In this journal:
- pie and mash next to Thames;
- biggest Christmas tree in the world;
- rhinos with wings.
My flight took slightly more than 4 hours to arrive at Gatwick Airport, and for the 3rd time this year, I was in London. I have covered London in the past, so this time, I will only meet up with up with my local contact, Benita, during my 20 hours in town. So if you are here to learn more about London, click here for my other journals.
This was my 2nd time arriving in Gatwick in my life, and the trains are somehow completely down again, as if someone was playing some kind of sick prank on me. Apparently a power outage knocked out a sector in the line, and every train heading in town had been stopped. Thousands of people congregated by the platforms, and even more sat dejectedly on the ground in the terminal, cluttering the commotion with large bags and suitcases. It was utter chaos. After nearly an hour of wait in the line, I was informed by the bus salesperson that the earliest seat available would be in 3 hours, and it would take a solid 2 hours to get into town. Nah, thanks. Finally, after an inexplicably long time, the trains were back up and running, and I managed to arrive into Canada Water tube station without being too late to meet Benita in a cozy pub called The Angel.
This is a historical pub that serves a specific kind of beer, and apparently the locals just differentiate the kinds of pubs base on the beers they serve, hence The Angel is a Sam Smith one, and these delicious drinks are apparently the cheapest in town. It sits right at the banks of Thames River, offering a great view over the waterfront, and even managed to steal a glimpse of the famous Tower Bridge!
Benita was so nice that she offered to treat me, and I got myself a pie ‘n’ mash per tradition of course! We caught up on our lives in the past year, as I always managed to find myself in this town during the holiday season, and Benita told me about she and her boyfriend’s hardcore hiking adventures. She also prides in her mother’s monthly home cook delivery from Latvia, and the package always goes by land! Miraculously, the special delivery companies that carry the items across the continent only takes 2 full days from door to door, what kind of crazy efficiency is that? What is even crazier is that the company also takes passengers! Who wants to be a delivery package with me on a 2 day jaunt from Latvia to London?
After hours of chatting, I had to hug Benita farewell, not only because she had work early next day, but also due to the fact that she is one of those mentally insane people who wake up at 5 am to jog, yes, even in the sleeting London rain in winter. I woke up way later than she probably did the next day, and headed straight towards the train station. I could have squeezed in some early morning walk along Thames, but my wise mind and lazy butt agreed that it would be better to just snooze till it’s time to cruise.
I hopped onto the train towards Luton Airport, and then got onto a quick flight bound for Dortmund. Thanks, London, see ya next time!
The tiny Dortmund airport had a confusing bus system, and I had to transit from a bus onto a U-Bahn in order to reach my hostel in city center. After dropping off my bag, it was time for me to go hunting for food again. I sharpened my weapon of choice, a VISA® international credit card, and headed into the darkness.
Dortmund is particularly fabulous during this time of the year, as this small city of merely 600000 people boasts a gigantic Christmas market. Since it is the third largest city of the region, it does not get as many visitors as Cologne, and is not as internationally focused as Dusseldorf, so it is often overlooked on the radar of a traveler. However, I have been to Germany enough times to know that in December, the most important quality of a German city lies not in architecture, history, hippie trends or modern comforts, but in its weihnachtsmarkt. And boy does Dortmund have a brilliant one.
The 300-stall central market sprawls all around the main square next to the Romanesque cathedral and its super-Gothic spire. It extends from the square around the walking streets, all the way into nearby parks and boulevards, seemingly without an end. Numerous light balls are hanged on top of the branches, creating an illusion of starry fields at night.
The biggest attraction, however, is the Christmas tree. This is the biggest Christmas tree, period. Every year, more than 1700 fir pines are collected and assembled into this mammoth tower, creating the biggest natural Christmas tree mankind has ever witnessed. It towers nearly 45 meters above the plaza, visible from all around the city center, and is vibrantly decorated with 13000 lights, most of them flicker base on a rhythm. The angel in the middle also has a wing that flaps slowly, as if she was descending from the heavens to put on the star.
Needless to say, I was there to munch on copious amounts of unhealthy food underneath the tree too big to be viewed properly. Besides all the little trinkets that you can only get in Christmas markets such as cute square handkerchiefs with reindeers, little snowglobes of a DB train running through a blizzard, and red-green door ornaments made from real dried twigs and wild berries, the food offered was varied and massive. Just take a look at these XXXL bratwursts! They are longer than my arms!
