Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Aachen – Christmas Markets on the Rhine

That this trip would go to Aachen is one of the reasons I eagerly wanted to take this trip. We visited Aachen around twenty years ago, and the minute I walked in the church, I was stunned by this candelabra:

It is huge. It is glorious. This was the church of Charlemagne, and it is a very very old church. I don’t know why it is so special to me, but I love this church. Now I can recognize all the Moorish elements; that could well be a part of its attraction to me.

Wikipedia says the Aachen cathedral was consecrated in 805 AD, and is the oldest cathedral church in Europe.

“It is claimed as one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe and was constructed by order of the emperor Charlemagne, who was buried there after his death in 814. For 595 years, from 936 to 1531, the Palatine Chapel, heart of the cathedral, was the church of coronation for thirty-one German kings and twelve queens. The church has been the mother church of the Diocese of Aachen since 1802.”

 

I knew from previous visits that you had to buy a ticket to take photos in this church. You have to find a policeman selling permits, and he puts a permit on your camera. There were a lot of people taking photos and being told they had to pay. There were signs, but they were small and not very visible. I felt sorry for the people who were scolded and told they had to pay.

 

 

 

Looking up int the dome. The black and white arches remind me of the Alhambra in Spain. So simple, so elegant.

 

Guess I really have a thing for those arches, LOL.

Outside view of the Aachen cathedral / church. What is really funny is that it looks like blue sky, and maybe, just maybe for a few minutes, it was. Mostly what I remember is a very cold day and a very chill rain, so chilly that we only wandered around the Market for maybe half an hour and then found a cozy cafe where AdventureMan could get some hot chocolate for his sore throat.

 

The Winter Specials!

Hirschsteak! (Deer steak) Gänsekeule! (Goose leg) Muscheln! (Mussels Alsatian style)

Shops full of the Aachen special spice cookies. Love the way they decorate their windows.

 

People beginning to gather for their shopping, and for drinking Gluewein with their friends.

 

I love this statue. I think it is called Greed, or The Love of Money.

Here is Didi’s Chocolate Shop where we found our tour guides, also having a hot drink and comparing notes while the tour guests shopped. I ordered Mint Tea and got a huge pot of boiling hot water and a bundle of mint leaves. It was lovely, so fresh, so fresh. AdventureMan also loved his hot chocolate.

 

When we left, we were all to gather at the tourist info stop. We were all there, and nothing was happening so a couple people went inside the tourist place, and then the guides showed up and hurried us down a street. Fortunately the people inside could see the end of the line far off down the street and hurried to catch up with us. We know they would have sent people back for them when they were discovered missing . . . or we think so. It felt like a disaster narrowly averted.

We speak the language. Still, we would not want to be left behind in a strange city and have to find some way to get back to a boat that we don’t really know exactly where it is.

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March 19, 2019 Posted by | Advent, Arts & Handicrafts, Faith, Germany, Hot drinks, Photos, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Arriving on the MS Grace for Christmas Markets on the Rhine

Late in the afternoon, we board a bus for a very short drive to our ship, the MS Grace. We are greeted with enthusiasm and shown into the Lounge, where drinks and hors d’oeuvres are waiting for us.

 

The ship as all decorated for Christmas.

 

It doesn’t take long to get to our room, which we like a lot. It doesn’t have a balcony, just doors that open, I think they call it a French balcony. You can’t go out, but you can stick your head out and watch the world go by.

 

The bathroom is spacious, which is really nice when you are going to be sharing with someone, like AdventureMan. It really mattered to me, especially later in the trip, that the water in the shower was really hot and they never ran out of hot water.

Lovely closet! Room for us both to put all our things away, and hang up hanging clothes, store our luggage and even dress when the other person is still sleeping and one of us really needs some coffee 🙂

 

The dining room is not intimidating. There is always room. There are only maybe 100 passengers on board, so by the end of the trip we have favorite people we like to see and talk with at meals. The food was pretty good, too. I can’t drink a lot of wine any more, but they had a Sancerre that was cool and crisp and dry and went perfectly with fish. They had a good number of options at every meal, soups, salads, main courses and desserts. One person I saw even ordered two main courses; I’ve not seen that before, but it seems that Tauck really takes good care of demanding customers.

This is what it looks like out our window. It’s a good thing we spent so many years in Germany; we know what late November is going to look like (this looks pretty good for late November) and we are prepared for the grim greys and the cold. Even better – it’s what we came for. Winter!

For months, we have been following a thread on CruiseCritic; a thread about which cruises were going and which were not because the levels of the Rhine River have been so low, historically low. Some cruise lines cancelled, some made elaborate changes and ended up with unhappy customers. Tauck told us up front what our options were – we could opt for a later trip or do this trip with a mid-trip “ship swap.”

