Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I made a Buzzfeed!

Nobody's looking at it so far (unsurprisingly, I have no idea where it posted to), but if you're interested to learn which 15 churches I currently think are amongst Europe's prettiest, feel free to click!


I most definitely put credits in for all the photos, but they seem to have disappeared :( Also, I would have liked the image sizes to have been more even/to play around with the placement of the images, but couldn't figure out how to do so. And I didn't understand how clicking on the "reaction buttons" worked (I thought it was like tagging) and so I accidentally clicked that I thought it was "awesome" and I don't know how to delete that. Shame... So you could all go and click other things so hide my shame, maybe? :)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The prettiest church you'll see this week

Yay! My parents are visiting today, so I'll get to see them for the first time since last year's trip to Italy et al. Unfortunately, we only have one long weekend here in Brussels and then next week a long weekend in Madrid, and then that's that again for another year (?) But we'll just have to make the most of things! It will of course be the first time they meet Jules. I think he's a little nervous, but as I keep reminding him, he made me meet his entire family at Easter after we'd been dating less than a month, so it's about time the boot was on the other foot. Anyway, I'm sure everyone will like everyone and it will all go fine.

So anyway, last time I told you about our first day in Aachen, so I'll wrap up day two before I have new parental adventures to share. We definitely didn't pack as much in as the first day, starting off with a long buffet breakfast (all you can eat for 10€, very yummy and it filled us up so much we didn't need lunch) before heading to the Suermondt Ludwig Museum, known for its fine collection of medieval sculptures. What a contrast to the Charlemagne exhibitions from the day before! Most of the time, we were literally the only people in the place, despite discovering when we turned up that it was some sort of special free entry day. If you like that sort of thing, it's definitely worth a look.

Mary had a little book-reading lamb

Jules and me in the mirror room

A quite hideous Lot and his Daughters by Otto Dix

My favourite stained glass window. They seem to have some sort of prize for contemporary stained glass, or at least to house the recipients thereof

Time for a post-museum sundae!

Jules goes for the healthy option
We had tried several times to visit the cathedral, but had never managed because there was some sort of choral festival going on as well that weekend, and there was always either a long line or it was shut for a concert. But we decided to try one last time before going home, and I'm so glad we did! I've never heard anyone mention Aachen cathedral, but it deserves to be up there with St. Mark's in Venice or Sainte-Chapelle as places you absolutely must go in to. It's just sumptuously gorgeous. The original church dates back to before 800, and therefore the time of Charlemagne, who was buried in the chapel. Unfortunately, it seems we missed the Gothic Choir Hall, where Charlemagne's shrine is now located, booo. German kings were also coronated here for 600 years. Most of the chapels surrounding the core building date to the 15th century. Most importantly though, it's simply stunning, and I don't know why it's not more well-known (or maybe it is and I missed it). Less chat, more hat:

If you're wondering why I look particularly tense, there was a woman sitting on the floor next to me who was definitely on meth or an equivalent

That's probably more than enough photos, but seriously, how pretty is that? We had cunningly done no research, so it was a fabulous surprise to walk in and find this treasure. Definitely happy we made the trip!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Gute Fahrt!

I have some busy times coming up in October, so I need to tell you about last month's trip to Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). I had been wanting to go for ages, even before moving to Brussels, ever since I somehow found out that this year was the 1200th anniversary of Charlemagne's death in Aachen, in 814, and there were major exhibitions planned to commemorate this fact. Some strategic planning was required: the exhibitions basically ran over the summer months, which are obviously the worst times to go anywhere if you don't want it to be overcrowded and full of children. So we picked mid-September, after the peak of the season and a week before the exhibitions closed, on a weekend where there was no F1. Even so, it turned out to be extremely busy. Even in this special anniversary year, who'd have thought that Aachen and Charlemagne would be such a drawcard?

Aachen cathedral seen from inside the town hall

Ahahaha, gute fahrt! One of us laughed a great deal to see this on a biscuit; the other one speaks German. But even he laughed a bit, come on, it says gute fahrt right on it.

