Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
That the small rain down can rain?
Oh, shut up.
- W. Sanders
I went back inside and asked the guy at the information desk where I could get some money changed. He pointed. "Three hundred meters up the street," he said, in not too heavily accented English, "on the right, is a bank."
I walked up the street, hearing that line in my head, thinking: yep, I'm in Germany, all right...and the fact that he turned out to be full of shit (I paced it off; I have almost exactly a one-meter stride, and it was a lot more than three hundred meters) somehow reinforced rather than weakened the stereotype.
In fact the citizens of Trier seemed determined to make up for all the other nationalities that had failed to live up to expectations. I wasn't surprised to see German pedestrians waiting for a light to change even when the street was empty; but these people were doing it in the rain - which by now was beginning to really come down - and even the ones without hats or umbrellas stood there patiently getting soaked until the light turned green. One guy did come up and start to cross against the light; the others yelled at him and he turned and trotted back, making apologetic gestures to indicate he hadn't noticed.
Even so, the Romans held Trier for a long time, and made themselves at home in their usual dogged way. The so-called "Black Gate" (actually yellow sandstone, darkened by the grime of centuries) was built in the fourth century, and by then it was already an old town; some of the ruins here are a couple of centuries older than that, and there is an ampitheater that goes back to the first century; officially the town was founded in 15 BC, during Augustus's administration. Which is to say it was a going concern during the lifetime of Jesus Christ, which is pretty damn impressive when you think of it.
Roman ruins don't usually do much for me, because I saw so many of them in Turkey, but there was something different about this place. Maybe you expect Roman buildings in the Mediterranean lands, but not up here in the northern forests.
I didn't get to see all that much of Trier and its antiquities; by midday the rain was really bucketing down and even though I was reasonably dry under my plastic poncho (at least I'd had sense enough to bring it this time) it was stupid to be walking around when I couldn't really see anything. I ducked under a bus-stop shelter and while I was thinking things over a bus showed up with a sign: HAUPTBAHNHOF. Even I knew what that meant; I climbed aboard and rode back to the station.
Across from the station was a little café with chalkboard signs out front advertising various dishes. They were written in that funny-looking German longhand and I couldn't read anything but the prices; but I picked a cheap one and picked the sign up and went over to the window and held it up and pointed. The waitress looked out the window and after a moment nodded briskly and motioned me in and showed me to a table.
The dish turned out to be sauerkraut and a big sausage; a little predictable, maybe, but pretty good. (Not necessarily the best sauerkraut I've ever had, but pretty good.) As I washed it down with a can of excellent beer I noticed that the rain had stopped.
So I went out walking again. The streets were wet and the sky was still clouded over but people were strolling around down in the commercial district, shopping or just hanging.
Down in this part of town there was no doubt about being in Germany. Not with all those corny-ass buildings...and believe it or not, there were worse ones, some so tacky-looking I couldn't bear to photograph them.
I would have liked to see more of Trier; it was an intriguing place and the people on the whole seemed friendly and pleasant. (I did see one bunch of shaven-headed lads in leather jackets and boots. They were standing in the rain, waiting by an empty street for the light to change.)
But it was getting late and I wasn't sure of the train schedules back to Luxembourg; and besides, it looked as if it might be getting ready to rain some more. Reluctantly I walked back to the hauptbahnhof, where I found I had a little time to wait. I went over to the station snack bar and bought an apple pastry of conscious-expanding yumminess, and the first decent cup of coffee I'd had in Europe.
I mean, I know there are people who are going to get all bent out of shape about this: how dare I slander the wonderful French coffee, etc. etc. Bollocks to that. French coffee is ghastly. Thick, sludgy, gritty stuff, and bitter as battery acid; even worse than that Starbucks' crap my daughter drinks. (Sorry, kid, but I call 'em the way I see 'em.) French coffee in fact represents the one terrible shortcoming of an otherwise magnificent national cuisine; and the only coffee I had in Spain was just about as bad.
(This surprises me, because Cajun coffee is quite simply the finest in the world - I drink Cajun coffee at home, in fact, won't have any other in the house - and I had always assumed this was the French influence, but apparently not.)
But this German coffee was absolutely first-rate and I gulped it down greedily and got a refill which I savored sip by sip. I hadn't realized how much I'd been missing coffee - and I'm generally an eight-cup-a-day man - until now.
At last the train arrived and it was time to head back to Luxembourg.
(Except that they eat a lot of pizza; there were pizzerias all over town and they seemed very popular. But I didn't go all that distance to eat pizza, for God's sake, I eat that at home.... I did eat at McDonald's one night, just to say I'd eaten at the Luxembourg McDonald's. The food was pretty much like the US equivalent, but the service was infinitely better - when did a McDonald's counterhop ever wish you "Bon appetit"? - and they had sidewalk tables.)
So it was sandwiches, which was less of a hardship than it might seem, because one thing they do well in Luxembourg is the sandwich. There were several sandwich shops downtown which turned out truly splendid creations, with ham and cheese and lettuce and hard-boiled eggs and just about anything else you wanted; for that matter the railroad station café sold excellent prefabricated sandwiches at all hours and the price wasn't too bad.
Tonight I also had several cans of German beer that I'd brought back, so all in all I was well fed. (If you're wondering, though: the little bottle on the table contains a local potation known as eau-de-vie, which I sampled and cannot recommend, though its potency is definitely impressive.)
And so to bed; tomorrow I would see more of this curious city -
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