To and From Bonn
Friday afternoon I worked my way slowly north through the German train system to Bonn. A good friend of Anna’s from her study abroad days, Jutta, had invited me to come up for a visit. The plan was for me to come up Friday, and Saturday we would be joined by Jutta’s sister and niece(s) – we would then commence with the Christmas cookie baking. To cut through the cookie baking part and make it short, Jutta’s sister and niece(s) decided that, because north of Bonn snowstorms were starting up, they wouldn’t risk the drive down. Therefore, Jutta and I baked more cookies than really necessary. Also, in the German style of Christmas cookie baking, the cookies are baked on or around the first Advent, and then hidden from greedy cookie-eaters, to be eaten only on Christmas itself. So, in spirit of that I’m not touching the cookies until then (much to the dismay of my neighbor, Sonia, who, upon realizing I had returned home greeted me in German with, “May I have a cookie? Pleeeease? Just ONE??”).
Friday, afternoon to evening: The train ride up went well, considering it was four hours of me sitting on the edge of my seat in a panic that I might not hear the announcement of my stop and miss my connections. My 21,-€ trip went as such: Landau – Neustadt, Neustadt – Hochspeyer, Hochspeyer – Bingen, Bingen – Koblenz, Koblenz – Bonn, plus apprx. 10-15 minutes at each stop waiting for the next train. I managed to get to Bonn sans problems or an aneurism, with the exception of the train from Bingen to Koblenz. The ticket person came around and when I showed her my ticket she said I wasn’t supposed to be on that train. I said I was too, and showed her the print out I had been given at the station in Landau. I said that the man at the counter told me I would be able to take this train with the ticket I had (Rheinland-Pfalz Ticket). She said something along the lines of “Yes, but no.” What had happened was that I had taken the wrong train, even though it was going in the right direction. The train I was on was the express train, and my ticket excluded all convenient trains and routes, leaving me with the four-hour-wonder. I asked her if I had to pay anything right then and she told me if I got off the train at Koblenz, no, but if I stayed on the train (which would have taken me right to Bonn), I would pay extra. I got off at Koblenz. I figured it would be best to stay on the track I had planned out. The lady was nice as well, so at least I didn’t feel hassled, and didn’t have to pay any fines. At least I had a ticket.
The Christmas market in Bonn... HUGE. Unfortunately I didn’t see much of it, just walked through on my way and after meeting up with Jutta. It was exciting to see that many people and that kind of atmosphere. It made me look forward to the market in Landau, and other cities *closer* to us.
Saturday, early evening: Although Jutta and I spoke German almost the entire time, there were topics and concepts that I needed to express in English, because I completely lacked the knowledge to explain them in German. In the midst of cookie baking I was trying to explain something to Jutta about something, and officially forgot the English word for “Unterschied.” I remembered it only several hours later – the word is “difference.” My sentence had been in English, and the key word came at the end of the sentence – but I had to finish my sentence in German. Jutta laughed, and I felt kind of proud.
Saturday, evening: I started to miss having a real kitchen very, very badly. I want an oven like one wants to scratch a poison ivy rash. I want an oven so badly, that I might be inclined to act rather brashly toward anyone who gets in my way of scoring an apartment next fall. I NEED that oven, and I will HAVE that oven.
Sunday: Jutta and I head out after breakfast to Siegburg, where there is a “natural” Christmas market. What this means, is that at night, the entire market is lit up with candles, everything is run manually – no electricity, no commercial Christmas music –, all of the vendors are dressed in warmer-than-your-clothes-ha-ha medieval attire, and there are long-haired jugglers on stage heckling the crowd and being heckled. It was nice and pretty much like Jutta had described it. The only noise other than heckling and audience laughter was the sound of people talking and the natural sounds of a market setting. Jutta bought an expensive but chic (and very warm, according to her) hand-made wool hat. I bought... nothing but lunch and tea, but kept the glasses from the tea because they were interesting looking.
At markets during holidays or festivals, drinks are, more often than not, served in breakable cups or glasses. When you purchase a drink you pay for the beverage itself, as well as the container it comes in. For example: on Sunday, I bought a tiny glass of tea for €1, but paid €2 for it. This extra €1 is called “Pfand”, and is similar to the 5¢ return we get in the US for cans or 15¢ for plastic bottles. Here, for a small plastic bottle you get €0,25 refund – that’s more than a quarter, to you back home. That’s good return. So, at the festival or holiday markets, you can get money back for successfully returning the glass or cup to the vendors. Or, if you really like the cup, or just want to feel like you’re stealing stuff, you can take the cup or glass with you. It really doesn’t matter – either you get your money back or the vendors get to keep your money. Sometimes they’ll even remind you that you can keep the cup when you go to turn it in. It’s a really nice system, actually. Everyone comes out even. For Landau’s Christmas market, I’m going to have to do some cup “shopping” to find one that I really want to take back home with me. Good thing I have until the end of December to do so :)))
Sunday in Siegburg ended with a mini snowstorm. I left the Bonn Hbf (Hauptbahnhof = main train station) a bit after 6 P.M. because of train delays. At first I was frantic, because although I had thoroughly charged my iPod Friday, the batteries were shot by the time I was on the train to Koblenz, and I thought I would snap without music. Then I realized that, because it was dark, the train stations I didn’t recognize during the day would be even more foreign – which was proved by me pressing my face against the window at each stop and straining my vision to find some kind of sign with a city name on it. My last train pulled into Landau around 11 P.M., and although I had hoped to take a bus home, I was unable to. Buses stop running Sundays around 7 P.M, so I walked home. Lucky for me it started to flurry a bit, and then a lot. 30 minutes later I was back at my apartment door, covered in snow, key in lock, when Sonia came down the hall, asking if I had just gotten back (this was before the cookie scene). Then she saw that I was completely covered in white and laughed at me, then made me stand in my wet coat until she got a camera and photographed me. Then I ate, then I drank tea, then I slept.
Trip to Bonn status: Accomplished.