The Rome of the North

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October 17th 2017
Published: October 17th 2017
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Of all the places I would be visiting in Germany, Trier was the one I looked forward to the most. Founded in 16BC by the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, Trier, or Augusta Treverorum as it was known, was the most important Roman city in Northern Europe. I have not been disappointed, but also pleased to find a lovely little city beside all the Romanness. Trier was also the birthplace of Karl Marx, but I must disappoint my communist friends because I did not visit the house he was born in.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, my hotel room looks out over the remains of one of the Roman gatehouses – the Porta Nigra. It is called that now because of the dark colour of the stonework, but we don’t know what the gate was known as in Roman times. It is spectacular, though, and it was my first destination as I headed into the city on Monday morning.

The ever-present fog was with me again as I entered the Porta Nigra. I bought the Antikencard which gave me entry into all of the Roman sites in Trier at a discounted rate after checking that it would be valid for the museum on Tuesday, with it being closed on Mondays. The place was nearly empty as I entered the first section, the first floor for us, but it would have been the 3rd floor for the Roman guards. This is because the building was used during the middle ages as a series of churches for the monastery that is now adjacent.

I was taking my time, enjoying the lack of tourists compared to my experiences over the weekend, when the peace was shattered by the arrival of a school excursion. I was more jealous than anything, though, because no school excursion I went on was anywhere near as interesting as that! I managed to keep ahead of them easily as I explored the building. Unfortunately, the churchmen of the middle ages have left little sign of the Romans inside, but it was still a stunning place to visit.

After exiting the Porta Nigra, I decided to head down to the Moselle River that passes through Trier on its way to the Rhine. My aim was to see the bridge built on the foundations of the Roman bridge, but I decided to head straight to the river so I could see if the riverbank was as attractive as the Rhine was on Sunday. May be not quite, but it was pretty in the autumn colours and I had a pleasant walk down to the bridge. The bridge itself is nothing amazing, but it is great to see that the foundations laid by the Romans are capable of holding up modern traffic with ease.

My next target was the amphitheatre, on the other side of the city centre. I walked there through a series of parks between two main roads, once again enjoying the autumn colours. Learning from the previous days, I spent some time sitting in one of the parks and simply relaxing. I had a long way to walk that day, and didn’t want to exhaust myself too early. Besides, what’s the point of travelling to a beautiful city and not taking the time to appreciate it?

Heading up the hill, as I passed the Imperial baths I suddenly ran out of footpath. I wasn’t sure what the proper detour was supposed to be, but I didn’t feel like extending my already lengthy walking journey looking for it so I naughtily bypassed the sign and had to do some jaywalking to get back to a footpath. Of course, once I had done so, a few other tourists who had been stuck in the same boat decided to follow me. So my apologies to the city of Trier for giving people bad examples to follow, but the traffic is pretty light and I don’t think there’s much danger there.

I continued up the hill and soon reached the amphitheatre. Originally seating 20,000 people, much of the original stone and brickwork was used in the middle ages for other buildings. They have done an excellent job with the restoration, however, and you can still get a great sense of the original structure. Apparently, their biggest problems are drainage and the fact that some of the materials still there were not meant to be exposed to the elements.

I spent a good amount of time walking around and taking lots of photos. While in the underground chamber, I was complimented by an American tourist for having a “good idea” for a particular shot. I found it amusing because she had no way to know I spoke English, but I guess that’s how some Americans roll. When I was finished, I once again spent some time just sitting and relaxing. The hills above the amphitheatre are covered in vineyards, so where else would you want to relax?

Continuing on, I headed back towards the city centre and visited the Imperial Baths. The Baths were never fully completed, and the main building was turned into a castle in the middle ages, but the archaeologists have done a grand job at peeling back and exploring the site. It looks very much like an active archaeological site, and apparently the partially complete sections were informative about Roman construction techniques.

I walked around, pleased to see most of the signs had an English translation. One even had a rather graphic artist’s impression of the baths in action during Roman times! I liked the underground tunnels best, not just because they were quite a bit cooler than above ground. It was interesting to see the world only seen by the Roman servants (probably slaves) who serviced the baths, keeping the furnaces running and the water warm for the various baths.

With my visit complete, I walked back to the hotel via the city centre that I had managed to circumnavigate during the day. The city centre is pedestrian-only, and while quite nice, it mostly featured modern shops which held little interest for me. Besides, I was bloody exhausted at that point and my ankle was complaining about all the uneven footing it had to traverse during my explorations. I reached my hotel and had a short nap before heading down to the hotel bar and sampling a couple of the local wines while I processed the days’ photos.

Tuesday morning, I had to check out of the hotel, but fortunately didn’t have to move my car until 5pm. I also got a night’s free parking because I had asked them to investigate why the air-conditioning wasn’t working in my room. It didn’t get my air-conditioning working, but hey, free parking is free parking.

My last target in Trier was the Rheinische Landesmuseum which houses many of the archaeological finds in the city, from pre-history through the Celtic period (when it was the capital of the Treveri tribe of Belgic Gauls) and Roman period, into the middle ages and renaissance. As I entered, it looked like the sign on the wall was saying no photography, but thankfully it turned out to only be flash photography that was verboten.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have an English guide, so it was a little hard to follow where to go. This was made worse by the fact that the Roman sections were closed for 45 minutes while “the show” was on. The show seemed to be some sort of multimedia light show for a group of school children. This meant that after visiting the rooms on pre-history, bronze age and Celtic Trier, I had to head back to the museum shop and walk through the museum backwards. Not literally, as I could have knocked things over. But it was backwards in the sense of how you are supposed to view the exhibits which should be chronological. This caused havoc with the audio guide, but I managed to get through it. By the time I reached the Roman sections, they were open again.

My favourite display in the museum was the model of the Roman town at its peak. This was huge and extremely detailed, and did a great job of putting the existing Roman sites into context. The mosaic gallery was also impressive, and it is apparently the best collection of mosaics north of the alps (even if they do say so themselves!)

After nearly three hours walking through the museum, my feet were aching and it was time for me to hit the road. I had to say goodbye to the lovely city of Trier and drive to my hotel which is in the French countryside south of Strasbourg. I decided to drive a slightly longer way, just to pass through Luxembourg. I didn’t see much, but I wasn’t expecting Luxembourg to be so hilly. Maybe it’s flatter like Belgium and the Netherlands further north than where I drove.

Anyway, the drive was uneventful except for a couple of peak hour traffic jams around Metz and Nancy. I arrived at my hotel just after dark, and I can’t wait for the morning because I drove through a lot of vineyards (literarily drove through the vineyards) to get to the hotel. It should look spectacular during the day!

I had dinner at the hotel restaurant, and I had been looking forward to my first French meal. Partly because the food I’d had in Germany wasn’t anything special (it tended to be a bit overcooked, unfortunately) and
Cranes (I think)Cranes (I think)Cranes (I think)

I'm guessing they were used to load and unload boats on the river
partly because I remember last time I travelled through France I didn’t have a single meal that wasn’t fantastic. I’m pleased to say the chicken cordon bleu was every bit as amazing as I hoped it would be. The hotel is quaint compared to the modern hotels I have been staying at (and will be staying at), and it kind of reminds me of Fawlty Towers but with a lot more competence! I’m looking forward to spending a whole week here!

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