our glühwein.

There were a couple of tables covered by umbrellas but these were surrounded by people drinking their glühwein, so we found a clearing in the crowd and, after posing for a picture, sampled our first Heidelberg glühwein. It didn't disappoint.

Several minutes later, our glühwein finished, we continued our tour of the Christmas market before rejoining the main street and heading further into the old town. We soon came across yet another section of the Christmas market, where Michael decided to take advantage of some red mobile pots to relieve himself before we continued.

We headed down a narrow street towards the river. There were a few pubs and restaurants along the street, one of which went by the name of Vetters. Michael had already suggested this as a possible meal location having read about it in the guide notes, and was consequently pleased to be able to get a look at it. It seemed like a traditional German pub and looked worth checking out. We decided that we would give it a try that evening.

Beside the river, we paused for some more pictures before wandering over to the old bridge, which was to our left. There was a rather elaborate gate house that we passed through to get onto the bridge. We walked out to the centre of the river and looked back at the old town of Heidelberg. The schloss was clearly visible on the side of the hill and more photos were taken.

Eventually, we grew weary of looking at the view so we set off back into the old town, pausing to look at a rather odd brass monkey sitting on a wall beside the bridge, with a couple of mice, also made of brass, for company. It was time for a spot of chilling, so we attempted to seek out a coffee house. The best we could come up with was Starbucks on the main street, so Rupert placed the order while Steve and I went in search of a table.

There was a fantastic chill out zone up a flight of stairs that seemed to consist of a table in a private turret. Sadly this was occupied, along with most of the other tables in the place. The best we could come up with was a circular table that had just been vacated, but was covered with empty paper cups. We did our best to stack them in the middle and then sat down to wait for the others to arrive with the coffee.

They turned up shortly afterwards with coffee in paper cups. For some reason they were serving them this way whether or not you were drinking in or taking away. As we drank our coffee, we discussed plans for the evening. It was agreed that we would check out the hotel pool and sauna facilities before making for Vetters, where we would have our evening meal. Michael expressed his fears that the sauna might be nude and declared that he was having no part of that. Rupert seemed to agree whole heartedly.

As we set off back, I suggested that we stop for a crepe. The others didn't seem interested, and I was once again left wishing that Chris had been with us. There was no way he would have turned down more food.

We reached the end of the main street and crossed into the small square where we had found the Bratwurst stall. As we crossed a busy street at the other side of the square, Steve noticed a sign with a picture of a bicycle and the word "Fahrrad" on it. This explained what the mentalist German had shouted at us earlier—though we had deduced his meaning, we had been unable to decipher the exact words.

When we returned to the hotel, Steve decided he was going back to the room for a rest, while the remaining three of us opted to check out the pool facilities. On reaching the pool, which was located in the basement, we signed the guest list on the bar and removed our trainers, placing them in some handy slots under a bench.

Michael and I then wandered over to a table and left our towels draped over some easy chairs. We felt that this was probably the custom in Germany.

The pool was extremely pleasantly laid out, the design being in the style of a Roman bath. There was a bar, surrounded by stools, near the entrance, a rather large pool in the middle of the room, with Roman columns around it and easy chairs beyond them. To the rear, there was another room which housed a jacuzzi. Beyond that was the sauna.

Michael and I jumped into the pool and started swimming while we waited for Rupert to emerge from the changing rooms. Eventually, he joined us and we swam a few lengths, relaxing after a busy day. Michael suggested that we check out the jacuzzi, so we wandered through into the rear of the pool area to discover a small room with a jacuzzi at the centre. It was surrounded by columns and the walls were painted with scenes of the ocean.

Michael noticed a room beyond this and decided to check it out. He discovered a sign that said, "You are now entering the nude zone", at which point he hurried back to us to report. We were disappointed that there would be no saunas for us on the break.

We spent several minutes relaxing in the jacuzzi before taking a final dip in the pool. The pool seemed incredibly cold after the warmth of the jacuzzi, so it was not long before we headed back to our rooms to prepare for the evening meal.

Back at the room, I showered and changed ready for the evening, then settled back to watch the television and wait for Rupert to finish in the shower. He seemed to take rather a long time and before he had finished, Michael and Steve arrived, ready to set off. When Michael discovered that we were not ready, he suggested that himself and Steve get a table at Vetters, and that Rupert and I should follow once Rupert was ready. I was a little unhappy with this, preferring that we all go out together on the first night, but it seemed prudent, especially given that it was a Saturday evening, to get a table early.

It didn't take long for Rupert to get ready for the evening out, so we were soon on our way to the restaurant. Very quickly, it became apparent that Rupert had already forgotten the way to Vetters and was relying entirely on me. Fortunately, I was pretty certain of the directions and we kept up a brisk pace, hoping that we wouldn't keep Michael and Steve waiting for too long.

After what seemed like a long walk, we finally arrived on the street containing Vetters. We walked along until we came to the traditional German pub. Looking through the windows, there seemed to be no sign of Michael or Steve, and we were reluctant to go in unless we could be sure that they were already there.

Having failed to spot them, I suggested that Rupert phone Steve to find out what the situation was. He made the call and discovered that they had failed to find a table at Vetters and were seeking out an alternative establishment. They were currently standing outside a bar called I-Punkt, but said they would make their way back towards us. Rupert and I simultaneously made our way back up the street where we finally met Steve and Michael.

They explained the situation to us and we all expressed our disappointment that we wouldn't be eating at Vetters that evening. There then followed a frantic search for an alternate venue. We tried several restaurants which looked good, but none seemed to have any tables available.

Eventually, having virtually given up hope, we found ourselves walking past a restaurant on the street that ran across the top of the Vetters street. At first glance, that appeared full as well, but then I spotted some chinks leaving and mentioned this to the others.

We decided that it was worth a try and made our way into the porch of the restaurant. There we were forced to wait while the chinks exited the building past us. What followed was a truly amazing sight. After the four or five chinks that I had seen getting up, there followed a second group. Very soon there were chinks streaming past us from all parts of the restaurant, heading for the street. We found ourselves trapped in the porch, unable either to return to the street or to get into the restaurant.

Finally, the stream of chinks seemed to dry up. We decided that there must have been at least sixty of them. With the way ahead clear, Steve led us into the restaurant and secured a table by the window. It seemed that the restaurant was now nearly empty following that mass exodus.

As the waitress handed us menus, we all shared our amazement at what we had just witnessed. Even Rupert seemed slightly amused by the events.

Rather hungry, we quickly placed our orders. Steve had gone for tomato soup, followed by a schnitzel. Michael also went for a tomato soup, but opted for the sausage steak for his main course. I went for the potato soup, with a sausage steak for the main course. Rupert, typically outlandish, went for the potato fritters for starters, but was more conventional with the main course, opting for a regular steak.

The drinks arrived shortly—a coke for me and the local Heidelberger beer for the others. Not long after that the starters arrived along with a basket of bread. My soup was rather good and it seemed that Michael and Steve were equally well pleased with theirs. Only Rupert seemed somewhat disappointed with his starter.

Our main courses followed and we all seemed to enjoy them. The sausage steaks were a rather interesting concept. Essentially they seemed to be burgers made out of sausage meat. We finished off with coffees, none of us feeling up to a dessert.

After the meal, Michael and Steve seemed keen to sample I-Punkt, so we made our way over there. It being Saturday night, the place seemed rather crowded so while Michael and Steve made for the bar, Rupert and I secured the last remaining table. The music was loud and the air full of smoke, which made for an unpleasant half hour or so while we had our drinks.

Fortunately, we all agreed to move on after the first round. We had decided to search for some glühwein and the obvious place for this seemed to be the Christmas market. We made for the main section of the market, only to find that all the stalls were boarded up for the night. I couldn't believe it.

Eventually, we located a bar on the main street that seemed to have glühwein on the menu. As we entered, a waitress asked us whether we wanted to eat or just have a drink. When we replied that we were hoping to get a drink, she gestured to the bar.

Michael and I discussed the options and decided to go for the glühwein. It seemed that the others agreed. At this moment the waitress, who had been dealing with the table behind us, turned around and said, in English, "We have no glühwein".

I thought this was a bit much and we quickly left the bar to continue the search. We decided to head back towards the hotel and see what we could find.

By the time we reached the first section of the Christmas market, where we had bought the sausages earlier that day, we had still failed to locate anywhere to buy glühwein. We crossed the street and some tram lines and headed for the hotel. As we passed a hair salon, Michael pointed out that there was the body of a woman draped over some shelves. We were shocked when we saw it, but soon realised that it was not actually a dead woman, but a realistic dummy.

As we moved on, I noticed that Steve and Rupert were obstructing the cycle track and that a group of cyclists were trying to get passed.

I shouted, "Nein, nein! Das ist fur Fahrrade!" in order to help the cyclists.

