Lance went off to participate in a couple of shooting tournaments today, so I took the opportunity to catch a sightseeing tour of Aachen with a group from base. Let me tell you, I have no idea why I waited so long to go! Aachen is very close and going by train is pretty cheap...it takes 20 minutes to get there by train. I couldn't have spent the day with a nicer group of people. And we even had an Aachen native to assist with the tour...Nadja is my age and super cool. She was a lot of fun.
The tour was annoying enough at first. We spent quite a bit of time in Aachen train station while our tour guide showed us how to get our train tickets from the automated machine. It is the easiest thing in the world to do, but she wanted to make sure that each of us knew how, so she had each of us pretend to buy tickets so she could make sure we knew how to punch in the proper city codes and choose the right kind of ticket, etc. I was horribly impatient. I really wanted to explore!
Finally she was satisfied that we knew what we were doing and we set out. But not before stopping at a delicious bakery that had the most out of this world pastries! I wasn't even hungry, but I just couldn't resist. I could get so fat living here!
We didn't get to see much since it was a large group and there were small children slowing us down...plus people had different interests and we just couldn't follow the itinerary that was laid out for us. But I got enough of a taste to know that I want to go back to Aachen!
Our first stop was one of Aachen's theatres. Aachen has several theatres and is a world class theatre city. We only had time to see one theatre though, but it was closed, so we couldn't see inside.
Aachen has many thermal hot springs, so we stopped in an area where tourists are allowed to taste the water. The water is said to be medicinal if you drink it or bathe in it. I took a sip of it...it smelled like rotten eggs and it tasted like hard boiled eggs. Not impressed. But it was very warm though; if you can stand the smell long enough, I bet it's nice to bathe in.
Before lunch, we mostly walked around to look at statuary and fountains. Aachen has some interesting statues. My favorite was the puppet statue, which features several moveable puppets and masks. There was a violin quartet playing near this statue...they played the most incredible music, so we stopped to listen for a few minutes. Out of all the street performers I've seen so far in Europe, that was by far one of the best. We stopped for about 20 minutes to do some shopping in this massive bookstore that had an International section. The books were too expensive though.
We split up at lunch time because we all have different tastes, but most of us ended up at a Spanish restaurant. They had an all you can eat buffet for the extremely cheap price of 4.90 (trust me, in Europe, that is a steal). The food was A-MAZ-ING. Seriously. Wow. I had the most awesome soup I've ever tasted in my life at this place...it was a garlic and yogurt concoction. I imagine you're all wrinkling your noses, but it was seriously soooo sooooo good. I stuffed myself sick, but by then the weather was warming up nicely, the sun was out, and it was just lovely and perfect. We just had a very long lunch and just sat and soaked up the sun and enjoyed conversation. It was so great and relaxing.
After lunch, we headed to the Dom. I was very upset to learn that the Dom is in a lot of danger right now. The structure sustained some damage during WWII. Most of it remained intact, but some parts of it are very unstable right now and they're trying to rebuild it before it falls apart completely. It's such a gorgeous gorgeous structure, so it would be a shame for it to fall apart (in fact, if you look at my pictures, you'll see scaffolding on it and that is why). The Dom is so old (it was built in Charlemagne's time...around 800). Charlemagne is buried there. In fact, I saw his grave. His bones are actually encased in silver and gold, and then housed inside this very elaborate casket that looks like a fancy house. And that is encased in glass). His casket sits right smack in the middle of the cathedral...I didn't even realize it was his grave at first because it was so conspicuous. That is pretty unusual (most prominent people have sarcophagi in the wings of a cathedral somewhere, but not right in the middle and elevated as to be the entire centerpiece of the church). Also, the Dom has these really amazing mosaic ceilings and the stained glass inside is just incredible.
The Rathaus (government seat) is located right across the square from the Dom, and that too is an imposing structure. In fact, it sits up higher than the cathedral because Charlemagne wanted to remind the church that his rule was above theirs. But he couldn't say it outright, so he had the Rathaus built so that it was taller than the Dom. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to view this on the inside.
After our visit to the Dom, we stopped by a neighboring church, which was also Roman Catholic affiliated. Since the Dom was built for royalty (in fact 38 kings were crowned there and many royal weddings took place there), there was a parish church built in the 1400's for all the regular people. A good deal of this church was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt in 1952. The contrast to the Dom is startling. While the Dom was just ornate and fantastically beautiful, the other church was very stark and plain on the inside. And I don't think it even resembled its former self, because the stained glass inside that church was very modernistic...not something that was created in the 15th century. And the old half of the structure looked drastically different than the newer half.
Anyway, that was mainly all I got to see, but I can't wait to return to Aachen again. It's an absolutely fantastic city, and the people are very friendly. And from what I can tell, there is great shopping and a good variety of restaurants. We had a really good laugh when one of the young boys on our tour (he's 5) was checking out a Vespa that was parked on the sidewalk. The owner of the Vespa arrived just then, and he grabbed the boy and put him on the seat of his Vespa, put the helmet on his head, and turned on the engine so the boy could "vroooooom" it. The man spoke absolutely no English, but we all still managed to communicate with each other despite that. The little boy was thrilled...his day was made. It was really cute.
Oh, and as an aside, I did speak some German today. I was quite proud of myself. I ordered everything in German and I was understood. And some people even spoke English back to me, so maybe my German wasn't that good. But at least I tried!