Friday, March 02, 2007
FINALLY catching up! Okay. Where was I? A week ago today, we put two sleepy little girls in the Stroller and walked a few blocks to the Paardenmarkt (Horse Market) bus stop of our private tour bus. We were prepared with juice boxes and cereal bars for the girls, so all they'd have to put up with at 6:30 in the morning was getting dressed.
We met the bus at 7:15 and settled in for a quiet ride east from Antwerp to Aachen, Germany. The French call this town Aix-La-Chapelle (pronounced like EX-la-sha-PELL). The college students were sleeping off whatever they'd done the night before, and the girls snoozed since there was nobody to play with but Boring Old Mom and Dad and Mr. K, who was busy talking to Daddy.
Aachen is a neat city, one I would like to return to and which definitely whetted my apetite to see more of Germany. John's paternal heritage goes back to Kiel, in northern Germany, and his Oma used to work at a German bakery in Point Pleasant, NJ where John is from.
After getting off the bus and giving the group a sense of where they were to meet up, we were given 15 minutes to grab a quick roll and coffee. John said many of the items in the bakery/cafe we found reminded him of things his grandmother helped make at Mueller's in NJ. Mr. K said he loved getting the German pastries, and I admit they were really tempting! I just wanted some coffee. The girls wanted to get something---luckily there was a fruit stand a few meters from the cafe seating so we got them some grapes and a banana. I switched languages from "een banaan, alsdublieft" to "eine banana,____" and (rats!) the fruit seller answered in English. My goal with shopping while here is not to have the person I'm buying from switch to English, though I certainly don't expect them to think I'm a native speaker of Nederlands (Dutch/Flemish).
We then went to our tour of the Aachen Cathedral. This building is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it is where many German coronations have been held. Second, it is where Charlemagne was crowned and where his remains...well, remain, I guess.
Before seeing the sanctuary itself, we went through a great museum called the "treasury" where some important treasures including significant paintings, crowns, jewels and reliquaries are displayed. The girls were still pretty tired and not all that interested (I wasn't expecting them to take notes or anything. Really this was their first museum visit). I spent much of that tour taking the girls to the potty. Ah well. JieJie seemed interested in a tryptich depicting major events in Christ's life, especially the part where he disappears into the clouds at the "end" (reading the tryptich from left to right, heaven is in the upper right hand corner).
Before we went into the cathedral, our guide Bernadette showed us something about the cathedral's architecture using a little bronze model. That's the picture at the top. She explained which parts of the cathedral are original and based on an octagon (sorry, can't remember why!). Then she showed us the door, which has a legend attached to it. It's called the "wolf's door." Legend has it that when the building was finished, the devil planned to take the soul of the first being to enter the cathedral. Nobody wanted to go in. Someone came up with the idea of sending a wolf through the door first. Bernadette showed us a crack in the bronze door, and said when the devil found out that he'd been tricked, he slammed the door so hard it cracked.
We went in the very impressive sanctuary. I notice that they're hosting a performance of Bach's St. John Passion there on March 25th, but there's no way I can go because we have travel again the next day and if I got stranded there...bad news! Still, I can't imagine how breathtakingly beautiful that performance will be, with the acoustics in there and the stunning art and mosaics.
We saw Charlemagne's throne. Not what you'd expect! It's made of marble, not all gilded and bejeweled. Bernadette told us that because Charlemagne wanted an empire based on Christianity, he wanted a throne made from marble from Jerusalem. Experts have noticed that the marble appears to have been salvaged, since some surfaces are unfinished or rounded (the stairs up to the throne look like a column cut into quarters) or otherwise irregular. Also they've found some carving on one side that looks like a sidewalk game (like marbles), suggesting that at least one of the pieces was made from a paving stone. The throne faces Jerusalem and is on the second floor, overlooking the larger congregation area.
JieJie and MeiMei were interested in the throne--again, all this fairy tale stuff and Princess stuff...they at least know the word, and there's a concrete association to make. We also called their attention to the stained glass windows, so colorful and intricate. JieJie tried to find a depiction of Noah's Ark with animals.
Because of damage in WW2, the stained glass windows are not original (there are pock marks in the outside too if you look closely) but they are beautiful nonetheless. After our tour of the cathedral, it was back to the bus and time to head back over the border for a our of the Blegny Mine in Belgium's French-speaking region, Wallonia. to be continued
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Yes indeedy! Sorry for the lapse. I've been recovering from last weekend. Tomorrow, I promise narrative and pictures from our whirlwind overnight bus trip with a great guide, two intrepid preschoolers, an amazing husband, and thirty impressive university students, plus a very nice bus driver.
John is reading page proofs for two books due to come out later this year, so he gets first dibs on the computer. Tomorrow morning I plan to catch up, but just to whet your appetite, you will get to read about:
Aachen, Germany, where Charlemagne's tomb and throne are located;
Blegny-Trembleur, Belgium, where the last working mine in Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium) has been turned into a museum about mining;
Bastogne, Belgium, site of the WW2 Battle of the Bulge, where we toured battlefields and museums with a Bastongnian man who got chocolates from American GI's as an 8-year-old; and
(talk about historical whiplash!) beautiful Boullion, in Belgium's Semois River Valley, where we visited the castle of Godfrey, a crusader born in 1060 who became the first King of Jerusalem. Here's a taste of Boullion's storybook charm (can you tell it was my favorite?), taken from the castle rooftop:
Also coming up over the next few days (possibly):
"I've gained too much weight!"--cheese and chocolate revisited
"Behavior modification charts: Who are they Really For?"