Christmas in Germany | Aachen

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It’s August, and I’m writing about Christmas. That makes me as bad as Hobby Lobby, where the Christmas trees have been out in full force for at least a month already.

Really, I’m the type of person who wants to hear no parts of a Christmas carol until AFTER Thanksgiving. But this time last year, I was deep in the planning stages of a trip to Germany for the Christmas markets, and I was feeling downright giddy over it.

For good reason.

I still remember the first time I visited a Weihnachtsmarkt in Bremen. It was instant enchantment. Lovely, white lights. The scent of roasted nuts cutting through the chill in the air. Rows of wooden stalls offering sweets, toys, glass-blown ornaments. People warming themselves with glühwein and laughter.

It’s truly a lovely time of year to visit Germany.

But as a teacher, it’s difficult to plan a trip to the markets because the timing doesn’t align well with most public school calendars. Weihnachtsmärkte open at the end of November and typically close on Christmas Eve (or a day or two before). Given the tight time constraints, I arranged a rather compact itinerary of four cities in five days.  (Yeah, I’m nuts.)  Since I’d only experienced Bremen’s market in the past, I wanted a bit of variety this time—from a small, romantic market to mid-sized to one of the biggest in Germany.

Because there’d be too much to share in a single post, I’m going to break it up into four parts. Part one begins in Aachen.

The westernmost city in Germany is close to the Dutch and Belgian borders, which made it an easy 90 minute train ride from Brussels.

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About to board the train in Brussels

This was my first time visiting Aachen, a city known for its thermal spas, universities, cosmopolitan feel, and Charlemagne.

There I met with Ivanka, a family friend I hadn’t seen in 25 years. We had lunch at the Nobis cafe, and afterward, Ivanka brought me downstairs to the bakery for my first taste of the famous Aachener printen.

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View from the upstairs cafe of Nobis

Oh. My.

If Pablo Neruda were alive, he would write an ode to this bakery and its most heavenly aromas.

Printen on display at Nobis
Printen on display at Nobis

What are printen exactly?  They are a kind of lebkuchen (gingerbread) that, by law, can only be made in Aachen. Ivanka recommended the weichprinten, which are softer than the traditional printen. They are DEE-licious.

Onto the market. Aachen’s is laid out under the Dom, a cathedral built in the late 8th century by Charlemagne (considered the ¨Father of Europe¨), who was buried there in 814.  It later became the church of coronation for every German king and queen for nearly 600 years and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Aachener Dom (western facade) with its 1200-year-old bronze door

Here are some Friday afternoon market scenes:

Two giant printen welcome visitors.
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During the daytime, the crowds weren’t as thick.
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Love this cozy seating area…later on, you’d be lucky to find a spot.
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A glühwein bude (mulled wine booth) with a witch theme…interesting!
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One of the stalls selling bird feed and holiday decor

Though it’s enjoyable to stroll the markets during the day, they really become magical at night.

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I purposely left my tripod back in my hotel room, which turned out to be a wise move. The Friday night crowds would have made it near impossible to set up anywhere, and then I’d have been stuck lugging it around. Even carrying my camera was a little unsettling in the jostling of the crowd. I ended up using my iPhone a lot more than my DSLR for safety and convenience, and that was true during the entire trip.

Being in the moment took priority over capturing quality images.

On that note, a few more snapshots from the evening:

Enjoying some eierpunsch
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The magnificent Dom at night
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Schwiboggens, pyramids, smokers, and nutcrackers for sale
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Another festive booth run by Hexenhof (Witches’ Court).

Aachen’s market has a great vibe: inviting to all ages. Hoppin’ but not overwhelming. Since it’s a border town, it draws international tourists, but it’s definitely a place where the locals meet up throughout the holiday season.

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Aachen’s market is open daily from 11:00 – 21:00.

If you go: printen are a must. And leave some space in your suitcase to take some home. Nobis sells 400 g bags for about €8-9. They’re easy to pack, make terrific gifts (if you can keep your hands off them), and will keep beyond Christmas. Also, have the Rathskeller’s locally-made glühwein—best I’ve ever had!

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Next up: Monschau

 

 

Nubble Light, Maine

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Although I’m the kind of traveler who likes to do my research and pinpoint possible areas of interest, I always like to leave some wiggle room because it’s true that some of the best travel experiences are unplanned. You might pick up a recommendation from a friendly local or accidentally discover on your own something that wasn’t originally part of your agenda.

That’s what happened when I attended a literacy conference last month in Maine. I met a new friend who’d previously lived for some years in New England, and she advised that, on the drive home, we ought to stop in York, a coastal town about 45 miles south of Portland.

