Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Cologne weekend

I spent an age trying to think of a clever Cologne pun for the blog title. "Oh de Cologne", "Colognie de vacances", "Eau, to be in Cologne" (French puns, haut cinq!), "Colovely, not Colognely". Clearly, I failed hard. And Cologne is not all that colovely anyway.

So try to swallow your bitter disappointment at not being treated to a pun (I know, I know, it's hard, but my Dad will probably be along in the comments to suggest something) and let's forge ahead with the substance of today's post. That being, this weekend's impromptu trip to Cologne.

Why Cologne? It turns out it's only about 2 1/2 hours' drive from Luxembourg, and I'd heard nice things about the cathedral, so it was the perfect choice for a spontaneous weekend away. Even just typing "spontaneous weekend away" makes me happy, and it's definitely one of the fringe benefits of living/working somewhere there are 5+ countries within a few hours' drive (Luxembourg, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland...) Really, it's hard to find a better argument for living in Europe than that you can travel so easily to another country with a different language, food, culture and history. That goes double for those of us who come from a small island country which is about as far away from everywhere else as you can possibly get. Drive 2 1/2 hours from Auckland and you end up in Tokoroa:

The 10th result in Google images for "Tokoroa"

In case you think the other top results were full of hidden gems: police, fights, carparks, fields, a weird tree, a cow and a statue of a guy with a chainsaw which is notable enough to appear 3 times

At first glance, however, Cologne doesn't appear to have much more charm than the mean streets of Tokoroa. After parking in Europe's longest underground parking garage (I was told to put that in) (despite taking a photo of our lot, we managed to walk about 600 metres in the wrong direction when retrieving the car - the whole thing is nearly 2.5 miles long), and checking in to our lovely hotel on the banks of the Rhine, we headed out to see what Cologne had to offer early on a Friday evening. Wandering around the deceptively-named old city, it looked like pretty much everything had been bombed to oblivion and rebuilt c. 1965. This turns out to be not too inaccurate - Cologne was effectively razed in World War II, so other than the cathedral, something of a lone survivor from the bombing raids, we were struggling to find much to look at as we wandered through the city in search of a promising-looking cocktail bar that ended up to be non-existent. I spent an inderminate amount of this period, by the way, walking with my skirt inexplicably hiked all the way up at the back. Not tucked into my knickers or anything, it just somehow decided to head north of its own volition. Mortifying.

View from our hotel room, with bunny

In front of the Colonius TV tower

Oh hai! It's Jules

Friend, head friend

It was fine though, we managed to grab a cocktail at a tapas bar that was too full to eat at, and had dinner at what looked like a classy art-deco-style restaurant from the outside but which turned out to be a touristy German beer-hall on the inside. But hey, while in Germany, why not do the cheesy thing and chow down on some Wiener schnitzel and super salty fries (even if those are Austrian and Belgian respectively), washed down with French wine? Authentic!

The next day, we visited the Roman museum and the cathedral (separate post to follow), and had lunch and dinner at separate spots next to the Rhine. I think it's fair to say that Cologne grew on me a little more on further acquaintance. The museum was interesting, even if museum fatigue set in a bit towards the end; it was pleasant eating flammekueche outside on the banks of the Rhine while I basically stared at a guy on another table while trying to eavesdrop on enough of his conversation to determine whether or not he was a fellow Kiwi, and we had a nice dinner accompanied by champagne and some surprisingly half-decent German red wine. The banks of the Rhine have been developed in a nicer way than much of the rest of the city - there's that (somewhat generic) modernist style that's common to many port areas around the world, but it works well and certainly feels a cooler place to hang out than some of the fairly grim urban neighbourhoods we walked through on the Friday. I also had a bath while drinking wine (that's got to be in my top ten favourite activities) and we watched the F1, which are not Cologne-dependent pursuits, but which were fun nonetheless.

On Sunday, we were planning to visit the cathedral crypt and/or the chocolate museum (whose giant golden bunny, visible from our hotel room, had been luring Jules to a frankly inappropriate degree), but it turns out Cologne gets up fashionably late on a Sunday, so we wouldn't really have had time to wait around for them to open up. Instead, we made the most of the blue skies and sunshine to walk around the city a little more, in a quest for Sunday brunch that took way longer than it should have (the place we found online didn't start serving until 11 am, and everywhere else just had people drinking coffee or beer - they might rise late in Cologne, but they start drinking super early: there was an impressive collection of really quite drunk people out and about from around 7 pm on Friday). We finally got our bacon and eggs (me) and sausages and gross lard spread (Jules) and enjoyed the last of the sunshine before heading back to Luxembourg. (This trip was my first autobahn experience, by the way. Mum will probably be horrified that we were going up to 140 kph, but it didn't actually feel that fast.)