Unfortunately, one of the women cyclists was so shocked at this outburst that she nearly fell of her bike.

At the traffic lights opposite the Crowne Plaza, I went for a 9, running across the road just as the lights changed. I made it safely, but had a long wait for the others, who crossed on a one.

Back at the hotel, we were delighted to discover that the bar was still open. Everyone agreed that there was time for a round of drinks before going to bed so we entered the bar and searched for a table. While Michael went to the toilet, we located a table in the corner of the room and sat down.

Michael returned shortly, babbling about a high tech paper dispenser that he had discovered. Steve seemed more interested in the Newcastle versus Liverpool game that was being shown on the television. The match was already over and he had found out the score (1−1) from his mate Rob (who had finally made it to Newcastle after a six hour wait at Stansted), but he seemed to want to watch it anyway.

When the waitress came over, we ordered a round of glühweins and a few minutes later they arrived. I found it hard to believe that buying a glühwein after 10 o'clock had proved so difficult. Anyway, I was determined to enjoy it now that we had finally purchased someone.

When the match had finished and all of us had finished our drinks, with the exception of Rupert, who didn't seem to be enjoying his drink, we decided that it was time for bed. Michael and I paused to make use of the shoe shining machine at the end of our corridor, before returning to our rooms. Rupert and I were exhausted, so there was little in the way of chat before we both fell asleep, hoping to be refreshed for our first full day in Heidelberg.

Sunday, 7th December

I woke up at about 8 o'clock to the sound of Rupert's alarm. I decided to use the bathroom first and took a quick shower.

By the time Michael and Steve arrived, ready for breakfast, I was dressed and ready to go. Rupert, on the other hand, was still in the shower and very far from being ready. We waited for several minutes while he finished showering and got ready for breakfast.

When we entered the restaurant, a waitress informed us that we were only entitled to the hot breakfast unless we paid a supplement. We already knew this from the previous day, but affirmed that this was okay anyway. We then went on to request a non-smoking table and were guided to the right hand side of the restaurant.

We were a little worried since the table had not been set. A group of Germans had just arrived at another unset table next to us, but the waitress set their table immediately, which was a little annoying.

Michael soon gave up waiting and decided to get some orange juice. He offered to get some for all of us and we readily accepted. However, what Michael returned with didn't look much like orange juice at all. He quickly explained that he had been unable to locate any orange juice and had opted for the best remaining drink, that had a dark orange colour. I sampled some. It wasn't great, but I was thirsty, so I drank it all.

A waitress eventually arrived to set the table and also offer us coffee. We went for four coffees and she presented us with a pot that seemed to have been discarded by another table. The coffee was cold and there wasn't enough to go around, so that Michael had to settle for half a cup. I was convinced that our waitress would return with more coffee, but we never saw her again. I began to suspect that you had to be German to qualify for good service.

I went to get some croissants, bread rolls and chocolate spread. The choice of breakfast items was limited, but I was reasonably satisfied with what I had. Rupert, predictably, seemed to enjoy the weird fruit juice, and went back for more, this time opting for the multi-vitamin drink, whatever that was.

Breakfast complete, we headed back to our rooms to get ready for the day out. We had decided to pay a visit to Heidelberg Castle and the Little Lucky Leprechaun and Shaft would be joining us for the day.

We left the hotel to begin our walk to the old town, well wrapped up against the cold. As we passed the hair salon from the previous evening, we realised that the corpse was nowhere near as realistic by day as it had been that night. We hurried on, through the first section of the Christmas market without stopping.

When we reached the crepe stall, we were pleased to see Crepe Guy getting ready for the day's work. I suggested stopping for a crepe, but found myself over-ruled once again. Someone did suggest that we'd be back for one later, but I was not convinced.

Our journey continued deeper into the old town and we soon began to feel the cold. We decided that it would be a good idea to get some take-out lattes from Starbucks to warm us up. Rupert quickly obliged, and we carried our lattes onwards into the next section of the Christmas market. We searched around for a new mascot, but could only find bears that were rather similar to Kurt. We decided that it was far too early in the break to commit ourselves and elected to wait for a better opportunity.

Before long, we found ourselves outside the restaurant where we had eaten the previous evening. Just around the corner there was yet another section of the Christmas market. This one contained a pizza stall where a man was preparing pizzas to order and cooking them in some sort of makeshift oven. Further along, there was a large barn containing a few donkeys. Children seemed to be happy to pay large sums of money to thrust clumps of hay into the faces of the poor creatures. We moved on swiftly.

Leading out of the courtyard at the far side was a narrow street that would take us to the castle. We followed it around the corner and soon started to climb a steep hill. Ahead of us was the entrance to the castle, but the hike up to it seemed endless.

Eventually, we made it to the first small courtyard of the castle and turned to admire the views over Heidelberg. It was amazing. Almost the entire city was visible, it being a clear day, and there were also views out across the river. Several photos were taken before we continued the walk.

The path led us through a chamber underneath the main castle buildings. Around the corner, we encountered my worst fear—a kiosk. It seemed that in order to proceed further into the castle a fee would be required. I was all for turning back immediately, but Michael went ahead to investigate.

He informed me that it was only two euros fifty to enter the main courtyard and that this would include entry to the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum and the Grosses Fass. It was the Grosses Fass that sealed it. Two euros fifty seemed a small price to pay for something with such comedy potential.

Michael quickly obtained the four tickets and we strode forwards into the castle. There was a further slope to negotiate, before we arrived on the external battlements. The views from here were even more impressive than before and more photos were taken. As we looked across the river at the huge hill opposite our position, we noticed an interesting miniature castle thing at the top which seemed worth a look. We decided that we would check it out the following day.

There were several chinks around, many of whom were smoking, but we ignored them as we made for a small turret at the far end of the battlements. Michael pointed out that it was occupied by a couple of chinks, but we went in anyway. Once we were in the confined space, I was disgusted to see that one of them was smoking. Revolted by this behaviour, I snapped, "Stop polluting my air. Get out!". To my astonishment, the chink left immediately. I'll never know whether he actually understood.

Michael seemed ready to check out the main courtyard, so we located the entrance, a large archway carved into the side of the castle, and walked through. Immediately, we were confronted with the second most amazing sight ever on a Colonel's break. A tour party of sixty chinks were standing in the middle of the courtyard, listening to a speech by a tour guide. For all we knew, they could easily have been the same sixty chinks that we had met the previous evening.

Michael and Steve headed for the party of chinks to have their picture taken, while I moved across to the other side of the yard to take the photo. One of the chinks noticed that she was slightly in the way of the photo and, rather politely, tried to move. Steve and Michael frantically gestured that we wanted as many chinks in the picture as possible.

Having captured a superb picture, we made a quick tour of the courtyard. There wasn't much to see, so we sat down on a wall for a rest and a few Brent photos. These consisted mainly of Michael, Steve and myself posing in the style of David Brent from The Office. Hilarious.

Having rested for a while, we noticed that people kept emerging from a door several yards away and decided to investigate. It turned out to be the exit from the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum. Since we had already paid to go in, we located the entrance not far down the hill and went inside.

I was not expecting much and the museum certainly managed to disappoint. It seemed to be a dicking around boys' paradise. While Michael, Steve and I whizzed straight through, in true Amal style (we felt like we ought to read all that shit, but just couldn't be arsed), Rupert was left wishing that some of the other dicking around boys were there to support him.

It didn't take long for Michael and I to grow bored with the museum, but Rupert still seemed to be taking an interest. When we located a donation box, Steve was generous enough to donate five cents. I thought it a huge cheek to place a donation box in a museum that we had already been charged to enter, but elected to go for the comedy option of pretending to donate a 100 euro note, half of which belonged to Michael. I was worried that I might accidentally drop it into the box, but the danger was somehow thrilling. Eventually, Michael asked me to put the money away, which I did, realising that this was the high point of the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum.

We entered the gift shop and spied the exit at the far end. There was, however, one more room to investigate. Some steps beside the gift shop led down to the laboratory. Expecting to find a mad Nazi scientist creating grotesque monstrosities, I eagerly descended.

What a waste of time. The laboratory was nothing of the sort. A few penis shaped flasks and a collection of crude torture devices did not constitute a laboratory, at least in my opinion. Thoroughly disgusted, I led the way up the stairs and out through the gift shop.

Realising that there was only one thing left to do—visit the Grosses Fass, we followed the signs, with growing anticipation. As we reached the entrance to the room housing the Grosses Fass, a steady stream of people seemed to be emerging from it. We had to wait several minutes before Michael forced his way inside. I tried to follow, but didn't quite make it, becoming trapped in a curtain. I called out to Michael to ask if the Grosses Fass was indeed grosses and Michael replied that it was.

