travel

Farewell Frankfurt and There are Worse Things on a Plane than Crying Babies

The last day of our trip was devoted mainly to last minute shopping. We’d been picking up Christmas gifts for friends and family throughout the trip, but this was the opportunity to grab anything for people we’d either purposely left until last, or just thought of during the course of our stay. We began with (complimentary) breakfast at the hotel before heading back out into the Christmas Market.

Part of the deal was that we needed to split up. My sisters and I had been scoping about for a gift to get our parents for their anniversary—something silver, for the 25 years, that we could get engraved. What we decided on was a decorative silver dish, with the bridge carved into it (the very bridge where we had placed a lock at the beginning of our trip). Though there was very little area for engraving, we figured it was an excellent choice.

(We were, in the end, unable to get the dish engraved. Our local engraver wouldn’t do it because the item was from out of the country, and therefore not easily replaced if something went wrong. Our parents didn’t mind.)

We eventually met up with our parents again, and after lunch my sisters decided that they were done shopping and headed back to the hotel. We decided to explore, trying to find areas near the Christmas Market that we had never seen before.

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Strange new friends

Strange new friends

By the time we decided to head back to the hotel, we had gotten lost.

We spent a good hour wandering around, trying to find the train station, since we could easily navigate from there. We eventually had to ask for directions. While it was a long walk and the cobblestone streets had really worn our feet down in the past two weeks, I did get to see the Frankfurt Opera House.

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Once we got back to the hotel and rested a while, my dad decided we should head out for supper. Only my sisters and I went with him, as my mom was done with walking for the day. We tried for a restaurant in the train station, but it was closed by the time we got there.

So, for our last night in Germany, we went to an American-style restaurant.

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The next day was all flying as we prepared for our ten-hour return flights. We went back the same way we’d come—three hours to Iceland, a half-hour or so to switch planes, and then six back to Canada. The first flight was fine, and I spent the whole time of it watching The Originals.

There was one major issue during the six-hour flight, however, and it had nothing to do with the babies on board.

During the entire flight, there was a gentleman who kept wandering from one end of the plane to the other. We had no idea why he kept doing this, but assumed it was because he knew people who were seated in the back. It was a steady back and forth across the plane over the six-hour period.

This would not have been so bad if the guy didn’t stink like death.

It was like something between a full litter box, smoker’s body odor, and some horrific, unidentifiable stank. He pumped that stench like a smokestack and it lingered in the air for minutes after he’d gone by. There were periods where we’d be trapped with the smell because he would stand around and wait for the refreshment cart to make its way down the rows.

We spent so much of the trip trying to suffer through the smell until it faded. I tried to plug my nose in such a way that it looked like I was really engrossed in the movie I was watching. My sister buried her nose in her shirt collar, and later resorted to sniffing my coffee. My dad was on the verge of being sick, and buried his face in my mom’s arm. The smell was so bad that napping passengers actually woke up because of it. Eventually it got to the point where I was actively peering down the rows to see if he was getting up and giving my family warnings of his arrival.

I don’t think anyone said anything to the attendants though. Perhaps someone should have.

We arrived at the airport, got our luggage, and headed home with no major difficulties. It was six in the evening, but I only managed to stay up for a few hours before exhaustion won over and I crashed.

Thus, we conclude my trip to Germany. My thoughts? Easily one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on. The Markets were beautiful, the food was amazing, and our experience was about 85% good (barring the few incidents centered on that one day). I would seriously recommend to my readers to go and see Germany for themselves someday. I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures.

Next week, we return to our regular writer musings.

Bonus: My sister’s friend Michelle house-sat for us while we were gone. These were some Facebook messages she sent us in regards to our pets, Frodo, Neeko (cats) and Jersey (dog).

“Does Frodo always sleep like an idiot? He keeps ramming his face into me.”

“Is Neeko…special needs or something? He won’t stop meowing.”

“Your dog keeps staring at me for no reason.”

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The Case of the Missing Suitcase at the Axe Murderer Hotel

No trip is perfect. There’s always that one incident that makes things bad for a time, and once it has passed, you go and tell everyone and their dog about it. And the dog’s fleas just for the hell of it.

Our incident was the Ritter Hotel.

We made the return trip from Rothenberg to Frankfurt by train, towing a total of seven suitcases between five of us. It was a bit of a struggle to get around without stuff skittering about and we constantly feared things breaking. When we arrived in Frankfurt, we had to get two cabs, because all of our luggage wouldn’t fit into one.

Now the Ritter, according to Booking.com, was a lovely historical inn at a great location in Frankfurt. A nice area. Positive reviews front and center with an overall opinion of four stars. We expected something akin to the hotel back in Rothenberg.

