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The Trip: Part 2

On day two we drove to our accommodations in Gemünd, a small but attractive town in North West Germany where I developed the German version of Montezuma’s revenge. For geographical accuracy let’s call it Bismarck’s revenge.

The next day, Sunday, we went sightseeing anyway. We drove to the quaint little town of Monschau, which has some very old half-timbered houses—like 600 years old. The town has a population of 12,000 people on a weekday. On this particular Sunday there were about 2,000,000 give or take a few who came to visit the Christmas market. (More about that later.) Cars were parked everywhere—on the grass—on the sidewalks—in fields on the edge of town. We decided not to stop. We went to Belgium instead. It was only a 5- minute drive. It was very much like Germany, except colder—it has not been above freezing yet. Tomorrow we are going to Cologne, by train, to visit other Christmas Markets and eat good German food and drink fine German wine. Our friend Hugh Meredith, our consultant on all things German, strongly recommended the Christmas Markets and a warm German Christmas drink called Glühwein.

Here it is tomorrow and we are sitting in our penthouse watching it snow. It’s really coming down. Bismarck’s revenge cancelled the Cologne trip. We’ll try again tomorrow (Tuesday). Wife Lynn decided to go grocery shopping. We were out of staples like cheese and wine. I cautioned her about driving on snow-covered streets since we get very little experience doing so in southeast Texas. She pointed out that the streets seemed pretty clear and set out on her adventure. Although the streets, indeed, were pretty clear, the parking lot at the market was not. It was covered with beautiful white slippery snow. Lynn turned into the parking lot headed in a southerly direction then turned the steering wheel to head in a westerly direction. The car actually pointed west but continued to move south, which posed a problem. The car was headed sideways for a parking place right next to the only other car in the parking lot. Nothing like this happens in Texas except in demolition derbies. What is Lynn to do? She reported that she did what any self-reliant modern day woman would. She closed her eyes and screamed. As luck would have it her car slid slowly into the parking spot and stopped right beside the other car. Lynn got out of the car nonchalantly as though she always slid into parking spaces sideways. She is really very cool.

The shopping trip was a success and I am sampling the wine and cheese even as I am writing this report. I suspect one of the two will be good for what ails me.

Now it’s Wednesday, and we really are going to Cologne. Unfortunately, it snowed more last night and the streets outside our building were white. The German TV newscast showed pictures of a bunch of cars all bent and broken as the result of the slick stuff on the road. By now the trip to Cologne was becoming a cause. I was determined this is the day snow or no snow. We dressed in our warm clothes and went down to the car. It was hard to find because it, like the streets, the parking lot, the hillsides and all the other cars, was covered with snow. We had to dig it out and clean the ice off the windows. When we got most of the snow off we discovered that we were working on the wrong car. I said a really bad word and tried again. Luck was with us and we got it right the second time. The cleaning operation took much longer than expected and I felt sure we were going to miss the train we had planned to take.

I cranked up the car and started up the little hill by our parking lot. As I accelerated, the back end of the car tried to get ahead of the front end, causing the car to travel in a sideways attitude. With more luck than driving skill, we made it to the top of the very small hill and turned to go down a very long and steep hill. It turned out to be an uneventful trip down in low gear going about 3 miles per hour. It was slow but we made it. We missed the next train as well. However, the trains to Cologne run every 30 minutes so there will always be another one.

We finally made it to Cologne. The Cologne train station is right by the cathedral, so we got to see our first sight as we left the station. The cathedral is huge. It was built over a two or three hundred year period starting in about the twelfth century. I was impressed. My wife, Lynn, can work on a project that long and still not finish it.

Our next order of business was to find a Christmas market—there are 5 of then in Cologne. This was not hard because there was one right beside the cathedral. A Christmas market is very much like the Huntsville Texas fair-on-the-square, only different--actually not really much different. There are a bunch of booths selling stuff—wine and beer are very big here just like Texas. There were crafts of the German variety, jewelry, eating places where you could get sausage on a bun but not on a stick. I did not see any booths where you could buy chances to win a firearm. That was different.

We walked through the Christmas market by the cathedral, found another one by the Rathaus (not what you may be thinking), drank some Glühwein, and got really cold. Lynn said I needed a hat to help keep me warm and took me to a nearby department store to get one. While we were there we went to the department store restaurant to warm up and eat. The food was only passable but the atmosphere was intriguing. An older couple with a small dog came in and sat down beside me. Dogs are welcome in most European restaurants and other public places. This particular dog was well mannered and sat on the bench just like a person and ate bits of cheese from his daddy’s hand. Occasionally his tummy made a rumbling sound, which was uncommonly loud for such a small dog. Finally I found out what all the rumbling sounds were leading to, as a noxious gaseous cloud enveloped that part of the restaurant. Other people didn’t seem to notice but I found it to be somewhat disconcerting. We don’t allow dogs to do that in restaurants in East Texas—only cowboys.