A few days into our stay in Luxembourg, I convinced Devon that it would be fun to hop over the border into Germany for a quick day trip. Only an hour from Luxembourg by train awaits the ancient city of Trier. Once the western capital of the Roman Empire, Trier is packed with tons of archaeological sites to check out, and I was keen to do some exploring. She agreed, so we set out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the train station.
As it turned out, the buses weren’t running on their normal routes because of the weekend sales…which I did not realize until we were on the bus itself. Knowing our luck, I shouldn’t have been surprised. That, however, is a story for another time. Long story short, I got us to the train station with just enough time to spare before our first trip into Germany thanks to my rudimentary French skills. A quick train ride later, we had crossed into the third country of our trip!
Pulling into the Trier station, I was underwhelmed with the city. It was a little rough around the edges. I had originally intended to stay a few nights in the city, but that changed when we streamlined our itinerary. I actually felt slightly relieved that we had decided to stay in Luxembourg, but I was determined to give Trier a chance. It was only a short walk from the station to the city centre, but the atmospheric shift was drastic.
Gone were the concrete buildings and shabby shops. Suddenly a giant stone gate rose before us, opening onto a wide cobblestone street lined with cafés and restaurants. The buildings were all brightly coloured and cheery. The Porta Nigra was the original Roman gate into the city. We didn’t go inside, but the building still made quite the impression.
We paused in the Hauptmarkt to take in the scenery and steal H&M’s free Wi-Fi for Google maps. After orienting ourselves, we headed off towards St. Peter’s Cathedral. Dating to the 11th century, the Dom is built on the foundations of a church dating to the 4th century. The most striking feature of this church, for me, was its simplicity. The building was very plain with little detail on the exterior. This contrasted sharply with the smaller chapel next door which was much more ornate.
Not wanting to pay the entrance fee, Devon and I skipped over the Dom and went inside the small chapel instead. The stained glass was much more modern and abstract than I was expecting. There was also a window in the floor through which you could see some of the original church foundations.
After checking out the churches and snapping tons of photos, we walked around to the Konstantinbasilika. Despite its name, this was originally built to be the throne room for Emperor Constantine. It was converted to a protestant church in the 19th century.Walking into that space, I felt so small. It is a huge rectangular room devoid of any superfluous decoration. The wooden ceiling sat an imposing 36 metres above our heads. An incredible industrial organ sat above the entrance. The focal point is a semi-circular space at the front of the room. Faded portraits of saints can be still be seen on the walls. The space used to be decorated with statues of Jesus and his disciples, though these were removed after the Second World War when there was a cultural backlash against the art of the previous century.
I can only imagine the impact that room would have had back in the day. Lacking any ostentatious decoration, all attention is on the front of the room. One would have felt so small in that space due to both its size and the presence of an emperor. I dig it.
Behind the basilica, there was a very fancy garden filled with flowerbeds, ponds, and statues of Greek gods. It extended all the way down to the Roman baths. Several families were having picnics along the water, and there were plenty of shady benches to rest on. Devon and I occupied one such bench for a few minutes to get out of the sun. Coming from Edinburgh, adjusting to the heat was hard.
The highlight of our day was our visit to the Kaiserthermen, or the Imperial Roman baths. This was one of the largest Roman bath complexes in the empire. Sadly, a portion of the site was under construction when we visited, but it still left an impact. We began in a small museum detailing the construction of the city and how it developed over time. It was only two rooms of displays, and then we headed outside.
The site itself is relatively simple, made up of mostly foundations and a few sections of wall. You can walk around as you please, allowing you to get right up and personal with the complex. As an archaeology student, I was in my element. We climbed to the top of a viewing platform to see the entire complex laid out before us.
Though it was interesting to see the remaining buildings and walls, the real star attraction was underground. You can enter the old heating system from several points throughout the site. These tunnels snake beneath the entire area of the bathhouse. Walking through them was so cool (and slightly spooky). It felt like the ghosts of the Roman city were going to jump out at any moment. It was by far my favourite part of the day.
After exploring the historical side of Trier, Dev and I decided it was time to move on to the edible attractions. This was our first time in Germany, and neither of us speaks any German. Not being able to read the menus was slightly traumatic. I had gotten used to using my French all the time. Not being able to read was really hard for me. I suppose it was just warming me up for the second half of our trip where my French would be of no use.
We picked one of the many cafés near the cathedral and found a nice shady table beneath an umbrella. Not expecting much from the food, I was really surprised with how good it was. Kartoffelklosse are my new favourite thing in the world, and I need to learn how to make them. They are basically giant potato dumplings stuffed with meat and herbs. No matter what anyone else says, I am a fan of German food. This was comfort food at its best.
It was starting to get late, so Devon and I made our way back to the station to catch the next train to Luxembourg. Making this a day trip rather than a stop was a good call. It was fun to be able to explore the city without worrying about lugging our backpacks around and checking into a new hostel. I really liked Trier, and it was a fun day, but I was glad to be returning to my beautiful Luxembourg for a few more nights. It really has become one of my favourite places.