Saturday, December 24, 2011

Aachen, Amsterdam, and Christmas Eve

We've been very busy the past few days! I wanted my sister to see a Christmas market so we decided to go to Aachen Tuesday. We woke up bright and early and had a filling breakfast to prepare for our day of shopping and excitement. I was apprehensive because this was my first time negotiating the train schedules on my own. I checked and double-checked the departure time and we arrived with ten minutes to spare. My sister asked if we had time to grab coffee and I said, "Oh no. The schedule says the train will be here at 10:30 and the one thing you should know about German trains is that they are NEVER late."

10:30 came and went. I was confused and assumed I read the schedule wrong when suddenly a voice boomed from the intercom. All I fully understood was the first word: Information. The voice spoke for about a minute and when the announcement was over, the other people waiting sighed and expressed annoyance. It was safe for me to conclude that the train was late.

The weather was rainy and cold, as it has been for the past two weeks. We decided to wait inside since it was a little warmer. This brings me to another interesting observation about Germans. It seems as if they do lots of things in silence. I've been to several grocery stores with no music piping over the speakers. Waiting for trains is also achieved soundlessly. I'm not a quiet person by nature but I never realized how much I enjoy talking until moving here. I wanted to pass the time by speaking with my sister but I felt so uncomfortable breaking the stillness in the room. Eventually we went back outside, braving the damp chill so we could at least whisper quietly without suffering reproachful looks from those who wanted to stand in repose.

We waited another 15 minutes. I kept thinking we must have missed the train somehow. The Information Voice called out to us several more times. Everyone grew more and more agitated (silently, of course) with each announcement.

Suddenly we all heard a train in the distance. Ears perked up and people began peering over the edge of the platform. When it became clear that the train was facing toward Aachen, a low murmur of excitement spread through the crowd. The train was on the other side of the station and when it stopped, people began running toward the stairs to get across. Some even hopped over the train tracks, shuffling over the rocks. It was the oddest stampede I have ever witnessed. At least 50 people galloping through a train station, and the only sound came from the pounding of shoes on pavement. No one yelled, shrieked, or even breathed loudly.

We followed the absurd legion to the other side and then came to a complete standstill as one man (somehow chosen) boarded the train to find out if it was going to Aachen. We waited, mutely, and he emerged moments later to inform us that this was not the correct train.

Of course, I only knew this because a collective sigh arose and everyone around us began trudging back to the stairs to return to our original waiting area.

By this time, the train was an hour past due.

We were only there for a few minutes more when the whole scenario was played out again. We heard a train approaching. It was going to stop on the other side. Once more, people dashed madly toward the stairs, and some bravely leapt over the tracks. Finally, this was our train.

The journey after that was uneventful. We had a nice time at the market even though the weather was dismal. My sister liked Aachen very much and I was happy to have gotten us there and back in one piece.

My sister's time here is nearing its end. I definitely wanted to show her my favorite city so we made our way back to Amsterdam on Saturday. It's such a great city for wandering. All of the streets are so beautiful and unique and it's been one of the only European cities (so far) that make me feel truly foreign.

My sister was able to see everything we've seen and, as it turns out, a little more. One of our final stops before dinner was to the Red Light District. My original opinion of the area was that it's overrated. I was wrong. This time, we decided to turn down a side street. Almost immediately, things looked different. The narrow alley was softly illuminated by a ruby glow. As we approached, the walls seemed to get tighter and I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I turned slightly to focus on the object and realized it was a woman.

She was young and very pretty, clad in gaudy lingerie. All of them were. I suddenly felt ashamed. Obviously I have no purpose to walk through the Red Light District, other than to gawk and stare at a way of life I will never experience and can't possibly understand. I felt bad for them. I can't imagine what their lives are actually like. What a different view they must have looking at the streets from inside their tiny boxes. It was unsettling.

Our first Christmas Eve in Germany has been very nice! We made gingerbread men, rice pudding, and minced meat pie. We also went on a long and challenging bike ride to justify all of the holiday food we'll be eating.

Fireworks have been going off in our neighborhood for the past few hours. I wonder if it's a Christmas Eve tradition here. Back home, we only set off them off on the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve. I guess any reason for fireworks is a good one. At least it proves that sometimes Germans do get loud and rowdy.

Frohe Weihnachten!


  1. No actually it is not a tradition. But some people get all exited about getting it, so they can't wait till New Year's Eve.

    Frohe Weihnachten!

  2. Rike, thank you for clarifying! Last night at exactly midnight, all of our neighbors also began honking their car horns simultaneously.

    I hope your holidays are happy!

  3. I think your neighbors are weird :)
    Oh and if you ever need a document to be translated, just send it to me, but better over Facebook, because I hardly ever check my emails.

  4. haha, I was thinking the same thing but I didn't want to say it!

    I'm going to send you a friend request on Facebook!