Köln, Aix la Chapelle, and MaastrichtThough the title implies a weekend in the nude, my petite adventure east sadly did not reach such heights. Rather the time spent was an out-of-country shopping trip to myriad Christmas markets as well as Cathedral touring. Markets and churches? Oui mesdames et messieurs I do in fact know how to party. Wooden ornaments and a German Saint Nicolas aboard a dinner boat on the Rhine--I did, however, have a cup of coffee in a Marijuana cafe owned by a round little Irish man in Holland, but that is for later.
I would like to say that I had some say in the planning of this trip, alas though I did not. The director of my academic program here in Paris sent the five of us on the northern market tour as part of a bus tour. Yes a bus tour. You have seen the movies; now just imagine 13 hours aboard this auto cab packed to capacity with we the five famille Gonzaga, and a large portion of Paris's retired community. A cozy bus full of sleepy quiet elderly is generally not a bad way to travel, unless of course one belongs to the disproportionately long-legged spider family and must sit knee-to-chin for hours as the gentleman in front leisurely reclines his seat. Blood clots... Anyways, Köln is one of the oldest cities in Germany, founded by the Romans in 38BCE, the city is of the top 5 largest and one of the most booming tourist destinations behind Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. To the English and French speakers of the world, the German city of Köln is pronounced Cologne--our first stop. Aside from the 6 adorable medieval Christmas markets scared throughout the city center peddling an abundance of pretzels, china, chocolates, crafts, and gluhwein--hot wine--Köln's main attractions are the Calogne Cathedral, or Kölner Dom. Built in 1248, it is among the first Gothic cathedrals of its time, tailing behind by but one century. The Dom is a mammoth batiment, one that even with a pollution-blacked facade puts majestic Notre Dam to shame. Aside from the awe-inspiring beauty, size, and overall daunting presence, the Dom's celebrity pilgrimage point is its housing of the remains of the Three Wise Kings. Tres chouette.If one does not have an ample amount of time to explore a city, river tours, it is said, are an excellent way to see the city and rural landscape. Dinner aboard the Rhine, Santa was on board, and I proudly got the 5 of us through the German menu. Surprisingly, as I have said before, the farther my German classes in high school slip into the past, the more German I remember. And oh yes, I sang the Christmas carols, and I sang loud, with Santa. If anything, this girl-bonding trip--which I am generally no good at--was quite ego-stimulating for myself, as no one wanted to by, order, or speak to anyone without me doing it for them. Is it that difficult to say Eins bitte? Either way I'm finally popular for a weekend. On the river cruise the ladies all clinked German Biers and munched sticky Apfelstrudel. I had peppermint tea. But I drank beer and strudel in spirit! However the highlight of Köln, I will say, was the German breakfast at the hotel: meat, cheese, and fruit. Meat. Cheese. Meat....cheese!! Who would even bother looking at
that dry crumbly bread when there is such a plethora of cold cuts, wurst, and kase to be wrapped around apples, pear, and oranges? I do believe I was German in another life, I have no other way to explain my Germanophilia. Aufwiedersehen Köln.
A modest bus ride took us north the next morning, to Aix la Chapelle, the ancient capital of the first Franco-Germanic Empire and home to non other than Mr. Carolus Magnus Charlemagne himself. Aix is known in the local tongue (ja, Deutsch who would have thought) as Aachen, though the name Aix comes from the Latin for hot water springs, for the city sits atop an abundance of bubbling spa pools. Once in the city it's ties to antiquity become quite apparent. Quainter than a tea party in your Grandmother's backyard, the city centre of Aix is like a medieval fun fair with wooden toys and sausages the length of your arm. All in a cluster in a quartier de pietons, the famous Rathaus, Aachen Cathedral built in 786, and medieval shopping alleys form a cozy German fairytale straight from Hansel and Gretel's woods. I suppose I will now mention the city's infamous specialty: gingerbread.
As if the Rhineland weren't enough for one weekend, our autocab takes us a step further! Back on the bleeding bus she says...grumble grumble ich komme ich komme, tragst deine Hemd für gottes Willem! I will surmise the spelling and grammar to be horrifically incorrect...but notice I capitalized the nouns like a good little frauleine. Frau S, if you cared, I know you would be proud. Aufwiedersehen Deutschland--Ich gehe auf die Nederlands, ou pour les Francais, les Pays-Bas, and for you SJP, Hello Holland!
Maastrich, Netherlands, is quite the example of homogeneous Europe confused by superfluous borders; more German and Belgian than the Smurfs themselves, the populous culture of Maastricht is markedly non-Dutch. The Christmas market that awaited us was slightly frightening, reminiscent of a summer fun fair with carnival rides and penned animals. As well as plaster statues of my little buddy Napo-B, who, it is said, had quite a soft spot for the city while it remained in his empire. A few hours spent in a city is shameful, though that is all we could tender. For those of you who have been to a christmas or traders market, one knows that by the third or fourth one begins to detest all things reminiscent of pot potpourri and tinned crackers.
Alas, I tell the others, I need coffee to remedy this Dutch headache of American 80's music playing at the market centre ice rink.So I wander away from the people...searching...searching...ah a sign that reads Coffee Cafe, perfect. Shuttered windows...must be a Dutch thing. Cling, door bell announces my entrance, into a dark pub. Not your typical coffee shop I suppose as I make my way to the bar when a little fat man in an Irish football jersey jumps up and salutes asking for my ID. ID? What on earth do you need my ID for? He points to a sign, "No Entrance Under 18", Do I look under 18 to you? At this point he moved to English in his syrupy Irish accent, "An American! So you're on holiday and want to smoke a little weed--It's always the innocent looking good girls." Say what? I want a cup of coffee. It turns out coffee cafe in Holland means cannabis house. Go figure. I'm in a pot house. Well can I still have some coffee? I got my coffee and extracted the story from the owner; an Irish ex-pat whose owned Heaven 69 Coffee Shop for over 30 years and dearly misses his green motherland like the dickens, though has lived in Maastricht for so long that it too has become his home. When I asked why he left in the first place, his eyes glassed over in memories of no work in the Eire. Oh the travesty of how occupations and work must dictate and run human life, though, to state the overused platitude, home is where you make it, I am beginning to understand, as I travel around, that It is possible to live anywhere, one can adapt, learn the language, put on (or take off) the extra pair of socks, and just remember that people are people everywhere; there is only one kind of human.
Back to Paris by 21:30 Sunday night, quite the modest weekend. My city rains to welcome back her cramped-legged residents, reminding us (me) that no matter how much one (I) may love Germany and Germans, France is (my) home, and (my) language, and there is nothing that could make me forget how truly lucky I am to be given the chance to be tucked away inside her borders. Vive la France.