I don’t know what fucking hotel these people stayed at, but it wasn’t this one.

As we rounded into the neighbourhood, we were greeted by the sight of various establishments, all of which were closed. This was because said establishments were mostly bars and probably a few strip joints. The hotel’s front door—unseen in any promotional pictures—was made of thick metal and tagged with graffiti. The guy at the front desk actually unlocked and locked the door as you came and went, even if you were only stepping outside briefly.

We entered this narrow lobby and had to lug our heavy, cumbersome suitcases up a set of narrow steps. My sisters and I were in room 105. As we stood on the first floor, we could not find the room. The hall seemed to end at 104. We’re asking ourselves, “Where’s 105? Where is it?”

Then we noticed the unmarked metal door to what should have been a utility/ boiler room. We open it up to a hallway as narrow as the steps between seated sections at the theatre. This is because half the space is occupied by a metal spiral staircase, with only a plastic chain to deter people from heading downwards.

At the end of this dingy hall is another metal door, labeled room 105. As we entered, Steph declared, “Oh god, it’s the rapey-axe murderer room.”

What had been presented as a small, but clean room was, in fact, dirty and falling apart. The bathrooms were grimy, the carpet looked like it hadn’t ever been cleaned, there were holes in the walls and ceiling…

Actually, just look at the pictures I took while my parents went to investigate their room and, eventually, went to see if they couldn’t find us a better place to spend the next two nights.

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The carpet was last cleaned probably never.

The carpet was last cleaned probably never.

The view from our window.

The view from our window.

But at least we had a Bible!

But at least we had a Bible!

Needless to say, we did not stay.

But this is not where this adventure ends, oh no. You see, it was at this point that we realized one of our giant suitcases was missing.

In the hour we had spent waiting on a new hotel—my dad got us two rooms at the Holiday Inn Express near the train station almost instantly—it had begun to rain. It was as we gathered all of our luggage into the cab (too small of one, but our cabbie was amazing and got us a large van, stayed with us, and then drove us himself) that my mom noticed the missing suitcase was hers. As we’re trying to retrace what could have happened to it, my dad is arguing with the hotel employee about a refund.

(Ah yes, that guy. Weasel of a guy who tried to charge my dad for breakfast before we’d even eaten and was super helpful and smiley until we told him—politely—that were would not be staying and asked if we could be refunded for the one night. Then he got rude, and eventually ended up fighting with my dad. He was lucky my dad didn’t clock him in the face.)

Between the incident with the hotel and the missing suitcase, we we’re pretty upset. My stomach was doing backflips as I tried to stay calm. I reasoned that since no one saw the suitcase loaded into the cab, it might very well be at the train station, probably in some lost and found type of area.

My mom reasoned it might be sitting in the very place we left it, seeing how everyone around us all seemed to be absorbed in their own schedule.

Once we reached the Holiday Inn and got ourselves set up, my parents and I ventured to the train station to seek out the missing suitcase. The station was only a few blocks from our new hotel and visible as soon as we were a few streets up. As we approached, we decided to check the last place we remembered absolutely seeing the bag before: the taxi lot.

And sitting there, untouched a good hour and half later, was my mom’s red suitcase.

I don’t think my victory shout could have gotten any louder.

We brought the suitcase back to the hotel and inspected it. Finding it untouched was a huge stroke of luck for us, and it relieved some of the tension we’d been feeling over the past couple of hours. From there we took to the Christmas Market and were able to enjoy our last two nights in Germany.

Next week comes the conclusion of my recollection of my Germany trip. We say farewell to Frankfurt and finding out there are things that are slightly worse than a crying baby on a plane.

Y'all can say what you want about the Holiday Inn, but after the Ritter, it gets 5/5 from me.

Y’all can say what you want about the Holiday Inn, but after the Ritter, it gets 5/5 from me.

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Rothenberg and My Mom Tries to Set Me Up with an Executioner

After Nuremberg, with seven suits cases between five people, we hopped the rails to Rothenberg. Since the last hotel had only been a few blocks from the train station, we decided to walk, as opposed to bothering one of the station cab drivers. This resulted in us getting slightly lost as we made our way to the old area of town.

We eventually found it though, and being right on the border of Rothenberg’s Christmas Market, we couldn’t have picked a better location.

The view from our room window. Best view of the trip.

The view from our room window. Best view of the trip.

Rothenberg is one of Germany’s medieval towns, and it shows in the architecture and overall set up of the city. Though there are modern conveniences within the buildings, the area where we stayed showed none of the old-new building combinations we had seen in the cities. It’s a picturesque place, and when we had a light snow one night, the whole place looked like something out of a Christmas card.

