Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Trip dist: 81 kms. Trip time: 4 hrs, 37 min. Tot dist: 4,104 kms.

Ooooh. Oh my God. If this is a dream, please don´t wake me!

Welcome to civilization. These guys have bike lanes everywhere! But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.

Decided to head for Köln today instead of day-tripping to Trier as promised, since all trains to Trier from Aachen go through Cologne anyway and I'm also supposed to be headed there next. But first, and since Köln is biking close to Aachen (the map said 60 kms, but of course this is measured on the Autobahns, biking through national roads and bike lanes adds some kilometers, as you can see) and would not take the whole day I visited the UNESCO WHS Cathedral, on the site of Charlemagne's imperial dwellings, in the morning (the only part of the cathedral you can visit today is the Palatine Chapel, which is rather tiny, but very beautiful in the Byzantine style), where I learned two interesting things:

1. Aachen's (aka Aix-La-Chapelle in French, or Aquisgrana in Italian!) Cathedral was the first German site to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, back in 1978.

2. Charlemagne was born in Herstal! Remember? It is that tiny little village near Liége I passed by as I was getting lost on my way to Aachen just two days ago. Neat huh? Had I not gotten lost I would've never been able to say: "Hey, I've been to Charlemagne's birthplace, have you?" (and given it is such a tiny featureless village--or Liège neighborhood/suburb now, perhaps more properly--no one would ever really want to visit as a tourist, I bet not many people outside of Belgium have been there in the first place, so they are worthwhile bragging rights, you see...)

So maybe the bad luck/unpleasant things that happen to us are not really what we think they are in hindsight, you see... ;)

Anyway, one of the cool things about Aachen (and maybe Germany, but ask me later when I have had more time here to confirm the "first impression") that I've already had occasion to find out in just my this short stay is that things are very well organized here. The info booklets that you get at the entrance of Aachen's Cathedral Treasury museum, for instance, don't just describe what you're seeing (which in other guide pamphlets is usually a rather obvious and useless explanation, a la "Oh, this is a golden reliquary inlaid with figurines of ivory depicting the crucifixion", which are things you can observe for yourself with a quick glance and don't need to be told about), but it gives you an extensive historical blurb. The guide to the treasures, for instance, begins with a biography of Charlemagne and includes hand-drawings of the most important showcased pieces, including how they were made, how they were used, and why.

Take a look at the locks, for instance. They were used to lock away relics, but see the big glop of lead on the keyhole? (if you can't download the movie you can take a look at the picture here--hint, the glop of lead is easiest to see on the leftmost bottom lock) You see, once the relic was locked away, the key was divided in two, one going to the city authorities and the other remaining in custody at the Cathedral. The keyhole was then filled with melted lead to ensure that the relics would be kept under seal for 7 years, according to tradition mandates. Neat, huh?

Anyway, arrived finally into Köln, where, as I said, suddenly civilization hits you: bike lanes everywhere, and they are done correctly, that is, purposefully separated and shielded from traffic (see for instance, an example here), and with its own set of traffic lights once you get inside the city.

Approaching Köln reminded me a bit of my city of Guadalajara, near the area of the Calle Morelos, where, coincidentally, my piano teacher from the old Music School used to live, and who, by the way, currently lives somewhere in the neighborhood of Karlsruhe, a bit to the south of here. Wish I had her number, but perhaps a postcard wouldn't be such a bad idea letting her know I'm still alive after all these years...;P

Funny, Köln also reminded me a bit of Lyon, with its futuristic-looking tram cars and city bike rentals. I think I forgot to tell you, but in Lyon (and here in Köln as well, it looks like), you can pick up a bike at one of the bike stations interspersed in the city, then ride it for as long as you want, then return it at another station (for a video of how this is done take a look here). I think in Germany you phone up somewhere instead of paying at the stations (i.e. there are no automated stations here that I saw), but the concept is similar, of course.

Heh, there are also lots of very good-looking people here (not just males). Seriously, it looks like every 3rd person just popped out of a magazine. Dreaming? Nope, looks pretty real...

And, guess what? The tickets to the Philharmonic cost between 5-27 Euros here! Do you know what it means, when the most expensive seat at the Philharmonic costs only 27 Euros (that's about 4 times cheaper than what it costs in San Francisco, for you folks that don't live there)?! Do you?

It means, that if I lived here, I could go listen to the Philharmonic every day!


Ian said...

The SF Symphony also seems to have cut out its student prices for the summer, at least for the balcony seats. Vultures.

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.