shewhomust: (bibendum)
And, speaking of holidays...

I enjoyed writing that post about what we did on my birthday, and making pretty patterns out of words and ideas. But if it weren't for sorting through my photos, seeing those patterns would have stopped me seeing things that didn't fit the pattern, our walk around Bouillon the previous evening, and the fact that we started our exploration of Trier that same day, still my birthday. I could have told you that I lunched on excellent chips, sitting on the steps of the fountain in the marketplace, enjoying the sunshine - but it took my photos to remind me that we also visited the cathedral. What can I say? My memory has its priorities.

It's a perfectly good cathedral. Living in Durham, I'm a bit spoilt for cathedrals, and after Trier we visited Aachen, about whose cathedral there will be much more, in due course. Also, in Trier the Cathedral has to compete with the Basilica. But it's a good cathedral. Here's how it looked from our bathroom window:

Cathedral view


More pictures under the cut )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
That previous post from Bouillon took me by surprise: until I sorted through the photographs, I didn't realise how much I had to say about that evening walk. What had stuck in my mind was the following day, the Monday - Easter Monday, in fact, and it happened to be my birthday. This wasn't a big deal. We hadn't particularly planned to be on holiday on my birthday, it just so happened that when we looked at dates, the period that worked best for us had my birthday in the middle of it. So we were on holiday, every day was a special treat, and a birthday, well, that's just another day.

I woke up, however, feeling every bit of a year older - more than a year. I blame hotel pillows, I can never find the right combination of 'enough but not too much': for whatever reason, I woke up with a painfully stiff neck, and spent much of the day moving very cautiously, and not looking up.

Easter Monday, say my notes, is the new Sunday. We'd been surprised the previous evening how much was open; now we were surprised all over again how much was closed. Specifically, the pharmacy: there was no chance of replenishing my supply of paracetamol. But the Castle was open, which was the main thing, and we enjoyed our explorations - in the rain.

Then a longish drive to our next destination. Birthday: a day for crossing borders with no observable difference on the two sides, between one year and the next, between Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. The best thing about the drive was something we saw trice on the motorway, a heavily wooded bridge carrying a strip of undergrowth to allow wild animals to cross the road safely. This is a Wildbrucke in German and a passage à gibier in French; if it has an English name, I don't know what it is.

Then we reached Trier, and it stopped raining. There are many things to say about Trier, but for the moment what matters is that it was a major Roman city and doesn't intend you to forget it, so [personal profile] durham_rambler celebrated my birthday with the Roman menu at Zum Domstein.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We visited the cathedral again today, having decided that joining a guided tour was a price worth paying for access to the parts of the building only accessible on those terms (the "throne of Charlemagne" - not actually the throne of Charlemagne - in the first gallery, and the gothic choir which houses the remains of Charlemagne - probably). There's too much of a crowd - both our own group, and others - to allow the sort of access I'd really like, but as an unexpected bonus our guide (Oliver) was excellent, good-humoured under stress and full of information.

The reliquary / tomb of Charlemagne


This is an end view of the coffin / reliquary (picture it as shaped like a house) which is believed to contain the bones - most of them - of Charlemagne (he was declared a saint in the twelfth century by the antipope). And unlike just about every reliquary you've ever come across, there is good reason to believe that it contains what it is claimed to contain: the bones of a man of 60 or 70, of exceptional height. I don't know whether these were dated, but there is a continuous record back to Charlemagne's original interment in a rather fine classical marble sarcophagus depicting the rape of Proserpina.