The early morning view from the edge of town.

The early morning view from the edge of town.

There were no day trips from Rothenberg. Since we were nearing the end of the trip, we decided to just relax and enjoy the small town. We were able to entertain ourselves well enough between tours, the market, and shopping, which was good because everything closed by seven.

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Outside of shopping and architecture, we went on a tour of the local torture museum. A much more extensive exhibit, it had all the sorts of thing we’d seen at similar establishments and then some. There was a grand selection of shame-masks: pig-faced, long tongued, rooster-like and more. My mom, sisters, and I had a good laughing pointing out which masks we’d have to wear for being loud, gossipy, for swearing etc. We saw a cage they would use to dunk bakers in the water when they shorted their customers on bread. Up to this point, most of the implements we’d seen were horrendous. These seemed almost comical from a modern standpoint.

I can't even remember what this mask was for, but it was probably ridiculous.

I can’t even remember what this mask was for, but it was probably ridiculous.

Now, of all the stores we went into, the biggest by far was Käthe Wohlfahrt. Calling Rothenberg home, this company sells Christmas decorations year round. When you walk into one of the store—I believe there were at least three in Rothenberg alone—you’re greeted by walls upon walls of ornaments. Further in, you get traditional Christmas carasouls of all shapes and sizes. Specially crafted incense burners large and small. Colourful figurines, on their own or as part of a little set.  You’re going through mazes of these things, and the themes don’t end at Christmas. Yes, there are Santas and snowmen, and Gingerbread people, but there’s pipe smoking ravens and cats and all sorts of things.

Bigger on the inside. Way bigger.

Bigger on the inside. Way bigger.

It’s also a fairly expensive store. And it’s the place my Godmother wanted a Christmas gift from. We were searching for something amidst all the possibilities, and eventually my mom declared that my Godmother didn’t want anything from that store, she just wanted to drive us crazy trying to find her something.

While our stay was mostly quiet, there was one thing we did that was a lot of fun. We went on an after-dark Executioner’s Tour.

Except my sisters, who were lame and wanted to stay in the room.

Also my mom tried to set me up on a date.

On our last night, once everything had closed down, we waited at the town square for the tour guide, dressed in full executioner’s costume and wielding an axe, to arrive. He presented himself not as a guide, but as an actual executioner, telling us how he got the job because his grandfather was a thief who was given the choice between becoming an executioner or being executed. Because his grandfather chose the former, his sons and their sons and so forth were all to become executioners.

They would also automatically go to hell because of this. This included the executioner’s wife, a female criminal given the choice between marriage and damnation or execution.

This was the exchange that followed this fact:

Guide: Sadly, I am still single.

Mom: Hey! So is she! [Pointing at me]

Guide: Really? And you are over the marriageable age of twelve?!

Through bouts of dark humour, he taught us things about executions that I’d never known before. For example, if a criminal accepted the execution and prayed, being executed absolved them of their sins. Those that resisted were damned. He also told us that bits and pieces from the executed could be considered lucky (demonstrating with a rope of dismembered body parts from the local Halloween store).

At the end of the tour, he dropped character and told us the reasoning behind executions. The beliefs all stemmed from a number of things, though he mainly pointed out three factors. One, their food was not well-kept, so it would often be bad by the time people were eating it, resulting in some effects of their mentality (or as he put it “They were stoned all the time”). Two, general ignorance. Most people were not well-educated back then. Lastly, the church was law. The ignorant masses sought an explanation for the terrible things in the world, and the answer was, of course, Satan!

At the end of the tour, he took us to a spot in town for pictures. It was a specific stone where we could rest our heads while he pretended to take a whack at us. When we arrived, there was a Japanese couple standing there.

And how they jumped when the tour guide—a tall, hooded man carrying an axe, I’ll remind you—snuck up behind them in the dark. After nearly giving the gentleman of the couple a heart attack, he explained to them that we were doing photos and they were welcome to join in. They got right into it, and we all got some funny shots.

My dad, probably paying for some speeding ticket.

My dad, probably paying for some speeding ticket.

We leave Rothenberg with this story. Next week things get sketchy with the Axe Murderer Hotel and the Case of the Missing Suitcase!

P.S. My mom pestered me a few times about not accepting her attempts to set me up on a date. You really just don’t flirt with the tour guide, mom.

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Munich and the Rally Grounds

We took to Munich on a Saturday, going by train as we always did, and then by cab from the station to the Christmas Market. Once we got there, we saw our first look as to what a weekend at the Christmas Market was like. It was late morning, and we were already seeing the beginnings of the huge crowds we’d seen during various evenings. Still, the crowds were by no means daunting at this point, so we went about our business, exploring the various booths in the area.

