Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The worst hangover food in the world

Let's go back in time a bit to my trip to Rouen, all the way back in February (where does the time go?) Last time, I shared with you the wholesome sightseeing and gastronomic explorations we got up to, but we all know a girls' weekend isn't a girls' weekend without a few shenanigans.

We managed to head out quite early by our standards (thus avoiding the torturous search for a restaurant that was still serving after 10 pm that we had in Nantes), and for some reason ended up in a "ham cave" (sounds slightly classier in French). Unsure why, since in general I don't really like ham, but it's true that if I'm going to have ham, I do quite like the fancy Spanish variety (champagne tastes and all). I think we were mostly attracted by the cute pig logo and the opportunity to just graze a bit rather than eating a big meal. We ordered a cheese and a charcuterie platter, which looked quite small, but we were there for literally hours snacking away and didn't finish either of them, despite them both being very good.

As the night wore on, the restaurant got emptier and emptier until it was just us (caterwauling away to Bohemian Rhapsody) and the table next to us. We kept thinking "we're okay to stay as long as there's one other table, we're not bothering the staff" until eventually we realised that the other table were their mates. Luckily by this time we'd managed to make friends with the waiter, and much like our trip to Toulouse, the doors were locked and soon the free drinks were flowing with our new chums. Why do we only seem to end up best mates with bartenders on holiday though?

Awww, heart! I tried to do the heart symbol but it interpreted it as broken HTML and wouldn't let me

There were many, many blurry selfies

It took me quite some time to understand this photo the first time I saw it on my tiny camera screen. Who's the blonde?

Making new friends
After a little playing on the dumbwaiter connecting the restaurant with the cellar, it was time to hit a club with our new friends. Fun was had, and then at some point around 3 or 4 am, we very sensibly decided to head home. Problem being that we had no idea where we were, and I'm not convinced we didn't just head off in a random direction for quite some time before it occurred to us to consult a map. After a slight unbloggable detour involving a spot of light party-crashing, we managed to find our way back to the hotel by about 7 am, by which time I'd been awake for more than 24 hours, so a wee lie-down was much appreciated. Liz was rather out of sorts the next day, but I managed to be up and about by lunch time and actually wasn't feeling that bad.

That is, I wasn't feeling that bad until I discovered the Worst Hangover Food in the World...

As my mum is fond of remarking, I was quite the little meat-eater as a child. Times have changed, and I no longer enjoy big bits of meat like a steak or whatever, but I still like to think of myself as quite an open-minded gourmand who'll try pretty much anything. Part of the legend of little Gwan the Carnivore involved my alleged love of sucking the marrow out of lamb chops, an activity I haven't indulged in in many a year. But when I saw that the one of the choices of entrée on the menu prix fixe was bone marrow, I kind of thought, "I wouldn't normally order bone marrow, but since it's on the set menu, this is an opportunity to give it a go". I was slightly put off by the British woman on the next table loudly remarking (to her partner) that bone marrow was supposedly "like dog food" (seriously, this woman spent the whole meal complaining about things, particularly the fact that it wasn't fair that Liz's crème brûlée had a proper crust on it and hers didn't), but I forged ahead.

Bear in mind that with a lamp chop, you generally get a teeny tiny bit of pretty well-cooked marrow. I wasn't quite expecting that, but I think I had in mind a neat little terrine of something resembling foie gras. The reality was quite different...

Sooo much marrow... What are those, ox bones??
As soon as it was put in front of me, I knew it was a grave mistake. I think all I could say for the first five minutes was "oh my God, oh my God". Just looking at it was making me sick. Liz told me afterwards that the sight of it seriously almost made her vomit as well, although she was quite the little soldier in not revealing that to me at the time. Not so the Brit on the next table, who felt free to make several uncomplimentary remarks on the topic (not sure whether she didn't realise we spoke English or she thought we couldn't hear her, but wrong on both counts).

Still, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and cautiously dipped the spoon into one of the bones. It got even worse. It emerged from the bone as a quivering, wibbly lump. Suppressing the urge to hurl, I cautiously spread a small amount on my bread and took a bite. It tasted just like pure fat, with a greasy, jelly-like, tongue-coating texture. The small bite pictured in the photo was all I managed, but unfortunately, since I obviously wasn't progressing through the dish, the waiter didn't come to remove it until I eventually went to the bathroom around half an hour later and he spied his chance. So that was half an hour of Liz and I valiantly trying not to look that monstrosity in the eye lest we be sick.

