In which our heroines investigate Roman ruins, discuss theology-based card games, and fail to see the wolf.
Monday, August 25th – Trier
Yesterday was our day in Trier, though it really started the night before. We reached the youth hostel and discovered that they had put us on the second floor in the wing that has no lifts – and no chivalrous Frenchmen around to carry bags! My friend, who became fascinatingly more assured and assertive the moment she crossed the border into Germany – explained to the people at the desk that we simply could not go one staircase further with these bags, and they found someone to help us with them. (Re-reading this, I sound straight out of the 1920s or something. But oh Lord, you have no idea how exhausted we were, and how heavy our bags had become!)
Incidentally, speaking of crossing the border into Germany, as soon as we crossed the border, I took a deep breath and spoke my first sentence in German in some years… we had been speaking English in Norway, and mostly French in France, which was kind of ridiculous on the one hand, since it isn’t a first language for either of us – but equally, I didn’t want to give my friend language soup by making her switch between two foreign languages, because this has quite a hellish effect on one’s brain. I’m terrified of speaking German, because I know enough of the grammar to be horribly aware of all the mistakes I’m making, but not enough to fix them… My friend smiled a very small, but very happy, smile, and answered – also in German – and from then on, we at least attempted to hold all our conversations in German. Which was a *trial*, let me tell you! My vocabulary is not up to this!
Anyway, it was quite late, so we went out to dinner which is where I encountered the aforementioned cheese volcano, which was something that actually went by the name of Turkey Melba – as a Melbournian, a former PLC girl, and a singer, I felt it was my patriotic duty to try it.
Sometimes, patriotism takes us to strange places. Picture, if you will, a turkey schnitzel, topped with half a tinned peach. Now cover this with a veritable lava-flow of cheese Bearnaise sauce (why, you may well ask? This is a question for which I have no answer). Then you serve it with some token overcooked broccoli, and deep fried potato croquettes. Welcome to Germany! Please leave your cholesterol at the door!
(And yes, four pages of the menu were devoted to pork).
I won’t lie – it tasted great, for a measure of fantastic that is all about the cheese and the deep-fried goodness, though it was *begging* for a nice, acidic, fresh salad, but dear God, I could *feel* it taking years off my life.
But the hot, honeyed Slivovitz they gave us for dessert really was wonderful.
Then we went home and we slept, and it was good.
Yesterday, we got up a little late, and had a very scary youth hostel breakfast (beware the vegetarian alternatives to liverwurst! Beware!), before venturing forth into Trier to look at Roman ruins.
We started with the Amphitheatre, which is actually pretty intact and surprisingly oval.
The seats are now covered with a carpet of grass, but the arena itself is complete, as are the little chambers from which the animals would have emerged.
I stood in the centre and tried to imagine what it would have looked like when it was full of people.
This was less difficult than I would have thought.
We also speculated on where the important people would have sat.
As a good Aussie girl, I immediately assumed they would be sitting at the narrow ends of the oval – so that they could look down the wicket, you see – but my friend was not entirely sure about my logic on this one.
We could also go under the arena to see the space there – though I am sadly unclear as to what it was for.
Next, we went to have a look at the baths, which were started on a grand scale, but never finished.
I was fascinated by all the stripes of red and white brick – not something I’ve seen before in Roman ruins (perhaps because most ruins I’ve seen are less intact? Or less German? Germany has a lot of red sandstone).
Again, we could go below and look at where the hypocausts were.
We also watched enviously as children participated in the ‘life of a gladiator’ program, which made us wish we were much younger. Or had nieces or nephews to take with us…
Next on our list was the basilica, where the Emperor Constantine lived.
Exciting stuff, especially as it, too, was unusually intact. (The roof was new, having been bombed during the war, and I think the windows, too – as my friend put it ‘The twentieth century was not very window-friendly’)
Oh deary me. Did I say intact? Well, it was, sort of, but at some point the Bishop’s Palace was put on the front of it. A pink one.
With gold and white roccoco flourishes, extremely dubious statues of nude men hunting wild boar, with sensibly-clad sphinxes watching them.
It was astonishingly awful, and I want to redecorate my house to look just like it.
The basilica itself is now a church. It’s quite impressive – there aren’t too many Roman buildings still standing and in livable condition, so that’s pretty cool.
