Cologne: The Land of Church and Money

September 6, 2013

Alright, where my religious and/or architecturally-involved peeps at?!? Raise your hands up to whatever God is yours and pray to visit Cologne, because there are a ridiculous amount of churches in this city. I am almost sure there must be one church per 10 people who live here (obviously, I am exaggerating a teensy bit.) It is insanity. At the same time, the architecture of these buildings and churches are ABSOLUTELY stunning and could convince even the most atheists of atheists to go inside. The reason why I called this post “The land of Church and Money” is because, well, there are a ton of churches (not necessarily unlike many other European cities, but hey, whatever!) and every church you go into pretty much guilts you into donating money. Get this, hundreds of years ago people used to be able to monetarily pay for their sins. Even before committing the sin, one could go into the church and pay for the sin they were about to commit. Churches are so sneaky, convincing the poor to give them money by scaring them and telling them they would be condemned to hell if they didn’t. Ridiculous! Anyway, that is the end of THAT rant.

Let me back up a bit…

JoJo and I left Amsterdam the evening of September 4th, with the intent of hitching a ride with a fellow we met through RideShare. For those of you in California, especially San Francisco, this may sound familiar because it is similar to the RideShare page that you can find on Craigslist. Essentially, this is the same, however a bit different in Europe because there is a rating system. People pretty much offer to share rides to their destinations with other travelers for the small price of gas money. However, (much like Couchsurfers.com) there is a rating system, so if people frequently drive around from place to place and use RideShare, others can rate their experience with that driver and pretty much let other people who may want to ride with them know that they will not, in fact, murder you in the middle of nowhere and bury your body like in the Angelina Jolie movie Taking Lives. Of course, I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing because I have watched far too many episodes of Disappeared and Unsolved Mysteries over the years. Well, Joey talked me into it because the cost would be 20€ for a two hour drive instead of 75€ for a 4.5 hour train ride. I gotta budget, ya’ll.

So, we showed up at the meeting spot, all packed up and ready to go and stood outside for a while watching for who our driver could be. We noticed a man who was in front of the hotel we were meeting at with two passangers already in the car (who looked a little nervous themselves, and were on the PLUMP side) and definitely did not seem like they were friends with this man. We overheard him telling another gentleman who was standing at the curb that if “the other two Americans don’t show up, how much are you willing to pay?” We quickly figured out this must be our RideShare and did not realize when we made the deal that there would be two other people in what had to be thee tiniest car EVER for four backpackers and a driver. Joey and I looked at each other and immediately started walking to the train station. Good call? Oh yeah…. you all should have seen the size of the other two travelers already scrunched in the back of this micro Euro-Car, seriously.

We sucked it up and bought the more expensive train ticket to Cologne and waited about an hour to board. I was excited because I have been looking forward to taking the Eurail across the different boarders of Europe. The experience, to my disappointment, was not at all how it is on the slap-stick comedy EuroTrip. Damn. But it was pleasant enough and the sun went down before I could really see much countryside anyway. Joey and I took turns falling asleep because the conductor actually warns you when you first board that there are many pickpockets that take advantage of passengers who are sleeping (and I am sure anyone with a foreign accent and a beast of a backpack is their first target.) It was hard not to sleep though, the train rocks you like a baby and after a week in Amsterdam ANYONE would be ready for a long slumber.

Once we got to Cologne, it was nighttime, and we were trying to figure out how to get to the hostel that we had JUST booked the night before. As we walked out of the station, I was looking down intently at my phone, navigating, and Joey frightened me by grabbing my arm without saying a word. Now, at first, I am thinking ‘you are right dude, I could get mugged or kidnapped while not paying attention at night on my phone in front of a train station in a foreign country,’ but I look at him and he is staring straight up into the sky in complete and utter AWE. I look upward as well, and what do I see?

“Holy building, Batman, THAT’S A GIGANTIC GOTHIC CATHEDRAL!”
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The picture does it NO justice.
AHA! I finally got saavy enough to realize I need to take photos on my iphone and send them to myself in order to put them in blogs. Woot Woot. Tech-Queen everybody! (If only I could go back and paste pictures in my old ones, blast!)

A little information on this amazing Cathedral:
This is the Cologne Cathedral (AKA: Kolner Dom in Gerrman,) the seat of the Cologne Archbishop, a World Heritage Monument, and a mecca for those who are interested in Gothic Archiecture. It is Germany’s most visited landmark with over 20,000 people visiting a day! More on this amazing site later.

