Europe: Day 8
Today is going to be a good day. We woke up bright and early and went on a team run. A majority of the way there was up hill, so that was kinda rough, but we all made it through 🙂 When we got back, we had the continental breakfast at the hotel which was probably the best breakfast we’ve had on this trip so far. The thing I love most about this area is that they are really big into apricots, so they have had apricot jam every morning. It was also really nice today because we didn’t have to leave the hotel until 10:30 and breakfast was at 8:30, so once everyone was done eating, I had some time to just sit on my own, sip some tea, and enjoy the moment. It was really relaxing and a good way to kind of clear my head before the day began.
We hopped on the bus and drove down to Aachen (in Germany). The drive through the netherlands was beautiful though. There are so many cattle grazing. As we drove through, we saw a monastery where they hid the Jews from the Nazis back in WWII. It’s so interesting being in this area and learning about WWII. It’s crazy how so many places here were just bombed back in the war and how much they have been able to rebuild it and retain it all.
Something cool our tour guide was telling us about was that they have a public transportation system for bikes in Amsterdam where you pay a little bit (just to make sure you return it where you got it) and then you can ride these white bikes all around the city. It’s crazy how many people here ride bikes. They are really green and energy efficient here. Even not in the big cities, they have bike lanes in all the streets and separate traffic lights for bikers. I guess when gas costs them 1,43 euro per liter (about 5,75 euro per gallon, or $7.50 per gallon), you learn to be green.
Aachen was so fascinating to me. It is probably my favorite place we’ve been to so far. We started off at the Eliza Fountain. Aachen is known as the town of water because they have hot springs around that deliver mineral water to the city. Because of all the sulfur in the water, the whole fountain area had a rotten egg smell to it, but they had little water spurts coming out from the ground for the kids to play in, a big still fountain in the back, and then spigots on the walls where you can come and drink from it. A lot of athletes would drink the water because of all the minerals, it has certain healing powers. That was one thing that stood out to me–how even though the water on it’s own when it comes out of the spring doesn’t necessarily taste the best, it has the power to heal without being touched by humans. If you think about it, people had to survive somehow back in the days, and hot springs were probably a really good source for that. This doesn’t sound as profound in writing as I hoped it would have. In a nutshell, I think it’s cool that something so natural has the power to heal people in a way that modified and human-made products can’t. Something I thought was kinda funny though was that since the water has healing power, people had to go to a doctor for consulting before drinking it to make sure they understood how it would affect their bodies, so in order for people to drink the water publicly, they would have had to have a doctor sitting outside the fountain and consulting people before they took a sip from the public fountain. So to avoid all the drama with that, they put us signs that say “do not drink the water,” so that way, if people want to do it, they are doing it at their own risk.
Charlemagne was the first person to ever build a palace in Aachen because he really liked the hot springs. A lot of the historical buildings throughout Aachen come from Charlemagne. In market square, they have their town hall which is called Coronation Hall and Charlemagne built as an imperial hall where all the imperial people would gather and live and work.
They have also been doing a lot of archeological research in Aachen. They have a little area around the Eliza Fountain where they dug up and put on display. They found out that there were people living in Aachen (civilly) 6500 years ago (Stone Henge Times) and they used to hot spring water daily (primarily because there aren’t any rivers or lakes around them and the water was already heated. They also found a little rock area where the people would sit and prepare the flint stone (which admiralty made me giggle a little every time she said that because all I could think about was Fred and Barney).
Probably one of my favorite things we saw was a little fountain in the middle of town that was built as a play area for kids. There were about 7 different “people” on the fountain and they all represented something that was unique about Aachen. They had the professor which represented the university (known for engineering; 50,000 of the 200,000 residents of Aachen are students), the joker (they have a “carnival” season that goes from 11/11/11 at 11:11pm (because 11 is a “goofy number”) until Lent; they also have an order against too much seriousness, so professionals get a prize for public humor), a horse (Aachen hosts the Wimbledon of horse riding competition–the stadium is bigger than the soccer stadium here, which is a big deal), a woman (represents the work of a housewife), another woman (represents the textile industry), and a goofy looking rooster (represents the people of Aachen who are humorous and enjoy living in Aachen).