On the bright side, the meal finished with the best moelleux au chocolat that I've ever had, but bone marrow: Never. Again.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cologne cathedral and the Romano-Germanic museum

I don't know if I have that much to say really (cue very long post), but I had too many photos to put up on the other post without boring you all, so here goes.

As noted in my last post, Cologne was pretty much destroyed in World War Two, leaving the cathedral as more or less the only significant old landmark in the city. So we ended up spending quite a lot of time in and around it - first attempting a visit on Friday, when it was mostly shut for Mass (who goes to Mass on Friday evening?), then looking around on Saturday before having to go back to the hotel to watch qualifying with the intent of visiting the crypt on Sunday, except it was closed again until 1 pm, so we just took some photos since there was a blue sky for a change.

I wasn't blown away, to be honest. The outside is quite impressive, but also quite dark, and the inside is even darker. All the windows are modern (in fact the whole thing was only finished in the 19th century, after being half-completed for some 400 years), with most of them bright and attractive, but a pastiche of medieval style. It's also too crowded - according to Wikipedia, it's the most visited tourist site in Germany, attracting an incredible 20,000 visitors per day. There were certainly enough people milling about in early April, so I'd hate to be there in the middle of August.

Cologne cathedral

Hey, looks like that guy's drinking Starbucks coffee. Let's shame him!
Now that's a cool stained-glass window. Apparently the Archbishop didn't attend the unveiling, because he would have preferred a depiction of 20th-century Catholic martyrs. This is proof that archbishops have no taste.

One thing Cologne Cathedral does have going for it, though, is the world's most amazing and spectacular ceiling fresco. Move over Monkey Jesus, there's a new masterpiece in town. To say I was excited to document this chef d'oeuvre was something of an understatement. Forget what I said in the last post about Cologne not being a must-see destination and drop everything to wonder at who let a troupe of artistically-challenged school-children decorate the (up to) 800 year-old ceiling of Germany's most visited site. (My money's on the philistine archbishop.)

The best fresco ever

That time a small Peruvian woman dressed up as King Solomon

A touching memorial to traumatised choirboys everywhere

Caw! Caw! That eagle is definitely swooping in for the attack on the cowardly lion. Not for the first time on the blog, something reminds me of the epic Moa vs. Haast's Eagle animatronic battle that used to be at Auckland Museum (RIP André the Giant Eagle, we hardly knew ye)

It was like this, but better

And here we have Gregory the Great as Sad Cartman. Standing over the corpse of the Spirit of Jazz from the Mighty Boosh?

Two enthusiastic thumbs up from me
And now for some jumbled photos I forgot to upload last time:

Finally some nice weather

A park and the TV tower. Weirdly reminds me of the Japanese gardens in Monaco

The Rhine
I uploaded the photos the wrong way round (not that it matters): we actually visited the Romano-German museum first thing on Saturday morning. Getting to the advanced age where I need all my energies to tackle a museum, and even then I was looking forward to lunch and a sit-down by the end. We made the rookie mistake of taking too long studiously reading every label in the downstairs part (mostly full of pottery and tools etc.), and then being a bit over it by the time we got upstairs, which actually had a lot of cool jewellery and statutes.

That said, overall it was a good museum. The stand-out is definitely the large, detailed and amazingly intact Dionysus mosaic, around which the museum was actually built (it being easier to do that than to try to move it). One thing I liked was that there's a huge picture window in the side of the museum, allowing people in the square by the cathedral above to look down at the museum without coming in. Maybe that's just clever advertising, but it seemed like a generous and inclusive gesture. I would say, though, that it is actually worth shelling out to see the mosaic in more detail. The figurative scenes are really lovely and the patterns are impressively complex. It reminded me of being forced to tessalate things in maths class - one of those activities which you think could never be of any possible use to anyone, and since I'm not likely to be called on to create a mosaic anytime soon, probably won't be. Still, amazing to think the planning and skill that must have gone into it, all the way on the fringes of the Empire.

Aww, these little fishies look so happy

Now I'm annoyed I didn't crop off the grey bit at the top, but can't be bothered correcting it

The Dionysus mosaic

There were several depictions of birds pulling mini sledges or performing other tasks

The Dionysus mosaic was discovered while building air-raid shelters in 1941. The museum didn't say when this mosaic was found, but it was from "the villa next door", so presumably at the same time. Can you imagine how excited the Nazis must have been? Probably saw it as a sign from divine providence, suckers.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Cologne weekend

I spent an age trying to think of a clever Cologne pun for the blog title. "Oh de Cologne", "Colognie de vacances", "Eau, to be in Cologne" (French puns, haut cinq!), "Colovely, not Colognely". Clearly, I failed hard. And Cologne is not all that colovely anyway.