We set out relatively early on Saturday morning for the drive to Aachen, and after dropping our bags at the hotel, headed straight for the first of three linked exhibition venues, in the cathedral treasury. It was pretty cramped in there and you had to queue up and jostle about to try and see anything, but there really were some neat things. If nothing else, it was amazing to think of these things lasting for more than 1200 years (although some of the "so-called" and "supposed" caveats cast a healthy amount of doubt on whether all the relics were actually associated with Charlemagne). The exhibition brought together items from the cathedral treasury (either still there or that had been there in the past), which had belonged to the cathedral in the age of Charlemagne, and items supposedly taken out of Charlemagne's grave. (Seems a bit disrespectful.) So lots and lots of fancy reliquaries, primarily.

This made me laugh: those tiny bits representing "St Stephen's Purse" shown in the photograph

A nail from the purse. Oooh

A reliquary of Charlemagne's head, wearing his crown (which you can't see)

Reliquary with Charlemagne's arm bone

High five! It took so long to get this photo
An Antique tomb in which Charlemagne is believed to have been buried
We thought it was fairly crowded when we were in there, but we felt better when we came out and saw that there was a huge line just to get in. Early birds caught the worm! Talking of worms, it was time for lunch, and we ended up at a quick service restaurant called Hanswurst on the main square. It turned out to be surprisingly tasty (someone on Trip Advisor even hails it as the "best sausage in Germany"), but the best thing about Hanswurst turned out to be that they called everything Hans. HansJules had to wait to be called to the HansCounter to get his HansWurst and HansKnife and HansFork, etc. You probably had to be there, but for the rest of the weekend, everything was "Hans" something.

AND Hanswurst gives you the power of levitation
You weren't allowed to take photos in the other two exhibitions, at the town hall and the new Charlemagne centre, so I can just offer up this one photo of the town hall ceiling, which I include here out of spite:

Why spite? Because I took this as soon as I came in, before I even knew photos weren't allowed, and the security guard came up and told me (not impolitely) that not only couldn't you take photos, but I had to DELETE the photo I already took! What he didn't know was that I took two, so here's the first one that escaped his wrath. I also took a photo pretending to be a woodcarving of Charlemagne, because that seemed to be permissible:

The town hall exhibition was about 'places of power', and out of the three was the most focused on giving a historical overview - specifically about how and why Charlemagne established his court at Aachen. I'm sure it was very interesting, but oh my god, I've seriously never been so hot in my life. I'm not really sure if it was actually very hot in there or I was just literally having a melt-down, because no-one else seemed to be that fussed, but I was like dripping with sweat, I felt like I was going to faint or be sick, and I may have shouted at Jules until he took his sweater off because I couldn't understand how he was wearing a hoodie while I was dying. So I'm afraid we only did a quick loop around the room (also too many people in it) before I had to get some fresh air (and an icecream).

When I was sufficiently soothed by the power of icecream (Jules says not to expect icecream every time I have a tantrum, booo!), we went to the third exhibition, in the Charlemagne centre. This one was focused on Carolingian art, including illuminated manuscripts, carvings, and gold objects. Thankfully, this one was quite a bit quieter, dark and fairly peaceful, so I didn't freak out. There was still a bit of a wait to peer in to each glass cabinet, but it was nice to see these beautiful old books.

Unsurprisingly, that was enough exhibitionism for the day, and we headed to the hotel room to relax and freshen up before dinner, at the One and Only, just across from our hotel. Coincidentally, it was our six-monthaversary, so it was nice to have a great meal in a nice restaurant. I had a goat's cheese starter in an unusual lemony sauce, followed by some perfectly-cooked, moist, tender pork with an awesome purple potato mash, and a chocolate mousse in creme anglaise sauce. It was all super tasty, even if Jules "forgot" his pin number and I had to pay (insert angry cat emoticon here) (just kidding).