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Amparo Bertram

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04:54 pm: Europe Vacation 2016 - Part III - Taking the Scenic Route
Sunday, October 16, we returned to the main Essen train station for the next leg of our journey. We stood near the platforms for a while as I tried to decipher the route map to find which train on which platform we would need to take. Eventually I gave up on that and left my parents watching the luggage while I searched other areas of the station until I located a master train schedule with the information I needed. I bought our group ticket and we boarded the train to Cologne (Köln).

Our hotel was only about two blocks from the station, so we didn't have much trouble finding the place and checking in. The man at the front desk even came outside and greeted us by name as we approached, then gave us a map of the city and recommendations of things to see and places to eat. We dropped off our luggage in our room and went out to visit the sights.

The main attraction in Cologne is the cathedral, which is a stunning architectural feat. The entire place had been bombed to rubble in the war and was reconstructed afterward, matching the new portions to the recovered pieces of old stone.

We only looked briefly at the cathedral that evening, as we were interested in seeing a museum or two, which were only a few blocks away. We set off in the direction that we thought the museums should be, according to our map...but as we walked and walked and didn't see any sign of them, we knew something was wrong. We kept checking the map and comparing it to the streets around us, but there are no regular street signs, just the occasional one posted on the sides of buildings.

Finally we crossed a subway line that had maps outside the entrances, and by following those we were able to re-orient ourselves. It turned out that we were basing our reading of the map on the location of the cathedral, but what we had thought was the front of the cathedral was actually the side, so we were off by 90 degrees. That was why we couldn't make sense of any of the locations.

By the time we got back to where we had intended to go, we had been walking for about an hour and were too tired and hungry to spend any time at the museums. We entered a crowded plaza lined with shops and restaurants and looked for a place to eat. Since arriving in Germany, we had eaten Italian (pizza), American (burgers), Japanese (sushi), and Indian (curry), but the only "traditional" German food we had tried was the Berliner jelly doughnut that megory had bought specifically so that she could quote Eddie Izzard.

We sought out a traditional brewhouse and ordered the potato pancake meal, served with applesauce and thin slices of heavy rye bread. We also tried the local beer, called Kölsch, which is supposed to be famous in the area. (It just tasted like regular beer to me, but I'm not really a beer drinker.) We were glad that the man at the hotel had warned us about the beer-serving custom in this city, which is that the server will refill your cup whenever it is empty...but the refills aren't free. The server keeps track of the refills by making tally marks on the coaster, then bill you for everything at the end of the meal. If you don't want the refills, you have to place the coaster over the top of the glass.

We returned to our hotel after supper for some board gaming and a good night's sleep. In the morning, we were treated to a substantial breakfast buffet, which was included in the room price. It was an impressive service of various cheeses, jams, and pickles, with toast, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, pastries, yogurt, puddings, granola, and cafe-style coffee. We did some more early-morning sightseeing in and around the cathedral, then checked out and carted our luggage back to the train station for our ride to Trier.

I had originally heard about Trier because it's the setting for a board game that came out at Essen in a previous year. (I picked up a copy while I was there, knowing we would be visiting the site.) It's on the Mosel River, which is famous for the vineyards that grow along the slopes that line the river valley. Some of the slopes are so steep, they appear nearly vertical, as perhaps can be seen in this shot I took from the train. Something else we could see from the train was that Germany has lots of solar panels. I knew there was an internet meme going around touting Germany's dedication to solar power, but reading something on the internet isn't the same as seeing all the panels in person.

In Trier, I had opted to reserve a room at a hotel a fair hike from the station. In exchange, our hotel was literally a few doors down from the main tourist attraction, the Porta Nigra, a structure built centuries ago by Romans.

Not only is the imposing Porta Nigra quite photogenic, it fronts on a popular courtyard surrounded on all sides by decorative buildings. We spent some time wandering up and down the streets, gazing at all the carvings and towers and fountains and statues and other artistic structures in the area. (Of perhaps equal import at this point in our trip, we located and made use of a coin laundry, which happened to be down the street from the Karl Marx House.)

The crowds thinned and shops started closing once the sun went down after about 5pm. We selected a restaurant for supper, and the place was practically vacant, which was quite the contrast to the number of people having drinks and desserts at the outdoor tables earlier in the day. After supper we strolled down the block to our hotel and prepared to head to the Big City. Next stop: Frankfurt.

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