And do not forget about the food of my choice if I have to turn into a kind of food by a witch or a mental magician: reiberkuchen. These potato puffers are deep fried in large skillets to a golden brown, and then topped with leek sourcream or mayonnaise, while sometimes it is accompanied by a sweet jam. Regardless, these piping hot calorie bombs are the reason why I keep coming back to Germany for these Christmas markets: they are hard to find elsewhere at any other time!
Gingerbread houses, kale with sausages, potato soup, dried cheese and ham, and all other foods were quickly thrown into my tummy as I roamed around the market aisles, accompanied by a large glass of mulled wine. This is exactly how it should go in my imagination, a drunken walk around the most fabulous night market, while being stuffed with foods that make me grow rolls on the belly. Just like the simulations.
And how can I forget this stall? A large storefront only advertises one thing: pulled pork sandwich. Nothing else, not even water, on the menu, and the store has been kept the same way for 100 years as a centennial fixture in the Dortmund Christmas market. Four huge racks of entire piglets are spinning around the axis in the oven, radiating heat and irresistable smells of the sizzling skin, and the oil drips down the tiers like a waterfall of fragrances. Wow, what a gorgeous view! And what can I comment on the taste except providing you with the data point that I actually ate 2 sandwiches in a row, leaving my tummy full and my wallet empty.
The next morning was a Saturday, and a different kind of market sprang up in the streets. Hundreds of large trailers appeared out of nowhere, and numerous kinds of fresh produce could be purchased via these special vendors. Most of them own the farms or factories that process the goods as well, so it is a great opportunity to purchase fresh and delicious vegetables, meat, cheeses and fruits from people who actually have knowledge about the products, and cut out the middle man.
A few blocks from the walking streets is the strange-looking city hall. Built in Renaissance Revival style, this old red brick building has been in use as the city administration since 1899, and the top of the gable is an eagle spreading its wings, a symbol animal of the city. The office area was leveled during WWII, and has now been replaced with a fully transparent atrium, and a 100%-glass new office at the side, forming a jarring amalgamation.
Yet the more well-known city heraldic animal is the above winged-rhino. Originally the symbol of the city concert hall, Westphalian Philharmonic, it was widely adopted as a series of 100 sculptures, scattered around the city. These animals were originally used because rhinos have an audio range way below humans’, therefore they can hear infrasound, and their rotating ears allow them to listen to soundwaves with 360 degrees of freedom. These each-distinct rhinos were very well-received when they debuted in the streets in 2005, and have been adopted as unofficial city animals since.
The biggest city landmark is the above Dortmunder U, a strange looking building that seems to be from an indeterminate era of the industrial age. Originally the fermentation and storage building for a local beer company, this 1927 building was spared from demolition in 1994 thanks to its landmark status, and was renovated and reopened in 2010 as a cultural center, housing a university and the Museum Ostwall. This is a 5-story span of arts that were considered “degenerate” by Nazis, mostly because they are of the early modern art variety and portray rather abstract concepts. There was also a special exhibition at the bottom of the underground section that displays a room completely covered with blue inked words, and each person can add onto it, sparing no empty space in the room.
Yet for many men, Dortmund is famous for one thing and one thing only: BVB. Most of my Canadian and Chinese friends have no idea if Dortmund is a city or the nickname of a kind of cheese sandwich, but whenever I mention the word Dortmund, they would simultaneous jump up and scream “BVB!!!!” at the top of their lungs like braindead weebs losing the last pack of Szechuan sauce. Yes, this rather little-known city is known for one of the most successful football clubs in the world, known on par as A.C. Milan or FC Barcelona, and of course the football museum is its most visited sight, situated right in front of the main station.
I boarded my train heading towards Cologne on the second afternoon of my arrival. Watching the rain shatter on the window, splintering apart, I thought to myself: wow, what a blast this trip has been! I have indulged myself in foods in a Portuguese fishing village, gourmet Roman pasta establishments, streetside Croatian cevapi, and now pie and mash by the Thames as well as under the largest Christmas tree in the world! A few billion years ago, a big bang created the universe, and today, the big bang is the fun I have been swimming in during this trip. I am very sure this eternal inflation would continue, in my next stop, another festive place I am very familiar with.