Sun. July 20, 2014:
Essen to Cologne, Germany:
The next morning Essen was empty. We did pass by a nightclub that was still playing music and there were two people outside, but that was it. The next person I saw was the lady behind the counter at Dunkin’ Donuts (which thankfully was open early). They had the biggest selection of donuts I have ever seen. They had some wacky ones like kiwi icing on a chocolate donut or a vanilla donut with melon icing. To go with my vanilla coffee (which she understood to mean vanilla latte) I had a chocolate nougat donut (basically a Nutella donut) and an unpronounceable one with blue icing that turned out to be blackberry jam filled. The donuts were very fresh and totally made my morning, even though I had ordered three and she had misunderstood.
The train arriving before ours was straight out of the board game Thurn & Taxis: Wurzburg to Nurnberg to Passau. We settled in for an hour long train ride to Cologne. As soon as we were off the train and out of the station we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd of people. The lockers in the train station were too confusing. We opted for leaving our bags at the Roman-German museum. We were a little lost at first. Leaving the train station we had to go around the cathedral to get to the museum. Not easy when all you want to do is gawk at the cathedral in all its architectural glory.
They did not have English guides to give us at the museum, we had to make do with the selective English information that was given only on some displays. It was hard to appreciate some of the things as they were out of context and we knew nothing about them. After a while it started to get a little bit repetitive, tombstone, coin, lamp, repeat. Clearly this museum does not share their collection, or there are just a ton of artifacts from this area and time period. The coolest thing by far was the preserved mosaic tile floor. The tour guides were keen on this; you could look into the museum through the window and see it, not having paid the admission fee.
Up next we went to the Museum Ludwig next door. The museum was focused on more modern art, but thankfully they had the good sense to exhibit mostly good stuff like Lichenstein, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Magritte, Picasso and even a piece by Duchamp). They even had works by Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky. There was one piece in the middle of a room that looked like metal scaffolding. Part of the museum was under renovation, I assumed this was part of it. Turns out I was wrong; this metal scrap was “art” according to the informative sign.
We tried to go to McDonalds for lunch, but it was crammed with tourists. No surprise, given it was across the street from the cathedral and the train station. We bailed and went to the hotel instead. We passed by a cruise ship, on the side it said Captain M. Van Houten (Milhouse from The Simpsons). We passed by a guy standing in a wading pool drinking a beer. While checking in, Brent made the front desk lady laugh by pretending to not know when my birthday was.
On the way to the hotel I had spotted a gas station, complete with convenience store, across the street from us. No sooner had we left our bags, we went on a supply run. We had a Ritter Sport marzipan chocolate for lunch and I grabbed some fizzy peach iced tea for later. I also noted that they had a decent Ben & Jerry’s selection, for later. We left our snacks at the hotel and set back out again to explore Cologne. On our way we saw a party boat cruise advertising free yogurt. It was the weirdest thing; you could go aboard, eat some yogurt and drink beer while a German band played.
We were on our way to the last museum of the day (last museum of the trip?): the Wallraf Richartz museum. Thankfully for my poor aching legs, the museum was only three floors. The museum’s art collection ranged from medieval 13th century to impressionist 19th century art, so we would not have to endure any more modern art. I was not looking forward to the medieval paintings, but they had some paintings by Albrecht Durer, so that was a nice surprise (he is a staple in art history). Towards the end we got stuck near a really irritating group of people. They would photograph the art and the info panel and then move on to the next one, barely glancing at the painting itself. It was driving me nuts.
Afterwards we went across the street to look at an archaeological dig site. There was a tour group there though. It was decided we would come back the next day, I really wanted to see people hard at work at the dig site (it was Sunday, so there was no one there). Up next we went to look at a church that had been bombed during WWII and never rebuilt. It was preserved in its wrecked state and somehow hauntingly beautiful.
We stopped at kiosk to look at the beer selection. While in there I discovered that kiosk is German for “cramped and not air-conditioned shop that should not be selling chocolate bars.” My chocolate was a melted mess and impossible to eat. As we walked back to the hotel Brent pointed out a girl walking ahead of us who looked exactly like me. My doppelganger was really freaking me out; I could not make heads or tails of the situation and was very confused by it all. We stopped at a food stand for a quick bite. I had ordered a bratwurst but the woman had misheard me and we ended up getting currywurst instead. It was still good, but a little odd. The sausage was chopped up and served in curry sauce with a bun on the side. It was terribly messy to eat and my fingers ended up smelling like curry.
It turned out that our hotel restaurant was closed on Sundays and dinner was served at the hotel bar. For dinner we had to eat somewhere that accepted credit card, it was the end of the trip and we were running low on Euros. I did not like the looks of the hotel bar. I searched for nearby places while enjoying my (heavenly!) fizzy peach iced tea and watching The Simpsons dubbed over in German. After translating the website of a promising pub I found out it was under renovations. I had written down a few places on our city map and we headed out. The first place we went to did not have a food menu and the beer menu was subpar, especially for a place that was voted second best bar in the city. After some wandering we found a place in the square. I was getting frustrated, and I was really hungry. I was about ready to give up on this place too, but thankfully the guy brought us English menus.
I had the “Munich style” white sausage, it came with a pretzel and honey mustard on the side. It was amazing; this was easily one of the best meals of the trip. Brent had ordered the black forest ham sandwich; it was hilarious how it was presented: he had to assemble the sandwich himself. That meant I could steal a piece of the ham though. Turns out what I had thought was black forest ham was just regular ham, this was nothing like what I had eaten before: it was so much better!!! It was nice to sit back and relax; looking at the cathedral we could hear the bells ringing. I could not help but laugh at the coasters on the table, they had pictures of naked girls riding bikes (apparently as far as I can tell, the beer is as refreshing as biking naked through a field).
Walking back we saw that the yogurt boat party was still going, but the girls in Bavarian costume were gone, so much for free yogurt for dessert. We stopped at the gas station for Ben & Jerry’s peanut butter cup ice cream and some more Haribo gummies (sour mix this time). This time I got mango iced tea, so good! i had gotten a Kinder Surprise egg, and what a surprise indeed: it opened into two halves, one had the toy and the other had two Ferrreo Rocher-type chocolates in a white Nutella spread, there was even a spoon stuck to the divider. It was very bizarre. While we ate ice cream we watched Spongebob Square Pants, even dubbed in German it was still understandable. The only English options for TV were news channels like CNN. The ice cream proved to be too much, the peanut butter cups were too big and we stuck in the fridge for later.