When I finally managed to gain access to the room, I took a quick look around. The room extended a long way around to the left, but seemed largely empty. Ahead there was a bar, but seemingly no drinks. This was a little strange. It was when I glanced to the right that I saw it. The largest fass that I had ever seen lay on its side next to a regular fass for comparison. I called out to Rupert and Steve, who were still stuck outside, that it was extremely grosses.

As we approached, I realised that the diameter of the fass was approximately twice my height. I found this amazing. Shaft and the Little Lucky Leprechaun posed for photos sitting on the fass.

When we had had our fill of the Grosses Fass, Michael led the way around the corner as we attempted to investigate an alcove to the rear of the room. As we turned the corner, we stopped dead in our tracks. Ahead of us was the most amazing sight that we had ever seen. It was the real Grosses Fass, and this time it was truly Grosses. The other one was a pathetic by comparison. The Grosses Fass must have been at least four times the size of the one we had just left.

We all burst out laughing, realising that we had been duped by what we termed the Intermediate Fass by the entrance. We speculated that it must have been placed there entirely for that reason.

The real Grosses Fass took up almost the entire chamber in which it was located. There was just room for a staircase at either side, leading up to a balcony built on top of the fass. We made for the steps excitedly and climbed on to the top of the fass. Still in awe of its size, we savoured the moment. Steve and Michael were clearly as excited as we were, but Rupert didn't seem that interested. Obviously monster wine vats are a regular feature of North London.

All too soon, we had to move on. We descended a spiral staircase on the far side of the fass and made our way out of the room. Someone had placed an odd bell thing at the base of the Grosses Fass, which we paused to ring before we left. It was sad to be leaving, but we were in need of a drink and a spot of chilling.

As we returned to the main room, it became clear that the bar was selling bottles of wine from the Grosses Fass. We debated buying some, but decided not to bother. On the way out of the room, we passed the Intermediate Fass and noticed that two girls had just arrived and were having their pictures taken in front of it. We laughed at their naivety.

We crossed the castle courtyard and exited on the opposite side from that we had originally entered. We crossed a dry moat and made for a large building just a few yards away. Inside, we located a cafe and bought in a round of soft drinks.

At first, there didn't appear to be anywhere to sit. However, we realised that there was additional seating upstairs. Hoping that, like Cafe Nero in Cambridge, there were a thousand seats upstairs, we decided to take a look. Sadly there were far fewer seats than that, but most of them were empty, so we took a seat at a table.

We chatted for a while, mainly about the Grosses Fass, while we sipped our drinks. After a while, a small group of chinks arrived and took a table at the far end of the room. We suspected that the majority of chinks were dicking around boys, and that these few represented the small contingent of disgruntled boys that were out for a spot of chilling while the others visited the Deutsches Apotheken-Museumn for some massive dicking around.

Having had our fill of chilling, we took advantage of the free pots before leaving the cafe. We turned left and walked towards the outer wall of the castle. There were more views of Heidelberg, though not quite as impressive as before. In the other direction, across the moat, we noticed a tour group dicking around in a ruined section of the castle. Michael and I posed for another Brent photo, while Steve took the picture. A passing German woman was clearly impressed as she remarked "Wow!" as she glanced across at us.

The castle gardens were around the far side, so we walked back past the cafe and continued around the outside of the castle. We decided to take another Brent photo, featuring all three Brent poses. Between us, we decided that Michael, Steve and I would adopt the poses while Rupert, who refused to be a part of the photo, would take the picture.

At the far end of the gardens, we reached a wall protecting a vantage point that offered yet more views of the city and the river. From here, several paths seemed to lead either further up the hill or down into Heidelberg. Michael seemed keen to take one, but Steve was desperate for the toilet and was not keen to go on a long walk. Realising that this offered us another chance to see the Grosses Fass, Michael and I readily agreed.

Reaching the entrance to the castle courtyard, we wondered whether we could get back in on our original tickets. Deciding that it was worth a try, we showed our tickets to the man on duty, who simply waved us on. This amazing discovery led us to conclude that we were free to visit the Grosses Fass as many times as we wanted on that day.

We quickly headed for the room housing the Grosses Fass, hoping to relive our earlier amazement. We passed the Intermediate Fass, not falling for the same trick twice and made for the Grosses Fass while Steve headed for the toilets next door. Michael called out to Steve that he would know where to find us.

Michael, Rupert and I climbed the steps beside the Grosses Fass for the second time and walked all the way around it. Somehow we could not quite capture the awe of the original experience, but we still found the fass rather impressive. Steve joined us for a final tour of the fass before it was time to say goodbye to the Grosses Fass for the last time.

We departed the castle by the same route that we had entered that morning. As we passed the ticket booth, Michael, Rupert and I politely said, "Danke" to the man on duty. Steve decided to out do us by saying, "Danke fur die Grosses Fass!". We all burst into hysterics, apart from Rupert, who didn't seem to find it very funny.

We descended the extremely steep street, returning to the Christmas market for some lunch. Michael and I stopped to make use of some bright red portable pots before heading back to the main section of the market. We soon located a rather large food stall and Michael placed an order for some German sausage.

I had opted for bratwurst, while Michael and Rupert tried the feuerwurst and Steve went for some other weird sausage option. We also got some soft drinks to go with the sausages.

We found a wall to perch on while we ate our lunch. The food didn't last long and we were keen for some more. Michael suggested a round of gluewein to begin with so Steve and I headed for a nearby gluewein stall. Keen to avoid the cup shaft, Steve was instructed to ask for it without the cups.

I let Steve place the order and he attempted to ask for gluewein without the cups. We struggled to get the message across until a woman in the queue behind us informed us that we would get our money back when we returned the cups. It seemed that we hadn't been shafted the previous day, and that we could have returned the cups. That was good to know. We returned to Michael and Rupert with gluewein for everyone and explained what we had found out.

I was a little disappointed that we hadn't managed to get a hunk of meat between two bits of bread and sought to rectify this. I noticed a few people wandering round with hunks of meat between two bits of bread, which seemed to be coming from a stall just a few feet from our position. I spotted a German couple heading for the stall and tried to discover what they were ordering. Unfortunately, I was unable to hear their order, but I noticed that they were each given a hunk of meat between two bits of bread which came from a hot plate under a sign that read "Backschinke".

A quick negotiation followed between myself, Michael and Steve. Rupert had disappeared in search of a toilet and so missed out. We decided that I would order a Backschinke and if the others liked what I ended up with, they would get some for themselves.

A little uncertain, I nevertheless approached the stall and ordered a Backschinke. I was rewarded with a hunk of meat between two bits of bread. The woman then said something that I didn't quite understand, but the gesture with the knife to the fat on the side of the meat was unmistakeable. Expecting that the fat would be cripsy in the style of pork fat, I indicated that she could leave it on. Satisfied, I returned to the others with my prize.

As I sampled the backschinke, I was rather pleased with myself until I bit into the end with the fat on it. To my horror, it was all soft and horrible, and I was forced to open the sandwhich and peel off the fat, which was rather disgusting. This appeared to amuse the woman who had sold me the backschinke.

Michael and Steve made their way to the counter and placed their orders, though they wisely asked for the fat to be removed. We leaned on a wall and ate our food, congratulating ourselves on finding a hunk of meat between two bits of bread. When Rupert returned, we brought him up to speed and suggested he get himself some backschinke. Rupert didn't seem interested.

We decided to make a tour of the market stalls once our lunch was finished. Eventually, Michael and I located a stall selling model houses that we decided would be ideal for our Grandma as a Christmas present. I allowed Michael to negotiate with the local stall holder.

There was a rather nice looking confection stand that we thought worth a visit. Faced with so many choices, we didn't know what to go for. Eventually, we opted for some circuloids, which Michael purchased. They turned out to be almost profiterole-like on the outside, filled with marshmallow. They were okay, but perhaps not worth the effort.

Before leaving the Christmas market, there remained one final task. Michael and I were determined to find a mascot, and we eventually found the perfect specimen.

It looked like a cross between a sheep and a pig which, when squeezed, made a "baa" sound. We concluded that it must be a sheep. It was so hilarious in appearance that we realised we had to buy it.

We soon became me, so I carried the creature over to the woman on duty and paid the two euros fifty price tag. The woman gave me a funny look, obviously thinking that I was something of an idiot to be buying such an odd animal.

Talk quickly turned to the name of the new mascot. There was only one possible choice. Grosser Vass was welcomed to the Colonel's Regiment, named in honour of the most comedic item ever to feature on a Colonel's break.

On the way back to the hotel, we decided to stop for a coffee. Starbucks didn't seem a popular choice, so we scouted the main street for an alternative. Not far from Starbucks was the Coyote Cafe, a sort of cafe/bar set up that looked reasonable. We entered and perched on some bar stools beside a small raised table that looked more like a hand rail.

