Gluhwein > vin chaud!
When I was trying to decide which regions of France to request on my application to this program, I turned to my friend Jeff. Jeff had done the program the previous year in Nice, and he knows a lot more about French geography and culture than I do. His response was logical: "Since you're going to have a lot of free time, choose a region that's near places you would want to visit!" The main reason I requested the Nancy-Metz region of France was because this corner of the country is so close to other places I want to see: Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland (going in five days!!!).
Yesterday I got to put this theory into action, as Britt, Andrew, Julia and I decided to make a day trip to Trier, Germany. We found a special group discount price, so for 12.50 Euros apiece (round trip!) we took a 2-hour train ride through Luxembourg and into Germany.
Why Trier? For one thing, it's the oldest city in Germany (founded sometime around 16 B.C. Wow!). In addition, Trier is home to some of the best Christmas markets you can find. When we arrived in Trier, we passed through the Porta Nigra, a well-preserved Roman city gate. We stopped for breakfast, where Julia and I realized that we were going to have quite the interesting day--neither of us speaks more than three words of German! Via pointing, awkward sounds, and English, we acquired our cheesy, bacon-covered breads and coffee. Coffee = kaffee, the first word I'd learn that day. I also learned how to say "big" and "tea" ... not going to go thirsty in Germany!
We continued into the main square, called the Hauptmarkt, where the real Christmas markets began. The streets are full of what you'd expect in an average Christmas market: lots of small shops that look like little wooden playhouse stands, a carousel, some food stands, mulled wine stalls, and lots of trees and decorations. What's different? For one thing, the Trier stands were much "greener" : pine tree branches covered most everything--the roofs and sides of the stalls, the carousel, light posts, etc. Everything just seemed a little bit extra: even the trash cans had cute, Christmasy decorations on top of them! The mulled wine was different too--in order to drink any, you have to buy an adorable little ceramic mug shaped like a boot. It was much stronger than vin chaud, and even more delicious! The food was also superb. First Julia and I split a bratwurst (Ein bratwurst bitte?), which was juicy and rich. Then, a little later, we split a thing of currywurst--sliced pork sausages drowned in a ketchup-curry mix. Of course, we didn't know that it was called currywurst. All we knew was that Germans were walking around us with paper plates of ketchup-y sausages and we wanted one. We hovered around a stand for a bit trying to figure out how to ask for it, since the stand didn't have any examples or pictures to point to. A rather embarrassing scene followed where we tried to explain what we wanted--the vendor actually clapped for us when the exchange was finished. Still, we came out of it with our delicious currywurst and a new appreciation for trilingual people.
We left the markets for a bit for a little bit of sightseeing. We visited the Basilica of Constantine, which had a really interesting backstory. It has been restored several times; for example, Frederick William IV had the building restored to its Roman state when we was king of Prussia, and then the building was burned during an air raid in World War II. Some of the displays said how it was deserved for the building to be damaged, thus paying some for the crimes committed by Nazi Germany. Interesting. We also saw the Trier Cathedral, the electoral palace, and the ruins of the Roman baths. We tried to see the ruins of the Roman amphitheater, but the site was closed due to ice. Later on we returned to the Cathedral to hear an organ concert--the room was dark, lit mostly by candles, and the organ played while a chorus sang along. Unfortunately, both Julia and I started nodding off during the concert so we left early to get dinner and wake up a little. Dinner = delicious oven-cooked pizzas. Mmm.
Eventually we all headed back to the train, where I picked up the nap I had begun in the Cathedral--I slept almost without interruption until I awoke to everyone going "Oooh, the ferris wheel!" as we rolled back into Metz.
Amazing food, better mulled wine, cheaper prices, and what seemed to be friendlier people...why didn't we all take German and move there? We had kind of started to wonder this to ourselves as we ventured throughout the city. Not to mention, the Germans actually clean up after their dogs! (Not something you really think about until you live in France and have to keep a constant eye on the sidewalk to avoid land mines. Andrew calls it doody duty.) I guess I think of it as France being the beautiful, high-maintenance girlfriend who is on a diet and has expensive taste vs. the friendly girl-next-door (appropriate, since we are currently neighbors) who would eat a bratwurst, drink a beer, and be willing to learn the rules of American football. Still, I like them both! Throughout the course of the day I tried to remember words I was learning, including numbers one through ten, so that sometime I could go back to Germany and feel like a little less of a know-nothing tourist.
Earlier that day I mentioned to Andrew how I hate feeling incompetent in a place where I don't know how to talk or read. "You're gonna love Poland then!" was his response. When we got back to Metz Julia couldn't find any trains home, so she stayed with me an extra night. We spent a lot of time last evening on YouTube looking up Polish 101 videos. I'd better start learning a few things before this weekend!