I will cut, because there's lots of pictures here.
On my arrival Saturday, we went to the market to pick up stuff- I had specifically requested that I be there for this, because of course, I was curious. First we went to a place called Aldi. It was sort of grim: picked-over merchandise in an incredibly random assortment, a personal computer right next to the cookies, which was on the other side from the meat, but down the aisle from winter coats and blank CD's. Weird! It was here that I realized that meat and cookies are an important part of the German diet. We picked up some stuff, and packed it in bags that she brought, because German markets no longer give out plastic bags, which I heartily approve of. We dropped that off at her cozy little flat and walked down to a different market - for the life of me I don't remember what it's really called, but since it had a big "E" out front, it became the Mister "E" Market for the rest of the week. Fully provendered, we returned... and I was more tired than I anticipated.
The next day we went to a market in Duisburg: once a month or so all the regional providers-of-stuff open stalls near the harbor. It was here that I tried the federweissen that i wrote about before. We walked around the city center but everything was closed. Also, there was a singing mouse, and a brightly colored vulture. The next day it was off to Essen, and more roaming around before renting a car. The server in Munich was down, apparently, so we were delayed a few hours, but it was okay because we had planned on mooching around anyway. We picked up the Fiat Panda
and drove home. We had a bit of a detour through Duisburg due to a certain someone being unable to navigate her hometown, though I will name no names! Everything was so quiet, it was a little weird. In the mornings, no traffic sounds, no people talking, no birds - it was really kind of spooky! Even out in the market, no one was really talking, and the sound of feet on the ground was much more audible than anything else. The eerie silence of Germany kind of got to me by the end of the week, too! I was glad to get back to noisy, nutty Venice Beach.
Tuesday we drove out to a little town in the country called Xanten. There's an archaeological park there with Roman ruins, and a sleepy little town that is very cute and old-fashioned, apparently a common tourist stop. We found some parking - there's some complicated scheme where you have to put a little placard with a clock on it, stating when you arrived in the lot. So if it says, "Two hour parking" the attendant can conveniently give you a ticket just by looking at your dashboard. We didn't have that placard, so we had to rove a bit until we found an untimed lot. Having done so, we walked down a bunch of quaint little streets with a light off-and-on rain:
Until we arrived at the city gate:
Since everything was closed for lunch time (??) we had a cup of coffee. A bunch of kids came into the cafe while we had our coffee (which came with cookies, naturally) and made some noise. Even so, for a gaggle of kids, they were remarkably well-behaved. I think it's important to terrify children at an early age so they'll be polite, biddable citizens later in life.
Once the lunching hour was up we wandered around, and saw the market square:
We found the "Musuem of Chocolate" which was severely disappointing - it was a teeny little shop with one room in the back with old-timey chocolate-making equipment. I know, I know, you're thinking - hey, how could a chocolate museum be bad? Well, it wasn't bad, per se - just a bit of a let down. I kid you not when I tell you, this picture is about the extent of the musuem:
Also, this doorway was just really cool:
And wandered past that through the windy streets:
And molested a perfectly innocent statue: (You see what a perverted reprobate she is? Isn't it great?)
And past a public park with a working windmill:
We had come to see the archaeological park where a Roman encampment had been dug up and recreated. There's a formidable outer wall:
A partially tumbled down temple:
Various interesting hedge-mazes and gardens:
And a reconstructed ampitheatre, like a cut-down Colosseum.
Here I got about my favorite picture of the entire week. Something about this one I just like:
After walking around the encampment, we walked back to Xanten itself to see the Cathedral. Here I saw the first flying buttresses that were ever placed in earnest (rather than just being decorative)
There were some really cool gargoyles:
And other inexplicable statuary:
why is that guy picking his teeth? The rest of the statues are witnessing either the arrival of angel, or maybe the Second Coming of Christ, I can't really tell which. But this guy? Trying to get that shred of schnitzel out of his teeth!
Afterwards it was high-time to get a snack, so I tried currywurst, one of the local treats. Everything comes with pommes frite, by the way - usually served with mayo, and if you ask for ketchup you might get curry. I happen to like both on fries, so it was certainly fine by me! The beer was every bit as delicious as the photo would suggest, also. However, the restaurant had that library air of "silence please!" that was starting to feel ubiquitous.
Apparently which beers are any good is a hotly debated matter amongst the locals - I found out later I'm either a fine upstanding gentleman of excellent breeding, or alternatively a useless dunce of a Philistine for liking the Konigsburger. Actually, I was either one, or both, for pretty much any beer I liked, and I never once had a bad beer - so suffice it to say, German beer is good. It's of the crisp, light, hoppy variety for the most part though - so if you like a thick spicy Belgian ale, it might taste a little thin to you. But after inflicing Budweiser on the world, I don't think us Yanks are allowed to have an opiinion that matters, so feel free to disregard whatever I say.
A little more walking around to properly absorb the bier, and we headed home.
I'll certainly remember standing in front of a series of carven stones, and realizing that they'd been shaped over a thousand years before by actual Romans - they weren't an historical reproduction, but the real thing. The sense of connection with antiquity is wholly missing in Amreica, and it was very memorable. Especially cool because I could make out some of the Latin.