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Published: October 21st 2006
I left Munich bright and early on a direct ICE train to Cologne. It was a pleasant ride, again topping out at 250 kph. I wonder if these trains can go faster? It's an interesting sensation being in a train at that speed. The cars rock back and forth quite a bit, and it can be tough to walk around.
I got in to the central station around 2. I had read that the Kolner dom is an awe-inspiring sight. However, until you walk out of the station for the first time and look up, and up, at the soaring steeples of the Dom, you don't really understand. The tops of the steeples are at 157 meters, which is enormous -- on par with a 40 story building! I still can't believe it made it through the war intact. They have a number of postcards that show pictures of the city center with just the church standing amid the rubble. Crazy.
I found the Station hostel, which was just a block or so from the train station and booked 2 nights. This was the first dorm I've been in that did not have bunk beds. There were 6 singles
From the viewing platform 100m up
in the room. Everyone gets bottom bunk...yay! I used to love top bunk as a kid. Now, I hate it. It's such a pain getting up and down, especially if you come in late or need to go to the bathroom. Plus, I feel a lot more comfortable sleeping with my stuff 2 feet from my head instead of 6. I don't know if it actually makes it harder to steal, but I'm all about peace of mind.
I spoke with my cousin, who lives in the suburbs of Cologne with her boyfriend Markus, and we arranged to meet at 6. She sent me subway directions, and so I went off to get a ticket. I figured it would be like Berlin and Munich where all the ticket machines are the same. Apparently, that's not the case, and you have to buy the tickets undergound instead of in the main train station. Deutsche Bahn is really easy to deal with, but when it comes to the local rail companies that run the subways and trams, it seems to be hit or miss. I worked it out in the end and made my way to the meeting spot on the
After meeting up we walked around a bit and then took a tram, a train, and a bus out to their apartment in the burbs. I kept joking that it was in farm country, but it's really not far from Cologne, even if there is a farm next to the train stop! When we got to the house, Markus' parents were outside so I got introduced to them. We spent the evening hanging out and catching up. Around 11 they drove me back to the hostel (at break-neck speed!) It was definitely a fun ride back, I can't believe how fast people were going on some of the streets in Cologne.
On Tuesday I walked around a bit before deciding to go take a look at the Dom. The inside was as spectacular as the outside. This is the first church I've gone into in Europe, and I was totally awestruck. The cavernous interior is illuminated by the massive stained glass windows on most of the walls. Although, the day I was there it was cloudy and so it was a bit gloomy inside, but oh well. Apart from the amazing architecture, the Dom is home
Hmm, Mr. Proper...something's not quite right here.
to the Shrine of the Magi, which is believed to contain the remains of the three wise men. A very impressive artifact indeed. Of course, I have no idea how they verify the validity of this...
When I see something tall, I tend to wonder if it can be climbed (see Ben Nevis entry), so I was pretty excited to go most of the way to the tope of the Dom. After paying my 2 euros, I began the 500+ step climb to the observation level. I was somewhat surprised to discover that it was a spiral staircase the entire way up, with people going up and down. I don't think something like this would still be open in the US. The potential for someone to get hurt in there is quite high and we've become a society almost completely averse to risks like that. People going down get the outside wall, so when you come across someone going down, you have to move over next to the center column where the stairs are only a few inches wide. Depending on how considerate the people coming down are, you can stand there for quite a while. Plus, you have
Shrine of the Magi
Thought to contain the remains of the three wise men.
people stopping constantly because of exhaustion and I can imagine it would be really hot in there on a warm summer day. Of course, nothing bad happened (or I wouldn't be writing this!), and when I got to the top I was delighted with the reward for the climb. It's immediately clear that the vantage point is one of the highest places you can be in Cologne, so the view is fantastic. I spent almost an hour just staring out over the city. It's kind of sad to see how badly this area of the church has been defaced with various names and messages over the years. The tool of choice seems to be whiteout, of all things. Probably because the stone is grey from pollution(?) so it marks well on the surface. The way down was a lot nicer than the way up mostly because you didn't have to stand on the narrow steps. I didn't believe the 500 step number, but I counted (on the way down) and it's damn close.
I spent the rest of the day exploring the city and walking along the Rhine. Cologne really is a beautiful city, and wherever you go, the
Dom commands attention.
On Wednesday, I spent the afternoon walking around with Silvia since she had a day off from work in Bonn. It was fun seeing a familiar face again because I'm beginning to get tired of meeting cool people and never seeing them again. Most of the time, it's just the way it works, though. You become fast friends with people for a day or two, and then they're gone.
In the evening I got back to the hostel around 8. As I walked in I noticed that a girl sitting at the table near the door looked really familiar. I didn't stop, though, since I couldn't remember where I had seen her, and she didn't say anything. On the way up to my room I figured it out -- it was Kate, the Kiwi I had met in Dresden a week earlier. So, I went down and joined her and 2 girls from Oklahoma, an Aussie from Taz, and a Canadian dude.
The group of us basically spent the next 5 hours drinking and talking. Yet another night of (relatively) heavy drinking in Germany. Sheesh! It was a blast, though. And the highlight had to be the Swiss guy who decided he wanted to play poker (holdem) with me. Out of the blue he starts talking about how we're going to play. I thought why not, especially since the stakes were limited to a beer for the winner -- my kind of game. Anyway, we played with 100 imaginary chips. This of course seems more logical when you've been drinking, but it didn't matter because the game lasted two hands. I got pocket aces on the first hand, and he bet pretty heavily on a hand that ended with a low pair on the river. I just followed his lead and let him bet away. This gave me 150 "chips" to his 50. The second hand was the reverse. I had jack, but I figured I had nothing to lose. He went all in and on the river I made a pair and won. Shortest game I've ever played, but also one of the most enjoyable! Probably because I won, and the absurdity of the situation made it all the funnier. Anyway, he was a good sport about it (even though I think he was convinced he was going to win for some reason), but we didn't play another (because I didn't know what I'd do if I kept winning!)
That's the end of part 1 for Cologne. The next entry will be Trier in the Mosel river valley. After that I'll post another for Cologne since I went back.
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