I was so grateful that our tour had allowed even this brief approach to this glittering artifact, but we had seen plenty of bling in the Cathedral Treasury yesterday. No-one before Oliver had been prepared to talk intelligently about relics as a phenomenon, what they really are and what they tell us about the people who cared about them (I wrote at some length about this in the context of the Books of Outremer, of which [personal profile] desperance promises us a new edition soonest, hooray!). The audioguide to the Treasury talked not only about the relics of Charlemagne, and the random fragments of the Crown of Thorns and splinters of the cross, not to mention teeth of various saints, in the collection, but also explained - without batting an eyelid - the four great relics in the possession of the cathedral. These are:
  • the gown worn by the Virgin Mary (to whom the cathedral is dedicated) when she gave birth to the Christ child

  • the swaddling clothes of the baby Jesus

  • the loin cloth worn by Jesus during His Crucifixion

  • and the cloth on which the severed head of St. John the Baptist was placed

I don't think we are expected to take this literally for one moment - because, seriously? But in that case, what are these objects? And they do seem to be genuinely old - really old - textiles (some information about that dress). It would be interesting to know more.

In Trier we had seen (sort of - through glass, and darkly) their relic, the Holy Robe, which is supposed to be a tunic worn by Jesus, and brought to Trier by St Helena (which is pretty weak provenance, but at least it goes through the motions). They don't try to claim much in the way of authenticity, either, but argue that the seamless robe symbolises Christian unity (possibly because both are getting a bit tattered). The city was gearing up for one of its periodic celebrations of the robe, when it will be displayed to pilgrims, so here's a silly story from a previous event.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I have wanted to visit Aachen for as long as I have known where it is. Longer, in fact, since it took me quite a long time to work out a) that Aachen and Aix-la-Chapelle are the same place and b) that Aix-la-Chapelle is nowhere near Aix-en-Provence (though 'Aix' in each case refers to mineral springs). Once I had that sorted out, I wanted to visit, because:

Karolus underfoot


This was Charlemagne's capital, he built the eponymous chapel, and it is still here. Who wouldn't want to see that? I don't hold with bucket lists, which I regard as a way of deferring doing things that other people think you ought to want ("oh, it's OK, it's on my bucket list..."): but if I had a bucket list, Aachen would have been on it.

No pressure then. But our arrival was disconcerting. This is the only hotel of the trip that doesn't have its own parking: Booking.com says "Public parking is available 200 m away from the property," and since the Routard guide gives it a rave recommendation, we thought we'd risk it. So we double parked to unload the suitcases, and by the time we'd done that, there was a space free outside the hotel, and the proprietress said just park there, and get a ticket from the meter. Roger trotted off to do that, and I carried on with booking in (there were forms to be completed). "Oh," said the proprietress, "it says here that you want a green sticker..." I what? But as I was denying all knowledge of this, Roger returned, having fended off a traffic warden who told him he needed a green sticker. It emerged that many German towns do now require a sticker proclaiming that your car meets environmental standards, and it isn't very expensive but you really do need to have one. There are various people who might have warned us of this (whoever attached that message to our online booking; the car insurance company, who required us to tell them we were coming to Germany...) but no-one had. Our hostess was very helpful about phoning around and discovering a garage who would sell us a 'Grüne Plakette' in the morning, and meanwhile we were less likely to be fined for not having one if we parked the car off-street in that multi-story car park 200 m away. Roger was a bit disgruntled about this, having already paid for on-street parking, but it couldn't be helped.

Anyway, that's the story I didn't want to post last night, and I was right, because today is much happier. We found the garage, and I knew all would be well when I saw my tutelary deity behind a cut, as this might get picture-heavy): )

So that was good. And now I'm going to have a bath, and complete the destressing process.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We are in Aachen, and I am reunited with my keyboard, since our hotel room here has a convenient spot for me to sit and type. So that's good. It's quite a splendid room, with lots of space and a huge window leading onto a balcony. In other respects our arrival in Aachen has been complicated, and I'm not ready to post about that yet. Fortunately, there's plenty to catch up with! So here's how we spent yesterday evening:

Roger had found a tour advertised on the Tourist Office website, offering a combination of tour of the city in a vintage bus, and wine tasting at the winery in the neighbouring village - so that, give or take, is what we did. Let me clear up the 'take' aspect of that first, because all my criticisms are to do with the mismatch between the advance information and what actually happened: the package itself was fine. The vintage coach is a lovely creature (you can smell her coming from several yards away, but that's only to be expected) but a city tour ought to mean more than passing the several impressive landmarks along the route between the Porta Nigra and the winery in Olewig. This was fine by us, as we had by this time visited all the promised sights already, and were more disappointed not to return via the viewpoint on the Petrisberg above the vineyards. Well, it would have been dark anyway... And I wish they had told us that there was a restaurant at the winery, and we would be able to eat there while we tasted the wines (the restaurant actually appears elsewhere on the Tourist Office website, but isn't mentioned in this context). We vhad discussed this, and eaten a late lunch at the museum, rather than risk a wine tasting while fasting, which in hindsight was a wasted opportunity.