Jules and the evil chocolate bunny

Just look at that smug bunny face
So it was a really nice weekend, but I'm not sure I'd recommend Cologne for anyone's must-see list. I think, to be fair, there were quite a few museums and other sites of interest that we didn't get around to, so by all means it's not a bad place to spend a weekend, just perhaps not the world's most charming city. It was interesting for me as well being somewhere where I don't speak the language, but with someone who does. Usually it's me translating for people who don't speak French, or just muddling by on my own with the few words of Italian or Spanish or Russian (etc.) that I do know. Jules is practically a native German speaker though (technically a native Luxembourgish speaker, but I'm not entirely convinced that's a real language), so I spent quite a bit of time sitting there feeling like a bit of an idiot while waiters and hotel staff (very politely) directed conversation in German to both of us and I pestered Jules for translations of the menu. I did take great pleasure in reading random signs etc. in my best German accent though!

18 comments:

  1. Haut cinq? Ha ha. Even better if you pronounce it “hot sink.”

    That view with the cow looks nice!

    I wonder if anyone noticed the skirt. It often happens when you have a purse that accidentally hikes it up. I tell women when I see that happen. We’ve all been there. :)

    I have to say I couldn’t spot the bunny.

    Cute pics!



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    1. Thanks, the fact that I had leggings on and no no-one in Cologne was a slight comfort, but still! Definitely much better to tell people, no matter how awkward.

      It's a bit of a Where's Wally (Where's Waldo to you).

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    2. *know no-one (arrrgh, where's the edit button?) Funnily enough, I knew something was wrong but spent a while staring at "no-one" before deciding it was okay. In my defence, someone was talking French to me at the same time.

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    3. Typo not hanging offence. xx

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    4. Ok, I saw it when I zoomed in! Easter Bunny hunt.

      Did you know that he's also called Charlie in France? I was so surprised the first time I saw a book that said Where’s Wally/Où est Charlie! I thought, who is Wally? Charlie?

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    5. Ohhhh that makes sense, I have a friend called Charlie who has "Où est Charlie?" on her facebook, but I never asked why!

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  2. You've just kissed the freedom of tokoroa away and the bros will be on the look out for you too!

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    1. D'oh, I had big plans to become mayor as well...

      I assume this means you can't think of any Cologne puns either?

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  3. I have to agree with you about Cologne - I have visited other bombed out cities like Frankfurt and Le Havre and I have liked them, but I wouldn't recommend visiting Cologne as a must-see. The area around the river is pleasant and the cathedral is impressive (but I wasn't gobsmacked), but I didn't warm up to Cologne. The one thing that struck me about Cologne was the bridge with all the love locks - there were so many of them I could have sworn the bridge would fall any second.

    You found a half decent red German wine? That's a small miracle. Whenever I go there I stick with the white stuff as there are some quite good white German wines. But red? I'm too spoiled in France I guess. No really, the weather is too cold in Germany to really produce a good red wine. That's why I don't like red wine from Alsace either.

    My husband speaks German and we go to Germany often for his work and I always just end up sitting there like a dummy while everyone speaks German. This really bothers me. No, I don't expect them to just speak English with me - I wish I knew some German so I could get to know the country better.

    Have you visited Bonn? It's not too far from Cologne. I'm crazy about that place!

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    1. I didn't see the love locks bridge, although I was surprised to see it featured on the official tourist website, since I've seen quite a few anti-lovelocks things lately out of Paris.

      Ah well, talking to someone who lives in Bordeaux, you would probably think I have bad taste in red wine! I tend to like them a bit on the insipid side. It was sort of a speciality wine restaurant (their menu basically listed wines first and then the meals that would pair with them and there were actually only three main courses to choose from), so I guess they would have gone with the best available.

      Totally, I hate looking like a stupid tourist who makes no effort, so I'd rather sit there while someone else speaks German or (even better) manage a bit of German myself than just go straight for English, but I definitely felt a bit stupid when people were looking straight at me and assuming I spoke German too. I actually had ideas about learning German before I moved here and got some podcasts and stuff, but it hasn't really panned out due to lack of time/laziness.

      No, this was really my first proper visit to Germany. I have been just across the border obviously, and I spent a night in Berlin once but I saw nothing of the city (just there to catch a plane). That's good to know, I'll put Bonn on the list! And bonus, it will be easy to make Bonn puns ;)

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  4. Ooooooooooh I want a Lindt chocolate bunny for Easter now!

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    1. I ate half of one last night, it's good advertising!

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    2. I'm jealous. (Hint to my husband.)

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  5. Aww, man! I came here for a pun and YOU GAVE ME NOTHING.

    Haha :) Sounds like a nice weekend of good food, wine and weird statues - I like the head friend. It looks really quiet, too - I don't see anybody in the background! Were they all in the tapas bar?

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    1. *Sniff*, I know, I've failed you! In fairness, there were FOUR puns, they were just all terrible.

      I think everyone ran away when they saw my arse. Actually, it was really busy, not sure where everyone is in the photos.

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  6. At least you realized at some point that your skirt was hiked all the way up. Me, I'd probably stay like that for hours :\

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    1. Walked over a grate set into the pavement in Brussels this weekend and my skirt blew all the way up! Having a bad run!

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    2. A Marilyn Monroe moment...

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