Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The RED Tour

In a post that will chronicle a few assorted adventures in reverse chronological order (to make the acronym fit), I'm going to summarize our RED tour: the Rhein, the Eifel, and the Dom in Aachen. These all happened in September and October 2012 (we are terribly behind) when the weather in Aachen was still fair-to-great and immediately after our two week tour of Germany.

R is for RHEIN:

I'm looking at these photographs taken in mid-October with my mouth agape--the Rhein valley is SO gorgeous. This river cruise was another perk of being part of the Humboldt network--they brought many Humbolditians from around Bonn for a Saturday tour of the best of Bonn (and environs). The fall colors were just barely past their prime, but still breathtaking, made even better by the rugged hills on the east side of the river.


Seeing the castles atop the colored hills is certainly one of the highlights of my time in Germany. It's hard to beat castles on the Rhein on a perfect fall day:



At the end of our river cruise, we went to Drachenfels, the ruins of a castle on a hill just south of Bonn. The place offers excellent views of the whole Rhein area, and on clear days one can see the cathedral in Cologne, some 30+ km away. On the hilltop we managed to get a photo of us, together, for the first time in a while. (Also, the first picture of us with a really visible Sara Baby Belly.)


Having descended the hill, we took a (Humboldt-sponsored) guided tour of the palace Drachenburg, something we'd wanted to do since we visited there over a year prior when we were still German language students living in Bonn. We didn't take a tour at the time because they were only offered in German and our German was certainly not at that level, but Humboldt to the rescue! they arranged a behind-the-scenes, all access tour for us. I won't recap the whole experience (since we already wrote about it here), but there was one room we really wanted to visit that we couldn't the time before: the music room. This time we got to go in, which was really exciting because it has an organ. (I'm a sucker for chasing organs around Europe.) The funny thing about this organ is that it's a fake organ. It is, in fact, just the facade of an organ, placed in the room only as a very impressive decoration for guests. On top of that, the host (named Mr. Spinat, which our tour guide emphasized means Mr. Spinach) would "play" this fake organ for his guests, something of a organist/Milli Vanilli combo. Totally crazy, yet fantastic.


After the palace tour we went to a winery (surprise! Humboldt loves to take us to wineries) for a rather fun and tasty evening in the cellar. However, my favorite was the color-changing ivy on the stone outside. Fall in the Rhein area of Germany is absolutely gorgeous.


E is for EIFEL:

This year I turned 30 years old. While normally a cause for celebration--or at least a good send off party--this year we were on day two of our two week tour of Germany. Since we didn't really know anybody and didn't know the city we were in (I think we were maybe in Munich, but I'm not sure), we didn't really make much of it. To compensate, we rented a party house in the Eifel national park (just south of Aachen) and invited some 10 other people there for a mid-week getaway in early October. (October 3rd is the day of German unification, a national holiday, so we timed it just right.) The house was really large and perfectly suited to the 8 adults and 5 children there, with a small farm and play area just outside the door. The aesthetic highlight, though, was our "hike" in the forest. While not strenuous (see: 5 children), it was quite picturesque, with the leaves really changing and a reservoir alongside the trail.


Here is the Stapleton family, a favorite of ours in Aachen, hiking along the trail. (Except Timmy, who is clearly riding, and Aaron, who appears to be being dragged.)


And the rocks and the trees were just right. It was nice to just walk in nature for a little while, especially for us city folk.



D is for DOM:

Lastly, in early September the semi-annual meeting of the CHARISMA organization (an EU consortium which partly funds the cultural heritage research that I'm working on) was held in Aachen. As part of that meeting which I helped organize, we made arrangements to have a private tour of the Dom (the cathedral) of Aachen by a Dom historian. Not only that, but we got to climb into the rafters and topmost parts of the church which are normally inaccessible to the public. It happened to be a beautiful Friday afternoon that was perfect for taking pictures of our town. This is a westward view of Aachen from the Dom--the church in the background is the Jakobskirche, the spire of which we can see from our living room window.


And here is an eastward view of the city. The round building in the middle is the largest and most famous fountain in Aachen, the Elisenbrunnen. It has sulfurous water that can really make a stink in the summer.


Here is a northward view of the hills behind Aachen and the Rathaus (city hall).


A close up of a tower of the Rathaus.


And an artistic shot of the three different roofs that, all connected, form the iconic silhouette of the Aachen cathedral. This silhouette has really come to feel like a symbol of home for us here.


A bonus photo for those interested in the religious history of the cathedral: the Aachener Dom is a site for pilgrimages. Every seven years some fancy relics are brought out on display and loads of people come for a visit. (The next exhibition is in 2014.) Back in the day, before crowd control and things of that nature, the city/church did what it could to maximize visibility of the relics: they hung them out these windows of the church (now the little red door you see below). They would cover them with a shroud at night, then, during the day, the shroud would be removed for worship from all across the city. There were ordinances preventing the construction of buildings that would obscure sight of a given relic for some years. I don't know how long that lasted, but it's nice that it's all kept indoors these days. Also, the expansion of the cathedral itself would prevent sight of some of the relics' windows nowadays, something of a failure in planning I would say.


After well over a year of living in Germany, we've realized that it really feels like home. It's things like these--the Rhein, the Eifel, and Aachen's stunning cathedral--that help me see in part why we like this place so much now.

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