Went on a day trip to Germany today, thanks to one of the many tours C's work organises. The morning and early afternoon was spent in Monschau, and the rest of the day in Aachen.
The trip was billed as a chance to marvel at some of Europe's finest (ubiquitous) Christmas markets. Because me and C are so damn contrary, but more because we really have seen quite a lot of Christmas markets now, and to be honest, they're all much of a muchness, and sell the usual array of nothing particularly useful, we spent the whole day doing what we do best: wandering around, and stopping every now and again for food and drink.
Monschau is tiny and adorable, and seems to have been built specifically for tourists in mind, which of course it wasn't. It just feels like that. The weather was a shocker all day - heavy wind and driving rain, nice. - so we tried to limit outdoor time, and ducked into cafés more than even we would have liked to.
It was a bit like a fairytale kind of village: river running below, mini bridges, narrow side streets, inviting-looking cafés.
Enjoyed having a huge flapjack (surprisingly tasteless, even though it looked like it should have been delicious. Too dry) and coffee, whilst having a good natter with a group of middle-aged English women, sitting on the table next to us.
In the past, whenever I was away and heard English voices, I'd usually walk in the opposite direction. Since living abroad, I've begun to find the sound comforting and reassuring.
It was one of those very typical English conversations: lots of humour, lots of sarcasm, the odd bit of innuendo, a bit of a moan about the weather and how expensive things are in Europe (!), and how great it is to get away for a few days. All done without any kind of introductions, or any exchange of names or details about each other. Wonderful!
Aarchen was a lot easier to wander about in the rain, because it's an actual city and there was far more to see. The market was also quite big and actually had some good food stools.
The main cathedral was spectacular, sort of a mini version of the St Mark's Basilica in Venice. Really wasn't expecting something so impressive from the outside.
After having a decent meal at a trendy wine bar/upmarket bistro/restaurant (I always find it hard to categorise eateries in Europe) we went for a little wander in the cobbled centre (the rain had finally ceased), where we came across a small group of guys singing Christmas carols, in English and German. It was simply delightful, and one of those great moments that really make a day. I would happily have stood there and listened to them sing all evening, but after about 20 minutes they were done, packed up, and left.
It was also during this hour or so, before our coach was due to set off back to Mons, that we realised how much we were both beginning to miss England. More accurately, how much living in Belgium was making us miss England.
As I mentioned in my November 4th post, whenever we go away now, we feel like we're "re-entering civilisation."
C's new boss has said that he'd happily let us extend our stay (again) for a further year, and thus not return until December 2013, but we've pretty much made up our minds, and want to be home this time next year.
We want our culture back.