Weingut Georg Fritz von Nell


Other than that, though, it was great fun. The winery was founded in 1804, and our guide was the eighth generation to run it and make the wine. He gave a great performance in explaining how he does this, and since we were the only non-Germans in a group of about a dozen, a lot of this was completely lost on me. When he slowed down to explain something to the five year old in the group, I was in with a chance, but most of the time I was lucky to catch one word in three or four, which was exhilarating but bewildering: wait, what was that about the full moon? He took care to check at the end of each stage that we were to some extent following, and I learned some things I hadn't known before (sweet wines are made by stopping the fermentation, and this is done by filtering out the yeast). One thing I loved was that apparently Moselle wines must spend some time in barrels, and when I asked whether he used French oak, or American, he looked very pleased with himself, and said, "Own oak!" One of the advantages of a firm founded in 1804 is that you can source your barrels from your own oak forest.

One other way in which the advance publicity erred is that we were promised a tasting of four wines, and in the event we tasted six. They were: behind a cut to spare the uninterested )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Unexpected view


This is a view from the oddly-shaped little utiliy room across the corridor from our room. It is of the Porta Nigra, the Black Gate of Trier, which is Roman. Our hotel, as you see, is very well situated, and very friendly, and our room is in the attic. It is charming. But it is not very big, and in particular, there is nowhere to sit and type. I am reduced to tablet mode, which I find very hard work. So there will be less posting for the next few days - but just as much going out and having fun!

ETA: My little notebook has just reminded me that our room is n°42.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
It's the pre-digital equivalent of closing some tabs, disposing of old newspapers I've put aside as containing something of interest. It isn't always obvious what:

Romania, fair enough. But did I really think an article about cycling in the Carpathians would be useful? Apparently I did.

I don't expect ever to visit the salt flats of Bolivia - but isn't this an amazing photograph?

Though I obviously hung on to that issue for this article about wine tourism in Savoie.

(Over the page, their intrepid explorer Kevin Rushby goes looking for wildflowers in Weardale - and very nice, too).

Wales has a Coast Path, it seems; well, I should think so. It has a bilingual website, of course. We never go to Wales, I don't know why. We should...

Why did I save that one? No idea. Next!

Ah, here's Kevin Rushby again, in Yorkshire this time, where Simon Armitage has been carving his poems onto rock faces. Should this sort of high-class cultural graffiti be encouraged in wild places? Don't know. I have a soft spot for graffiti - and a scepticism about the kind of public art that carves poetry on things. Maybe I'd need to visit to find out what I think.

Blue Cabin by the Sea, somewhere totally impractical to stay on the Berwickshire coast - lovely pictures, shame about the website (wouldn't take much to make it function as it's obviously meant to). Or for somewhere totally impractical in the opposite way, how about the house Pugin built for himself in Ramsgate: "The house has a private chapel and a tower, from whose roof Pugin trained his telescope on ships in distress," and which now offers a view of more modern shipping from the freight ferry terminal.

Walking the Rhine gorge

Cycling along the Canal du Midi doesn't sound much fun: the cycling is painful, and the level, tree-lined canal becomes monotonous eventually. But I'd like to see more of the Canal by other means, and the article does suggest some hotels.

The Guardian seems obsessed with bikes: this time it's wine-tasting in Croatia - Istria, to be precise - which sounds good, except for the bit about the bikes. And a couple of days later, more about Croatia, in the news section this time, as they enter the EU.

And that's the last of that pile - but there'll be another supplement in tomorrow's paper (perhaps it won't be very interesting...).

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