There we would find the iconic Nubble Light (officially Cape Neddick Light Station). Don’t miss it, she said. It’s the most photographed lighthouse in the country. Sold.

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As soon as we stepped from the car, we instantly understood its appeal to the estimated half a million visitors per year. How had I never heard of this place before?

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Although the lighthouse and island are inaccessible to the public, Sohier Park directly across from it offers spectacular views of the lighthouse and coast. Unlike so many attractions these days, parking is free, and there are benches and restrooms for public use.

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First opened in 1879 after five years of construction, Nubble became fully automated in 1987. No one lives on the grounds anymore.

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iPhone panorama

But the Town of York has worked hard to preserve Nubble. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Twice a year, crowds are drawn here for special holiday lighting observances. The first occurs near the end of July for a “Christmas in July” celebration; the second ceremonial lighting takes place on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving and remains lit every night through the New Year.

No matter the time of year, if you happen to be in the area, a stop is highly recommended.

Project 52: Weeks 49-52

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With this final, almost-11th-hour post of 2014, Project 52 comes to a close.  Whew! I made it!

Thanks for viewing/reading, and Happy New Year to you and yours!

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Running Late (the theme of this whole project!) | Week 49: From Paolo Nutini’s “New Shoes” (“And I’m running late, and I don’t need an excuse”). Made with iPhone. Processed with Tilt Shift Gen and Brushstroke apps.
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Rubber Duckie | Week 50: From Jim Henson’s “Rubber Duckie” (“Rubber Duckie, I’m awfully fond of you”) Made with iPhone. Processed with Brushstroke.
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Warm Up With Glühwein | Week 51: From Frank Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (“Baby, it’s cold outside”)
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Love | Week 52: From The Troggs’ “Love is All Around” (“I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes; Love is all around me, and so the feeling grows”)

Project 52: Weeks 45-48

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Doing my best to keep up in this time-crunched school year means Project 52 remains on a backburner.  Here are my catchup efforts:

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Every Rose Has Its Thorn |Week 45: From Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” (“Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”)

As someone who appreciates imperfections, the Week 45 lyrics didn’t speak to me much.

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Brown Leaves | Week 46: From Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” (“Look around, leaves are brown, and the sky is a hazy shade of winter”)

But Simon & Garfunkel in Week 46?  Yes!

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Made with my iPhone. Week 47: From Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”

Munchkin’s treat-filled Advent calendar inspired her curiosity to the point where her mother had to warn her it would be taken down if she snooped.  It reminded me of one of my first memories.  At age four on my first visit to Germany, I stood in Oma and Opa’s “cold room,” mesmerized by the foil-wrapped Santas that were lined up on a desk at perfect eye level with me. They were meant to be brought back  home to America for all the cousins, and my father warned me not to touch.

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Best Day | Week 48: From Dido’s “Thank You” (“I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life”)

A flawed but endearing image of my father and the Munchkin riding in the third row of Bubbles the roller coaster at Storybookland, a local kiddie amusement park that has become our Black Friday tradition and one of my favorite days of the year.

 

Project 52, Interrupted

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So sorry, my poor, little blog. I’ve been neglecting you.  Weeks 39-44 have been one big, exhausting blur at work. So, this is my catchup effort in which I had some fun with my new iPhone 6 and took fairly generous liberty with the assigned song lyrics.

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Diner Mugs | Week 39: Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” (originally recorded in 1954 by Kay Ballard)
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I Can Never Fold These Things Properly | Week 40: Snow Patrol’s “If I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world?”
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Laugh Tracks | Week 41: Nirvana’s “Here we are now, entertain us”
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Creative Lightning | Week 42: Taylor Swift’s “I’m lightning on my feet; I never miss a beat”
Sign I Should Have Bought | Week 43: Maroon 5’s “Tap on my window, knock on my door”   (For some reason, I cannot remember how this Maroon 5 song goes, and instead, I  just keep hearing the Three’s Company theme song in my head.  Long live the Regal Beagle!)
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Creepy Clown Mask | Week 44: Michael Jackson’s “It’s close to midnight, something evil’s lurking in the dark”    *This one was made with my Canon.

37/52: Delaware Avenue

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Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetThis week’s lyrics: “We’re gonna rock down to Electric Avenue”

From Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue”

This is not quite what I had in mind for this week, but I was walloped pretty hard by the first bug of the school year, so…it’s something.

Maybe not quite electric, but I’d say it was a lovely view when we rocked down to Delaware Avenue in Camden for a Riversharks game in support of my former student Danny, who is currently undergoing chemo.