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Now, by this point I was seeing that most Christmas Markets had a lot of the same stuff. You would see a lot of similar ornaments at various booths, a lot of colourful blown glass, there were always booths selling winter clothes. That sort of thing. Munich was no different in this regard, but every city also had things that made its market unique. For example, Frankfurt and Nuremberg had different types of bratwurst, gluhwein tended to be different depending on where you went, and Nuremberg was the only place I recall seeing Baumkuchen.

There were a few things different in Munich. There were booths selling clothing we had yet to see elsewhere—one had some really cool hoodies—and paintings and some food we hadn’t seen so far. I was quite happy to find a booth selling dried fruit and picked myself up a bag of coconut and a bag of pineapple rings. They were quite tasty and would prove to come in handy later.

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After we wandered for a bit, we decided it would be a good time to get lunch. We had a bit of a time trying to find a place, but eventually found this restaurant tucked away just off the Christmas Market. It had some of the best pasta I’ve ever tasted, which was vastly better than the thing I ended up eating later that day.

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Food Item I Tried: Maroni. They’re something like roasted chestnuts and were present at every Christmas Market we went to. They were vile. Thank God I had purchased dried pineapple and coconut earlier. Bleh.

The crowds were really coming in at this point. As we went from stall to stall and shop to shop, it was less about looking and more about ducking away from incoming traffic. It had started to rain a bit as well.

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We went into one shop, leaving my sister Victoria outside holding my mom’s near finished glass of gluhwein. After a few minutes, she followed us because a man thought she was homeless and tried to give her money before realizing there was an actual drink in her glass.

Eventually, the crowds and rain got to be a bit too much. We had seen most everything, so we decided it was time to head back.

We spent our last day in Nuremberg and decided to take in a darker piece of German history. You should all know exactly what part I mean. We spent the first half of the day checking out the Nazi Rally Grounds and the World War II museum located there.

The Rally Grounds from a viewing platform

The Rally Grounds from a viewing platform

Truthfully, this was a site that was probably more thrilling to Steph, who enjoys studying World War II and watching movies about that era. It was a self-guided audio tour, and a lot of the beginning dealt with various political struggles and reforms. I was left slightly interested, but mostly bored, at first, angry in the middle, and ready to go by the end. That’s just me though. This era is not one of my favourites for study.

A memorial dealing with how the railways were used to transport people to the concentration camps. If memory serves, each single name represents a few hundred lives lost.

A memorial dealing with how the railways were used to transport people to the concentration camps. If memory serves, each single name represents about six hundred lives lost.

Before returning for another tour of the Christmas Market, we decided to check out the castle that over looked it. This tour was also self-guided, but with more reading. We learned the some about the history of the castle and got a good look at the different types of weapons and armour used during the medieval era.

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We also shouted a certain Monty Python quote from the castle wall. If you know Monty Python, you know the one.

The crowd, as seen from the castle exit.

The crowd at the Christmas Market, as seen from the castle exit.

We returned to the Market afterwards before retiring. The next day, we would move on to our next destination.

Next week: Rothenberg, and My Mom Tries to Set Me Up With an Executioner.

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Gingerbread and a Severed Crow’s Head

We gathered up our suitcases and hopped the train to our second stop: Nuremberg. It was not a particularly long ride, and we mostly sat around eating, reading or listening to music. The main station in Nuremberg was just outside the old city wall, where the Christmas Market would be set up.

Old city wall as seen from the train station.

Old city wall as seen from the train station.

We caught a cab to our hotel from the station, only to discover we were staying about three blocks away, which was a little embarrassing since the driver told took two minutes to get us there. The hotel itself was one of the nicer ones we stayed in. Heck, the room I shared with my sisters had a bunk-bed (which they dibbed as soon as they saw it).

Since we arrived in the city during the afternoon, we decided to scope out the Christmas Market a bit that day to give us an idea for where things were when we explored the city the next day. The Nuremberg Christmas Market is the one of the biggest and, according to German media, the best. We headed behind the city wall to see for ourselves.

Behind the wall

Behind the wall

The place was definitely big, stretching throughout a lot of city blocks and divided into smaller markets. Aside from various surrounding shops, the area we found ourselves in held three massive churches and an old building that has once served as a prison.

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Food Item That I Tried: Nuremberg Gingerbread. There are claims that Nuremberg has some of the best gingerbread in the world, and I can get behind this fact. All the gingerbread we saw at the Christmas Markets held the claim of coming right from Nuremberg. Unlike the gingerbread I’m used to, the stuff in Germany is soft and chewy and so delicious. We ended up buying several packs of it from a nearby store that were coated in chocolate and sprinkles. It was sold at various booths as well, in special containers, gluten-free and vegan, or coated in flavoured icing.