Michael took care of the order, getting lattes for Steve and Rupert and hot chocolates for himself and me. Our drinks arrived swiftly and we were soon discussing options for the evening meal. Everyone seemed keen to try Vetters again so we decided that we would give it another shot that evening.

Finishing up our drinks, we continued the long hike back to the hotel. As we passed the crepe stall, I suggested stopping for a crepe. I even offered to do the ordering by way of convincing the others. To my surprise, and slight horror, they accepted the offer.

Nervously, I approached Crepe Guy and ordered a banane-schoko for myself, a schoko for Steve and a zucker-zim for Rupert. Michael was debating whether to go for a banane-shocko-mandelsplitter, but opted for the more straight forward shocko-mandelsplitter. Mandelsplitter turned out to be chopped nuts. Thoroughly delighted with my communication skills, I tucked into my crepe, which tasted excellent.

Back at the hotel, we decided that there was time for a spot of chilling in the pool before we had to get ready for the evening. This time, Steve joined us and we spent a relaxing hour or so in the swimming pool and jacuzzi before returning to our rooms.

On the way to Vetters for dinner, we decided to stop in the main section of the Christmas market for a gluewein. Steve placed the order for two glueweins, for himself and Michael, and an orange juice for me. Rupert had decided to give it a miss. The gluewein woman then said something that Steve didn't seem to understand. To my surprise, I understood perfectly, though I found what she said surprising. I replied that I wanted my orange juice cold, wondering what kind of disturbed creature drank warm orange juice.

The evening seemed to be getting off to a good start. We spent a pleasant few minutes in the Christmas market with our drinks, even though the night was getting rather cold.

When we reached Vetters, it again seemed rather full, but we decided to go in anyway. After their experience the previous evening, Michael and Steve didn't seem keen to lead the way, so Rupert and I went in first.

As we had feared, there didn't appear to be any vacant tables. Just as we were about to give up on Vetters for the break, a couple at a nearby table stood up and indicated that we should take their table. As they left the restaurant, we thanked them for their generosity.

The table was large enough for about eight people, with benches down either side and a seat at the end. Michael slid in first and I followed him onto the bench. Rupert took the seat to my right and Steve sat on the bench opposite.

We studied the long list of options on the menu, which included schnitzel and a vast array of German sausage. Decision making was going to be tough. Eventually, we noticed the large dishes at the bottom of the menu. We decided to order a plate of twenty German sausages on a bed of fried potatoes between the four of us. Rupert wasn't sure whether this would be enough and suggested four schnitzel as well. We were astonished. I quickly pointed out that this could be far too much and that we could always order in some schnitzel later if we were still hungry. Eventually, we compromised by getting four pretzels for starters.

The warm pretzels soon arrived, with some home brewed beer for the others and a coke for me. The pretzels were incredibly salty and I needed the entirety of my coke to wash down my pretzel.

Our conversation soon turned to the Grosses Fass. Rupert still didn't seem much impressed by it, but the rest of us were still amazed. I pointed out that we had day tickets, and suggested a quick trip up there after the meal.

We were interrupted by the arrival of our main course. A huge dish overflowing with sausages was placed in the centre of the table and we were each handed a plate and some cutlery. The meal seemed immense, even for four to share and we paused for a moment to mock Rupert's earlier suggestion to get four schnitzel.

I decided to take some photos before we started the meal, including one of Michael holding a sausage on the end of his fork and jabbing it into the top of the picture in the style of the Grange Hill opening credits.

The food was incredibly good, but there was so much that we were all soon stuffed. Steve struggled with his last sausag, but finally forced it down. I studied the dessert menu and spotted some crisp apfelstrudel, one of Moules' favourite things. I suggested we get a round in. The others were wavering, but still a little too full. I then suggested that we get some more drinks in, spend some time chilling, and then order some apfelstrudel if we were feeling up to it. The others eagerly embraced this suggestion.

We ordered a round of drinks and spent another half hour at least chilling before placing an order for four apfelstrudel. They didn't disappoint. The apfelstrudel turned out to be an excellent choice and we had soon cleared our plates. I commented that Moules would have loved it and that it was a shame for him to miss out. Michael immediately proposed a toast to the absent Colonel's men.

Eventually, we decided to pay our bill and move on to another bar for post meal drinks. Everyone agreed that Vetters had been a top meal venue and we bade farewell to our friendly waitress before stepping out onto the icy cold street.

We walked towards I-Punkt, while discussing possible venues for drinks. As we passed I-Punkt, it appeared deserted, so we quickly ruled that option out. A little further along the street was another bar, by the name of Destille. It seemed worth a try, so we headed inside.

The bar occupied the centre of the room, with bar stools around it. There were a small number of tables, but all of them were occupied, so we perched ourselves at the bar. A bar girl soon arrived to take our orders and Steve and Rupert requested beer while Michael and I opted for coke. She then wrote the price down on a piece of paper so that there was no confusion.

A moment or two later, she arrived on our side of the bar and asked Michael if he had been looking for the gents. This seemed bizarre until I realised that she must have misinterpreted his search for a table when we first arrived. When she pointed them out, Michael thanked her and headed off in that direction. Steve suggested that she was only trying to chat him up. Rupert and I were skeptical.

I scanned the interior of the bar, noticing that it consisted of several wooden beams and pannelled walls. This put me in mind of the Grosses Fass, and I mentioned to the others that Destille could have been made entirely out of a Grosses Fass. This sparked off numerous comments all relating to the large wine vat that we had visited earlier. I decided to try an application of "The Office". It was based on a conversation between Tim and Gareth. I suggested that Steve did not know what I was thinking, and then supplied the response "You were thinking, 'If I fall into a Grosses Fass, could I survive by drinking my way out?'" Gareth would then continue, "No. And you can't. I was thinking, 'Will there ever be a Grosses Fass built that's bigger than the universe?'". We then speculated that the universe could actually be a Grosses Fass.

By this time, we had finished our drinks and began to think of purchasing another round. Steve was interested in getting some schnapps, and noticed that some was being served from a vat on the bar. He suggested that we order "Vier schnapps vom Fass" and point to the vat, which we immediately dubbed the micro kleine fass, due to its unimpressive size.

Michael asked his waitress for some schnapps, and she handed him a menu while helpfully showing him where all the schnapps was kept. It appeared they had an array of fridges behind the bar in which they stored most of the schnapps.

Eventually, Rupert and Steve went for flaming sambukas, while Michael and I decided to try the sauerapfel. We were served quickly and the girl helpfully showed Rupert the correct way to drink a flaming sambuka. She placed a beer mat over the glass to put out the fire and then told him to down the drink. Rupert did as he was told and nearly choked to death. Michael and I were more careful with our sauerapfel. It wasn't a bad drink, but I decided to stick with coke in the future.

Having finished our schnapps, we decided to move on. We quickly found ourselves outside I-Punkt again, but it was still almost empty. Rupert noticed a group of girls passing on the other side of the street and suggested that we ask them to join us for a drink. He spun around and began to do a moonwalk towards the entrance. Steve burst out laughing, which set Michael and I off and had the effect of embarrassing Rupert.

We decided to carry on towards the main street and were soon walking past the Coyote Cafe. A brief discussion followed, during which we decided to give the place a try. We wandered over to a table and sat down. Steve made for the bar, but a waitress wandered over to our table and Michael placed an order. More cokes for the two of us and beers for Rupert and Steve.

As the drinks arrived, we began what was to be the longest and most intense period of continual applications ever on a Colonel's break. Much of our inspiration was, of course, drawn from the Grosses Fass. Rupert found the whole thing a bit too much and seemed simply overwhelmed. Michael soon took the lead in the Application of the Break competition with his application of "The Office". He turned to Steve and said, "Have you ever been to see the Grosses Fass?" Steve said, "Yes", so Michael 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 chinks.' I said, 'I'm not a chink' 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.' Michael said, 'I'm not interested. I'm just interested in making shitloads out of the Grosses Fass.'"

We were in a state of constant laughter for several minutes. I added another short application, saying "I put that there. An example of the laughs we have around here", while pointing to an imaginary Grosses Fass. Rupert seemed to be wondering why he had bothered coming on holiday with us. He was probably missing his fellow dicking around boys.

We expanded on the hilarity by starting up the Fawlty Towers applications again, involving a scenario in which the owner of a gluewein stall was likened to Basil Fawlty. Again Rupert seemed utterly exasperated with the whole thing.

When Rupert finally got a word in, it was to point out that the German for large vat should be pronounced "Grosses Fass" and not "Grosser Vass" as we had apparently been saying for the whole day. I suggested that Rupert had probably been laughing at our stupidity for most of the day, having a quiet chuckle every time one of us said "Grosser Vass" instead of "Grosses Fass". This observation seemed to piss Rupert off a little, though it amused Michael and Steve.

