This past winter vacation, I made the trip over to two countries in Europe: Germany and Spain. Two very different countries with two very different cultures (and weather!), but all the same, I had a great time. 🙂
To start, I’ll be discussing my travels whilst in Germany, just because that was my first destination for the holidays. I visited two cities– Aachen and Cologne– and both were different, but pleasant in their respective ways. Was only in those places for two nights, but it was enough to see all there was to see.
My first destination this time around was Aachen, or “Aix-la-Chapelle,” as its French name goes (some towns/cities in Germany have both the French and German name, just based on its history and close ties to the Franks back in the medieval ages). I’d actually never heard of this town before, not until I met and became friends with the German teaching assistant in my flat this year who is from there. She’d recommended that I go check out the Christmas markets, and considering that that is on my bucket list of things to do whilst in Europe, I made the decision to go.
With that said, I booked my train tickets and hostel, and before I knew it, I was off to Germany!
Took the train over to Paris, then transferred over to Gare du Nord where it takes international trains over to Belgium and Germany via the Thalys company. I wasn’t very familiar with where to find my platform since I’d never been to Gare du Nord for trains, so I was running all over the station, scrambling to find it. Had to ask two shopowners where it was, and eventually, I found it.
The next part was knowing which train to get on, since there were actually two of them on the same platform, both heading in the same direction, but one of them ending in Brussels and not going any further. I got on that train before realizing my mistake a minute later, then running over to the other train in the front, which would be going to Germany. A few minutes later, we were off!
On the train, it was quite comfortable, even with Wifi (although not the best, but still). The trip actually took me through three different countries– France, Belgium, and Germany– over the two, three hours, and around 18h30, I finally arrived in Aachen. My hostel was literally a two minute walk from the station, so I headed over there, checked in, and got a nice, all-female dorm room with two other hostel-goers. Dropped my stuff off and wasted no time heading out again into the city center for the Christmas markets at night.
Along the way, I passed by the Aachen Theater, as well as the Elisenbrunnen, which back in the day used to be a spa sanctuary, since the town itself is considered a spa resort area. Made it to the heart of Aachen near the cathedral and the Rathaus where the Christmas markets were taking place. Tons of people were already wandering the streets, as well as eating, drinking, and otherwise making merry with each other on an otherwise cold night. I squeezed through the crowds, walked around, and otherwise took in all of the sights, smells, and noises. Popped into a shop for printen, which is a type of gingerbread cookie distinctive to Aachen, and bought an assorted bag to try later on (pretty interesting; I especially like the chocolate ones). Headed over behind the Rathaus and got some mulled wine at the stalls which, in my opinion, was one of the best mulled wines I’ve had thus far. Granted, you need to pay a 6-euro deposit for the mug (to prevent people from taking it home), but you get 3 euros back after you return it. Interesting system, but it works!
Wandered the streets a bit before deciding to head back around 21h00, since I was rather tired from a long day of traveling. Met a really nice American hostel-goer in my room and we chatted for a bit before turning in for the night. The following morning, I would be making a day trip to Cologne, but I’ll discuss that in the next post.
The day after, it was my last full day in Aachen before I needed to head back to France. That said, I checked out of my hostel around 10h00, then headed out to check out the Christmas markets during the daytime, even getting some reibekuchen, which are essentially like latkes, or potato pancakes, that are served with applesauce. Interesting combination, but it worked! And definitely so for a cold, drizzling day!
After milling around the town center, I decided to head out of the center and towards Lousberg, which is a district perched on top of a hill and offers views of the city from above. Being a sucker for views, I made the trek over, getting slightly lost before arriving and discovering that there were too many trees blocking the otherwise good view, which was a huge disappointment. In any case, I decided to head down, this time to the Carolus Thermen which is a thermal bath area for those who would like to relax and get away for the weekend (as I was). Personally, I just wanted to check out the architecture and, after getting lost in a large park, I finally found it and realized that it was, well, a spa that required a fee to get in. Guess I wasn’t thinking in advance, but in any case, I left and returned to the center with the now-bustling Christmas markets. Popped into the Aachen Cathedral which was actually quite impressive with its high, golden arches and its dedication to Charlemagne, for the town is known for him. Checked out the Fischmarkt before heading over to see the SuperC at the RWTH Aachen University (just a modern-architecture sort of thing) and finally finishing my visit of Aachen. Returned to the hostel lobby where I chilled out for a couple of hours before catching the train back to France.
Overall, Aachen was a small, but pleasant town to visit. The Christmas markets were definitely worth the visit, for I found them to be quite local, more authentically so than other markets I’ve visited, despite the tourists. The atmosphere was charming, and I’m glad to have made the trip over during the holidays.
More to come soon. Next up: Cologne, Germany!
— The Finicky Cynic
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