After lunch, we moved on to the religious part of our program. My friend recommended the Liebfraukirche, which is very, very beautiful – Gothic, and then renovated and redecorated by pre-Raphaelites, who had made a beautiful War Memorial adorned with pseudo-medieval angels. This was a very harmonious combination. And speaking of harmonious, we could hear the hours being sung in the distance, which was lovely.
And then we went into the cathedral, which is a building that certainly inspires one to say things like ‘oh dear God’, generally followed by ‘what were they thinking‘.
The oldest part of the cathedral was built in Roman times, apparently by Saint and Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, so there are nice, wide, solid Roman arches (and a relic of the Holy Robe, brought here by St Helena herself). Then it was improved and enlarged and updated in the Romanesque style, with more arches, these ones a little bit narrower, and you can see in the brickwork where they overlaid the original design.
This was all very well, until someone else came along and decided what we needed here was some Gothic, with lots of pointy bits, including much pointier arches.
The next wave was black marble. Everywhere. This wouldn’t have been a good idea even if it had harmonised with the rest.
Then someone threw a whole lot of Baroque at one wall, along with a rather handsome floating organ, and someone else added pink and white roccoco cherubs to the reliquary area.
And after that, they stopped. Thank goodness.
I’ve been to many, many churches in Europe, and often you get style piled on style in a way you’d never get in Australia, and they merge together and it’s all beautiful.
Alas, this was not beautiful. It was, in fact, stupendously ugly. But – weirdly enough – it also has an absolutely lovely atmosphere. You go in there and you feel welcome, and at peace, and you have this wonderful sense of age and stability. But it’s probably best to keep your eyes shut – or look at the walls and rejoice in reading the architectural history in the arches.
The crypt and the cloister are, after all this, refreshingly united in Gothic harmony. We rested our eyes with great relief.
We had been invited to afternoon tea by a scholar of Roman history, who happened to be an old family friend of my friend. She was very kind, and told us many things, which, alas, I did not follow very well! Sadly, she could not tell us when and how the Porta Nigra became so black.
And then we drove back to Mainz and Wackernheim with my friend’s mother, for a very late meal of tomato soup, bread and cheese.
And so to bed.
Wednesday, August 27th
The last two days have been fairly quiet ones. My friend has picked up a cold, and we were both pretty exhausted from our energetic efforts to explore all of France and Norway in a fortnight! Also, I’ve been trying to speak German, which tends to give me a headache.
Yesterday, we went to brunch with some of my friend’s theology colleagues, which was great fun. They were most taken with Credo, a card game about the Council of Nicaea, which I had brought to show them (a game with, admittedly, limited appeal to the general public – but of very, very intense appeal to a select few, and we were definitely of this few). Brunch went for five hours.
We then passed a very domestic afternoon doing washing, visiting the post office, and buying food at the local farm shops, before cooking dinner with my friend’s mother. Finally, I got to play in a kitchen again.
Today, my friend had an appointment in the morning, so I decided to revisit the Roman temple of Isis, which can be found in a shopping centre in Mainz.
I can’t possibly say that sentence often enough. It just makes me so happy that history is so ubiquitous in Europe that one might start to build a shopping centre, and find a Roman temple underneath it – but rather than cancelling the shopping centre, one just builds around the temple and has an archaeological dig downstairs, which eventually becomes a museum. Of course it does.
I’ve been to this museum before, but it’s still amazing. It’s a combination of archeological remains in place, re-constructed jewelry, pottery and inscriptions from the temple, and an audiovisual display describing life in the time of the Romans. I love the way they have the constellations as they would have been for the coronation of Vespasian. I’ve actually read a novel featuring him since I was last in Germany, so I felt much better acquainted with him.
My friend then talked me into buying cookbooks, which is really a case of preying on the weak and helpless in a most shocking fashion, and then we went to my friend’s mother’s house for lunch – with Bratkartoffeln! Both my friend and her mother are bemused that I get so excited about Bratkartoffeln. Surely everyone makes Bratkartoffeln? But then what do you do with your leftover potatoes?
(what leftover potatoes?)
After lunch, my friend was determined to show me wolves and woods, so we went to a local wildlife reserve, where we saw wildcats, lynxes and deer. Alas, we did not see the wolves – but, as my friend said, they certainly saw us.
And then we went for a walk in the wood, but my friend’s cold was getting worse and worse, so we gave up on that and instead went home for an early evening, singing practice for me, and reset for my friend.
And dinner. And lots and lots of talking, because that’s what always happens when my friend and I are under the same roof… even if we have been travelling together for the better part of two weeks and one of us has a cold!
And so to bed.