Today Lance and I went to Cologne. We got up at an ungodly hour of the morning because I thought it would be cool to leave at 8:01...the earliest train there. Bad BAD idea! We were soooo tired... But the train ride was great...we had a layover in Rheydt (which was thankfully brief) and then with the 2nd train, we were on our way to Cologne.
We got off the train, and the first thing we saw was the Dom...the GIGANTIC cathedral that is the heart of Cologne: http://www.koelner-dom.de/. It's literally right next to the train station, and I couldn't even see the entire thing when I got off the train, but my breath was just taken away by the immense size of this building. Lance and I stopped there first...we went inside and walked around. They allowed us fairly close access to the crypts, so we got to see some really interesting effigies. I didn't take pictures of them though, out of respect for those who are buried there. I did get a few pictures of the inside, including the absolutely huge organ pipes. I just hope they turn out.
After we toured the inside, we paid the 2 euro admission for the privilege of climbing to the top of the south tower. That is 509 stairs to the top...very narrow SPIRAL stairs...and there are people climbing down as you are climbing up, so it's a tight squeeze. I thought I was going to pass out before we got to the top, but we were richly rewarded with a stunning view of Cologne, especially the Rhine river. On the way down, we stopped to look at the bells, although I was afraid they would start ringing as we were standing there. It probably would've shattered our eardrums, seeing as how those bells can be heard all over Cologne.
After we got to the bottom, we had to go and sit for awhile, since my legs were very shaky and I had trouble walking straight (try climbing 500 steps and going back down, and see how YOU feel!)...but we went outside to take pictures of the outside of the Dom. It seems to be THE place for everyone to gather. So we were checking out what was going on...street performers, sidewalk chalk artists...and this little poodle-like dog walked past us with a German polizei uniform on, including a little cap, and SUNGLASSES. Everyone was cracking up as this little pooch walked by...I managed to get a picture of him. He was adorable. I just didn't get to where I could get his face in the picture, so you don't see his sunglasses.
Anyway, after that, we were ready for lunch, so we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. It wasn't my first choice because the place is always loud and their food is fine, but I would rather eat at a restaurant that is unique to Cologne. But Lance wanted to go there and I was paying since his birthday is tomorrow, so we went. But we got there about half an hour before it opened, so we took a walk on a bridge over the Rhine to get some good photos. We went back at noon to get lunch.
After lunch, we decided to head over to the chocolate museum. They promised to have free samples for all visitors, and considering that they gave us mini chocolate bars at the ticket counter, I knew that it was a good place to visit. They had exhibits on where cocao beans are produced, how they are made into chocolate (that was the fun part...they have a chocolate factory there, so you can actually see the machines at work making the chocolate and forming it into bars and sending it to the wrapping machine), a rainforest of cocao trees, and exhibits that showed the history of the Stollwerck chocolate company in Cologne. In the museum, they have a chocolate fountain, which is literally like a water fountain, except chocolate pours out. And someone stands there with sugar wafers, dips them in chocolate, and hands them to you as you walk past. Needless to say, that was pretty cool. :) We hit the gift shop afterwards (yes mother, I bought you some!).
After that, we decided to take a Rhine cruise. As we were walking to the pier to get to our boat, we went through a marketplace...they sold mostly books, but there were some other things too...nothing that I had to have, but it was interesting to see what wares were being sold.
We took our Rhine cruise, which was a much needed rest for both of us. It was pretty packed by the time we got on, so we couldn't find a place on the open deck at first and had to sit down in the enclosed part. But we got to a city called Rodengirchen, which is also along the Rhine (just outside Cologne) and some people got off, so we were able to find a place to sit on the open deck. Rodenkirchen was a nice place...just reeked charm all over the place, what we saw of it anyway. But the boat turned around (after picking up some passengers) and we headed back to Cologne.
After that, we were pretty tired...we walked around for a little bit because we wanted to get pictures of the old town hall and they had a wedding there earlier in the day, which made it difficult to get pictures. So we went back to get some pictures, hit the souvenir shop so I could buy a bottle of Eau de Cologne for Grandma (because that's where it was invented...duh!...and yes, women can wear this stuff)...and I bought some postcards. Then Lance and I went to the train station to come home...although we stopped first to get the obligatory German pretzel and some Coca-Cola Light (which is NOT Diet Coke...they don't have Diet Coke here).
As we were waiting on our train, we saw a bunch of drunk guys come off a train with a bunch of open beer bottles in their hands...they were being obnoxious and dancing and singing and hitting on all the women that they saw (except me, because Lance was with me). I guess public intoxication is not a problem in Germany. :)
Oh...one thing I thought was cute...we passed by this street performer who played the accordian...he had a bunch of tiny marionettes in traditional German dress and they were dancing along to the music he was playing...TOO CUTE! I tried to get Lance to take video of it, but he thought it was cheesy.
On the way back, we had a layover at Aachen, which will likely be the next place we visit. It looks to be an interesting city as well, although all the things worth seeing are further away from the train station.
In other news, we finally got our bicycles yesterday...German made and they come with all the bells (literally) and whistles. I can't wait to start riding!!!