So try to swallow your bitter disappointment at not being treated to a pun (I know, I know, it's hard, but my Dad will probably be along in the comments to suggest something) and let's forge ahead with the substance of today's post. That being, this weekend's impromptu trip to Cologne.

Why Cologne? It turns out it's only about 2 1/2 hours' drive from Luxembourg, and I'd heard nice things about the cathedral, so it was the perfect choice for a spontaneous weekend away. Even just typing "spontaneous weekend away" makes me happy, and it's definitely one of the fringe benefits of living/working somewhere there are 5+ countries within a few hours' drive (Luxembourg, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland...) Really, it's hard to find a better argument for living in Europe than that you can travel so easily to another country with a different language, food, culture and history. That goes double for those of us who come from a small island country which is about as far away from everywhere else as you can possibly get. Drive 2 1/2 hours from Auckland and you end up in Tokoroa:

The 10th result in Google images for "Tokoroa"

In case you think the other top results were full of hidden gems: police, fights, carparks, fields, a weird tree, a cow and a statue of a guy with a chainsaw which is notable enough to appear 3 times

At first glance, however, Cologne doesn't appear to have much more charm than the mean streets of Tokoroa. After parking in Europe's longest underground parking garage (I was told to put that in) (despite taking a photo of our lot, we managed to walk about 600 metres in the wrong direction when retrieving the car - the whole thing is nearly 2.5 miles long), and checking in to our lovely hotel on the banks of the Rhine, we headed out to see what Cologne had to offer early on a Friday evening. Wandering around the deceptively-named old city, it looked like pretty much everything had been bombed to oblivion and rebuilt c. 1965. This turns out to be not too inaccurate - Cologne was effectively razed in World War II, so other than the cathedral, something of a lone survivor from the bombing raids, we were struggling to find much to look at as we wandered through the city in search of a promising-looking cocktail bar that ended up to be non-existent. I spent an inderminate amount of this period, by the way, walking with my skirt inexplicably hiked all the way up at the back. Not tucked into my knickers or anything, it just somehow decided to head north of its own volition. Mortifying.

View from our hotel room, with bunny

In front of the Colonius TV tower

Oh hai! It's Jules

Friend, head friend

It was fine though, we managed to grab a cocktail at a tapas bar that was too full to eat at, and had dinner at what looked like a classy art-deco-style restaurant from the outside but which turned out to be a touristy German beer-hall on the inside. But hey, while in Germany, why not do the cheesy thing and chow down on some Wiener schnitzel and super salty fries (even if those are Austrian and Belgian respectively), washed down with French wine? Authentic!

The next day, we visited the Roman museum and the cathedral (separate post to follow), and had lunch and dinner at separate spots next to the Rhine. I think it's fair to say that Cologne grew on me a little more on further acquaintance. The museum was interesting, even if museum fatigue set in a bit towards the end; it was pleasant eating flammekueche outside on the banks of the Rhine while I basically stared at a guy on another table while trying to eavesdrop on enough of his conversation to determine whether or not he was a fellow Kiwi, and we had a nice dinner accompanied by champagne and some surprisingly half-decent German red wine. The banks of the Rhine have been developed in a nicer way than much of the rest of the city - there's that (somewhat generic) modernist style that's common to many port areas around the world, but it works well and certainly feels a cooler place to hang out than some of the fairly grim urban neighbourhoods we walked through on the Friday. I also had a bath while drinking wine (that's got to be in my top ten favourite activities) and we watched the F1, which are not Cologne-dependent pursuits, but which were fun nonetheless.

On Sunday, we were planning to visit the cathedral crypt and/or the chocolate museum (whose giant golden bunny, visible from our hotel room, had been luring Jules to a frankly inappropriate degree), but it turns out Cologne gets up fashionably late on a Sunday, so we wouldn't really have had time to wait around for them to open up. Instead, we made the most of the blue skies and sunshine to walk around the city a little more, in a quest for Sunday brunch that took way longer than it should have (the place we found online didn't start serving until 11 am, and everywhere else just had people drinking coffee or beer - they might rise late in Cologne, but they start drinking super early: there was an impressive collection of really quite drunk people out and about from around 7 pm on Friday). We finally got our bacon and eggs (me) and sausages and gross lard spread (Jules) and enjoyed the last of the sunshine before heading back to Luxembourg. (This trip was my first autobahn experience, by the way. Mum will probably be horrified that we were going up to 140 kph, but it didn't actually feel that fast.)