Having temporarily run out of applications, we decided to leave the Coyote Cafe and head for the hotel. We took a quick detour through the Christmas market on the way back, to see if we could locate a traffic cone. There didn't seem to be any available, and a rather attentive security patrol seemed to be on duty, so we wandered back to the main street.

As we reached the crepe stand, I came out with my candidate for application of the break. Again it was from "The Office". I began by saying, "Well, we can't leave the chinks with the Grosses Fass," (in the style of Tim) and continued with Gareth's response, "Oh, I'm a chink. Thank-you Tim for leaving me with my favourite Fass." This caused Steve, Michael and I to crack up in the street. Rupert just seemed embarrassed.

By the time we reached the hotel, it was very late and the bar was closed. We were all tired out anyway and decided to get some sleep. Michael and I paused briefly to use the shoe polishing machine at the end of our corridor before we all wished goodnight to each other and made for our rooms.

Monday, 8th December

I woke up, still feeling very tired. I had not had a good night's sleep. Probably the German sausages coming back to haunt me. Anyway, I decided to get up and head through the shower. By the time Rupert and I had got ourselves ready for the day, Michael and Steve had arrived, so we all went downstairs for breakfast.

We were directed to a table in the centre of the room, next to a large fish tank. Michael and I immediately made for the breakfast buffet. As we approached, it became clear that there were only three croissants left. Michael, who arrived first, took one of them, leaving one for the man who was in between us and one for me. However, I was astonished to see the greedy bugger help himself to both croissants, leaving me to go without. I pointed out to Michael what the hairy bastard had just done, and he seemed to find it hard to believe as well.

I settled for a couple of rolls and some chocolate spread and returned to our table. Michael and I continued to insult the neanderthal, that we had now named "The Monkey Man". Steve and Rupert seemed a bit bewildered. After what seemed like ages, the waiter finally refilled the croissant basket, and I was able to complete my breakfast.

Unbelievably, we had reached the last full day of the break. Traditionally, this was our excursion day, though in a slight change to tradition, we would not really be leaving Heidelberg. Our excursion would be conducted entirely on foot. The plan was to climb the Philosophenweg, a huge hill across the river, opposite the castle. Shaft would not be joining us for the day out, but the Little Lucky Leprechaun, Kurt and Grosser Vass were looking forward to the trip.

We left the hotel and made directly for the river. As we crossed the road bridge on the edge of the old town, we paused to admire the view. The old bridge could clearly be seen further down the river. Pictures were taken before we completed the river crossing and descended some steps onto the far bank.

It was not entirely clear how to get to the path up the Philosophenweg, but Michael seemed to think that we should head for the old bridge. The walk was a long one, but being on the other side of the river was a nice change. Eventually, we reached the old bridge and noticed a narrow path on our left, leading up the hill. We followed it between some houses as it wound up and around.

Michael soon disappeared up the hill, but we decided to follow at our own pace. Shortly, we came across a viewing platform that allowed us to look out across the river towards the old bridge and the castle. We paused to admire this view for a few minutes before pressing onwards.

The path seemed to be getting steeper and was a rather tough climb, but we pressed on, wondering what had happened to Michael. Eventually, we spotted him at another viewing platform that offered similar views, but from a higher vantage point. We stopped once again to take in the view.

After continuing our walk for a little while, we finally emerged onto a road. We were some way up the hill, but still nowhere near the top. There didn't seem to be any way to continue upwards, so we decided to follow the road, in the hope that there would be a path leading off it at some point.

It seemed like we had walked along for quite a while without finding any paths leading off the road. Worryingly, the road was now starting to wind back down the hill. There seemed to be a few paths leading up, but these appeared to belong to people's gardens and didn't seem to provide access to the top of the hill.

Eventually, we came to a small playground and a narrow path led up the hill beside it. We decided to follow the path. It led through the trees and brought us out by a small track. There was a patch of open ground and a small playground, featuring only one ride, a sort of see-saw consisting of a metal arm balanced in the middle that was able to rotate as well as move up and down.

Ahead of us was a rather interesting looking tower. It was remarked that this was probably the tower that we had spotted earlier on the walk. I asked if they were referring to the Grosmogesson. Steve asked me what a grosmogesson was, and I pointed out that having two distinct access routes was one of the characteristics.

We decided to check out the playground ride. I sat on one of the tyres that was attached to the end of each arm. Michael suggested that Rupert sit on the other end, but he didn't seem to keen. I pointed out that it would be a pretty poor ride if I had to go on my own, since it wouldn't be balanced. Eventually, Rupert was persuaded and we had a go. It proved to be rather uncomfortable after a while, so we soon gave up and decided to head for the grosmogesson.

Michael, Steve and Rupert all opted to take the track up to the grosmogesson. I went for the other access route. Seeing that Rupert was way ahead, I attempted to climb a small grass bank at the base of the grosmogesson. I found it harder than I planned and struggled for a while to gain any purchase on the steep sides. Shortly, I noticed that Rupert had reached the top of the grosmogesson. I paused to take a picture of him before struggling up the bank. Once I had made it, I walked around the base and entered the structure. The others were well ahead, already most of the way up the staircase that wound around the interior.

When I arrived at the top, I paused to admire the view and take some pictures. We placed the Little Lucky Leprechaun on the parapet and took a photograph of him with the view in the background. Michael was a bit worried that he might blow off. I suggested that we should be able to retrieve him at ground level, but Michael pointed out that there was a ledge about 7 or 8 feet below the parapet that he could get trapped on and that we'd then have to poke him off with a big stick.

I was about to leave when I heard Steve and Michael freaking out. I turned quickly and soon discovered why. Rupert had climbed onto the parapet and was trying to see into the huge dish that stood atop the grosmogesson. He was very precariously balanced and I joined the others in demanding that he get down.

Eventually, Rupert climbed down, having satisfied his curiosity. Though Steve seemed particularly concerned by what had happened, Rupert didn't seem to understand what the problem was. Even when Michael and I also pointed out the danger of his actions, he refused to accept that there was any real risk attached.

As we descended inside the grosmogesson, I pointed out that it would have been rather selfish of Rupert if he had fallen to his death since this would have ruined the whole holiday for us. Michael added that it would have been worse if he'd broken a leg since we'd either have had to go for help or carried him down the hill ourselves. I observed that Rupert could easily have fallen onto the ledge and become trapped, leaving us to poke him off with a large stick. This caused Michael, Steve and I to break down into hysterical laughter. Rupert seemed unamused.

We departed the grosmogesson via the second access route, joining a path that led around the side of the hill in the direction that we had just travelled, though several feet higher up. We could just about make out the road below us, though there were several houses and gardens between us and the road. We soon arrived at a junction. Our path continued on around the side of the hill, still at the same height. Another path headed back the way we had come, though angled up the side of the hill. Since this second path involved gaining height, we decided that it was probably the correct choice.

After several minutes, we had climbed a considerable distance and walked back around the hill so that we were somewhere above the grosmogesson. Ahead of us, we spotted a small wooden observation point, that looked like something out of a Vietnam movie. We made straight for it and took in the views. They were breathtaking. By now we must have been a couple of hundred feet above the top of the grosmogesson, and we could see the entirety of Heidelberg and much more.

Unfortunately, there was nowhere to sit in the observation area, so we made for a mound of earth a few feet behind it to take a much needed rest. Talk soon turned to Rupert's dangerous acrobatics. Michael wondered whether we would still have bothered to write the diary if Rupert had died on the break. We began speculating on what such a diary would be like. This all seemed a bit much for Rupert.

After a brief rest, we continued on our journey. By now, we had reached the far side of the hill and we struck out along a track that led through the trees that seemed to completely cover the top of the hill. Around us, the trees were sparse, but seemed to become more dense the further round the hill top you went.

A few hundred yards along the track, we spotted the tower that we had been aiming for all along. It was just above us and to our right. We took a small trail that seemed to exist only because a few people had walked that way before us. It quickly brought us to the road and we then headed across country, arriving finally at the base of the tower.

Michael asked us to climb the tower so that he could take a picture. Steve, Rupert and I climbed the steps, soon emerging on a balcony that was only a few feet above the ground. We paused so that Michael could take some photos before heading on up the tower. Michael soon joined us at the top of the tower to admire yet another view. It was another amazing view, this time looking over the old town and the schloss on the hill opposite us, on the other side of the valley. Michael suggested that Rupert may want to climb the flag pole behind us and sacrifice himself, thus completing the job he began on the grosmogesson. Rupert declined.

To our horror, we discovered that the top of the tower was covered in ice and decided that the waist high wall would not be much of a barrier if someone happened to slip. We decided to descend immediately and investigate the ruins on the ground beneath the tower. These proved rather disappointing, so we departed swiftly and followed the road that we had crossed earlier, in the hope that it would lead to the amphitheatre that we had heard about.