I also tried a Baumkuchen (Tree Cake/ Chimney Cake). It was flaky, warm, and just sweet enough. It was a treat to watch it get made, with the dough wrapped around a cylinder and rolled in sugar before being placed in a rotisserie-like oven.

Once it hit evening, the market got extremely crowded. We ended up heading back to the hotel once we’d walked off enough of our dinner. We’d come back the next day, when there were fewer people.

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The hotel we stayed at offered a buffet breakfast—German style, of course. I ended up making sandwiches with some of the stuff I got from the little buffet area. We returned to the Market afterwards. It was a Friday afternoon, so we had a lot of free reign to move around, and we decided to get a closer look at the churches we had seen the night before.

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While I don’t think we saw any church as grand as the one in Fulda, we did see something interesting at one in Nuremberg. A severed crow’s head, with no eyes, left on one of the church’s protruding corners.

(I would show you the picture I took, but I know some people will get uncomfortable or disturbed. I thought it might be a good thing to put in a story myself, but not everyone thinks like me.)

It was after the crow’s head church that my youngest sister decided she desperately wanted cake. So, we spend a good period of time moving further and further from the Christmas Market in pursuit of a café where five of us could fit.

View from outside the cafe.

View from outside the cafe.

We did some shopping in the area afterwards, slowly making our way back to the Market. Even as the evening came and the crowds rolled back in, we took our time wandering about. I tried the Eggnog—again—and found that a different location did not change my opinion of it. Once we’d had our fill of the crowd, we made our way back to the hotel to rest up for our trip the next day.

Next week: Munich and the Rally Grounds.

Bonus: My sister, myself, and our new best friend.

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Accordion Santa and his doggie.

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Day Trips: Fulda, Heidelberg, and Rüdesheim

It’s crazy easy to travel around Germany, thanks to the trains. We had discussed renting a car, but the cost and the fear of my dad speeding down the autobahn made us pick the more convenient mode of transport. Thus, after our first day exploring Frankfurt, we took to the rails to visit some of the nearby cities.

Our first trip was to Fulda, which is about an hour away from Frankfurt by train. We did quite a bit of shopping while we explored the Christmas Market. It was a fairly small area, and eventually we moved on.

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Not far from the Christmas Market was the church. The sheer size of it was amazing, and you were allowed to go inside and take pictures provided there was no events or sermons going on. Fulda’s church had the most gorgeous interior of every church we saw during our trip (not that the others were any slouches). Really, German churches make the churches I see back home look like high school gymnasiums.

The Cathedral of Fulda

The Cathedral of Fulda

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From there we went to see the nearby castle. This ended up being a bit of a bust because the castle was closed that day. We could still wander the halls and the winter-dulled grounds, but we were unable to get into any of the rooms.

Closed on Mondays, it seems.

Closed on Mondays, it seems.

Fulda was a nice place, but nothing terribly exciting happened while we were there

Heidelberg was not in our original plans, but it came highly recommended to me by a barista at the Starbucks near my work. She insisted that if we were going to Germany, we had to see Heidelberg. I brought it up to my parents, and we booked a guided tour through the town and the nearby castle.

We didn’t take the train to Heidelberg. Our tour guide, an older gentleman named Rudy, met us at the main train station and drove us there, all while conversing with my parents about the various aspects of Germany. There was a lot of talk about cars.

It was about an hour’s drive. We parked near the Christmas Market, which was in a large, old fashioned shopping area. Our first stop was near the parking area, where we got to see a building that used to be Robert Bunsen’s lab. There was a statue of the man himself down the street from there, in the same spot where the Christmas Market began.

The Bunsen Statue.

The Bunsen Statue.

Rudy took us through the city on a path towards the castle that allowed us to see a lot of historical landmarks. We toured the church, he showed us some of the city’s older buildings and what they were once used for, as well as several memorials. Afterwards, we moved on to the castle.

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Now, the Heidelberg Castle is a ruin. There was a guided tour that would allow you to see three rooms within the castle, but we chose not to go on it. We did, however, check out the wine cellar. Within was a wine barrel the size of a small outlet store, capable of holding over two thousand liters of wine!

An undamaged portion of the castle.

An undamaged portion of the castle.

Aside from the view, that was the part of the castle really worth seeing.

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We headed back into town and got a late lunch at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards, Rudy took us to a few more locations before we split ways, giving us two hours to explore on our own before we met up at the Bunsen statue.

Food Item I Tried: This was my first experience with the gluhwein. Gluhwein is hot mulled wine, usually with a shot of something else in it. They come in cute mugs that you can either keep or return for a deposit. The gluhwein in Heidelberg was actually not too bad.

