This post continues a series recounting some travel mostly in Western Europe in Summer 2018.
I was pretty damn tired.
I flew back to Berlin from Budapest and spontaneously stayed in a friend's apartment. I had a train to catch, departing from Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 6:51 AM.
Four hours later, I needed to change trains in Köln. I was immensely pleased to have the chance to look at the famous and beautiful cathedral, and immensely displeased to discover my connection was cancelled.
Fortunately, the German rail system is designed with flexibility in mind, and so there wasn't actually any hard requirement that I needed to ride on that particular train. I caught the next one, an hour or so later.
Fresh-faced and dewey-eyed, I emerged into the charming city of Aachen.
The Man For Me
I immediately sought the comfort of a cafe with coffee and WiFi.
My travel plans were fairly last minute and so I needed to get ahold of my AirBnB host to get keys. Even more importantly, I had to figure out where it was that I needed to stay.
It was a rather strange apartment, a 45-minute walk or quick bus ride from the town center.
It belonged to a guy named Maksim.
Unlike literally every single other Airbnb host I have ever had, Maksim wanted to not only give a perfunctory showing of his apartment, but also to hang out for a few hours. He was very hospitable.
I suspect that Maksim did not rent out his apartment often.
His day job was construction, more specifically working on scaffolding. The work was hard and dangerous, and apparently also not particularly highly paid work in Aachen.
Together, we went on a nice walk, and had dinner at a favorite sausage place, where Maksim kindly insisted on buying me dinner. As the guest in this situation, I reciprocated as appropriately I could by buying coffee afterwards.
Maksim was a gracious enough host that he offered to let me use his bicycle.
He even let me know that it would be okay if I slept in his bed while he was away. You see, the spare bed I was renting was just a mattress on a pallet, and perhaps a real bed would be a shrewd choice if I intended to invite any female companions in.
In addition to being a very nice host, Maksim may have fit the stereotypes for a German man who worked in construction... whatever those were.
After we spent a couple of hours together, Maksim left town to travel to Lichtenstein where he hoped to find higher wages, or at least ones that would make him feel more justified in risking his life for his work.
When the Sun Goes Down...
There are a few other things I should note about Maksim's flat...
Maksim's flat had a fantastic balcony/rooftop space.
It was next to several other buildings that were under construction.
Not a single light fixture was installed, though there were many connections dangling from the ceiling.
Most crucially, the flat lacked WiFi.
So, it was a bit zen in the evening once the sun went down.
And to be absolutely clear, I do not mean to complain. I think it was ~10 euro a night to have a flat to myself, and all of these flat info & pictures were clearly documented on the listing info.
I might have made a different decision if I was reading closer, since without WiFi, I would effectively have no internet, except for when I was at the office.
Each morning, I walked to work.
I initially upset the typically German security guard by not following procedures that were completely non-standard and undocumented.
However, he quickly transitioned from sternly lecturing me to trying to show me around the workplace and really wanting to make sure I knew where the fancy coffee machines were and had a spot to sit.
A friend of mine who stopped by without being pre-registered which provoked more ire.
The following exchange also occurred:
"You said that when they took my picture it would only appear on my id card, and not any other system. You took an awful picture, and it's used in every single system inside the company!"
"Yes, I did. So?"
The training courses I conducted covered topics that were mostly reasonable, and they were reasonably well-received by the contractors.
After I finished up the whole training course thing, I had somewhat unexpectedly been invited to join a game of Gloomhaven by an Australian software engineer. The game is basically Dungeons and Dragons without the requirement of creativity on anyone's part. It was a fun way to spend an evening.
Sights and Smells of Aachen
What does Aachen offer to the prospective visitor?
An old town center, where I had passed a lot of my time walking.
The Aachen Cathedral. Charlemagne ordered it built and is buried beneath it. It has some nifty gargoyles and lion's heads on the outside, and inside, I found it much more peaceful and meditative than the average old Cathedral.
The Rathaus or medieval town hall.
There are a number of other sights, which I did not visit during my stay.
Further Great Planning
My other dilemma was that I had clearly been unable to plan anything beyond my time in Aachen, but I had a few more days to fill.
While I was at work, I was either training or getting ready to train folks. (Or being told I really should have been scheduling meetings with an entirely separate team.)
While I was at home, I had no WiFi. So, I couldn't really make any bookings or plan travel outside of work. Yet, when I was at the office, I was not out and about enjoying the sites of Aachen.
I did my best to balance those and to seek recommendations for places to visit and to put together a quick itinerary. My main criteria was that I'd eventually need to get to the Frankfurt Airport so I could return to normal work stateside.
The contractors gave me really nice suggestions.
My friend with the lousy ID photo gave me some suggestions as well, though in hindsight maybe I should have also considered that his suggestions were from the perspective of a young father with taste somewhat different to mine.
Bet that one wouldn't come back to bite..
To be continued...
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