Posts Tagged With: roadtrips

The Home Chapters #1 – Cologne

I am sinfully late with this entry. I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks but then things kept piling up and I forgot and by now it’s so bad I actually have a list of things I meant to post on the blog.

As I mentioned time and time again, I love to travel. But I don’t have the funds to do as much of it as I would like, so it usually comes down to one or two bigger trips and several roadtrips within my immediate reach, usually without staying over night. When it comes to travel, my main passion are places by the sea. I love beaches, waterfronts, waves… Most people don’t consider it a holiday unless they’ve been to the beach, in the mountains or living it up in a metropole. So at first sight, Duisburg and the area around it aren’t really attractive. But if you give it a closer look, there are a lot of small – and sometimes even big – things to see and do around here, too.

I’ve never been much of a patriot but after 32 years of living here, I figured it’s only right that there’s a little corner of this blog dedicated to ‘home’. I’m not gonna be too strict here. The articles don’t have to be about Duisburg, in the immediate neighborhood or even the same state. As long as it can be reached and visited during a day trip, it’s considered ‘close enough’.

That’s why the first part is about Cologne. It just happened to be the first place I visited after I had the idea for this, so why not start there.

My history with Cologne is long but not very exciting at all. Mostly, I’ve been visiting it for concerts and other events. It’s where all the big media is located in this part of Germany, so most artists have at least one stop there during a tour. Occasionally, I also made it to the town center for shopping or dinners with friends and for one nice but incredibly stressful month, I even had a job there. It was the most fun job I ever had but it also required about two hours of commute back and forth every day – and that was when the trains were on time. And it happened to be February. Everyone who’s ever experienced the German carnival in the Rheinland area knows how crazy Cologne gets in February.

Despite these on and off visits, I had never been inside of the cathedral. It’s impossible not to see it from the outside because it’s huge and smack in the middle of everything, and yet I had never really paid it much attention. So one fine day, just a few days after my return from Mallorca, I grabbed Mel and we drove out to Cologne for some mini-sightseeing and a sprinkle of shopping on the side.

Another thing I knew about but had never really visited was the Rheinufer. Being from Duisburg and close to the Rhine myself, going close to the river in other locations seems anticlimactic, but in Cologne, it’s usually a lot nicer than most other places. There are a lot of cute old houses along the shore, some still with their historical decorations and markings. I particularly loved the narrow brown one.

The little church here is Groß St. Martin, by the way, a rather small Benedictine church. I don’t know if I’d like it as much if it was placed elsewhere, but right there, near the Rhine and next to the other historical buildings, it fits in quite perfectly. Especially against the blue early-summer sky, of course.

As we walked on, we come to the stairs leading up to the cathedral itself and found we weren’t actually allowed to walk across the surface on top of the stairs. To my amazement, Mel explained that this happened quite often while the Cologne Philharmonics are rehearsing in the venue underneath. Apparently, the construction wasn’t so well thought through, and the sound of people’s steps on the surface disturbs the musicians. Instead of investing in more works to fix this, they just put up signs and have security people preventing people from walking across the surface during rehearsals. Probably not a very efficient solution, but makes for funny tourist anecdotes anyway.

We walked around the cathedral from the outside and saw a few of the constant works that are being done on and around the building. They started building it in 1248 but as it is with buildings of this scale, it’s never really finished and work never stops. Mel pointed out a few spots where you can see new or renovated parts but to be honest, I wouldn’t really notice it unless you bring them to my attention.

I’ve mentioned it a couple times, I’m not religious. But stepping into a huge and impressive building like the Cologne Cathedral, I always almost regret that. I can’t bring myself to believe in any deity or follow the rules of any organized religion but the sheer size of it, the sometimes eery lights, the echoes of hushed voices, the praying people that are seated in the pews…it makes me wish that I could find some kind of hope in it, too. Alas, I have to be satisfied with the feeling of wild awe when visiting these places.

We toured the huge space inside of the cathedral with all its many windows and altars and when we emerged, we decided it was selfie time – just us and the cathedral. Thanks to the rough breeze that day, it turned out to be a rather dopey one, though.

The rest of the day was fun but far less tourist-y. We did some shopping, got lost inside the biggest Primark I’ve ever seen and had a delicious, carb-heavy dinner at Pizza Hut. And I also spotted another thing I’d somehow never noticed before – Ice Cream, anyone?

If you’re ever gonna visit Cologne by car, though, I don’t recommend the underground parking at Heumarkt. Unless 18 Euros for 4-5 hours seems like a bargain to you.

Categories: Wanderlust | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Climbing the Throne in Amsterdam

Another weekend has passed and I still haven’t added the entry I meant to write about the weekend that I shall refer to as “Ultimate Nerdery in Amsterdam”.

On the Sunday before last, two friends and I went on a little roadtrip to Amsterdam. I know that especially Americans often ooooh and aaaah when I say things like that because going to another country for a day seems so unlikely. But the distance between my hometown and Amsterdam is smaller than the one between Duisburg and Berlin. We often get some grocery shopping done in Venlo which is a little Dutch town just behind the border and going to Amsterdam doesn’t require an overnight stay, either. Still, it’s about three hours from here by car.

The reason we went on that little roadtrip was that the traveling Game of Thrones exhibition made a stop there. To make it short and give you a rough idea about us: We’re nerds when it comes to (some) books and TV shows. In the past couple weeks / months, I’ve grown pretty fond of Game of Thrones, thanks to one of the girls I went on the trip with. I’m not the “dress up and pretend I’m a character from the books” kind of fan but I get quite nerdy. And, of course, the way they visualized it all in the TV show is just incredible, so I wanted to take my chance to take a look at all of the costumes, items and props they were exhibiting there.

Prior to going we found out that the venue (Posthoornkerk, an actual church) was rather small and so is the exhibition. And every group of visitors only got fifteen minutes to see everything and get their picture taken on the Iron Throne. Still, that didn’t stop us from going.

We arrived in Amsterdam around noon and found a parking spot relatively close to the venue, then had a hysterical fit of laughter when we saw the long queue that was winding round several corners all the way to the back of the building. But we hadn’t come all the way just to leave so we joined the other people. The crowd seemed surprisingly diverse. There were some that looked like the cliché of a nerd but also some older people, some hardcore kids, some people in costumes…just all kinds of people, really. The waiting seemed indefinitely longer because I’m in idiot. It was so cold that day but I had insisted on wearing open flats so my feet were freezing. Otherwise, I guess the wait wasn’t as bad as one would have thought. I think we waited for about 1.5 hours. Definitely not longer.

Once they let us inside, I was a little lost at where to go first. The exhibition really was small but different parts for different Houses were divided by big picture screens and there were so many people walking around. It seemed like chaos to me. I lost my friends within thirty seconds of being inside the church, so I just started wandering around the exhibition by myself, taking pictures, examining some things and taking it all in. It was amazing how detailed the costumes were. It always looks grand on television but you think that the acting makes up most of it. But seeing these clothes on mannequins, it was clear how much thought went into the details. Still, it didn’t take more than five or six minutes to see it all and then we queued up for the Iron Throne.

To be honest, I was a bit scared of taking a seat on it. It was a replica made of…well, I don’t even know. The foundation was probably wood and the “swords” weren’t made of iron, either. It made horrible squeaky noises whenever even tiny people sat on it. And, well, I’m not tiny. But then I decided I hadn’t come all the way and then wouldn’t do it, so I took my seat and got my picture taken, all the time expecting the whole thing to collapse. Which is probably silly but ah well. Later, I was surprised to find that the picture isn’t all that terrible, either. I had expected it to be another picture I’d keep for myself but never show to anyone because I look so horrible. But I don’t. It’s a bit blurry but I think that’s a good thing in my case. Ha!

Afterwards, we were a little at a loss. It was only around two in the afternoon and we were in Amsterdam. What to do? We decided that it was time for food. One of us is vegan, so we walked all across the city center to find a vegan restaurant which had seemed decent on the Internet. Only to get there and find out it wouldn’t open before five. At this point, let me get back to my terrible choice of shoes for the day. Flats. And let me explain something about my feet to you. They’re not big but wide. So within one season, I flatten most open shoes so I slip around in them like whoa. And while I’m in the explaining mood, let me tell you about streets in Amsterdam. They’re wobbly to put it nicely. Cobblestone and loose stones and uneven sidewalks are perfectly normal there. By the time we’d made it to the restaurant, my toes and soles were covered in blisters. By the time we’d made it to another restaurant, to a supermarket and back to the car, said blisters had burst and the open wounds were sticking to the shoes. Ouch! My friend suggested I take the shoes off for a moment but quite frankly, I didn’t dare to out of fear that I may rip the skin off.

Okay, I think you get a nice picture of the horror, right?

Anyway, we did find a nice restaurant which I managed to forget the name of. It was one of those modern restaurant gone bar gone night club places. But during the day, it was actually quite cozy and nice. And the food was good, too, although at that point, I just wanted anything to eat and a cold drink. I don’t think either of us ever wanted to leave again. But we did. And walked straight to Albert Heijn which is a grocery store chain. Nothing special for Dutch people, I’m sure, but I loooove some of the things you get there. Especially vla. If you’ve never tasted vla, you’ve missed out! It’s basically custard in different flavors. My favorite is vanilla vla with little chocolate balls. Yum! Whenever I go to the Netherlands, I have to buy at least one package.

But seeing as we still had a three hour drive ahead of us, we headed back to the car. Well, I say headed but I think in my case “crawled” would be more appropriate. Lessons learned that weekend: 1. Buy a comfy pair of shoes for these occasions, no matter how ugly or expensive. 2. Lose weight and get fit. Dragging behind people who weigh half as much as I do and feeling like a whale ruins even the best of things.

Overall, I’m still not a big fan of Amsterdam. I know many people adore the place and I see why. But it just isn’t for me. I think the architecture and the whole scenery of the city is gorgeous. But it’s just too crowded, too busy and too noisy. The streets are so narrow but you have people all over the place and then there are bikes and trams everywhere that are so noisy. I just get aggressive and frustrated whenever I am there. Perhaps you need less of a temper to truly enjoy it. However, the two old gentleman I asked for directions at some point were the sweetest and kindest people I’ve ever met. We weren’t so sure if they were an elderly gay couple or just two old friends but I guess it doesn’t matter anyway as they were so nice and saved us from walking into the wrong direction.

So…no Amsterdam pictures, but here, have some GoT eye candy instead!

Categories: Bookworm, Wanderlust | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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