Because I had a 6:25am flight out of SFO on Saturday morning, I’d planned all along to spend that Friday night in South San Francisco so it would be easy to get to. Turned out I had to work in Oakland all day on Friday so I added a night to my reservation and went up on Thursday. I took Amtrak to Richmond then BART to South San Francisco, and Lyft to the little hotel I stayed at: Atlas.
And I do mean little. Only once have I had a room smaller than this (at a Travelodge in San Francisco way back when). Factor in the shared bathroom, and it was practically a hostel. But the hotel rates in SF are outrageous, this was comparatively reasonable and I really just needed something to sleep in, so it worked.
It was about 7pm by the time I got there and I was definitely hungry. The hotel was on Grand Ave – the heart of South San Francisco! There was actually a fair amount of reasonable eating choices, but I went with easy and what was across the street, a little Hawaiian BBQ joint. Hadn’t had that in awhile and we don’t have a lot of them in Sacramento so figured why not.
I was pretty tired from a full week already, jammed with work and personal things to get ready to be gone for 2 weeks. I was asleep before 9:30pm, but up before 3am! Since there was no coffee in the room!, I just hung out until Starbucks across the street opened, then went over there just after 5am and started working.
There was a Guatemalan place down the street that opened at 6am for breakfast and that sounded interesting. It was across the street from the City Hall building, which was beautifully lit that time of morning.
Antigua, Guatemalan food
I had the machaca and eggs, with beans, tomatoes, avocado, onions. It was pretty tasty.
From there I took BART into Oakland for an all day meeting. I had dinner with a co-worker at a great little ramen place pretty much next door to the office. We visited for quite awhile and I didn’t get back to the hotel until about 9pm.
I was very wired – with excitement mostly – and had trouble sleeping, but finally fell asleep around midnight probably. I hardly ever set an alarm but had just in case, and woke up about 15 seconds before it went off at 4am. I realized as I was getting ready that I could have breakfast in the lounge at the airport, so nixed the Denny’s plan I had been thinking about. I still have a British Airways Gold card in my name thanks to all of the travel Dan did in 2017 so might as well take advantage of that while I can!
I hadn’t been in this one before. It was pretty nice and a decent size. Primarily I wanted coffee which I got plenty of, and had a small bowl of oatmeal and some juice. I wasn’t all that hungry for some reason.
I got a couple of nice shots of San Francisco from the plane on my way out.
My flight was on time and I got to JFK about 3:30 Eastern time. I landed in Terminal 8 and just had to get to Terminal 7 and that was pretty painless.
I made my way to the lounge which I’d been in last year so everything felt nice and familiar. I worked for about 3 hours, finalizing a couple of job related things I hadn’t been able to get to, as well as some UC Davis stuff since I start teaching again the week I get back. I felt quite relieved to send the final email about 7pm and be officially on vacation! Just in time to board my plane to London.
I love getting these messages when I take my phone out of airplane mode! I have Verizon’s international “pay as you go” plan, which charges a simple flat rate while you’re wherever. So Worth It. I added it in 2014 and never looked back. Gotta have it for Google Maps if nothing else…
It was about a 6 hour flight, I landed about 7:45am local time. I landed in Terminal 5, had to get to Terminal 2. Deplaning, getting to the next terminal and security again all took a little over an hour, with about 2.5 hours to kill before I board my next flight to Dusseldorf.
Yes, Dusseldorf. You thought I was going to Cologne, didn’t you? Well, I am. It’s habit I guess more than anything. About a month after I booked these flight plans I woke up one morning and thought: isn’t it funny that it never even occurred to me to fly into Cologne? Because the first 3 times were all related to Dan’s work, and Bayer had a deal with British Airways for better rates to fly into Dusseldorf (his work location was about in between Dusseldorf and Cologne, but we always stayed in Cologne because it was more fun), that’s what we did: fly into DUS, train into Cologne. Somehow it never occurred to me to do anything different. But it plays into my weird love for the Cologne train station and walking out into the cathedral square from there so it all works great.
I’ve written all this in Heathrow so far. More to come once I get to my final destination…
It is now 8:35am Germany time Monday morning. The wifi in the hotel I’m in is very temperamental so i came – where else? – to the train station to finish the blog.
Where was I? The rest of the trip was uneventful but annoying. Perhaps underscored by my readiness for it to be over and to just be here, what should have been the shortest and easiest part of the trip – Heathrow to Cologne – was by far the most irritating. Both the plane and the train experienced unknown delays, perhaps known to everyone else who could speak German because there were lots of announcements but none in English. My plane hop was on Eurowings, what I believe is a German regional airport, their answer to Southwest. No first class, pay for all extras, etc. But it was only $125 so the price was right.
When I got to the platform where I would catch my train and saw this sign I felt perhaps for the first time that I was 1. finally on vacation and 2. somehow home. Probably because I’ve spent more time here than any other European country, Germany always feels like home to me. And I’ve been to all the cities on this sign: Cologne, Bonn (2014), Koblenz (2013). [Avoiding the urge to link back….you can find them if you care…]
2013 was my first trip, and I’d flown into Brussels and took a train to Cologne where I had to transfer to get to Mainz where I was meeting Dan. I was desperately low on device power and finally found a plug I could use in the Starbucks at the train station. I will never forget looking up from the window-facing counter where I had planted myself and seeing the site below.
