Began this post on Sunday…and I had a lot to say in bits of free time this week.
A couple of hours ago we arrived in Luxembourg, grabbed a quick lunch and then I started to re-explore the city with my travel companions. As we stood overlooking some of the city views, I realized that I’m feeling a little tired and this afternoon might be a nice time to rest and refresh myself for the week. I decided to be self-aware and take care. So, we made a plan to meet up at the parking garage and I set off in search of a cafe that I fell in love with last time I was exploring the city. Strangely enough, the weather was very similar when I visited last fall, overcast and drizzling, albeit a little colder. On that day, like today, a warm, cozy cafe with good music pumping was the place to be. After a few turns, I found the Konrad Cafe. It is just as I remember! I wish I could transport this place to everywhere I live, although then it might lose its novelty.
We arrived in Luxembourg just after lunch after a fun morning exploring the German city of Trier (pronounced Tree-air). It was a quick spin through the city. We stayed at a hotel in the city center that had a very reasonable rate and nice, clean rooms. The rooms were a little larger than the average German hotel. Last night we had dinner on the Marketplatz while admiring a beautiful sunset.
We wrapped up around 22:00 as the city bells were ringing. I’d read that these bells have rang every day for centuries to tell the city drunks it’s time to go home. Yes, Europe has some long traditions. After dinner we strolled through the city centre, paused to admire some nice courtyards and were walking at a relaxed pace when we heard a small explosion. My fight or flight instinct kicked in and I told my travel companions, “let’s go”. We began to speed up our pace on the 10 minute walk to the hotel. We avoided the city square and got home. When we entered the hotel lobby, I checked at the front counter and on Twitter to see if anything had happened. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, but, seriously, I didn’t want to risk getting caught in the middle of a bad situation. When I travel about now, I’m more alert than ever before. Honestly, being alert helps me feel like it’s still ok to be out and about. I read a blog recently that had some great advice on traveling safely in this changing world. One tip was to monitor your surroundings and always have an exit route mapped out. Once you make this a habit it becomes second nature and then you’re not as worried while you travel. So, like last night, I immediately knew where to go and how to get there without consulting a map. This is also helped by my increasingly good city navigational skills. Traveling around on my own has forced me to rely only on my self to pay attention to surroundings and get from point a to point b. Nice skills to build!
Trier was our destination for a few reasons. 1. I’ve had it on my list since a friend visited a while back and said it was great fun. 2. It’s in a part of Germany I’ve wanted to explore. 3. It’s too far for a day trip, so I wanted to combine it with another destination. On Saturday I went to Nurburgring to cheer on some friends who were racing in the Rad am Ring 24 hour mountain bike race. The race event was fantastic! Good enough to deserve its own post, so more about that later.
Then it was a quick drive to Trier – a winning combo. The drive from Nurburing to Trier is stunning. You’ll follow the Mosel during much of the route as you trace a winding highway through beautiful little country villages and herds of happy cows.
Trier itself is a small town. Touted to be the oldest city in Germany. Established in 12 BC, it housed a population of 40,000 making it one of the largest cities in Rome. Trier also claims the first Christian church in Germany and the birthplace of Karl Marx. As I reflected upon this later, I found it to be an odd trio. How one physical place could be the home of such diverse perspectives on life, society and humanity.
Trier has a rich collection of well-preserved roman ruins – some original and many rebuilt after the war. On the recommendation of a friend I’d thrown my Rick Steve’s guide into my Harley overnight roller bag. I read through it on the way to make a quick plan for our city tour.
Our experience was a great example of the best laid plans gone awry. In this case the reason was pretty odd – we started too early on a Sunday… One of my traveling habits is to accept the little city map that they usually offer at the hotel check-in. Then I’m not constantly consulting a phone while I’m walking about. It’s more relaxing, especially because I’m usually photographing with my Nikon and not my phone. During breakfast on Sunday, I traced out a route on the little map. The plan was to walk a counter clockwise path around the city sites. Our first stop was the amphitheater. At one time large enough to hold 16,000 people, the remaining structure is worth checking out. We didn’t go inside because we’d spent so much time looking through the fence that by the time the site opened we had seen enough.
The most interesting part of this stop was when I spotted some bumblebees mating on the sidewalk in front of the amphitheater. My inner entomologist came out and I got some great photos of them. My travel buddies were entertained by me kneeling on the ground for macro shots.
We continued on our route past the Roman museum and then through the city walls toward the imperial throne room / basilica – the largest roman ruin outside of Rome.
As we passed through the city gates we entered a lush green space dominated by a pink building ostentatiously looming above a reflecting pond. I read that this was the palace of the archbishop built in the 1700s as a wing on the basilica.
I felt a need to check the map and confirm that we were heading toward the roman imperial throne room. I was surprised to find it was actually connected to the pink building! It would be hard to find two more different architectural styles joined in one building. I much preferred the roman architecture.
The size of the imperial throne building is hard to describe. You’ll get a sense of it when you try to find me at the bottom of this picture. I’ll be the tiny ant you eventually find in the bottom middle.
The building is huge! Unfortunately we didn’t make it inside because on our first stop we were too early, then when we returned church was in service. I might go back another day.
We then proceeded to the nearby church which is the oldest Christian church in Germany. A beautiful structure. We explored inside and then the bells began to toll calling the parishioners for Sunday mass. We sat out front and enjoyed the Bells echoing through the square while watching the folks enter the church. Most came by foot, and some by bike.
As the mass preparations were underway, we walked toward Porta Nigra – the old city gate. The name means black gate and I read conflicting reports of why it has this name – either because it’s black from pollution, or from the fungus growing in the stone. Either way, it’s a nicely preserved structure and it’s worth the 4 euros entrance fee. His building was also at one time converted to a church. Ironic that Romans killed Christ, but eventually most of their structures were eventually co-opted by Christianity.
By now it was threatening rain, so it wasn’t a bad time for our final stop, which was to visit the birthplace and childhood home of Karl Marx. Honestly, I didn’t know much about communism before entering the museum. I probably wouldn’t have gone inside but one of my travel buddies is originally from China and he was very excited to explore the house. He was even kind enough to pay entry fees for all of us and we also were given English language audio guides. All the displays are in German language with some Chinese translations.
The museum is hugely popular with Chinese tourists and I saw more than I’ve seen in all of Germany so far. The museum does a great job exploring the life of Karl Marx and his legacy. I couldn’t help but think he left a sad legacy – a trail of death and disillusionment in his wake. My Chinese travel colleague left China to live in the US largely because of communists ideals and how much they limit freedom. As he described it the fundamental precepts of communism are not accurate and it’s a failed ideology. I picked up a copy of the Original Communist Manifesto to read and understand for myself an ideology that once held such a strong grip on the world and still causes much suffering even today. I would recommend to check out the museum which had a rich collection of images and texts putting into context many key historical events. It reminded me a little of the experience in the Museo Picasso which also was exclusively focused on one remarkable individuals contributions to society.
As we walked out of the museum rain began to fall and it matched my mood, which was now contemplative and a little sad. Contemplating the rich history of this place and all the people who have lived along the Mosel. Sad because of the legacy of communism and the influence one persons ideas can have on society. Mostly though I was sleepy and a little annoyed that both my umbrella and my rain coat were in the hotel room… Oh well, next time I’ll be better prepared for rain, which happens nearly every day in Germany, in case you wondered if the rumor is true…