So, we walked and shopped. We found cheap alcohol to give as gifts—booze is so cheap in Germany, I could hardly believe it. The kind we picked up was gingerbread flavoured and came in cute bottles shaped like gingerbread men.

About two hours later we met up with Rudy. While he went to go get the car, my mom and I decided we ought to take a bathroom break before leaving town. As I left the stall, this exchange occurred.

Mom: Are you going to wash your hands?

Me: I was planning on it.

Mom: I wouldn’t use that sink.

And I swear to god I have never seen a spider quite like the monster that was sitting in the bathroom sink. It was only a little smaller than my fist, with long skeletal legs and black-and-red colouration. If this thing had been the size of a large dog, it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a fantasy video game.

Naturally, we had to get a picture. Except our camera wouldn’t work.

Now, we must have been a sight standing near the bathroom door, one of us intently watching the sink while the other fiddled with the camera, because a woman approached with her two children and gave us a curious look.

My mom told her that there was a big spider and the sink and that she probably shouldn’t take her little children in there. The woman peered in, got one looked at the monster, and sighed with a declaration that they were headed to the men’s room.

From there we met up with Rudy, drove back and returned to our hotel.

The final day trip from Frankfurt was to Rüdesheim. This particular area is located on the river and is home to several vineyards.

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Now, I think of all the places we visited, Rüdesheim was my personal favourite. While its Christmas Market wasn’t the biggest, it was well-spread out and at no point did I feel crowded by all the other shoppers. The whole area we were in was all older buildings, and I’d found by that point that newer buildings didn’t have quite the same atmosphere when in the Christmas Market. When the sun set, the set-up had a great beauty to it, which the view from the river—when the river was in view—complimented.

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While we were here, we went to the first of many medieval torture museums that we would see while in Germany. It was small, but there were a lot of interesting pieces to look at. From there, we bought gifts—music boxes, beer steins, ornaments—and continued to weave our way through the Market. We had more gluhwein—this time with Heidelbeer, some sort of berry—and some kinderpunsch (the non-alcoholic version of gluhwein, it basically tastes like hot grape juice).

Food Item I tried: Cake. Specifically, I want to point out cheesecake, though that wasn’t what I ordered at the café we went to for cake and hot chocolate. Normally, I dislike cheesecake. I find it too rich and I can only take a few bites before I feel sick. German cheesecake, however, is really, really good. It’s not too rich because they use something called quark instead of cream cheese. So while I didn’t actually have the cheesecake, I tried some of my sister’s and it was great.

Between the scenery, the decreased crowding, and general layout of everything, I really enjoyed Rüdesheim

We returned to Frankfurt for the night, ready to move out the next day. So, next week: Nuremburg: Gingerbread and A Severed Crow Head.

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Germany 2014: The Arrival and Frankfurt

Our flight was in the evening, an unusual time for my family to fly. Normally when we travel, we aim to leave as early as possible. I assume an evening flight was chosen because of the time difference; Germany is about eight hours ahead of us, so our flight would arrive in the afternoon.

The flight was roughly 10 hours. From Edmonton to the stop over in Reykjavik, Iceland, was six hours, and from there it was another three and a half to Frankfurt. I mostly entertained myself by reading, watching movies, and failing to nap.

Once we arrived at the airport, we found a cab that took into the city and to our hotel. After getting settled in, my youngest sister, Vic, and I ended up taking an extended nap. While my parents and my other sister, Steph, went to explore the city.

I would just like to say that it was not my intention to sleep, but at this point, I’d been up for nearly 24 hours and my brain just decided not to function. I wish I had been able to sleep on the plane, but I’m just not capable of sleeping in moving vehicles. When I woke up at around 7 pm (Germany time, of course), the remainder of my family had returned, bearing the best sandwich I had ever had for supper. We would continue our exploration of Frankfurt and its Christmas Market the next day.

It took a few nights for my sleep cycle to adjust. Time changes can really cause a girl to wake up several times during the night. But the next day I was more or less rested, impatient, and ready to explore.

Our hotel, the City Hotel, was right next to a place called the Erotik Supermarket. Back home, this would have signaled an unsavory neighbourhood, but no one paid any attention to us as we walked in the area. In fact, the hotel was in a pretty good place. We were a block away from the nearest underground station, giving us easy access to the main train station (though we were only a half-hour or so walk from that destination). Once you got down the street and turned the corner, you’d find yourself in Frankfurt’s big shopping complex, filled with modern architecture (very noticeable, considering all the beautiful old buildings in Germany). Going down into the complex for several blocks revealed Frankfurt’s Christmas Market.

