Day 10: Spreading my wings, stretching my legs

Trip Start Dec 14, 2011
Trip End Aug 16, 2013

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Flag of Germany  , Baden-Württemberg,
Friday, December 23, 2011

Last night, C told me that the family was going to drive into Mannheim to do some Christmas shopping and asked me if I wanted to come. Having not left Worms since I arrived almost a week ago, I was way down to explore another city. (Although it was my own choice to stay here thus far rather than venturing out so soon, not just because I'm trying to keep money from burning through my pockets but also because I have six months here and getting to know this place well before traveling a lot in Germany is important to me.) So we all (Hugo included) piled into their car and were off to Mannheim. I only saw a small part of it when I took the train from Paris, and it really is a much larger city that Worms. Worms, although they call it a city, doesn’t have towering buildings and crowds of people everywhere. We parked and walked to a coffee shop, where C ordered everyone coffee/hot chocolate and croissants, and after we had finished, we moved onwards into the pedestrian area where there were different stores everywhere as well as a beautiful Christmas market!

We decided to split up and meet at the post office an hour later to go back home. Just as well for me, I think that my excitement for the Christmas market was somewhat lost on them, even the kids, because we don’t have them back home. I barely even made it inside any of the various malls and clothing stores while I was there – the Christmas market was HUGE and somewhat different that the one in Worms, so I spent a lot of time at it. There was a skinnier part that had a lot of artisan craft booths and was beautifully decorated. There I found wooden block cookie molds and a husband and wife who were making gingerbread cookies with them, candles in an amazing amount of colors, glass Christmas ornaments, paper and bound notebooks, drool-worthy paintbrushes that I could have spent an endless amount of money on, floral and spiced soaps, carved wooden toys, tea and spice mixtures, paper stars, woven straw baskets, ceramic, metal, and wooden sculptures, brightly painted birdhouses, glass marbles, different colored leather shoes and bags, jars of jam, dried fruit, candied nuts, spicy gingerbread cookies and hearts, endless different kinds of chocolates in bars and eggs and the shape of Santa and buildings and bears, painted eggs with the Hungarian artisan sitting and painting right there, Australian hardwood nuts strung on strings as decorations, and painted ceramic bowls, mugs, plates, egg holders, and vases.

I went into a couple of shops too – they were in a little mall that made up for its size by being extremely expensive. They had a pastry booth stocked with little tarts and fine chocolates and macarons right in the middle of the men’s clothing floor, which itself had endless colorful ties and suit components. Upstairs was a little café and teashop where you could order pots of tea and little sandwiches in the middle of the women’s department, all of which clothing I couldn’t even begin to afford. But it was fun to look at the fancy clothing while I ate the two macarons (vanilla-olive oil and rose-pistachio) that I bought and admired the holiday decorations.

By that time, I needed to find the post office as the time that we were to meet was fast approaching. I asked a man where the post office was and I was actually able to understand his response! Either my German is getting much better already or he was able to hear my thick accent and spoke as slow and clear as he could. I asked another person as I walked in the direction the first had pointed me because it’s always good to get at least two opinions when it comes to directions, but she told me the same thing, and soon I found myself in front of the post office. I was a bit early, and as I waited, I realized that I had really not had enough time in Mannheim. So when my family walked up, I told them I’d rather take the train home if that was okay. After directing me how to get to the train station, they went off and I continued on. From where I was, I could see the famous Mannheim water tower ahead of me, and I decided that I would walk that way as I window shopped along. I’m glad that I hadn’t bought any clothes yet in Worms – I would have to come back to Mannheim when I wanted to buy something, because they had an amazing variety to choose from. In Worms, the only thing that I had really seen was H&M. As I came up on the water tower, I realized that there was even MORE Christmas market over here. Most of it was food on this side, but occasionally there was an ornament vendor or a booth covered in lace or art or some kind of kitschy nicknacks (my favorite was a booth that had dream catchers and "Native American" art – made in China – with a video of a rain dance playing.) I was getting a bit hungry, and I got a Scheeball, powdered with cinnamon and sugar. It’s basically a big ball of cookie dough pieces wrapped together to form a big ball. I continued to walk and look around at everything and found a Moroccan tea and pastries booth, which ended up being my favorite thing despite being not German. The man there made mint tea with fresh bunches of mint leaves and sugar, pouring it dramatically high up from an ornate silver tea kettle and without spilling a drop, into each glass below. I picked a date stuffed with a cashew and a piece of baklava to go with it and joined some people at a table set up in front of the booth. It was so good that I got back in line for a coffee, which was served sweet and syrupy-thick. I chatted with two ladies at the table who were willing to speak slowly enough for me and wait while I figure out how to respond.

After I finished my second drink, it was beginning to get dark (still so strange to me how early that happens here, but since the solstice is over, I guess it will be slightly later) and I walked down the road to the station to go home. On the way, I passed sushi and a vegetarian restaurant, both of which I’ll have to remember to come back to. At the train station, I found the bathroom to use it before I got on my train, but everywhere I’ve gone in public in Germany so far, they have paid bathrooms! Unwilling to pay fifty cents to pee, I decided to just buy my ticket. But since we’re now in the age of technology, there were only automated ticket machines, and for some reason the machine refused to take my cash. After trying the whole process three times, with the line of people growing painfully long and grumbly behind me, I figured I could probably buy my ticket on board. Plus, there was a train to Worms coming in five minutes, and otherwise I’d have to wait another hour to go home. So I found a window seat to stare out of, my shopping bags filled with Christmas gifts in the seat next to me, and settled in for the thirty minutes back to my train station. The whole time, I was a bit nervous without a ticket. I mean, it really wasn’t on purpose that I was sitting there sans correct ticket and I was pretty sure that I could buy a ticket directly on the train, but if I was wrong and my terrible accent and deer-in-headlights expression wasn’t enough to save me, was I going to sit in a German jail cell? I didn’t even want to end up paying more for a fine, so I was hoping that I was either right or wrong and pitiful enough for a slap on the wrist. But… the conductor never even came by! I had never intended to just not pay, but I figured it was worth it to not get in trouble, and I would have to problem solve about how to get a ticket next time, since this wouldn’t be the last day that I needed to ride a train.

As I walked back through the city center to get home, I did something that I have never done before. I purposefully took a slightly longer way around the Christmas market. I think I’ve had enough for this year!

Something I learned today: I have been taking my ability to use the bathroom for free for granted!
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