Jules and the evil chocolate bunny

Just look at that smug bunny face
So it was a really nice weekend, but I'm not sure I'd recommend Cologne for anyone's must-see list. I think, to be fair, there were quite a few museums and other sites of interest that we didn't get around to, so by all means it's not a bad place to spend a weekend, just perhaps not the world's most charming city. It was interesting for me as well being somewhere where I don't speak the language, but with someone who does. Usually it's me translating for people who don't speak French, or just muddling by on my own with the few words of Italian or Spanish or Russian (etc.) that I do know. Jules is practically a native German speaker though (technically a native Luxembourgish speaker, but I'm not entirely convinced that's a real language), so I spent quite a bit of time sitting there feeling like a bit of an idiot while waiters and hotel staff (very politely) directed conversation in German to both of us and I pestered Jules for translations of the menu. I did take great pleasure in reading random signs etc. in my best German accent though!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A little bit Frencher

Photo: Heading out to vote in France for the first time! 

"Voting is a right. It is also a civic duty" - so it says on the French electoral card. The problem being, I basically don't have the right to vote pretty much anywhere. New Zealand is holding elections this year, but because I haven't been back home in the last three years, I can't vote in them. I can't vote in British elections because, bar a few months here and there, I've never been a resident, and I can't vote in French national elections because I'm not a citizen.

So that leaves the local French elections, and the EU elections, and I duly signed up to have my say. It doesn't bother me so much that I can't vote at home - I know who I'd vote for (or, rather, against - bye bye John Key), but I don't really bother keeping up with what's happening, and it doesn't seem that fair to expect a say in what's going on in a country I haven't set foot in for 4 1/2 years. Still less in the case of Britain: I may be a citizen, and probably actually know a bit more of the current events there since I read The Guardian religiously, but as I said, I've never really lived there and have no real plans to do so. But it does bother me having no influence on policies in France that affect my daily life. It doesn't seem fair that the French living permanently in London or wherever get the right to vote, but people living here legally for years can't. And if the threatened UK referendum on whether to stay in the EU ever does go ahead, I seriously hope I get a vote on that!

Now, hypocritically, given what I just said about wanting to influence policies that affect me, I don't really follow French politics that closely either. If it doesn't crop up in the free newspapers that I read on the train in the morning, basically I won't know about it. So it was a rather underinformed Gwan who toddled off to a local primary school on Sunday morning to cast my vote for the next mayor of Metz. I hadn't bothered looking into anyone's policies, so my strategy was just to vote for the party I think most favourably of.

But first I had to learn how to vote in France. There was a trestle table set up with sheets of paper representing every party running in the elections. I assumed this was just one last chance at electioneering, in case you were undecided as to who to vote for. But when I handed over my electoral card and ID to the volunteer, she explained to me that I should take copies of the papers from the table, go into the voting booth, and put the paper representing the candidates of my choice into the envelope. Confused, I confirmed with her, "I don't write anything on the paper?" Nope, no ticking or crossing needed, just stick it in. Obviously then, if you want to vote for one candidate for mayor, you have no choice about electing the other councillors, it's all or nothing from one party.

As I gathered up the papers and headed to the small, curtained voting booth, I heard the volunteers whispering "New Zealand", "Yes, I saw" to each other. I think it's a safe bet that I was the only New Zealander voting that day in suburban Metz!

By the way, I was a bit concerned I wouldn't be able to vote because both my passports are off for renewal at the moment (irritatingly, to renew my British passport, they make you send in any other passports you have as well). But I was able to use my French driver's licence, despite it having "this is not ID" written right on it. 

As I said, I hadn't researched the candidates before heading to the polling station. I had assumed it would be pretty obvious who I wanted to vote for though. Instead, I had to go through all the papers twice before I was sure I was picking the right one. I had expected big logos of each political party, but in most cases the full name was just written at the top. Since the main parties are normally referred to in the press by their initials or in shorthand - UMP (Sarkozy's lot) or PS (Hollande's crew), the full names (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire and Parti Socialiste - although I'm sure there was a longer name for the PS on the voting papers) didn't really leap off the pages at me and I was a bit nervous I'd accidentally vote for the wrong party. Just as long as I didn't accidentally vote for the Front National though!

Paper duly in the envelope, it was back to the desk to drop my envelope into the "urn" (aka plastic box), as one of the volunteers ceremoniously pronounced "a voté" (has voted). I half wished there was someone there to snap a picture of my first time voting, politician-styleez, but no. The final step was signing the register to show I'd voted and getting my elector card and ID back.

