Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"God bless America! And Michael Phelps!"

The next morning was spent at the Thursday market in Sittard. The produce, fish, flowers, and bread are excellent there and the prices are unbeatable. We sipped coffee and people-watched for a couple hours and then took a stroll around the stalls.

After Sittard we moved on to Gangelt. There isn't much to say about this tiny village except that there is a cafe near the Wildlife Park that serves Bananenweizen. This is one of the first beers I drank when we moved here and it remains one of the most refreshing and unique. It sounds like a weird combination, but it's an Erdinger (or any Weissbier) mixed with chilled banana juice. It's definitely not a beer to pound back one after another but it sure is nice to languidly sip one or two on a blisteringly hot day.

Next stop was Tongeren, Beligum's oldest city. I wanted my friends to see all of the old Roman sites and the Tongeren Basilica, another of my favorite churches. The other excuse for going to Tongeren is to drop by its oldest pub, Cafe Rembrandt. We were taken there during our first month here by some great people who have, unfortunately, moved back to the states. But I think of them every time we sit down in the ancient-walled pub with its small, unsuspecting bar and creaky booths. It's perfect.

I'm always excited to see the owner there. He's very friendly and eager to suggest beers. I wanted my friends to try at least one Trappist beer while they were here. They selected wisely with Rochefort 10s. I always have the same at Cafe Rembrandt-- St. Bernardus. The owner came by several times to chat with us and offer samples of other beers. When he brought some cubes of cheese to complement the beers, he asked us if we knew why Belgians like to sprinkle the cheese with celery salt. We didn't have any ideas and he gleefully enlightened us by shouting, "It improves the sex drive, of course!"

We were having too much fun to leave so we decided to eat dinner there. I've now eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the cafe and all of the food is great. As we were finishing our meals an old man appeared with a toolbox. He and the owner exchanged pleasantries and then set to work bolting a donation box to the wall beside the bathroom for non-customers' use. He explained that the box was salvaged from an old church and he seemed very excited to have it in his possession.

The donation suggestion is 50-cents. As soon as the box was on the wall, he and the handyman stood back and admired their work. After our plates were cleared away, he brought each of us a 50-cent piece and then bowed theatrically as he said, "Please ladies, be the first ones to put a donation in the box!" We were so excited to have this 'honor' bestowed upon us and we posed for several photos as we dropped the coins.

The day was coming to a close and we'd already spent almost four hours at the cafe so it was definitely time to say our goodbyes. After we paid the bill, the owner closed the cash register with a bang, smiled broadly, and said, "God bless America! And Michael Phelps!" And with that, we were on our way back home.

The next day was the last day of my friends' visit. I don't think anyone should leave this part of Germany without seeing the Dom in Cologne so we made that our final destination. The Dom is spectacular and it literally takes your breath away when you see it rising in front of you. This was my first time taking the 533 stairs to the top. The view is obstructed by fencing and graffiti is plastered all over the gargoyles and spires. That was definitely disappointing. But it was still pleasant to see the Rhine's lazy meander through the landscape and the breeze was very welcome since it was such a hot day.

I must say that the climb to the top of the Dom wasn't as fun as going to the top of the New Church in Delft. The views are incomparable because Cologne is a more modern city now since much of it was destroyed during the war. Gazing down over Delft's red-tiled roofs and charming scenery is like looking at a beautiful and perfect painting. But you should still make the climb to the top of the Dom when you go.

More steps to climb!

Dom's Spires
We visited the Treasury after our climb and it was as interesting to me the second time around as it was the first. I love looking at all of the reliquaries and artifacts. The collection is very impressive and it really makes you feel as if you're walking back in time.

We were at the Dom most of the day and then we spent a nice couple hours walking along the river and stopping for ice cream.

My friends couldn't have chosen a more perfect week to visit. The weather was astoundingly beautiful during the entire time they were here. It was really hot most days and I don't think it rained once. We were able to go to three countries in just over a week and I can't imagine a better vacation than that!

My brother will be arriving next and I can hardly wait! He will be here for two weeks so we'll have plenty of time to eat, drink, and wander.

After my friends left, my husband returned home from being away for a month. We took a breather for a few days and then packed our bags for Croatia!

We just arrived home yesterday. It was certainly an interesting trip and I can't wait to tell you about it!

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