Jo and I took it easy our first night, checked in to our hostel, which was called the Station for backpackers. Since we were hungry we walked to the store and bought some stuff to make sandwiches the next few days and pasta for the nights, to save our money; which is a great idea, by the way. It is great when hostels have functioning kitchens and provide you with pots, pans, plates, utensils, etc. for easy cooking. We also, had to try out the local beers.

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The next day we woke up early and did a few loads of laundry (another amaaaaaazzing thing about this hostel that many others do not offer!) We then walked up to the Lindt Chocolate Museum on the Rhine River and spent a few hours there. The self-guided tour was surprisingly awesome with the history and production of coca, the other uses of it, where in the world it is grown and imported, etc. There were many elements in the exhibit that required pushing buttons, twisting knobs and other activities such as that (and we all know I chose to study audio production because I like to press buttons, right?) We also got to walk through a portion of the actual chocolate-producing factory and see how all the machines worked and received a chocolate covered waffer at the end before heading up to the cultural cocoa part of the tour. We got there kind of late so we had to rush through the end but the entire museum was well worth the 5€. I used my very expired student ID to get a discount (which works only SOMETIMES considering there is no year on it, but what the hell, might as well try! I paid enough for college, I deserve to be a “student” for a few more years if you ask me.)

We briefly stopped across the street at the tiny Mustard museum and tasted a few fantastic mustards! My favorites were the Raspberry Cayenne Mustard, and the Passion Fruit Mustard. I am not even the biggest mustard fan and I was very impressed! Germany seems to have a passion for gourmet mustards.

Heading back towards the hostel we decided to grab my very first official Bratwurst with ketchup and mustard! YUMMMMM. But I mean, who doesn’t like a juicy German weiner? Am I right, or am I right?!? (Sorry Grandma! It had to be said, it was just too easy.)
Joey and I took advantage of the late afternoon sun and found a fantastic local hang called Gaffel am Dom, that had a beautiful view of the Cologne Cathedral. Luckily Joey speaks German pretty well and since the farther south I go in Europe the less people choose to speak English, he is necessary! Jo and the server exchanged a few words in German, and I was quite surprised when he came back with two tall, skinny beers. I soon realized that they only had one beer on tap, Gaffel Kolsch! Joey explained to me that most places are similar to that, they choose one or two types of beer to serve on tap and then they have a selection of bottled beers. I am not 100% sure but I think the place we were at actually brewed the Gaffel itself. I am too tired to do the research. The servers then walk around with a handle of about 6-8 of the same beer and exchange your empty one with a new one (if you nod yes of course) and then they mark how many you have had up to that point on the coaster you use! A very effective, quick way to serve the thirsty beer drinkers of Germany if you ask me! Something tells me this process would NEVER work in most American bars, such as my old gig, Underdogs.

After a few hours of skinny beers and great conversation, Joey and I made our way back to the room and napped like nobodys’ business! The rest of the evening we just spent time on our computers and chatted with a few other hostel-goers.

Today, I slept in. I have been having horrible nightmares pretty much every night since I got to Europe, and last night I had an actual night terror. I won’t get into the details of what the night terror entailed, but anyone that has ever had one knows that when you wake up, it is usually in a pool of sweat and it is hard to shake the fuzzy, death-anxiety type of feeling you have for the entirety of the next day. So, to say the least I was not feeling quite myself today, but Joey urged me to push through it. After a shower and my first time trying a Turkish pizza, I was feeling a bit more stable. Our room-mate Maude, a 20 year old French girl looking for a flat in Cologne while studying German literature, decided to join us on our daily adventure.

The day was blazing hot, but still the city looked glorious. We walked around the corner to the Cologne Cathedral (Kolner Dom) to see what this infamous Roman Catholic Cathedral had to offer. First, we walked around to get a feel of the interior. It is breathtaking! Even though I chose to remove myself from the clutches of religion quite a few years back, I still found a certain peace and feeling of contentment in the beauty of this sanctuary. I sat in the pew with Joey (yes father, my ass did indeed “burn”) and took the sight of the high-vaulted ceilings and rich, detailed stained glass images in. I have far too many photos on my camera to upload when I get back to the states, if anyone is interested in seeing them!

