Day 6: Cologne (Sunday, March 24, 2013)



A normal early morning, we went down for breakfast around 7:30. The scrambled eggs were cooked in bacon grease, a specific taste I haven’t had in awhile, subtle enough that I hadn’t noticed it the prior morning. More smokey than bacony. We bundled up to prepare for the 1.5 mile walk to the train station in 1C weather, or about 34F with a wind chill of 27F. Cold no matter how you measure it! And to think I almost didn’t pack my scarf and gloves because it would be Spring.

So about the trains. I really am enjoying this aspect of the trip. We need these in the US! It’s an easy way to get around and I wouldn’t want to drive here as a visitor. While I have learned since that it is not really necessary to pay extra to reserve a specific seat, especially for shorter trips, I didn’t understand that when I booked this 5-6 weeks ago. So we had reservations for this 45 minute trip. We were both surprised at what that meant. Unreserved Second Class is already pretty decent, better than coach on an airplane that’s for sure. This time we were in a compartment of just 3 seats on each side, facing each other, with a little table in between the window seats. And we had the whole thing to ourselves! I said to Dan it reminded me of Harry Potter and wondered if someone would come by to sell treats. Sure enough, about a minute later a woman slid the compartment door open and offered coffee. (We declined.)

 

 

The train stations themselves are a trip. All have eateries of some kind, multiple bakeries and coffee shops for sure. Those in larger cities add more variety. Koblenz, about 100k people, was mostly food. Mainz, about 200k people, had a place to get a haircut. Frankfurt, about 700k, is a decent sized shopping center. Wide variety of food plus some retail stuff. Cologne, Germany’s 4th largest city with over 1 million people, has a full on mall as it’s train station. This is it at night, the back entrance from the cathedral whose steps we’re standing on. Too bad the sign isn’t lit or you could more clearly see Dan’s favorite German word: hauptbahnhof. It means “central station”.

 

We are staying at a very nice but reasonably priced gay-owned boutique hotel about a  1/4 mile from the train station. If that. We booked this and our stays in Belguim through PurpleRoofs.com, which sponsors gay-owned and gay-friendly lodging throughout the world. It’s just nice to know you’re going someplace where you won’t encounter any weirdness about sharing a bed.

Although Cologne has a decent collection of museums, we’ve somewhat given up on them since so little is in English. We figure we’ll have better luck in Amsterdam, where English is much more common. We noticed when we were putting this trip together, for example, that when you go to many German websites, they are, well, in German only and you need Google Translate to figure things out. Just about every website we visited that was based in Belgium or Netherlands starts with a “select your language” page, and English is always an option.

So the only absolute “to do” for us is The Cologne Cathedral, another World Heritage Site because of its testament to German Catholicism and gothic architecture. It is right next to the train station and impossible to miss due to its massive size and distinct look.

 

 

But today is Sunday, it’s a functioning church, so the touristy stuff isn’t available until tomorrow. Even though a mass was going on at the time, they do let visitors in but only so far before you encounter ropes. A high mass was in full swing, including incense (a smell I used to gag on but learned to love as an altar boy), choir and organ, and a gaggle of priests in red robes singing the mass in Latin. In this amazing structure that is literally spell-binding as soon as you walk in. Chills, and I’ll admit a little choked up. No one does pomp and ritual like Catholics.

 

 

 

We had 4 hours to kill before we could actually check in (we’d just dropped off our bags at the hotel), so we just started walking to see what we could see. We came across another pedestrian mall, where there are lots of stores but the streets are closed to vehicles. These are popular here – there’s been one in every city so far. We’ve seen more American stores in Cologne than any place yet, and a much larger variety of people and restaurants, although Frankfurt was pretty diverse.

We browsed an antique flea market in a downtown park, very similar to what we have in Sacramento “under the freeway” on Sundays – only it was free and the quality of stuff didn’t feel quite as junky – although still nothing we would have bought!

We stumbled into a gay neighborhood, first evidenced by discrete rainbow stickers on the doors of businesses, although the German Bistro we lunched at had the rainbow incorporated into it’s logo. We noticed same-sex couples holding hands as they walked and hadn’t noticed it before.

We had a classic German lunch of currywurst, a white sausage in a sort of BBQ sauce with curry powder sprinkled on top. It was very tasty, with roasted veggies and thinly sliced potatoes cooked in – wait for it – bacon grease. But the best thing we had was the apple strudel: very little crust baked around many layers of thinly sliced apples served with this amazing vanilla sauce. Foodwise it might be the best thing so far all trip, or a tie with that warm chocolate souffle I had the first night.

 

 

Dan took a nap after we checked in and I pretty much wrote this. Later we went out for dessert first at the bakeries in the train station, then bought fingernail clippers at the drugstore. After dinner, we perused the bookstore there. I’m amazed at the variety of things you can do/get at the train station.

We walked some more in a new direction and stopped at a hole-in-the-wall place for what can only be described as Turkish burritos: thin pita bread tortilla filled with shaved rotisserie chicken, spicy red sauce, yogurt sauce, cucumbers, cabbage, onions, tomatoes. Great!

Walked a bit more but came back early because it was just too dang cold.

 

 

Tomorrow we will tour the Cathedral then take a train to Amsterdam in the afternoon.

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