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Surprised by travel, for better and worse

Minutes into Saturday night’s movie in supposedly balmy Sarasota, I was longing for a cozy afghan to wrap around my frozen feet. Come to think of it, how about longjohns? And a pair of lined gloves? I’d been so happy to leave my winter gear behind in Toronto. But travel is full of surprises—for instance, the devil-may-care atttitude that a small, artsy cinema in Florida can afford to take toward central heating in any winter but this one. If you’re not up for an unexpected bump or two, you might as well stay home—thereby missing out on all the serendipitous delights.

My husband and I have had our share of bumps. Yet every time we’ve found a compensation. I could tell you about the Argentine pilots’ strike that wiped out our excursion to Iguazu Falls (instead we spent an extra day in Mendoza, as delicious a town—in both senses—as we’ve yet found). Or about the earthquake repairs that barred us from Assisi’s legendary Basilica of St. Francis and inspired Plan B—a daunting uphill climb in the footsteps of the saint.

But let’s cut to the chase: A single afternoon in Trier, an enchanting, history-drenched German city we’d barely heard of until we happened by, made up for any number of glitches elsewhere. We’re connoisseurs of the weird, not just the wondrous. Both meet in Trier, where the city’s most venerated and debated treasure was on view for the first time in 37 years and just the third time in the 20th century. More than a million pilgrims had saved money, booked tickets, scheduled vacations and no doubt endured all manner of travel glitches to see what skeptics debunk as a medieval hoax, and the faithful revere as the shirt that Jesus wore the day he was crucified. We just sauntered in to check out the Holy Tunic of Trier.

Our guidebook had suggested other sights when we took a scenic drive to Trier from our base in the wine town of Bernkastel. They did not disappoint. The oldest city in Germany, Trier boasts a beautifully preserved Roman city gate, an imposing 18th-century palace and an intimate, unforgettably elegant baroque church that just might be the loveliest place of worship I’ve seen anywhere. These are just a few of the attractions we expected to find. But let’s get back to the highlight we didn’t expect—the Holy Tunic.

Holy relics were the stuff of hell-bent competition and skulduggery back in 1196, when the tunic first arrived at its consecrated altar in Trier. The fastest way to put your village on the map and attract hordes of hungry pilgrims was to search out or steal some withered, undeniably ancient object, compose a sacred back story and install the thing in the local cathedral. Not surprisingly, it turned out that Jesus had several foreskins and a sizable wardrobe—not to mention a pre-existing crucifixion tunic, the pride of Argenteuil in France (and since cut up into little pieces).

As for the Holy Tunic of Trier, I can tell you it looks as fragile as a moth’s wing, as brown as a tea stain and…well, exactly like an 800-year-old shirt. I amazed myself by lining up to see it with people who were praying and crossing themselves, just like pilgrims in the Middle Ages. I guess that’s why I travel—to rekindle my capacity for amazement.

Click here to read about a vacation disaster that turned into a ranking road trip.

 

Posted by Rona

 

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