And there you go, my first time voting in France, I feel a little bit Frencher for it. That was only the first round. Since no-one got a majority of the votes, this Sunday there is the runoff between the candidates for the UMP, the PS and the Front National. Alarmingly, the far-right FN got 21% of the vote, with the UMP and PS separated by just one point, at 34 at 35% respectively. Also on Sunday is the Malaysian Grand Prix, so I'll have to bestir myself to get out and vote afterwards. This time, I'll be an old pro. I might even have a quick read of the candidates' policies ;)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why nobody wants to be your friend

Browse through any compilation of "expat tips" on the internet, and one thing will probably stand out: you are not, under any circumstances, meant to be friends with other expats. If you are, you've royally failed at Integration, Getting The Most Out Of Your Stay, and, probably, Life. You are most probably an Ugly American or the kind of red-faced Brit who wears a knotted handkerchief with the St George's Cross on it on his head, uncomfortably tight shorts and no shirt. While others - classy, sophisticated bon vivants - are quaffing Bordeaux and tucking into cassoulet, you're probably blind drunk on warm beer and stuffing a pie down your hole while you indulge in a little light football hooliganism before retiring to the bar for a moan about being surrounded by "bloody foreigners speaking gibberish".

I'm not saying never make friends with locals, or shut yourself up in an exclusively English-speaking enclave where you are guaranteed a steady supply of meat pies (momentarily tempting as that sounds), but I say, feel free to disregard this supercilious advice and make the heck out of expat friends. They may very well be the only friends you'll have.

I always roll my eyes at the romanticised travel guides where the author pitches up in a small French village and everyone is mad to learn all about ze craaaazy Eeenglish who is renovating the local Murder House (fun fact: Murder House is what we used to call the dentist growing up. There's word of mouth advertising for you). You'd think, from reading these books, that nobody in France lives in a city (well, except Paris. It's well known that Paris is the only city in France).

(On a side note, a lot of people (French and otherwise) tend to assume that I come from the country, or all of New Zealand is some sort of clean, green rural idyll. Chunks of it are, sure, but I grew up all my life in a city of a million or so inhabitants - according to Wikipedia, it's now at around 1.5 million. I'm not saying that's huge, but depending on who you ask, that's bigger than all French cities except Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Add in Auckland's peculiar geography, our penchant for living in detached houses on ample land, our crappy public transport and the world's 8th highest number of cars per capita (the US is 3rd, France is 19th, and most of the top spots are taken by dots on the map like San Marino, Monaco, Lichtenstein and our old friend Luxembourg), and I am no stranger to gridlock.

See how awkwardly-shaped Auckland is? It's like someone's small intestine after a tragic accident. That circle in the middle is the Central Business District, full of all the offices in the entire city and half-empty apartment buildings built by speculators in the early 2000s who thought that Asian students would like nothing better than to come thousands of miles to a country the size of Great Britain but with a population that would fit into one of their hometown suburbs, and then live in a shoe closet. Ringed around the middle are where rich people live, and then everyone else has to commute in from all directions, thus equalling traffic chaos.)

But I digress. My point is that everywhere I've lived has been marked by the baffling indifference of the surrounding Frenchies to my presence. I was promised casseroles, pastis at 10 in the morning, and hilarious misunderstandings. Where are my casseroles? It's true, French boys do quite often like to chat up the Anglos on a night out, and you get the odd person enquiring where you're from in a shop or whatever, but it's yet to translate into life-long friendships and comical anecdotes.

The truth is, while I'm getting to the age that, even amongst the expat pool, more and more people are settling down, getting married and popping out kids (the horror), chances are that many of the expats you'll meet will share a similar outlook and lifestyle to you. Compared to your peers back home or the local population, they'll often be more fancy-free, adventurous, and most importantly, also desperately seeking friends. Throw in the fact that the language and cultural barriers between you are lower or non-existent, and you can bond over bitching about French people and venting the frustrations of trying to establish a life in a new country, and you basically have insta-friends, just add rosé.