On the day we went to Heidelberg, we left our packed bags in our rooms, boarded our bus with our day packs, spent the day in Heidelberg, boarded our bus with our day packs and ended up in a little French town near Baden Baden on the Inspire, in the same exact room with our bags where we had left them on the Grace. Totally class act. Yes, it was a little disruptive having to pack and unpack – once – during the trip, but no hotel overnights, no packing and unpacking all the time, in fact as little disruption as possible, considering near the Lorelei the river was impassable for the 130m boats. They took a difficult situation, and did a good job making the best of it.

This is what our trip looked like, except that the last night was in Colmar, not Kembs. I think they changed for 2019.

What we liked a lot about going with Tauck is that they really do things beautifully. Presentation isn’t everything, but attention to detail really does make a difference. The ship was immaculately clean, and we lacked for nothing. Another thing we like is that we are very private, and very independent travelers. We don’t stick with the tour groups, we go off on our own and meet up with the group later. We like to find our own places to eat, go back to old familiar haunts, etc. What was really fun was that we met a lot of people like us who also took off on their own and went to fun places. On nights when we didn’t care to go to the dining room, we could get a perfectly delicious little dinner just down the hall from us, or even have it in our room. We like that.

They also gave a lot of cultural information, and not just information, but after a day exploring, there would be some local specialty the guides would be sharing on the bus; a special gingerbread, a special cookie, a chocolate candy, LOL at one place we even got a bottle of whiskey to put in our coffee, and a special coffee cup to put it in. OK, OK, I hear you, yes, we paid for it in the cost of the trip, but those little extras make a customer feel good, and it’s a competitive market. I admire their strategy.

 

March 18, 2019 Posted by | Germany, Hotels, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Hotel Ernst in Cologne/Koln, Germany

We are refreshed, we have eaten good German winter food, and . . . I am ready for a bath. We check into the hotel and our bags have already been delivered to our room. Our room is a long walk, but we don’t mind. We have discovered that there is THE elevator, and around the corner another, secret, less used elevator. Our room is on a very quiet corridor.

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We can see the cathedral from every window in our room, even from the bathroom 🙂

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Look at that lovely inviting marble bath tub 🙂

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Hmmm. Very clean and modern looking, but . . . not so much for privacy.

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Oh yes! I do love a good closet.

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I remember keys like this when I was a little girl. No no no – no key cards for the Ernst.

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This is the view from the terrace coffee room, looking over the cathedral and the crowds coming and going for the markets.

AdventureMan heads off to see a war museum and I head for that gorgeous marble tub. As I am exiting the tub, AdventureMan returns and we settle in for an afternoon nap. We snooze about an hour and wake up only a little hungry, not big hungry, and decide to try the Chinese restaurant next door.

When we moved to Pensacola, our son sat us down and said “There is something terrible I have to tell you. Pensacola has no really good Chinese restaurant.” He watched our faces for signs of horror.

We love Pensacola’s seafood, and the really good little Vietnamese restaurants we find here. But oh, I yearn for Chinese, and love my trips out to Seattle where I can find a great meal or two.

We leave our hotel and head for the Peking. We know we’ve made the right choice, as we head up to the second story, we are behind a group of about twenty Chinese people, carrying bags of wrapped packages, some sort of party. They are in a separate room.

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The Peking is up above the McDonalds

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Table overlooking the cathedral and square

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Peking Hot and Sour Soup

 

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Peking Crispy Duck – wow! We thought we weren’t hungry, but this duck was so good we ate every bite.

Our first day and evening back in Germany are wonderfully fulfilling.

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As a final bonus, the Hotel Ernst is gorgeous at night.

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I love this misty, eerie photo of the Cologne Cathedral at night.

 

March 16, 2019 Posted by | Advent, Adventure, Germany, Hotels, Restaurant, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Markets on the Rhein

Horrors! I haven’t written since pre-Thanksgiving?? That’s the way my life is going, and I just have to take a minute when I can find it and keep up.

 

You may all think of aging, retiring grandparents as people sitting in rocking chairs on their porches, just waiting to die. The truth is very different. Retirement, at least early retirement, can be one of your most active times of life.

 

It is in our case 🙂

 

We made a choice. We have our grandchildren every day after school. It is delightful, and it is hard work. For me, it means having to carve out time for the things I want to do early in the day. AdventureMan picks up the grandchildren, brings them to our house, makes a healthy snack, supervises their homework and manages their time and experiences. I support AdventureMan, and specialize in hugs, intensely personal discussions, and rough-housing. I can make them laugh uncontrollably. I can cry with them when the world is dark and incomprehensible. I can help them have faith in themselves. I can encourage them to try, try again.

