And it smells like beer, pretzels, and good times.
Really good times, because how could it not be when I’m in a new country with an old friend?
My 5:30am wake-up Saturday morning was completely worth the early train ride to meet up with one of my best friends, Emily, in Cologne, Germany. Last summer when working in D.C., I took a weekend trip to visit Emily in her hometown of Philadelphia, so we figured why not make this summer travel a tradition? Since Emily just finished her study abroad program in Rome, she planned to stay with me in Utrecht for my last week. Talk about finishing my trip the right way :)
First, however, we had the weekend ahead of us. Since my train came in hours before Emily’s flight, I took the time to explore the city by foot. Most of Cologne was destroyed in WWII, so only the Old Town has the charm of a traditional German town; the rest is as urbanized and bustling as Manhattan.
Afterwards I checked into the Marriott, and did some studying in the lobby while I waited for Emily. Bless American hotel chains – after experiences with grimy hostels and weeks in a shared dorm, it was living in luxury. A/C, fluffy pillows, good water pressure and a clean atmosphere make all the difference. (Thank you Mrs. Weiss!!!) Emily finally arrived mid-afternoon and it was SO good to see her. After our little reunion [the concierge probably thought we were nuts] we set off back into town to catch up on life and wander the streets.
Most of the museums were about to close for the day, so we decided to see what we could and entered the Köln Cathedral. I’ve sure seen my share of Cathedrals, and this one was by far most impressive.
We then set off to satiate our rumbling stomachs. I always like to try the “local speciality” when I’m in a new place, especially for only a weekend! Being in Germany, this meant schnitzel. Surprisingly, it was not that easy to find, and we ended up ordering it from an Argentinian Steakhouse, but schnitzel is schnitzel. For those of you who aren’t familiar with schnitzel, it is essentially one giant fried chicken tender, and just as you would expect, did not disappoint. What did disappoint was the amount of ketchup the waiters gave us. We had to ask four separate times for more ketchup, and got just a single new packet each time. An American’s worst nightmare.
We followed our dinner with a walk around downtown and saw a taste of the city’s nightlife. They really do like their beer here, and it’s a shame that I don’t, because the most popular brand is called “Reissdorf Kölsch”. On the way back to our hotel, I was stunned that the Cathedral could look even more spectacular at night.
Sunday started well not only because we got a good night’s rest, but because we had a complimentary breakfast buffet with everything under the sun. You name it, it was there. Time away from home really makes you appreciate the little things in life.
First stop of the day was the Roman-Germanic museum. Few people know that the Roman Empire extended all the way North to Cologne, since it was an important port on the Rhine. The collection included everything from Roman medical tools, to busts and tombstones, to Corinthian columns and potteryis. The highlight was the Dionysis mosaic, which used to adorn the floor of a banquet hall 2,000 years ago. It was discovered during the construction of an air raid shelter during WWII in over 1 million pieces and is now fully restored. And Emily thought she escaped Rome? Muahahaha.
Museums will sufficiently deplete your energy, so we properly caffeinated with some Dunkin Donuts iced coffee(!) and walked along Hohe Street, Cologne’s main shopping district. To our disappointment, everything was closed, but perhaps that is a good thing. Europe shuts down on Sundays!
Emily and I then picked up some salads from the market and soft pretzels, and had a picnic along the waterfront. We then crossed the Hohenzollern bridge, famous, but not as famous as the Pontes D’ Artes in Paris, for their love locks.
There wasn’t much to do on the other side of the Rhine, but after some wandering, we stumbled upon a street fair that reminded me how much I don’t like crowds.
Since I never made it to the Cheese Museum in Amsterdam, I figured I would do the next best thing and see the Chocolate Museum, or Schokoladenmuseum in Cologne. From the Lindt desert bar inside to the free samples handed out with your admission ticket (and along the way through the exhibits), it was a pretty sweet place. Not only did we get to see all steps of production, but trace chocolate making back through time and through its stages from plant to processing. Did you know that chocolate used to be consumed by wealthy Europeans in Cocoa Houses? Essentially, they functioned as taverns, but replace beer with hot chocolate and you have the idea. The world would be a much happier place if these were still around today.
Exploring a city by foot has its benefits but sure is tiring. After the Chocolate Museum, Emily and I just sat down for dinner at a Thai restaurant and made it back to grab our luggage in time for our 9:00 train back to Utrecht. Riding my bike home from the station at midnight, the thought of an early morning wake up the next day was not pleasant. But it is my last week, with my best friend, in my favorite city, so if that isn’t something to wake up for, I don’t know what is!
Until Next Time,