Joe Hendren

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Travels: Aachen, Germany

In the Footsteps of Charlemagne

Sunday March 9, 2003

The 'Wulfs Door' of St Mary's Cathedral, Aachen

Hi. I am in Aachen in Western Germany at the moment.  Currently typing this in an expensive internet cafe.

Had a grand couple of days in the city of Charlemagne. Charlemagne was a Frankish king who ruled between 768 and 814. He formed an alliance with the Pope of Rome leading to his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800. Following his coronation Charlemagne based a permanent palace at Aix-la-Chapelle/Aachen.

I arrived yesterday on the train from Cologne. The main reason I have come here is to furfil my long held ambition to see St Mary's Cathedral which formed part of Charlemagne's palace. Charles laid the foundation stones for the cathedral in 794AD and it still stands today. I wandered into the Cathedral around 4pm only to find that it was closed due to a concert being held there at 5pm. By this time a number of people were already finding themselves seats for the concert, and there did not seem to be a door charge so I decided to sneak in. It turned out to be a performance of Mozarts Requiem complete with a small orchestra and a three part choir. Suffice to say it sounded awesome. Someone must have known that I was coming :)

Aachen is also famous for its thermal hotpools. Charlemagne himself liked nothing better than bathing in the warm waters, surprising many with his practice of conducting vital matters of state while he was dressing. Following the concert I decided to visit the thermal hot pools on the outskirts of town. It took a long time to work out the bus system, it took me an hour to work out that the bus I was waiting for does not run on Saturday nights!

Charlemagnes throne

"Travelpack and me next to Charlemagne's Throne" (its a fake but still old)

The pools were very upmarket, with upmarket prices to boot (9 Euro for 2 and a half hours). The water was warm without it being hot - from memory the pools at Hamner Springs in New Zealand seemed to be hotter. It was really nice to have a swim, especially as I think it would be well over a year since I last went swimming. The complex consisted of a large centre pool that was warm, a smaller pool in a south east corner which was a little hotter and a very violent spa next to the main pool. There were also two outdoor pools, connected to the complex through plastic flaps that you could swim though.

Being there on my own I found I could relax completely, without having to think about anything. However at times I found the lingustic barrier made the experience more isolating than it would have been otherwise. Travelling on your own does have some upsides in that you can see what you want when you want, and you do end up meeting more people, but you do have to make more of an effort to make sure you are not on your own all the time. Short trips are fine, but I am not sure if I could travel on my own for longer than a week in places where I was less likely to meet English speaking people. While I was in the spa I met some hard cased people from Portugual and best of all one of them spoke good english. yay.

Water was supplied to one of the outdoor pools by an artificial waterfall and a number of wide jets on the side of the pool that pointed down into the water. The water came out of these like a watercannon. Standing underneath one of the jets gave an outstanding water propelled back massage, right in the spot where I store my stress (just below the shoulder blades). The spa pool was great too, the only word I can use to descibe it would be 'violent'!

Later, when I was inside I looked out at the same outdoor pool to see people circling around the pool like a big fast train. It looked like fun so I went back to the outdoor pool. I did not have time to work out how it worked as I was whisked away by a strong current. The pool attendants had turned it into a giant whirlpool! The best thing was that although you were being pulled around at a pace, you did not have to worry about hitting the sides. At one point I lay on my back as I was pulled around - it was like backstroke without the fear of hitting the side

Charlemagnes throne

A model of Charlemagne's palace as it would have looked in his day. 

St Mary's is on the right.

More pics of Aachen and the Cathedral