While there are some tried and true methods of sneaking into a French friend group (getting a French Significant Other being the most obvious, but you can also try studying or working with them, flatsharing, or just dumb luck), the shocking truth is that many - most? - French people just don't want to be your friend. If you live in the same city you've always lived in, or maybe the one where you went to university, where your family lives, where you have a solid group of friends going back years, you're probably just not on the market for new friends all that often. Add in a serious relationship, a dedicated career and/or kids, and the odds decrease even further. And then consider the fact that the person you're being asked to befriend basically has the language and social skills of something ranging from a bright cocker spaniel to a slow ten-year old child. OF COURSE when they're surveying the savannah of friendship, they're not going for the goofy, lame gazelle jumping up and down screaming "Pick me, pick me!" (I guess in this tortured metaphor, the French friend lions want to have to work for their prey or something.)

That's not surprising, nor am I blaming the French or any other majority group for this situation. I think 9 times out of 10, you'll find the same thing wherever you go in the world. Some people are lovely, patient saints. Some people actively seek out those from different cultures because they want to learn the language, or they're fascinated by their country of origin, or they just want a bit of exoticism in their lives, but most people have their own stuff going on and they're not going out of their way to include the bumbling foreigner in their lives unless there's a compelling reason to do so.

So that's why I say to you, expats of the internet, feel free to actively work on cultivating friendships with the locals if that's what you want to do. But don't feel bad if it doesn't work out exactly like you planned. Don't fall into the trap of becoming that bitter expat in the corner who spends all their time whining about their host country, but embrace your expat friends - literally, they probably need someone like you in their life too.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Daytripper, ja

This weekend has been all about the return of F1, but last weekend it was all about the sunshine and unseasonably warm weather we have been enjoying (right up until, um, this weekend). I decided that I had to do something to make the most of it - while this winter has been unusually mild, it's still been winter after all - so I headed out on what was almost a 6-hour return trip to Trier, Germany. (It's not that far, but way cheaper to use my "free" train pass to go to Luxembourg and then switch trains there than to go direct from Metz.)

Often on the way to work I find myself gazing out of the train windows (if I can tear myself away from building pyramids on my phone) and pondering, somewhat reductively, about how many millions of lives were essentially lost in the battles over the surrounding landscape. If there had been no Franco-Prussian War, no occupation of Alsace and Lorraine, would there have been a WWI? Without WWI, would Hitler have ever come to power? Do we have to search even further back in history for the roots of this conflict, or was it all inevitable all along?

History is certainly ever-present in Trier, but as you stroll around, you're more likely to come across relics of a more ancient past than reminders of 20th century conflicts. Trier, founded around 16 BC, "might" be the oldest city in Germany, and it's got the monuments to prove it. I've already been to Trier once, to check out the Christmas markets (and the Karl Marx museum), but this was a chance to take in the sights (mostly) without the crowds. Strolling in past the Roman Porta Negra, the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps, I first checked out the cathedral, a hulking edifice which dates back to Roman times as well, and is Germany's oldest cathedral. The main chapel was supposedly laid out on the orders of St. Helen, the mother of Constantine.

Porta Negra
Town square (Hauptmarkt)

The "Steipe" banqueting house, a reconstruction of a medieval building destroyed in WWII

Palace gardens. No digital trickery by the way, the sky really was that blue!

From there, I went to see the Imperial Baths, another set of Roman ruins. They weren't the most amazing things visually, but what was quite cool is that you can walk around inside the underground tunnels originally used to supply water and drainage to the baths. In practice, this means stepping out of the warm sunshine into a cold, dark, and slightly scary labryrinth. I made it out in one piece though!

The Roman baths, later joined up to the medieval city wall (on the left) and used as a palace

Could do without the scruffy shopping bag, but I brought too much heavy stuff with me (water, ipad)!

Lunch was bratwurst (of course), where I made a dick of myself by successfully ordering in German (okay, "eine bratwurst mit ketchup, bitte" is not rocket science) but then failing to understand when the guy said "2.20€" (or whatever it cost), whereupon he switched to flawless English. Then it was time for a stroll to the (unexceptional) banks of the Moselle while enjoying my first icecream of the season. Guten appetit!

Finally, I went back to the Liebfrauenkirche next to the cathedral, which had a service going on when I was there in the morning. I'm glad I did, as I think it's my new new favourite church. Very bijou, very harmonious, and just gorgeous with the strong afternoon sunshine streaming in through the stained-glass windows. I took about a million photos and also just enjoyed sitting in there taking it in. It dates back to the 13th century, although unfortunately the original stained glass was presumably destroyed in the war. The replacements are very pretty though, especially in the bold choice of colours.

That was all I had time for on this occasion, but I feel (especially casting an eye over Wikipedia for some of the names and dates I've mentioned) there's much more I could have seen in (possibly) Germany's oldest city. Perhaps I'll be back!