We approached a cafe on route, but soon discovered that there would be no chance of stopping for a drink. The place looked utterly deserted, apparently closed for the winter. Refusing to be downhearted, we pressed on.

Soon, we arrived at the entrance to the amphitheatre. We passed through the entrance to appear on the stage. I was immediately stunned. This was not the Roman ruin that I had expected when I had heard that there was an amphitheatre here. This was something altogether more modern. In fact, I could easily imagine Adolf Hitler himself delivering a rally from the exact spot in which I stood. It was disturbing.

Over a hundred rows of tiered seats surrounded my position in a half circle. Behind me was a raised platform supporting two flagpoles. Under the platform and directly behind me was the entrance we had just used. Michael, Rupert and Steve walked over to the seats and sat down. I took some pictures.

After a brief sit down, we climbed the steep stairway in between the rows of seats eventually reaching the top. Just beside the staircase was an information board, describing the history of the amphitheatre. Here, my suspicions were confirmed. The Nazis had indeed held rallies in the theatre, and Joseph Goebbels himself had visited in the thirties. It was surreal having the place all to ourselves.

Beyond the amphitheatre was an old ruined monastery, which we decided was worth checking out. We paused at the entrance to study a plan of the building. We were amused by a room known as the Queeraum and resolved to check that out later. First on the agenda was the monastery towers that were still standing. We climbed the nearest, smaller tower, deciding to tackle that one first. Rupert, it seemed was not interested in the small tower. He had run straight to the taller one, and we saw him emerge at the top shortly after we had scaled the smaller tower.

Michael and I took a quick look around before heading over to the other tower to join Rupert. Steve followed. It was time for some more pictures. The Little Lucky Leprechaun, Shaft and Grosser Vass posed on the wall with the view behind them. I then suggested that it would be hilarious if they were sat on the top of the smaller tower so that I could take their picture from above.

Without waiting for any discussion, Rupert grabbed the mascots and ran down the steps. He soon emerged outside the tower and dashed across the few yards of open ground before entering the other tower and climbing to the top. There, he posed for a picture with the mascots, who were a little nervous at that unpredicable behaviour.

We decided to take a quick walk through the ruins before heading off. In the centre of the building was a room on a much lower level and several candles were burning above an inscription that we couldn't make out. We moved swiftly on, soon locating the Queeraum. It amused us that its location seemed to be on the same corridor as the toilets, only one door down. We speculated that this must have been problematic for heterosexual monks, if indeed there were any, and spent a few minutes plotting a route to the toilets that avoided the Queeraum.

When we had had our fill of the monastery, we decided that it was time for lunch. Since there was no possibility of finding anything to eat near our current location, we decided to head back down into Heidelberg and get some food at the Christmas market.

As we left the ruins, Michael and I walked through the huge piles of fallen leaves. Suddenly, Michael almost disappeared underneath the leaves. When he emerged, he warned us that he had just discovered a rather large hole.

We returned to the amphitheatre, where it seemed that one of the faithful had taken up residence. A man who looked rather like a Nazi, though nowhere near old enough to have been a war time member, was standing on the stage taking in the atmosphere. Michael and I discussed taking his picture, but decided that we should probably just make good our escape while he was distracted.

Rejoining the road, we walked back past the cafe and through the trees to the observation point. Deciding against stopping, we descended the path and double backed around the hill when we reached the horizontal path that we had taken before. This soon brought us out by the grosmogesson. Much as some of us would like to have revisited it, hunger drove us on. We crossed the field past the playground and descended the wooded trail back to the road.

We followed the road around the hill until we located the path that we had climbed that morning. We descended quickly between the houses, past the observation points, until we finally emerged by the old bridge. We crossed the river and entered the old town in search of some lunch.

We eventually located a likely looking stall in the same area as we had found the backshinke the previous day. This time, we selected steak mit zweibeln, which was served from a huge frying pan. The steak was delivered in a crusty roll and covered with onions. Not wishing to eat all that onion, I began to scrape my steak clean. Steve realised what I was doing and said that I should have gone for steak without the zweibeln. Despite his superior attitude, I was convinced that Steve had not known in advance what zweibeln was. In any case, I hadn't wanted to have the extra difficulty of trying to order a steak mit zweibeln without zweibeln when it was easy enough to remove the unwanted zweibeln anyway. It proved to be a classic example of a hunk of meat between two bits of bread.

Inevitably, the Fawlty Towers applications started up over lunch, which we ate standing beside a long table in the middle of the stalls. Rupert seemed a bit fed up and offered to get some desserts in. We opted for waffles as an alternative to crepes.

Michael accompanied Rupert to the waffle stall, returning with several waffles covered in cream and chocolate sauce. They were absolutely excellent.

After a while, we were starting to feel the cold. We had after all, spent the entire day outdoors and it was not exactly warm. There was a short debate as we discussed a likely location for a coffee before we settled on the Coyote Cafe. It was just around the corner from where we were, so within seconds, we had arrived. The cafe was rather busy, but we managed to locate a small table to the rear of the building.

Michael ordered lattes for Rupert and Steve and hot chocolates for the two of us. We spent several minutes chilling, before deciding that it was time to go back to the hotel and prepare for the evening meal. It being the final night, preparation was all important.

We headed back to the hotel following the now familiar route along the main shopping street. As we passed Crepe Guy, I was keen to stop for a banane-schoko-mandelsplitter, but nobody else seemed interested. How I missed Chris.

Back at the hotel, we agreed to meet in the pool area for a spot of chilling before heading out to the stammtisch and then to the final night meal. Rupert and I decided to have a lie down in our room before heading down to the pool. I was feeling the cold and my shoulder was aching terribly, so I was in need of a rest.

After half an hour or so, we changed into our swimming kit and headed for the pool. Michael and Steve were already there so we joined them in the jacuzzi for some chat. It seemed they had gone down to the pool almost immediately and, as such, were about ready to leave. A few minutes later, they did just that. We had agreed that the stammtisch would take place in I-Punkt, and that we could head over there any time from now. Since Rupert and I had only just arrived, we decided to have a swim first.

The water in the pool seemed rather cold after the warmth of the jacuzzi, so we kept our swim brief and were soon back relaxing in the jacuzzi again. Rupert seemed content to stay there all evening, so chilled out had he become. Unfortunately, we realised that we would have to move.

Once back in the room, I took a quick shower and then settled down to watch the television while I waited for Rupert. It was some time before Rupert finally emerged and got himself ready for the evening out. I had been hoping to stop for a crepe, but that seemed unlikely to happen if we intended to get to the stammtisch in reasonable time. We were already much later than I had planned.

Finally, we exited the hotel and embarked on the long walk into the old towm for the last time. It was another cold night and we walked swiftly. I couldn't believe the last night had arrived already. The break seemed to have gone by so fast and I found myself feeling mildly depressed that it was almost over.

As we travelled deeper into the old town, it became clear that Rupert had no idea how to find I-Punkt. I pointed out that it was a good job that I was there to help him out, otherwise he'd be completely stuck. Rupert didn't seem entirely appreciative.

Eventually, we located the stammtisch location and entered I-Punkt. The place was deserted, apart from Michael and Steve, who were perched at the bar. We wandered over to join them. I wondered whether they would be a little annoyed that we were so late, but they didn't really seem all that bothered.

Rupert purchased another round of drinks and we carried them over to a table, perching on the stools around it. After we had been sitting for a short time, we heard a loud crash beside Rupert. Investigating, we discovered that one of the ceiling lights had fallen out of its slot and hit the floor right next to Rupert. He'd had a lucky escape. I commented that the light was shaped rather like a penis.

The barman came over and seemed to find the incident amusing. I wondered whether he had grasped that it was potentially serious. He tried several times to reattach the penis lamp, but sadly failed. Rupert consoled him by buying in a second round of drinks.

After several more minutes chilling, we decided that it was time to head for the final night meal. I was still feeling a little low and it was noticeable that four people was too few to do justice to the occasion of the final night. This was the first and only time on the break that I had felt that the four of us were inadequate.

We headed back towards the main street where Michael had noticed an Italian restaurant which seemed a likely target. We soon located the 'Restaurant di Milano', which was indeed the place that Michael had recommended. The menu seemed adequate and the interior looked reasonable, so we headed inside to secure a table.

Steve, in his role as waitress liason officer, led the way. We were soon directed to a table in the centre of the restaurant. Suddenly, a waitress called out to us and directed us to a table in the window. I was convinced that she had selected the best looking people in the restaurant to occupy the window seats.