I cannot tell you what I expected of the Christmas Markets outside of a lot of booths, a lot of pretty lights, and a lot of people. At the very basic level, the market met those expectations. The market then proceeded to take my expectations into a dark alley, beat them senseless, and steal their wallet.

Photos will not do the wonders justice, but enjoy these samples.

Photos will not do the wonders justice, but enjoy these samples.

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Imagine first the set-up of your typical Farmer’s Market, and expand it to encompass several city blocks. Large booths selling everything from Christmas decorations to glass art, Nuremberg gingerbread to succulent bratwursts, hot mulled wine to skewers of chocolate covered fruit. And this was only the start! Fill the air with mouth-watering scents of meat and sweets and roasted nuts and a cacophony of voices from all parts of the world. Watch as the surrounding buildings morph from the modern to the preserved. See Weihnachtspyramides (Christmas Pyramids) expanded to match the equally giant Christmas trees, strung with lights and—in the pyramid’s case—with a base acting as a booth for mulled wine.

A small section of the Christmas Market, lit up at night.

A small section of the Christmas Market, lit up at night.

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The markets are truly beautiful at night, when all the lights are on. There’s a magical, festive feeling in the air. I had seen pictures when my mom first suggested the trip, and many more since then as we planned it, but being there, seeing it all for myself, was a totally different experience.

We explored the Christmas Market for a long time, eventually reaching the point where it ended, by the river. From there, we decided to get lunch, and I got my second real taste of German food. We found a small restaurant near the market.

The Germans know how to eat. The “Strammar Max” I had—eggs and ham on toasted bread—was amazingly delicious. And filling. The coffee was different, darker, and you got heavier cream when you ordered some. There were also no free refills, which was something we all had to get used to during the course of our trip.

My dad tried sauerkraut for the first time. He didn’t like it. I wish I had gotten a picture of his reaction to it.

After lunch, we decided to find something else to do. There was a boat tour going on, which would take us along the river for a bit before returning to the market. The tour dealt largely with Christmas during the life of the poet Goethe. There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the tour itself, but the audio portion was interesting.

My dad fell asleep a few times, so I have pictures of him napping on the boat.

Now, going in a straight line will get you from one part of the Christmas Market to the other, but it won’t let you see everything. The markets extend every which way, so we backtracked through the streets to see what we may have missed.

Food Item I was Told to Try and Tried: The Hot Eggnog (with whip). Recommended by my Godmother—well, the Nuremberg one was, but they had them in Frankfurt. I didn’t particularly like it that much. I found it too rich.

It’s easy to spend hours just wandering through the Christmas Markets, taking in all the sites, buying gifts, and stuffing your face. Once it started to get late, we headed back to the hotel. From that point, we would plan day-trips to other cities to occupy our time for the next few days, when we would back our bags and move on to Nuremberg.

The sisters and I (in the red coat) take totally mature vacation photos.

The sisters and I (in the red coat) take totally mature vacation photos.

We took three trips from Frankfurt: one to Fulda, one to Heidelberg, and one to Rüdesheim. Coming up are stories of more food, visits to massively ornate churches, a castle viewing (aka we got to see one room because it was a ruin), wine country, and a spider that I’d never have expected to see in Europe.

Next week: Day Trips: Fulda, Heidelberg, and Rüdesheim.

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The Germany Trip: Introduction

A few years ago, my younger sister was set to graduate from her baking program. Students were expected to get an unpaid position and gain a set number of hours in the workplace. Through connections with some friends, those workplace hours were spent in Germany. Both she and my mom were gone for three weeks.

Now, my mom spent several years of her youth living in Germany. She speaks the language fairly well and we do hold a few German customs at home around Christmas. When she returned, she told us that after being gone for so long, she forgot how much she missed Germany.

December was my parents’ 25th Anniversary. As part of the celebration, we spent two weeks touring the famous Christmas Markets. It was probably one of the best trips I have ever been on. The experience was so amazing, that I don’t think I can properly convey it in a single blog post.

Therefore, I won’t.

I’ll start off by telling you a few things I learned about Germany (which probably apply to other parts of Europe):

  • Smoking isn’t nearly as stigmatized there. While no one smoked in restaurants, shops, or on public transport, smokers has a lot more freedom than I see in Canada. All their depictions of Santa still show him with a pipe, as opposed to a bottle of Coke.
  • Neither is drinking. The Germans do love their beer.
  • The food there is so good. The bread? Amazing. The meats and cheeses? Amazing. I actually liked the cheesecake there, and I hate cheesecake usually. I did not have one bad meal when I was there.
  • Coffee is much stronger though. And there’s no free refills. Plus, when you ask for water, they give you bottled water.
  • I learned to say a few things in German, but the phrase “Excuse me” was completely useless. It’s a bit jarring for me as a Canadian (stereotypes ahoy!). People just tended to weave their way through the crowds. The only time a “sorry” was used was when I turned at the same time as another girl and we smacked into each other by accident.
  • The architecture is beautiful. Lit up by the Christmas Markets, even more so. There’s a blend of structures that are hundreds of years old alongside thoroughly modern ones.
  • The churches deserve their own point because they are insane. Beautiful, elaborate, and absolutely insane.
  • I wish we had their public transport system.