Two cool things about the streets of Aachen. 1) There are certain streets dedicated to pedestrians and vans are only able to access them before 11am. 2) There are musicians everywhere. Most of them come from Russia because after everything with the Iron Curtain there, Russia couldn’t fund a lot of the orchestras, so there were a lot of talented people without a job, so now a lot of them come out everyday and play on the streets. Oh, and this isn’t about the streets, but Aachen is known for their dessert called Printin. It kind of tastes like ginger bread, but it is really delicious and I plan on finding a recipe and making it when I get home, so be looking out for that 🙂
The Aachen Cathedral was definitely the most beautiful thing I have seen on this trip (possible in my entire life). It’s the cathedral where Charlemagne was buried, so that was really cool to get to say I walked through there. It was built about 600 years ago and the entire ceiling (for three stories) was just these intricate mosaics, a good amount of which were gold tiles. The whole area around where the priest speaks and does the readings– gold. There was also a huge stained glass area that stretched from floor to ceiling (about 4 stories high). Roman style pillars separated the three different floors that overlooked the middle of the cathedral (the location from which you look up and see a golden dome about 4 stories up). The original doors were still on the cathedral as well. Words can’t explain how beautiful and amazing it was; pictures don’t do this work of art justice. The only words I can use to describe this church are amazing and beautiful. I had a God moment while I was sitting and looking in the church, because I’m pretty sure this is the most beautiful thing I have seen in my life. I just thought to myself “wow, God is greater than this. All of the work that came from this–the stone, the gold, the minds and the hands of the people that created this–they all come from God. If this is only God’s earthly creation, then how beautiful will it be to stand and witness God himself in heaven? We have been going so fast through things on this trip and I have been getting disappointed because I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot, but standing in that cathedral and witnessing that beauty and having the realization about God’s beauty helped me to feel an extreme sense of peace that I haven’t had on this trip so far.
I have also been reading Eat, Pray, Love on this trip, and I have been loving it. It’s about this woman named Liz who has basically gone through all of this man drama at home in New York (getting a divorce, having an on-and-off rebound thing with this other guy she is in love with, that kind of stuff), so she decides to take a year off and spend 4 months in Italy (where she immerses herself in the culture completely and eats a lot of delicious italian food), India (where she lives in an Ashram and finds herself spiritually), and Indonesia (where she falls in love). I love the way she writes this because it’s in first person and it is written very casually, so it’s not as much of a novel as it is a conversation. I highly recommend the book (so far).
After our tour of Aachen, we all split up and had a few hours to go around town and I ended up going to lunch and shopping with my coaches. We went to a place called paparazzi pizza and the people working there were from Italy, so it was legit Italian pizza. Definitely the best I’ve ever eaten in my life (besides Chicago style, that stuff is good!) It’s always cool for me to see our coaches outside of their coaching role and just hanging out with them as normal people. It was actually a really good time. And then Jenny and I went bought scarves at this store that was a mix between Charming Charlie’s, Hobby Lobby, and a dollar store (except not that big). It was a really good deal though because for about 12£, (or $15), I got 3 scarves, so I was not mad about that!
After Aachen, we made our way to the Lindt Factory in Germany! Unfortunately, for sanitation reasons, we couldn’t actually see the factory itself, but we were able to go into the store connected to the factory (and let’s be honest, we were all there to buy chocolate anyway). Who would have thought they had so many different kinds of Lindt Chocolate. I had legitimate anxiety in that store because I’m the type of person that I’m really not a picky eater and I like to sample a little bit of everything, so I was literally walking through the aisles and grabbing 1 of anything that I wanted to try until I realized “holy crap, I think I have about $70 worth of chocolate in my cart right now”. It was bad, but I was able to narrow it down fortunately. They had this one thing in a variety pack that cost like 20£, and they had coconut truffles!! How good does that sound!? But I didn’t feel like spending that much for truffles, so I didn’t get them, but I still managed to get 20£ worth of chocolate, so I’ll be good for a while 🙂
Another cool thing we did was going the mountain that is the highest point in Holland (300m) and is also where Holland, Germany, and Belgium all meet. When we all got there, we all stood in a circle and held hands and it was really cute because we were in three different countries. It was fun to take pictures with everyone 🙂 we ate at a restaurant up there too (more schnitzel). Because we were so high up, we were able to look out over the forest and over look a town in the Netherlands. It was really pretty and really relaxing to sit and hang out after the long day.
We made it back to Valkenberg relatively early, so a lot of us just ended up walking around. Most of the stores were closed, unfortunately, but it was fun to explore and see what was around. The rest of the night was spent playing cards and hanging out in the hotel lobby. I love it here in the Netherlands. It still surprises me that we are so close to Germany, yet things look so different between the two places. The Netherlands is a lot cuter (in my opinion). There are so many different shrubs and flowers in the windows, and vines growing up buildings, and it’s really cool! A lot of people also have the trees tied to special frames so they grow completely vertical or completely horizontal (that way, the tree is getting as much sun exposure as possible). There’s one at our hotel that is tied off so it lays flat and grows out instead of up, so it makes a little canopy outside. The streets here (in every place we’ve been to in general) are really interesting. Most of them are very narrow and there aren’t really lines on them and a lot of people also walk in them, so cars don’t really follow any road rules, they just kind of drive however that want. It’s funny too because they all park on the same side of the street, but they don’t all park in the same direction. All the cars here are tiny too. I’m trying to think of other cultural differences I’ve noticed, but it’s hard to think of them. Especially after going to Australia, I’ve realized that for the most part, people do the same stuff we do in America, they just do it different, so I’ve gotten more used to just accepting the differences and going along with it that I don’t really dwell on the differences as much anymore. I wish I had more time here to learn more about the cultural differences because I find it so fascinating to understand how people live and how different factors influence cultural differences and activities of everyday life.
Kristina: yearning for more culture