I literally gasped. It was my first experience with the cathedral – with any European cathedral – and it took my breath away. As I was walking through the train station yesterday I walked past the Starbucks and decided to capture that old memory (notice the Starbucks sign on the left). Granted I stood outside to take this so it’s a broader view than that first glimpse but you get the idea.. At the time it was the grandest thing I’d ever seen, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
As I remember experiencing on other Sundays that I’d been here, there was a bustle of activity, and there was a street performer playing bells. I managed to capture that last portion of his performance on video which you can access here. I love how it sounds.
Back in the 1960s Germany had a labor shortage and it aggressively recruited Turks to help out with that. This resulted in large Turkish communities and Cologne has a decent one. I had decided long ago that I was going to take advantage of that while I was here as I’ve always enjoyed the food. I was starving by the time I got off the train – about 5pm Sunday Germany time – realizing I hadn’t had a proper meal all day. I remembered there were several little Turkish places a block off the train station so decided to stop for a bite even before I went to my hotel.
It was a simple diner, but pretty crowded, and lots of diversity in customers – Germans, Asians, Turks.
The chicken was perfect – a great flavor and incredibly moist, the kind that gets shaved off the vertical kabob. I have no interest in knowing how it got there in the first place. It was a simple meal but filling, satisfying, and exactly what I needed at the moment.
I booked this entire trip on Booking.com, having had good experiences with them in Luxembourg, Trier and Puerto Vallarta. Hotel Arde was a decent choice. The location is great, it was less than a 10 minute walk from the train station.
Believe it or not, this room is smaller than the one I had in South SF. But somehow it feels nicer, not as flop-housey.
But most importantly, it’s got its own bathroom.
I got settled, rest and cleaned up a bit after the long trek to get here and then went out again. I wanted to take advantage of the fresh air and sunshine after literally 24 hours is enclosed, often small spaces. This is my 4th time in Cologne and I’ve always stayed within 1/2 a mile of the train station, in one direction or another, but this particular location was new to me. I went out exploring without a particular destination, saw some things I’d seen before, and some I hadn’t.
Something I hadn’t come across was the Cologne city Musuem, pictured below.
I was a little surprised because this is exactly the kind of thing I would normally gravitate to – a museum dedicated to the city I’m in. I looked on TripAdvisor and it’s 78 of 282 things to do so I could see how I missed it. Mostly Very Good ratings (as opposed to Excellent), but probably worth stopping in, especially given my love of local history. Will see if I make it over there today.
As I kept walking along the museum I kept hearing water and came across this fountain. It was a great sound I wanted to share it.
I decided to go into the cathedral and just enjoy that space for a few moments. I’m so glad I did. I get choked up every time I walk in, this time no exception. And there was a mass going on, approaching 8pm on Sunday, probably started at 7pm. So the organ was playing on and off, the tourists were being kept out of the main part of the church so the parishioners could have their time in their 700+ year old church to themselves. I was really impressed how well the tourists were behaving at that point. Everyone seemed super respectful and somewhat dumbstruck. I saw tears in one woman’s eyes. See, it ain’t just me! Something about this place gets to you.
The columns that you encounter when you first walk in are massive. I intentionally wanted people in the above shot for perspective. They must be 12-15 feet in diameter. These hold up the bell towers and I’m sure are what kept this thing from falling apart as literally everything around this neighborhood was bombed to hell during WW2.
Since I seem to be capturing sounds, I decided to do some more. I’d never really paid attention before to these fountains by the cathedral before, and that the bell was gonging in the background made it that much richer.
Time for dessert. I remembered a gelato place I’d been to a couple of times on the other side of the and went to see if I could find it. And I did.
I you know me you know ice cream is my weakness. And this might be my favorite place on the planet so far to indulge that. It’s super creamy, not too sweet, wonderful flavors. I went for classics: pistachio, stracciatella (think Eskimo pie for the gelato challenged), and vanilla.
As I was sitting here enjoying my gelato, I realized that the cathedral’s carillon was playing and decided to try to capture that as well, here. I love how people are just sitting on the benches in the square doing the same thing: listening to the bells and people watching.
I remembered that I wanted to get another selfie o the steps of the cathedral so wandered over to the other side.
And also a lot of non-activity. Just sitting on the steps and people watching is a thing.
If anyone was paying close attention they would have thought I was pretty strange. He sits, looks in the camera. Gets up, sits again, looks again. Scooches over. Wrong direction. Etc., etc. I’m happy with the result though; think it might be better than the earlier two. You can judge for yourself below.
The original. I’d never noticed how my head was framed until I made it my Facebook profile picture and suddenly everyone’s going “did you know you have a crown on your head?” Doing it accidentally is far easier.
My attempt in 2015 to recreate that.
And that’s it for now. It’s approaching 11am already on Monday morning – the internet connection is very slow and the photos took forever to upload. Good thing I’m not in a hurry. On with my day…