Our trip held a distinct pattern near the beginning. We would book a hotel in a city for a few days. The first day, we would explore the city and visit its Christmas Market. Over the next few days, we would wake early, go to the train station, and take day trips to surrounding towns. While we mostly toured Christmas Markets and shops, we did venture into several museums and go on a few tours. The only exception to this pattern was when we stayed in Rothenburg. It was nearing the end of our trip and we were content to just enjoy the town.

Prepare yourselves for the next few weeks, for there are tales and pictures ahead.

First on my recollection: The Arrival and Frankfurt.

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Hiatus

Hello Readers. Today I bring you a short message.

I am currently writing to you from Germany. It was my honest intention to keep my regular update schedule while on my trip, however my days are full of Christmas Market frolicking and disappointing hotel internet connections.

I will return to my regular posting schedule once I’m back in Canada. See you December 17.

 

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Good-bye Cacti, Hello Snow

AKA My trip to Arizona.

After the adventure with the hot sauce from last week, it was time to go to the Grand Canyon. A three hour drive from where we were staying—with Annette, a friend of my mom’s—I spent most of the time writing ideas for a new story, listening to music, and reading Game of Thrones on my mom’s kindle because the new Discworld book, Raising Steam, had its release date pushed back.

We had decided in advance we would walk the Canyon’s rim, but only about 3 miles (5 km) each day. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of the Grand Canyon. Many people have.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Pictures, even the numerous ones I took while hiking along the Canyon’s rim, are useless compared to the actual thing.

Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time was dizzying. Pictures let you see the colour of the different stone layers and the effect lighting has on the rocks, but they don’t capture the sheer size of it. My vertigo eventually faded the longer we were on the rim and the more pictures I took.

It was a long hike for me, but not a difficult one, especially not compared to the trails that led into the canyon. They zig-zagged back and forth and, from the top of the canyon, the people walking them appeared as fruit flies.

There were many rest stops along our path. We even made some new friends at one of them.

My mom (right) and me making some friends at the Grand Canyon.

My mom (right) and me making some friends at the Grand Canyon.

There were about seven of these guys who decided to cross the road while we were sitting. They got so close we could almost touch them.

The hike was great, even though my knees, thighs, shoulders, and feet felt like exploding by the end of it.

On the way back, we stopped at a place called Cameron Trading Post. Before we checked out the massive shop, we decided to have lunch. Intrigued by the Navajo French Dip, I made my selection. This is what was laid in front of me.

Pictures of Cameron Trading Post Restaurant - Restaurant Photos
This photo of Cameron Trading Post Restaurant is courtesy of TripAdvisor

It was bigger in person. Probably about the size of my head. It was delicious though.

As I neared the end of my lunch, we were approached by an old man who had been sitting nearby. He complimented me on my efforts to get through the sandwich, as when he was younger it had been one of his favourites that he couldn’t get through anymore. As it turned out, he was an anthropologist and linguist and was extensively travelled.

Now, if only I could impress interesting guys in their mid-twenties with my eating skills.

Our return to Phoenix brought us shopping. Lots of shopping. I bought more new clothes then I’ll ever need, jewelry (which I rarely buy), new sandals to replace the ones that broke this summer, and completed all my Christmas shopping. There was an abundance of stores selling Native American-made jewelry, all of it beautiful. There was one pattern I was particularly fond of, but with a price of over $1 000 for the necklace alone, I had to admire it from afar.

We ate out a lot. Arizona had a lot of good restaurants to enjoy and a lot of fare we don’t see here in Canada. I wish I could get sarsaparilla up here.

Annette took us to El Encanto, a Mexican restaurant in Cave Creek with one of the nicest outdoor set ups I’ve ever seen. They had a personal pond filled with ducks turtles, and a couple of geese. My dish was chicken with Mexican rice and it was delicious.

In our final stretch, we visited the Heard Museum. I learned a bit about the tribes native to Arizona in a very interesting tour. The museum also had a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit that my mom was interested in. I didn’t see all the museum. I was beginning to loose energy near the end of the trip.

Now I’m back in Canada, and there is snow everywhere. But I’ve got some fun memories to keep me warm.

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