The waitress was Italian, so the conversation proceeded in a mixture of Italian, German and English. This seemed to please Steve, who apparently regarded himself as a rather accomplished Italian speaker. The Little Lucky Leprechaun, Kurt, Shaft and Grosser Vass all took their places in the window, which seemed to simultaneoulsy amuse the waitress and embarrass Rupert.

After we had placed our orders for starters, main courses and drinks, we set about the long process of the draw. Since we were missing three people (Amal, Chris and Dave), the first task was to draw lots to see who would represent them. Someone would also have to represent the Little Lucky Leprechaun for his part in the draw.

Michael duly placed all the names in a glass and we each drew a slip of paper. I was disappointed to discover that I had drawn the Little Lucky Leprechaun. This seemed the least interesting role to take. Steve had drawn Dave, Rupert would act for Amal and Michael represented Chris.

The roles assigned, we immediately moved on to stage two—selecting the order in which destinations would be revealed. The numbers were placed in the glass and we each drew two pieces of paper. One would be our own, the other would be for the person we represented. Since the Leprechaun traditionally goes last, I would only take one slip of paper.

With the first stage completed, we settled back to enjoy our starters. Michael and Steve had opted for the tomato soup, I went for the leek and potato and Rupert had chosen some weird ham and melon thing.

Unfortunately, I was first to reveal my destination, thus ending my interest immediately. I had debated another Scandinavian destination, but in the end had settled on Switzerland. I thus revealed my choice:

GENEVA.

Michael was next to reveal and he explained that he was to break with tradition and repeat a destination for the first time. He had selected:

HELSINKI.

Things were going well, but then only Michael and I had revealed. Next up was Amal. Rupert opened the envelope labelled "Amal's shite destinations for crappy Colonel's breaks". He read out the contents:

BARCELONA.

Short, sweet and crap. I was really disappointed, believing that it was foolish to go somewhere that so many of us had been before.

Our starters were cleared away and we chatted for a while. Shortly, the pizzas arrived. They were huge and looked excellent. I tucked in as Rupert began to reveal his destination.

He explained that he really wanted a traditonal summer location. His choice was therefore:

PALMA.

I couldn't believe it. This was bad, even for Rupert. I had no desire to hang around with filthy teenaged larger louts, and I made this quite clear. Such a low class drinking joint did not appeal one bit. Steve tried to pacify me by suggesting that there were plenty of other parts of Majorca that would be worth a visit. Michael therefore wrote down Majorca as Rupert's choice. I didn't really agree with this as Rupert had originally selected Palma and that should have been his choice. Choosing a region the size of Majorca seemed a little dodgy and against the spirit of the draw.

By now, we had finished our pizzas and I was getting rather worried. Michael decided to crack on. Since it was Chris' choice next, he opened the envelope labelled "Destinations". Justifying his choice with some preamble about the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, Chris had chosen:

PERPIGNAN.

It was as I had feared. He had gone for France. It was inevitable that someone would. Disappointing none-the-less.

Steve was next up and predictably went for:

COPENHAGEN.

Even this had now been tainted, but at least it was better than most of the options. With only Dave left, I had little hope for the forthcoming draw. Steve duly opened Dave's envelope, "Dave's wacky destination for Colonel's break mission 7". Inside, Dave explained that he wanted to take advantage of the new, larger EU and was thus choosing:

LJUBLJANA.

Unfortunately, the only way to get there was to fly to Trieste and then take a three hour train journey. This was certainly wacky. Perhaps Dave was trying a bit too hard to live up to his wacky image. He did add that if this was deemed unsuitable, his second choice was Lisbon. However, Michael and I pointed out that this would be impossible since it was highly likely that we would be going on the summer break during Euro 2004, which was to be held in Portugal, and therefore made going to Lisbon on holiday potentially difficult, expensive and certainly undesirable. We therefore stuck with his first choice and Ljubljana went into the hat.

As our plates were cleared away, we selected our desserts. Steve and Michael went for the lemon tartufo, Rupert and I opting for the chocolate tartufo.

All thoughts now turned to the Little Lucky Leprechaun's choice. We discussed the options, which involved Steve having a minor cow about my reluctance to visit certain countries. Eventually, we decided that the Little Lucky Leprechaun's choice would be:

HOLLAND.

Next up was Kurt's Veto round. I was spoilt for choice. My vote was certainly going to be used. Palma was my first choice, but Michael had a real problem with Perpignan. This was due mainly to the fact that we had been there so many times when we were kids. Steve suggested that we should be able to separate our own personal history from the history of the Colonel's breaks. I replied by asking him why he had such a problem with Munich, if that were the case. Steve had to admit that I had a point.

Since three votes were required to get a destination vetoed by Kurt, I knew that Michael and I would have to vote for the same destination and hope that one of the others had the courage to join with us. It was obvious to me that if Michael voted at all, it would be for Perpignan. I therefore wrote Perpignan down on my bit of paper.

The voting slips were placed into the glass and handed to me. I announced, "I will now count the votes". I then drew one piece of paper at a time and read the words on each.

"Perpignan".

"Perpignan".

Things were looking good. Only one more vote and it would be gone.

"None".

Probably Rupert and not unexpected.

"None".

I felt defeated. Michael and I had both voted for Perpignan, but the others had let me down. Perpignan would stay in the draw.

However, all was not lost. As the waitress arrived with the tartufos, we prepared for the brand new Shaft round. In this round, in honour of Shaft, all the destinations selected by people not on the break plus the Little Lucky Leprechaun's choice were placed into the glass along with twice as many blank pieces of paper. One of us would then select one piece of paper. If it had someone's name on it then that person would be shafted, if it was blank then nobody would be shafted.

Michael duly placed the names of Chris, Dave, Amal and the Little Lucky Leprechaun into the glass, along with eight blank pieces of paper. We all took turns to shake the glass and mix the paper. Finally, Rupert was asked to make the draw. He removed one piece of paper and unfolded it.

"It's Chris," he announced.

Michael, Steve and I all cracked up as he turned over the bit of paper to reveal the name. I pointed out that it was ironic that Rupert had just caused his best mate Chris to be shafted. Even Rupert had to laugh.

Michael handed me the slips of paper bearing the name of Perpignan, intended for the two draws and I wrote SHAFTED across them in huge letters. Somehow we had managed to remove Perpignan by the back door. That done, I settled back to enjoy my tartufo. It was excellent.

With the dessert complete, we ordered in some coffee and set about the Rehearsal Draw. Michael folded all the rehearsal draw slips and placed them into the glass. We all took turns to mix them up and then the rehearsal draw began.

Since we would draw in the same order as that in which we revealed destinations, I went first and eliminated Copenhagen. Steve immediately did a Barthez. Steve then withdrew Lubljana and Helsinki on behalf of himself and Dave. Rupert eliminated Holland and Barcelona for himself and Amal. Michael then eliminated Geneva. Acting for the Little Lucky Leprechaun, I revealed Palma as the winner. Rupert gave a rather poor effort at Shearer in celebration.

As was tradition, we waited for the coffee to arrive before beginning the main draw. I was rather nervous as we each mixed all the destinations in the glass. Again, it would be me to draw first. The pressure was on. I needed to get us off to a good start.

For the Little Lucky Leprechaun, I reached into the glass and withdrew a slip of paper. When I opened it, I couldn't believe my luck. I couldn't help myself and, probably rather disrespectfully, exclaimed, "Yes!", before revealing

PALMA.

I had done my part. Now it was up to the others.

Rupert managed a fairly poor Barthez before the glass was passed on to Steve. Acting for Dave, he eliminated

HELSINKI.

I was crushed. One of my favourites was out. we all mixed the remaining destinations before passing the glass back to Steve for his own turn. He eliminated

GENEVA.

This was turning into a nightmare. Now my two favourite destinations were gone and I wasn't really very excited about any of the others. Not much to look forward to.

Rupert was next to draw. He eliminated

COPENHAGEN.

Another blow. With only Ljubljana, Holland and Barcelona remaining, all my hopes were now fixed on the Little Lucky Leprechaun's choice of Holland. Rupert would draw the next destination on behalf of Amal and he eliminated

LJUBLJANA.

At last. The draw was beginning to turn back in our favour. Now it was Holland against Barcelona. The pressure of the final choice fell to Michael. He held the future direction of the Colonel's Weekend Breaks in his hands. He chose one of the two remaining pieces of paper and passed the other to me so that I could reveal the winner. Before looking at the winning destination, I waited for Michael to reveal the runner up. He had eliminated

HOLLAND.

Bugger. Just to confirm and to wrap things up, I revealed the winner,

BARCELONA.

I was totally deflated. Rupert found the energy to celebrate with a Shearer on behalf of Amal, whilst Michael and Steve announced, "Well, it's Barcelona next time!" in the style of Terry Wogan.