The main reason why the three of us wanted to visit the Dom was to make the trek up the 533 steps (about 100 meters, or almost 350 ft.) to the top of the South Tower to see the view. Let me just say… 533 steps is a HELL of a trek for someone as out of shape and asthmatic as me! The first 20 steps were even difficult! We stopped only three times: once in the pocket of a secret medeival looking door, second at the Belfry (housing one of the largest Bells in the world, by the way) which was 291 steps up, and thirdly at another platform after 386 steps. Then there was the final descent up a scary, metal staircase. Now, as I have mentioned before, I have a pretty horrible fear of heights. I knew going into this that I would be scared shitless at the top and probably would not get as close to the edge as everyone else to take pictures (even though that is the point, and Joey calls it my ‘irrational fear’) but I was determined to do it. The physical part of walking up was difficult enough, especially because you get very dizzy walking up and down the spiral staircase. You also want to move at a decent pace because there are so many other tourists behind you making the same journey to the top and everyone just wants to get the f*#k up there already. I did start to feel a bit dizzy from the twists, and by the time we got to the final platform, right before the last stretch, I was ready to call it quits.

The 386 steps up to this point were all cobblestone, rock and concrete, enclosed with very few windows to see out (or DOWN) so I just focused on the step in front of me the whole way. Once we reached the platform that held the last 147 steps, I began to shake and my legs felt like jello. To make matters worse, I was not aware that the last bit was a metal staircase… one in which you can easily look down and over onto the platform below. I took a breather and told Joey and Maude to make their way up and I would meet them. At this point, I gathered my strength and started to walk up the stairs. I attempted to tackle this last stretch with my original plan of attack…focusing on the stair in front of me. However, around the 20th step up I realized I could NOT do this. I could see straight through the circles and breaks in the metal stairs all the way to the bottom. I was absolutely paralyzed with fear. I crawled (literally) back down the steps to the platform and sat on a bench while all the other people resting stared at me and giggled and most likely made fun of me in their own language for being such a pussy.

At this point I was feeling like a complete arse. I CAN DO THIS. I HAD to finish this. I gave myself an internal pep talk and agreed that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t put my ridiculous fear aside and make it to the top. So, slowly, and carefully- looking VERY silly, I am sure- I MADE IT TO THE TOP. I, yet again, CRAWLED up those damn stairs and held myself up with the help of the railing as well as the thought of how embarrassed I would be if I chickened out for a second time. It was well worth it in the end.

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Not my best photograph after 350 feet of climbing, but hey, I did it.

After conquering my fear we went over to the other side of the Cathedral to its Treasury exhibit. I won’t bore you with the facts, but there were some gorgeous pieces in this collection. I took a few photos to share:
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Welp, I still have tonight and all day of tomorrow to share so I will write a little more once I leave on Sunday!

PS… I apparently must make it known that Joey is currently making me a delicious meal for the second night in a row. Because I do not cook. However, I’m the dish bitch. So we are even in my books.

September 15, 2013

I am so bad at writing these days. I am a lazy ass. Anyway, the last day in Cologne was a bit uneventful. Jo and I wanted to go relax in the city’s Roman style bath house. These places are co-ed and have multiple jacuzzis, pools, saunas and steam rooms. So, we walked for about a half an hour over the bridge to the other side of the city to get to this bath house. Luckily, the bridge is incredible so the walk wasn’t that bad. There are thousands of locks on the bridge in all different shapes, sizes, and colors with engravings and writing on them to commemorate couples’ trip to the city and to celebrate their love. Joey told me that once you lock your lock up, the couple is supposed to throw the key into the Rhine River, solidifying their commitment. Another friend of mine, Kate Ferguson (holla!) informed me that on the other side of the bridge there are locks, but significantly less of them, and this is the side that people who may be having affairs put their locks on. Sneaky, Sneaky!
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Once we FINALLY arrived at the bath house, the Claudius Therme, after walking for what seemed like forever, I immediately noticed a little fountain outside the building that an older lady and an older gentleman were drinking from. There were cups next to the fountain, so, being parched from the walk, I grabbed a cup and filled ‘er up… and then spit it out in disgust. It was apparently mineral water, but it was so warm and salty that I wanted to throw up! How people drink that crap is beyond me. We proceeded to walk into our long-awaited relaxing paradise, and were abruptly informed by the two ladies at the front that it was a special day and only women were allowed in the bath house. Such. A. Bummer. It crossed my mind to say “Later Joey!” and indulge, but he was so extremely disappointed that I quickly changed my mind. We walked around the park area that surrounds the bath house and purchased a lovely little Italian ice cream cone to brighten our moods. I had a fabulous Raspberry scoop while Joey gobbled down the Cherry flavor.

Feeling defeated, we began making the long walk back across a different bridge and ended up strolling alongside the Rhine River. Cologne is a beautiful city so although we did not get to technically relax, we were still able to enjoy the sights the city had to offer.

The next day we left very early on our boat journey over to Mainz, Germany…. and that was another very long, eventful experience! More on that later 🙂

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