Saturday, May 1, 2004

A Visit to Monschau Cut Short

I have yet another update to share with you all. Lance and I took a day trip to Monschau today, except that we had a setback that forced us to go home early. But we had a lovely three hour visit.

Monschau is a little over an hour away. It's south from here, still in the North Rhine Westphalia region of Germany (the same region we live in), but you would never know it by looking at it. The city is worlds away from where we live. It's nestled in a mountain valley and it looks as if time has stood still...I know I say that about a bunch of places we've visited. But it's one of the few German cities completely untouched by war, which means that practically every building is hundreds of years old. Although it's odd to see television satellites sprouting up like ugly weeds on the rooftops of these ancient and charming homes. All the streets are cobblestone. Most of the houses are half timber. And raging through it all are the rapids of the River Rur, which you can still hear, even when you're standing on a mountain overlooking the city.

Lance and I arrived at Monschau around 11. It was a pretty drive, taking us through some charming little towns as we went deeper into the mountains, and taking us through Belgium for about 5 minutes. We parked at the glass factory, and there was a handicraft market going on inside, so we decided to stop there first. Of course, there was a lot of glass being sold. There were some really exquisite pieces, and of course those were the most expensive. But there was also some reasonably priced stuff that was nice too. I kind of wish now that we'd gotten something from there, but we plan to return to Monschau when Lance's sister comes this summer. Anyway, the inside of this glass factory now resembles a mall, with a food court in the center and little shops of craft items surrounding it. I don't know where the actual glass factory was even located. Supposedly you could go there and watch them make glass. But it might have been closed today anyway, since it's a national holiday.

After we walked around there, we found ourselves just meandering through the narrow streets in Monschau. There were many different directions you could go, so we just randomly chose one. It led us down a path that contained mostly private residences, but we saw a sign that would lead us to some ruins at the top of the mountain. I'm not sure what the ruins were of...there are already 2 castles overlooking the city. The ruins themselves didn't look like much, but we wanted to check out the city from above. So we climbed up some slippery steps (Monschau is very damp, it seems) that were very steep until we finally got to these ruins. And the view was absolutely astonishing. We could see a castle on another mountain on the other side of Monschau, and we vowed to go there later (no, you couldn't really see the castle from the town...the buildings are too crowded together to give you much of a view of surrounding mountainsides).

After our descent down the mountain, the church bells were indicating that it was noon, as was my stomach. So I told Lance we needed to find a place to have lunch. We ended up on the same street we had been on before, but we walked back to the center of town and went down another street which appeared to have a lot of restaurants. Lance saw one that said "creperie" on the side. And he is all about having some crepes (they are not always for dessert...they have both sweet and savory). So we went to La Petite Creperie for lunch. When I opened the door and we walked in, we were surprised to find that it was tiny on the inside (the "La Petite" should've given that away, don't you think?). This was most definitely a Mom and Pop operation. And it was run by a husband and wife team and the kitchen is right there in the open so that you can watch your food being prepared. We were motioned to sit at a table on the landing of this stairway...I have no idea where the stairs went to...I assumed the restaurant owners lived up there. But the place was a little crowded and smoky (not from cigarettes, but from cooking) and hot, so this is where our troubles began.

Nobody that was in this restaurant spoke English. We were prepared for that. I doubt they get much tourism from the English speaking masses, as you'd be hard pressed to find Monschau in most tour books of Germany (and if it is mentioned, it gets a few me, I looked. I have access to dozens upon dozens of different tour books where I work). So Lance and I had to speak German and we managed to get our point across. He managed to convey that he didn't want sauerkraut on his crepe (he ordered ham, salami, and cheese), and I was able to vaguely figure out what was being said when I was told that there was no more Cola Light (no, they don't have Diet Coke's Cola Light...altogether different), so I responded with "wasser, bitte." And of course, I was given fizzy water. Blech. But I'm actually starting to acquire a taste for it, since it's served almost everywhere. By the way, I ordered a crepe with tuna and cheese and tomato.

So we had to wait awhile for our food because there were only two people preparing it. But they had jovial conversations with the other customers while preparing the food, and good laughs were had by all. Although Lance and I didn't understand a word anyone was saying, so we felt a bit left out of the fun. By the time they got around to making our food, I noticed that my crepe was looking mighty oily...the tuna fish he put in it was packed in oil, not in water. Ugh! I didn't even think of that. So I ended up with a soggy crepe. And it was right about when I was in the middle of eating it that I started to feel woozy. And Lance complained that his eyes were burning. I couldn't finish my food because I wasn't sure what was happening to me...if I was going to be sick to my stomach or what. I was just feeling dizzy at that point. I get that way when my blood sugar is very low, but I thought eating was supposed to make me feel better.

Lance and I got out of there as quickly as we could, which, if you've ever eaten a meal in Europe, is no small task. I actually stumbled when I got out of my chair to leave...I couldn't really feel my feet. I had a feeling not unlike an alcoholic buzz, only much less fun. Once we got out of the restaurant and I started breathing in some fresh air, I was feeling a tad better. Lance's eyes also stopped burning. We had decided earlier that we wanted ice cream, so I agreed that I could stomach it and we got a table at an Italian eis cafe. I ordered a small spaghetti eis (basically it's a sundae made to look like a plate of spaghetti with vanilla "spaghetti noodles"...a mound of whipped cream is hidden under the noodles, strawberry "spaghetti sauce", and white chocolate shavings to look like parmesan cheese). It seemed evident to me as I was eating my ice cream that this weird feeling I was getting was manifesting itself into a migraine. So I told Lance that we needed to go home after we finished eating. He even had to finish my ice cream for me, and he had a huge sundae himself.

So after that, we said goodbye to Monschau and drove home. My headache got steadily worse as we drove, but I took a 2 hour nap when we got home and I feel somewhat better now.

As an aside, today is May Day here in of the traditions associated with this holiday is that young men place a birch branch at the home of a young woman that they love. So this morning at about 8:30, this tractor pulling a large cart filled with teenage boys and birch branches came down our street. Lance and I would never have noticed except for the extremely loud techo music that was coming from the vehicle. One young man hung a sign on a house across the street from us that had Snoopy and Woodstock holding a heart. As we were getting in the car to leave about an hour or so later, I noticed another sign had been hung on this house...a heart with streamers hanging from it. So the teenage girl living in that house apparently has two admirers. We saw similar signs on other houses as we made our way to Monschau. And the may poles are also out and colorful streamers hang from some of the trees.

Pictures of our travels to Monschau:

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