Sunday, December 4, 2011

Back to Aachen

Today we took our bikes on a seven-mile ride through the woods. It was cold, wet, and windy but the climate didn't detract from the beautiful scenery. I still can't believe I can ride my bike through the German forest on a Sunday afternoon.

While there are countless experiences to cherish, we are still dealing with challenges. We went back to Aachen yesterday to try and finish our Christmas shopping. It was another rainy, frigid, and windy day but we decided to act like real Germans and forge ahead despite the inclement forecast.

By now we know how to purchase our train tickets with little fanfare. As we were standing at the machine, a German woman approached us and asked if we needed help. We said yes, in the spirit of being polite. Instead of just talking us through the process, she stepped in front of us and started pressing buttons. She asked where we were going and my husband told her our destination.
"How many people you buying tickets for?" she asked.
Thinking the answer was obvious, my husband glanced at me and said, "Uhhmm, two. We're both going."
"Ah," she said thoughtfully. Then she began pressing the buttons in earnest.

The price came up on the screen and it was almost 16 Euro. We thanked her and she walked away, proud of herself for helping the clueless Americans. We assumed that this price was for two tickets to and from Aachen. We waited for the stubs as the machine buzzed. One ticket was produced. Once we checked it and realized it was for one person, we went back to the home screen to begin again. The woman approached questioningly.
"We needed two tickets. This is just one ticket," my husband said.
For a moment she looked confused and then shrugged her shoulders and began walking in the opposite direction. I appreciate her effort but I think she might need to take some more English lessons before she attempts to offer assistance to foreigners.

Aachen was still beautiful, even without the sun shining. We fought through the rain and the crowds to find some nice gifts. We drank hot mulled wine, or gluhwin, for the second time. It's the perfect beverage for a German winter day.

We decided to try lunch at a recommended restaurant. We have searched in vain for typical Mexican food. When I say typical, I mean queso, enchiladas, and margaritas in salted-rim glasses.

The first sign that this might not be the place we were expecting was its location-- right beside a Pizza Hut. Upon entering, our ears were assaulted by loud American pop music. We found a seat near the bar and perused the menu. There were 'Ultimate Nachos' and even an entire page dedicated to 'California Cuisine.' I'm not sure what made those particular offerings California-style; the featured items included a club sandwich and a burger with avocado. Incidentally, we were at a different restaurant a few weeks ago and something was being served 'Florida-style.' It was just a basic pork dish... with peaches. I think they got their states confused because that clearly should have been 'Georgia-style.'

Anyway, this restaurant definitely felt American. If I closed my eyes, I could have been in a Chili's.

Despite having an extensive beverage list, we didn't see any margaritas. Undeterred, my husband asked the bartender if he could make one.

The bartender quickly looked from side-to-side, leaned down toward us, and quietly said, "I cannot make a margarita. I am sorry."

I'm beginning to think there's something illegal about margaritas here. That's the type of reaction we received the first time we asked for one at a "Mexican" restaurant in Sittard. We aren't sure why they can't be made. The bars are always stocked with tequila and all of the other required ingredients. We even Googled "Why don't they serve margaritas in Germany" to no avail.

Disappointed, we went with a mojito and some type of beer with tequila. We decided to find a different restaurant for actual food.

On the way to our new destination, we were singled out of the crowd by a man. He gestured us over and began speaking to us.

"Sorry, sorry, we speak English only."
"Ohhhhhh. Okay. Well. This place is for... how do you say in English... a place for good cause..."
"Charity?" my husband offered.
"No, no, not charity...."
"Fundraiser?" I asked.
"Well... you just go inside, okay? And you buy things."

We had no idea what this man meant, or why he wanted us to go through the archways in front of him, but we didn't hesitate. This type of situation frequently happens to us. I never wonder where we're being lead until we're already too far in to second-guess what we're doing.

As we walked into a large courtyard, we passed by a nun sitting on a stool and eating a piece of blueberry pie. She smiled and held up the pie. We smiled and nodded.

We saw a sign for some type of cafe so we followed it. When we arrived we realized that we were in a convent and this was some type of bake sale for donations.

Neither of us wanted a pie since we still hadn't eaten lunch so we silently and reverently made our way out of the convent and back onto the street.

Some of our experiences are so ridiculous. The summary of our day would be: We spent 10 Euro more than necessary for our train tickets because a German lady tried to help us. We mucked through the rain and wind at the Christmas market and drank some hot wine. Then we went to the Chili's of Aachen and astonished the bartender when we ordered margaritas. After that we passed a nun eating blueberry pie.

C'est la vie.

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