So, from time to time we run away and play, AdventureMan and I.

 

One of our favorite things we get in the mail are travel brochures. Most of the time, we don’t care, but the really good thing is that from time to time we get one that ignites our imagination, and we are both all in.

“Here’s what I want to do,” I said to AdventureMan, thrusting a Tauck tours brochure into his hands. “I want winter food. I want to wear winter clothes. I want to see the Three Kings Cathedral in Cologne again, and that glorious candelabra in Aachen. And look! It goes to Heidelberg! Strassbourg! Colmar!”

Here’s why we are still married after all these years. AdventureMan reads through and his eyes light up and he looks at me and says “You want to do this?” and I say “Yes!” and minutes later he is on the phone and we are committed. And we are dancing for joy.

Although we tend to be frugal by nature, history and habit, we are also pragmatic. If the flights are domestic, under four hours, we go economy. When we go overseas, we go business, and we make sure the seats go flat so we can sleep.

Our flights go smoothly, and we arrive relatively rested and excited. AdventureMan sends me off to change money while it is convenient, and I come back to discover I’ve kept a growing group waiting for me. Yikes. I apologize profusely and then just keep a low profile. Tauck is a little plusher than our Viking trips; we have a limo that we share with one other couple from Dusseldorf to Koln. The trip is quick, and we arrive at the Hotel Ernst efficiently. Our baggage is already there.

 

People check in, and we discover that everyone has a room except for us and one other group, and as things happen on these trips, the other group and us had a special relationship for the rest of the trip. We were both independent travelers. Our room was unlikely to be ready for a couple hours.

I’d like to tell you that I was a good sport, but I was not. I wanted a shower. They offered me to shower in the spa and I was not happy with that. They were really trying to please me, and I was trying, but I was not happy.

 

AdventureMan, who knows me well, said “I think we need a walk,” so I gave the hotel people the number of my brand new International-equipped iPhone, specially bought for times like this, and out the door we went. Out the door of the Ernst looks like this:

This is the magnificent Cologne Cathedral. The Hotel Ernst faces the Cathedral. 

 

The world looks new and fresh. I take a deep breath and smile again, it smells like home. We find our German comes back as if once again, we lived here and spoke it regularly. We walk, I take pictures, and when we find the Fruh, we know it is time to have our first meal back in Germany.

 

There is a method to our madness, when we choose a travel destination. This, for us, isn’t about Christmas Markets, although those are beautiful and fun. This is about feeding a need deep in our souls, a need for winter, a need for winter food and walking in the cold air wrapped in our heavy German coats. No, it isn’t rational. Yes, it’s the way it is.

Walking into Fruh is like walking back in time. We could be in Heidelberg, or Mannheim, or Wiesbaden, or Kaiserslautern, or any of the German towns where we have been so blessed to live.

Cologne is very proud to have it’s own beer, and you find it everywhere. It is served in tall thin glasses. I don’t drink a lot of beer, but I can drink a small glass of Kolsch. AdventureMan says the Bavarians call the glass a “test tube” because of its long, thin shape.

At first, we didn’t know. When AdventureMan tried to order a Pils, the waiter said in a loud, brusque voice “Kolsch! Kolsch! We only serve Kolsch!”

Cologne is not so much a tourist town. The tolerated u with grace; we speak German, but they treated us as outsiders. We know the difference. We didn’t mind so much; we are outsiders now.

I wanted you to see the menu, also known as Tageskarte, or daily menu. I also like to look at it and sigh; these are not foods you find in Pensacola. They are not foods you find, for the main part, at restaurants in the United States that call themselves German. Brusque loud voice and all, we are delighted to be at Fruh. They are all the winter foods I was hungering for so nostalgically, deer medallions, goose, heavy winter cauliflower soup . . . ahhhhhhh. . . .

We know we are in the right place. The locals fill in, with their shopping bags, meeting up with friends, we feel at home.

I had Hirschmedallions for my first meal, little deer steaks, with broccoli. This is new to me. I don’t remember food being served with broccoli before.

AdventureMan had Schweinesteak, pork steak, and a big bowl of home made potato fries. This is more the heavy, vegetable free cooking I remember.

As we ate, the hotel called to say our room was ready. On our way from the Fruh to the Hotel Ernst, the Weinachtsmarkt, the Christmas Market by the Cologne Cathedral, was beginning to open, and I saw my first vendor of roasted chestnuts.

We all sing nostalgically about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” but the truth is, no matter how much my French and German friends rave about roasted chestnuts, I don’t like them. I don’t like their texture. I am sort of intellectually delighted to see my first chestnut vendor, but not really excited to eat any of them.

March 16, 2019 Posted by | Advent, Adventure, Christmas, Germany, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment