Posts Tagged With: Sightseeing

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

Another Piece of My Heart Lost

If you’re a perceptive person and glanced at the little Instagram feed waaaaay down on the bottom of my blog, you may have noticed that the past few days saw me feeding my IG account with a bunch of sightseeing pictures from London. Only just over a month since my last visit to this beautiful, beautiful city, I went back, this time to conquer the place with Mel.

Uhm...anyone alive?

Uhm…anyone alive?

After catching an insane 7 AM flight from Weeze to Stansted, we found an almost empty arrivals area and a slightly busier shopping area where we had to kill some time and enjoy a quick breakfast of sandwiches before catching out airport shuttle into the city. At this point I was already pretty convinced that I must have the face of a terrorist or a drug smuggler because at every passport control, it took a lot of glancing back and forth between my passport, their screen and my face and I was already preparing myself for a chat with a grumpy official. In the end, though, they always waved me through anyway. “No, officer, I’m not on any drugs, I’m just running on three hours of sleep!”

The airport shuttle was…a surprise. We’d watched all the huge modern coaches from National Express and Terravision come and go and I was already looking forward to an hour of napping in a comfortable seat when our Easybus shuttle arrived. I have no idea where they took the name Easybus from because the thing was pretty much an empty coke can on wheels, driven by a grumpy guy who seemed to trust that everyone would enjoy a little fearing for their life first thing after arriving in London. With hindsight, it was hilarious.

Heh.

Heh.

The shuttle dropped us off at Old Street from where we could catch the Northern Line straight down to our hotel in Clapham. Clapham is an area I had never been to before but I found it quite agreeable. There’s nothing exciting to do or see there and it’s really just one of the many cute little parts of London that are mostly residential but have a High Street to serve people’s everyday needs. But it was cute, with a large green common area and rather well kept town houses, so our hotel’s location could have been way worse. The first day, we had to walk quite a distance because the hotel’s information had said that it was right between two tube stations and it didn’t matter which one we got off on. The next day we found out that ‘right between’ means one is a 10 minute walk away, the other just around the corner. But at least we got to see a little of Clapham that way (and found that it had a café with a clever Game of Thrones reference.  Heh.). And being able to catch the Northern Line also is a good thing because it’s so easy to get somewhere with it. The hotel also seemed quite okay when we arrived, even though they wanted £4 just for storing our luggage. But it was either that or drag the suitcases around all day.

Come on, it's mandatory!

Come on, it’s mandatory!

After dropping our luggage off, we were faced with the decision of what to do first and guess what? We ended up at Starbucks! But not without saying hello to Piccadilly Circus. What is it about that place? You always hear about people running into celebrities there and even ‘mortal’ locals often happen to go to that place. I can’t imagine Parisians just randomly visiting the Eiffel Tower or New Yorkers to hang out by Lady Liberty’s feet but Londoners really seem to like Piccadilly Circus. Not like I could blame them, of course. It really is a magical place, even though I miss all the really cool stores they used to have there. (Read: I miss being able to buy records just anywhere in London without relying on HMV on Oxford Street!)

Please notice the gorgeous blue sky!

Please notice the gorgeous blue sky!

Starbucks served us well, even though it’s safe to say we both felt tired and exhausted from the early flight all day. Since Mel had made plans with a friend to catch up, we told her we’d meet her at the British Museum, so we were headed there next. The thing with museums is that I have mixed feelings about them. Art is a wonky subject because I can’t get into everything but then there are pieces that capture me so much I can sit and stare at them for ages. With historical stuff, I can never get excited about huge displays of many tiny bits and pieces but I love large pieces and statue that make me imagine what they looked like originally, where they used to be before and what it must have been like there. So the British Museum is perfect for me. Their Egyptian, Roman and Greek exhibitions have so many remarkable things to offer and I feel like they’re doing such a great job at creating just the right atmosphere for every piece. For example in many of

Word!

Word!

the Egyptian rooms, the lights are dimmed a little, the walls are a little darker and they often created an atmosphere that made you feel like you were walking straight into a tomb. And the Roman and Greek parts were often really light and airy. I just love visiting this museum, even though its architecture is a little more modern and not quite as stunning as the Natural History museum. Mel’s friend joined us halfway into our visit and we explored the Asian exhibition and a few other parts together before finishing our visit in the library (cue me fangirling!). Sadly, the doors to the large reading room were closed but nonetheless, the library is stunning! What I wouldn’t give to spend a day there reading. The only thing I don’t like is that there aren’t any books on the shelves anymore. I get that it would just be too much work to take care of it all and people can’t go up on the galleries anyway, so it isn’t like anyone ever gets to appreciate what’s on the shelves anyway but I don’t know. An empty library feels a little like a dead body.

I don’t even remember if we had any more plans for that day but we ended up having what was supposed to be a quick dinner but got extended to a long dinner and drinks and chat session. Which was just as well, as far as I’m concerned. By that time my feet hurt and I was ready to curl up under the table and go to sleep. We talked about music a lot (well, for the most part I listened because, despite not being interested in some of the bands they talked about, I just love listening to people talk about their favorite music because it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to know people still appreciate it) and when we made it back to Oxford Street for some shopping at HMV, I bought two albums on impulse. The Third Three Years by Frank Turner which has live recordings from one of his shows in Wembley (because nothing ever beats Frank Turner live shows!) and Get Hurt by The Gaslight Anthem. Admittedly, no new discoveries but I finally caught up with some of my favorites.

After saying goodbye to our company, we made it back to our hotel for a somewhat early night in. For me it is always strange sharing a room with people for the first time. No matter how well you know someone, your evening and morning rituals are always something they haven’t seen yet. But I believe Mel and I made the best of the tiny space we had in our room. And tiny it was. But somewhat clean and the bed was alright-ish, so it was okay.

London has a beautiful love affair with modern ceilings like this.

The next day started with the usual question: What do we do first? We decided to go to King’s Cross first to feed our little Potterhead needs. Upon arriving at Platform 9 3/4, we were a little disheartened to find they made people queue up and pose in front of a professional photographer and everyone else. The good thing is you don’t have to get a professional photo done but can also just let your friend take a picture. So that’s what we did. Or Mel did, anyway. I still get a little breathless imagining myself posing in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s stupid and I kinda regret not doing it but there’s always next time and now that I know what it’s like, I can begin giving myself pep talks two months in advance. We also visited the Platform 9 3/4 store and splurged a little. I bought a ticket for the Hogwarts Express, writing paper and a card holder which came in handy for my several credit and ID cards, so I didn’t have to carry my huge wallet around all the time. When we left, I figured I should have bought postcards but when I told my mom about the whole experience, she said she wants to see it, too, so I suppose I’ll be back in November anyway. King’s Cross itself was a surprise for me because I thought it wouldn’t be so modern. Other than that, it was just a typical train station, I suppose. It also brought us the scariest moment of the whole trip, though. When we were in the HP store, there was an announcement asking all passengers and visitors to leave the station immediately. Suddenly, there was police around everywhere and no one knew what was up. I have to say, though, Londoners are quite hardcore about these things, especially after the whole Charlie Hebdo panic. Everyone was just randomly standing around, some people just went to get a snack and others even refused to interrupt what they were doing. We walked around the station in search of a Starbucks or some other place where we could wait and then go back in later but by the time we had walked around to the other end, people were already walking into the station again. We followed carefully, halfway expecting to get kicked out again but nope. In general, I’d say my anxiety over the whole terrorism affair is pretty bad right now and I had been a little nervous about going to such a popular place as London, so I didn’t really need this kind of shock, but I’m glad it ended up being nothing.

In front of Sherlock's door with my Harry Potter bag - does that scream NERD or what?

In front of Sherlock’s door with my Harry Potter bag – does that scream NERD or what?

Our next step took is straight to Baker Street to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I don’t know how often Mel apologized for ‘Sherlockizing’ this trip and I don’t know how often I told her it’s okay but it was often. We did a lot of Sherlock-related things and I didn’t mind in the slightest. First of all, it did introduce me to ‘new’ things about London I hadn’t seen and hadn’t done or even known about before. And then – as with the music talk – I just like seeing people get excited about the things they like. And I’m sure she’ll hate me for saying this but Mel is quite adorable when it is about something she’s truly excited about.

We ended our visit with mandatory pictures of ourselves posing in front of Sherlock’s front door. I was surprised to find there was no long queue outside because posing for pictures is completely free and I figured even a lot of passersby would stop to do so.

I’m nowhere near a Sherlockian but even I found some of the things they sold in the shop enticing. We didn’t buy anything, though, safe for the ticket to enter the museum. ‘Museum’ is a strange word here because it felt more like visiting someone’s home. 221b Baker Street doesn’t only look like a random town house from the outside, it also looks and feels that way from the inside, complete with cute wallpapers and creaking floor boards. The first two floors were awesome in the way that they looked like Sherlock was about to return any minute now. The last two were still cozy but they’d set up scenes from the books, using mannequins with often creepy faces and I didn’t like that as much. But the rest of the house I wanted to make my own. Even though my own rooms are so high and airy, I love small and cozy rooms, which a lot of British homes offer, and 221b Baker Street isn’t an exception to that. And the fireplaces! Oh dear!

 

Hay's Galleria - Our not so little shelter from the cold

Hay’s Galleria – Our not so little shelter from the cold

I don’t remember if it was our original plan or whether we made spontaneous adjustments but next we found ourselves at London Bridge from where we had a stunning view towards Tower Bridge. We decided to take a stroll along the Thames down towards Tower Bridge and passed Hay’s Galleria on the way. That’s another thing about London I love so much: You can just start walking somewhere and on the way you’ll pass many gorgeous little things you didn’t even know where there. According to the description, the Galleria used to be a wharf in former times but nowadays it’s something like a huge courtyard in which you’ll find bars, cafe´s and restaurants and also a few stalls selling crafts. We had a coffee at Starbucks and marvelled at the fact that we were sitting outside but somewhat sheltered, so it was unbearably cold.

Be still my heart!

Be still my heart!

Feeling refreshed, we pushed on towards Tower Bridge, but not without stopping to take a bunch of selfies in front of it. We were in good company, though, as a Spanish (?) travel group posed for a bunch of action group photos. Who could blame them (or us), though, since the bridge was simply stunning with the lights on and surrounded by all the other lights along the river. I can also proudly announce that after nearly five years, Mel and I managed to take our first real picture (well, pictures) together. And with Tower Bridge as our background, too. It feels like we’ve been waiting for this perfect opportunity.

Spooky trees in front of the Tower

Spooky trees in front of the Tower

We crossed the bridge, again feeling stunned by how huge and gorgeous and impressive it is up close, and found ourselves in front of the Tower. By then, it was too dark for any proper sightseeing. Or least to take proper pictures, as the seeing certainly wasn’t a problem with all the many lights around, making the whole city seem even more magical than it usually does. But since we’re little tourists at heart, we decided to put an end to the sightseeing for the night and went back to Oxford Street for some shopping.

Once there, our first stop was House of Fraser where I finally bought Mel her Christmas present. I’d given her a voucher for a Naked Basics Palette from Urban Decay since I didn’t just want to buy one and find she didn’t like the colors as much. It turned out to be a good decision because she wasn’t so excited about either of the Basics but lost her heart to the Naked 2 instead. So we bought that. I’m glad to finally welcome her to the world of Naked Addicts. Heh.

Next we went to Waterstones and the usual thing happened: I drag someone to a bookstore intending to BUY ALL THE BOOKS! but then end up not really able to find anything or get excited about anything and making an alibi purchase but my company buying something despite not even planning to do so. I’m also sorry to report that Mel’s purchase of Tinder was infinitely cooler than my simply continuing the I Heart series by buying the next instalment, I Heart Vegas. We ended the night with a visit to the Waterstones café downstairs where I had a delicious White Hot Chocolate and she had the grossest bottle of cola either of us had ever tasted.

The next early morning found us starting to hate our hotel a little bit because the fire alarm went off at four in the morning, and again several times between seven and eight. When Mel asked about it later, they said it was because of the construction workers they had around to refurbish and renovate the hotel but that they’d leave at six that night and it would be fine. Tired and still somewhat disgruntled but soothed by this news, we went out on our next adventure.

This time, our way led us to our next Sherlockian point on our to-do list, the Sherlock Exhibition at the Museum of London. Compared to the Sherlock Museum it was quite the culture shock because the whole museum, including the exhibition, was so very modern. All white, shiny walls, flat screens and audio effects. For me personally, the exhibition was very interesting because it focused largely on London during Sherlock (or Doyle’s) time, showing all pictures from the time, explaining a lot about the infrastructure and means of transport. But I suppose for real fans of the books, author and screenplays, it must be quite disappointing because it touches so many aspects but never really reaches much depth with anything. The museum itself wasn’t all that fantastic, either. The only absolutely cool thing was the Victorian Way, an area where they reconstructed what an old shopping district might have looked like (in a clean indoors kind of way, at least). It wasn’t amazing but I guess in a city that has so many museums, one has to be the lame one.

After leaving the museum, we walked down to St. Paul’s. Up until then we’d been so lucky with the weather, all blue skies and a kind of sunny cold. But that day was grey and dull and even a bit rainy and I’m afraid it pressed down on my mood a little bit. Nevertheless, we walked around the church and took some pictures but refrained from going inside because the entrance fee they’re asking for these days is just rude. And either way, the outside is already stunning enough for me.

I'm gonna love you and squeeze you and call you George!

I’m gonna love you and squeeze you and call you George!

The next step took us to the National History Museum where both of us had a fangirlgasm. Mel because of the architecture and I because of the little guy you see on the left. It was my third time visiting this museum and believe it or not, I had always forgotten to go look for a raccoon! Eek!  He’s a little faded and old and doesn’t look too friendly but I still wanted to take him home. I fear a couple of Asian kids thought I’d lost it because I snapped about a dozen pictures from all angles, and only of this little fella. Well, excuuuuuse me, I’m having a moment here!

Since stuffed animals and hordes of French school kids weren’t exactly to our liking that evening, we made it our of the museum after dragging me away from the critter and then…I flew. Yup, I flew down the entrance stairs, luckily only the last step, twisted my toe and ended right on my knees. I just crouched there and mumbled something like “OMG, oh please, oh no!”, feeling like the biggest tool. Luckily there was hardly anyone around, only a woman and her kid who probably thought that the chubby woman on her knees wasn’t just clumsy but also possessed of some kind of demon. A stronger character than me would have found this hilarious because even while I was falling I thought that, hm, this is kind of a slo-mo action here. Kudos to Mel who either pretended not to notice or left me the dignity of pretending I wasn’t sniffling and hobbling around all teary-eyed while nursing my bruised ego which was the only thing that took away a serious injury. Given my weight and the angle of the fall, I already saw myself in hospital with knee caps resembling crushed crisps. I also felt phantom blood trickling down my leg all the time even though I knew it couldn’t be bleeding because not even my jeans were sticking to my knees. Back in the hotel later, I found the left one a bit swollen and bruised quite colorfully and the right showing almost no sign of the accident. By now, the left is almost black (the first time I get to know why they call it ‘black and blue’!) but walking barely hurts anymore, so I guess I’ll get around seeing a doctor this time.

Despite the fall, I bit my lip and went through the rest on our list. To be honest, since I was with someone so much fitter and more in shape than me, I had already been struggling with keeping up all the time. During most of our trip I felt a bit like Samwell Tarly on his way beyond the Wall. But hey, even he had his pride and so did I! And that’s a good thing because so much good came out of that. First of all we got to do and see a lot more than if I had listened to my body’s complaining and taken a million breaks all day. Then I could just file it under exercise. And finally, apart from losing another piece of my heart to London, I also left over two kilos there. So really, the sore muscles and aching joints were so worth it.

Hello Gorgeous!

Anyway, after my free fall performance, we finally visited Big Ben to say hello. But again, it was too dark for proper pictures, so we walked to Trafalgar Square and down Northumberland Avenue, where Mel had another Sherlockgasm over the Sherlock Holmes pub. We considered going in for a snack but found nothing tasty and vegetarian on the menu and were a little too cheap to go in just for a coke. So we pushed on and had dinner from Subway before retiring to our hotel for a super early night in because we had to get up again at two in the morning. Early flights will be the death of me.

Again, to our horror, the fire alarm went off thirty minutes after we got to our room. And again, we got a different excuse. After Mel gave them a piece of her mind, though, all was quiet and we could sleep for a while, an hour in my case.

The trip back to the airport was straight from a horror movie because we had to catch two night buses but the stop for one of them had been shown in the wrong place on the map and by the time we found the right now, we had missed the last bus. With only twenty minutes left until we had to get to our airport shuttle, we finally decided to take a cab. An excellent decision because the cabby was the nicest old-ish guy I’ve ever met. He was so calm and sweet and helped us find the right place so calmly even though we must have confused the crap out of him. Thanks to his efforts, we made it just in time. Well, we did but our shuttle didn’t. It just wouldn’t come and when the next one on the schedule arrived, I halfway expected them to tell us there was no space for us. But again, we were lucky and had a super nice driver who instantly apologized and knew there’d been a problem with the previous shuttle, so we were finally on our way to the airport where, again, we arrived only just in time for the gate to open. Apparently, luck was on our side! But can I just say: Stansted, WTF? Your departure area is more of a mall than any of our actual malls! A MAC Store? Really? I was so glad London had left me broke and out of time or I would have found death of shopping right there.

So yeah, after a surprisingly short flight (two pages read, a quick nap and ta-da, we’ve arrived!), we landed back in cold and nasty Germany where we were greeted with a round of ice-scratching and by a bunch of insane drivers on the highway. But alas, it was a very, very, very fun trip that had its little hiccups and accidents but for the most part was so good, showed me another side of London and also happened to be my very first trip with a very dear friend.

So this tale of our little adventure has to end but let me finish with our first picture together (well, one of them!) that I rambled about previously…

Categories: Uncategorized, Wanderlust | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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