We contacted Dave and Amal to pass on the unhappy news. Dave, who had seen Amal's destination a couple of weeks earlier when the two of them had handed us the envelopes at a Christmas dinner at Michael's house, responded that he had been hoping that Amal would win.

It was time to leave. We had chosen a fine final night meal establishment, it was just unfortunate that the draw had not turned out quite as I had hoped. Unlike the others, I found it hard to get excited about the prospect of Barcelona, a city that at least three of us had already visited.

We paid the bill and collected up the mascots. Stepping out onto the street, we were immediately reminded of how cold the winter nights had been in Heidelberg. Since the night was still young, we elected to pay a farewell visit to I-Punkt. There were a few people inside having drinks, but we managed to get a table. Michael ordered himself an Apfelkorn, I got a coke and Steve and Rupert went for the local beer product. A pleasant few minutes of chilling followed as we discussed the events of the break. The Grosses Fass received several mentions, not surprisingly.

Before we headed for the hotel, there was one last ritual that had to be completed. We needed to find some traffic cones so that we could hold them up like a tannoy and shout "Stop telling me what to do!".

We hadn't seen many traffic cones during our visit so we decided to return to the taxi rank near the river, where we had seen the cone impaled on the metal pole. The cone was still in place, but there were one or two people around. Steve inspected the cone and discovered that by unscrewing a nut, he could remove the cone from the pole.

We immediately arranged a plan. I prepared my camera for a photograph while Steve and Rupert wandered over to the cone. Rupert, being slightly wasted, had been persuaded to perform the actions. Once we assured ourselves that there was nobody about, Steve unscrewed the securing nut and Rupert removed the cone from the pole. He quickly held it up and shouted "Stop telling me what to do!" while I took the picture. He then replaced the cone and Steve secured it with the nut. We departed the area congratulating ourselves on a slick operation.

We decided to walk back along the river. The water levels seemed high and the currents were obviously strong as the water was swirling around near the banks. We also suspected that the water would be absolutely freezing. Only Rupert seemed to fancy his chances if he fell in.

The walk was not a long one and we soon found ourselves back at the edge of the Christmas market. The stall where we had bought the German sausages on the first morning was just to our left, but it was all boarded up. We had enjoyed our last example of a hunk of meat between two bits of bread for another break.

Not long after that, we arrived at the hotel. We suggested a quick drink in the hotel bar, but soon discovered that the bar was closed. Disappointed, but exhausted, we decided to return to our rooms. Having wished a good night to Michael and Steve, Rupert and I entered our room. Neither of us was really up for a long chat and we soon drifted off to sleep.

Tuesday, 9th December

I woke up to the sound of Rupert's alarm, still feeling exhausted. While I drifted back to sleep, I heard movement from the other side of the room and soon heard the sound of the shower. The next thing I knew, Rupert had emerged from the bathroom and was getting ready for the day. I realised that I was going to have to move.

Reluctantly, I crawled out of bed and dragged myself into the bathroom. A quick shower made me feel a little better and I was soon ready for my breakfast.

We left our room and knocked at the room next door. Steve soon answered and since both he and Michael were nearly ready to go, we were shortly on the way down to breakfast.

We were seated on the left hand side of the restaurant and Michael and I were pleased to note that the Monkey Man was nowhere in sight. I hurried to the buffet just in case and returned with a couple of croissants.

All of us seemed exhausted after the break, which we had to admit had been excellent. The result of the draw the previous night caused much amusement, particularly the shafting of Perpignan.

Breakfast passed rather quickly and without incident. Returning to our rooms, Rupert and I immediately set about packing our bags. Since the journey to Frankfurt would be a long one, there would be no time to visit the old town before our departure. This was disappointing, especially as we were yet to sample a banane-schoko-mandelsplitter.

Once everything was packed, I performed a quick search of the room to confirm that nothing had been left behind. Satisfied, Rupert and I left our room for the last time. Michael and Steve were also on their way out, so we all made our way down to reception together.

After quickly checking out, we began the long journey back home. It would start with the walk to the station, which took us back along the route that we had walked three days earlier. As we passed the run down restaurant that we had joked about on arrival, I wondered what the final night meal would have been like had we dined there. All of us agreed that we had made the better choice.

We reached the station several minutes earlier and, with nothing else to do, wandered into the station to take a look around. Michael disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a couple of postcards, one of which featured the Grosses Fass. He seemed particularly proud of that one.

Returning to the bus stop, we noticed that a few people had now gathered. The loaf pincher didn't seem to be among them, though.

The bus soon arrived and we loaded our bags into the hold before taking our seats. The journey back to Frankfurt was long and tedious, as return journeys tend to be. The only moment of interest was a short stop in Worms, though there didn't seem to be much to see.

Two and a half hours later, we finally reached Frankfurt-Hahn airport. The bus dropped us off back at the same stop where we had boarded on our outward journey. We checked in almost immediately, there being very few people waiting, and we began to search for somewhere to buy some lunch.

The only option appeared to be a small cafe on the upper level. Michael placed a sandwich order and we carried them over to a table. Once we had finished these, Michael and I returned to the counter to place an order for cakes.

Lunch completed, we took a quick tour of the departure terminal. It didn't take long and there was nothing of interest to any of us. We decided to go through to the departure gate and see if there was more to do there.

Beside the gate area, there was a small duty free shop which we all wandered around. After a time, I grew bored and decided to take a seat outside until the others had finished. When they emerged, it seemed that nobody had made any purchases.

The departure lounges were situated behind a glass screen and we had to pass through another document check before gaining access. Once through, we had no option but to sit and wait.

Eventually, we were able to board the aircraft. We passed through the ticket check and emerged onto the tarmac. The walk to the plane was a long one and we walked past several other planes on the way. I commented that it was set out more like a bus station than an airport, with railings marking out queuing lanes.

On the plane we grabbed some seats and settled back for the flight. I tried to get some sleep, but without much success. Rupert seemed to do a little better, though. The flight lasted a couple of hours or so, but seemed longer. Eventually, though, we landed at Stansted.

We hurried through passport control and, while Rupert phoned his Mum to let her know that he was back in the country, Steve, Michael and I located our baggage reclaim carousel. We waited in subdued silence for our bags to arrive and, having retrieved them, hurried out through customs.

Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to one of our number. Rupert had decided to take the train into London and then onwards to his house. We shook hands and wished him well. I thanked him for being a top room buddy before watching him make his way down the escalator towards the railway station. For one of the Colonel's men, the Heidelberg Experience was over.

For three of us, however, the experience continued. We exited the terminal and joined the queue for the bus to the mid stay car park. A short ride later, we were back at our zone and had located our vehicles. It was time to lose another companion. Michael and I bade farewell to Steve and returned to the X2.

Michael started the car, which was a relief following the drama of the outward journey, and made for the exit. As we were leaving, Michael noticed that Steve was looking under the bonnet of his car. Concerned, we returned to see what the problem was. It transpired that he was merely checking the oil, so we wished him well and departed. For another of the Colonel's men, the Heidelberg Experience was over.

The journey back to my house seemed to be going well until we reached the M40 junction on the M25. Only one junction away from the M4, where we needed to be, the motorway ground to a halt. We crawled along, finally reaching the M4 junction.

Thankfully, we left the M25 and were pleased to see that the slip road was clear.This joy was short lived though, as we turned the corner to discover that the M4 was also at a complete stand still. We made slow progress past Windsor and Slough, but things were getting no better. Eventually, I suggested that we abandon the motorway and take the A4 through Maidenhead and Reading. This wasn't a great route, but at least we were able to move along at forty miles an hour, which was at least twice the speed we were managing on the M4.

After an exhausting four hour journey, we finally arrived back at my house. Never had I been so glad to be home. It was after seven o'clock and I had to go out that evening. I knew that I was going to be late, but I was worried about sending Michael off so quickly. I was exhausted and decided that he must be too and wondered whether it was safe for him to drive.

He decided to stay at my house for a while and I made pints of milkshake to get us going. After about half an hour, he decided to get underway again. The Little Lucky Leprechaun, Grosser Vass and I said goodbye to Michael, Kurt and Shaft. We all agreed that it had been a fantastic break. I waved Michael off and went back inside.

The Heidelberg Experience was over, but I had no time to reflect. I hurried off to a skittles game that I had to play in that night. It was the first round of the cup and I was already late. When I arrived, I was exhausted, very late and in a bad mood due to our unpleasant journey, but we won the match and went on to win the cup that summer, so things worked out in the end.

When I returned home, I made myself a coffee and relaxed on the sofa. For the first time, I was able to reflect on the break. In many ways it had been the best yet, surpassing even the comedy of Genoa. The only downside was that we had been missing so many of our friends, though the four of us had done a great job keeping the tradition going. Unfortunately, it was over now, and I was exhausted, but there was no time to get too depressed because I knew well that...

It's Barcelona next time!