Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt

The morning after our wonderful Hanukkah party, Logan and I got to see what a real Weihnachtsmarkt should be, in Frankfurt! The French train company, SNCF, was having a special Christmas market sale, so tickets from Paris to Frankfurt in a TGV (train à grande vitesse - train with big speed) were only 78€ round-trip. Plus, Logan's brother Austin was there for a business trip! So we caught that 6 AM train from Rouen to Paris (shoot me now), took a little ride on the métro to another Paris train station, and arrived in Frankfurt at 1 pm, where Austin met us on the platform. We went to our hotel to freshen up, then headed out to the wonder that is a German Christmas market.

Germans know Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmarkts, as they call them because they are German and short words just aren't how they roll. For one thing, the mulled wine (Glühwein) comes in real mugs, not little plastic cups like in France, and for another, they give you 25 cL at a time. Twenty-five centiliters of wine can make you completely forget about the cold, which is of course why they do it, since it hovered around freezing the whole weekend.

For another, Germans believe in good, filling food to fortify you against the cold. There were sausages and candied nuts and cheese-filled pretzels and sweet chocolate-covered pretzels and candies (mulled-wine flavored!) and French fries and flammkuchen and--okay I'll stop now, but you get the point. There was delicious food everywhere, and the smells alone could have kept me going for a few days. Plus, they cook everything right in front of you so you get to see how it's done! One place did this to cook their sausages:

That giant grill actually swings from side to side so they can regulate the heat a little bit, and every so often they chuck more meat on it and it sizzles and releases heavenly aromas and it's really quite easy to think you've died and gone to heaven, if it weren't for your pesky hands and feet being blocks of ice.

The nuts are made in gorgeous copper bowls with a mixer to keep them from getting stuck together, and if you're lucky when you buy them you get hot ones.

We didn't discover this all at once, however. For our first sausages, Austin led us to the stand he'd discovered the day before. I got a bratwurst, to stay classic, and Logan got a currywurst. These are reasons #147 and #148 that I am not a vegetarian (bacon is #1). Bratwurst are always 3 times as long as the little breads they're in, so they stick out either end and there's no way to eat them gracefully. For currywurst, they stick the sausage in a little chopping machine (so cool), pour curry ketchup over it, sprinkle more spices on, and hand it to you with a little forklet and a roll. Then you stuff the roll full of sausage bits and die of happiness.

Bellies sated, we wandered around further, pushing through the gigantic crowds of people and occasionally catching glimpses of purty things, like this church:

Then we ducked into a shopping mall to warm up a bit and I saw this Christmas tree in a store window:

Yes, those are teeny-tiny little sweaters!

How cute is that? I now have a brilliant idea for my Christmas tree next year...

By this time, Logan and I were asleep on our feet, so we headed back to the hotel to watch curling, which is really far more interesting than you give it credit for. A few naps later, we forced ourselves back out to an Irish pub because we heard the football game would be on. I ordered a 50 cL beer and managed to drink the whole thing in the time it took Logan and Austin to get through three beers each! I'm very proud. There was karaoke as well, so that was amusing to watch, but after a while Lisa was a sleepy little puppy so we went back to the hotel room and slept like the dead.

The next day, Sunday, everything was closed except the Christmas market and a few bakeries, so we went into an Austrian bakery. I ordered hot chocolate and they brought me a tall glass of hot milk, a little dish of chocolate paste, and a little whisk. Mmmm DIY hot chocolate. The paste dissolved really easily, and then I slid the whipped cream from its saucer onto the top, and then I took a picture so I could remember that moment forever.

I also had apricot strudel, which kept reminding me of that scene in Inglourious Basterds, but I enjoyed it anyway.

More wandering around the market, where they sell everything from incredibly tacky Christmas ornaments and decorations to adorable toys and hats and scarves, and then we went to the train station to see Austin off. Then we decided to go back to the hotel for a nap, and when we woke up this is what we saw out the hotel window:

The sausages were calling to us, so we went out again and this time I got a currywurst, with extra spices because I like to live dangerously. We also saw a large dog putting his paws up on a butcher's counter and begging for scraps, which he was duly given. Only after cooing over that did we see the big dog's little friend, who was being carried inside his owner's jacket to keep him warm. The puppy got scraps too, and the happy dogs continued on their way, leaving a chorus of "Awwwww..."s in their wake.

I finally got a clear picture of that gorgeous church, too:

On Monday, we... wandered around the Christmas market again! Neither of us had done any research on anything else to do in Frankfurt, so that was our fallback. Also, Glühwein never really gets old, and you can keep the mugs as a souvenir! The buildings around the main square were quite pretty, although we learned later that they're all new, having been rebuilt after Frankfurt got bombed to bits in WWII.

Hmm, half-timbering... Feels like home!

Then we found some ancient bath-house ruins and had to scamper around those for a while:

(This one's Doric - for Ionic and Corinthian see my Facebook album!)

Then it was off to the train station to leave Deutschland :(. At one of the stops along the way, there was snow! Thinking it would be the only snow I saw before Christmas, I memorialized it:

And here we are, relaxing in our TGV before our epic feat of awesomeness to catch an early train back to Rouen:

See, our train got into Gare de l'Est at 20h53. There was one train from Gare Saint Lazare to Rouen at 21h20, and one at 23h50. Everyone, including me, said it was impossible to get from Gare de l'Est to St Lazare in 27 minutes, but Logan said "Why don't we try? Nothing to lose!" so we did. It was like a well-oiled machine; we placed ourselves right next to the doors, hopped off as soon as the doors opened, and walked rapidly but calmly to the end of the platform, following signs for the RER E, which would take us directly to St Lazare. The signs pointed us out of the station onto a street with absolutely no indication of where the RER was. So we picked a direction, which turned out to be wrong. Unfazed, we turned back and realized that the other direction had a gigantic flight of steps up. Slightly fazed this time, we dragged our suitcases up and continued along the street, which was one of the creepier streets I've ever been on. Finally, after a few turns, we found the RER station, which was a multi-level labyrinth the likes of which I've only seen in Portal, or perhaps at my lycée here. There was a train leaving in a few minutes, and we managed to get to the platform just as the doors were closing. I started running, then gave up, seeing that I wouldn't get there in time. Then the train didn't leave, so we started running again and got to the train. I feverishly pushed the "door open" button, but nothing happened. Ever hopeful, I moved to the next car and tried that one. Miraculously, the doors slid open! Logan and I got inside, trying to look casual, the doors closed, and the train moved away. I got out the tickets for the Paris-Rouen train and we prepared our exit. We plunged out of the train and through the station, looking for the nearest sign for "Trains Grandes Lignes". Which again pointed us out to the street, because the RER stations are never actually connected to the big train stations. Luckily, I know this neighborhood a bit better, so I got my bearings and we started walking to St Lazare. Up the escalator (working this time! France likes me better this year than last year), through the hall, to the departures board to check where our train was, to the ticket-validating machines to stamp our tickets (boy do they get pissy if you forget to do that), to Voie 26 and onto our train with 5 minutes to spare. We ROCK.

Of course, we still got home at an ungodly hour, and Logan had to stay over and take the train to Le Havre in the morning for his 9 AM class, but all in all I was pretty proud of that. Twenty-two minutes for the win!

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