Welcome to the hub of Europe, circa 800 AD: Aachen, Germany. Aachen is the city of Charlemagne, the coronation spot of centuries of German kings, and sits bumper-to-bumper with both the Netherlands and Belgium. The town has been a spa destination since Roman times courtesy of some hot springs (still the site of some fancy baths today—though we saved that for another visit).
We zipped over by train (about 3 hours) from Delft for two days/one night to catch the very end of the Christmas market in Aachen. Each of the past two years we’ve visited a market (or 4) in December (several in Germany in 2009 and Salzburg, Austria, in 2010) and enjoyed the outdoor wintery atmosphere in the old cities. The first year, in Rothenburg and Nurnberg especially, we bought a bunch of stuff: straw ornaments and wooden smokers and lebkuchen cookies. In Salzburg and Aachen we didn’t really shop much, mainly because we didn’t see as many handmade or unique items. But fear not: we ate our share of bratwurst and drank some gluhwein and cocoa. (Dietarily, it was a weird 48 hours.) If you’ve never been to one of these markets, there are hot beverages available and they come in mugs designed each year for that town’s market. Usually the beverage is 2-3 Euros, and then there is a 2-3 Euro deposit on the mug. You can return it and get your deposit back, or keep the mug as a souvenir.
Aachen’s compact city center is dominated by one massive building: the Aachener Dom, Aachen Cathedral. The octagonal core of this building, known as the Palatine Chapel, dates to the rule of Charlemagne. When he died in 814, he was buried here.
The cathedral that grew up through the Middle Ages around this original chapel is dedicated to Mary and is still an important pilgrimage site in the Catholic faith. Every seven years (next in 2014) pilgrims swarm into Aachen and certain relics are displayed.
The most surprising thing, to me, upon stepping into the cathedral was how absolutely covered it is in mosaics.
Back outside, we saw rain but not snow, and enjoyed the streets and shops decorated for Christmas.
Now we’re back in Delft. It’s Christmas Eve and there’s food in the oven. The TNT postman just dropped off a package from the States. We’re off to church in a little while. Merry Christmas to you, wherever you’re reading this—we wish you a meaningful day with family and friends! Fijne Kerst!