Mon. July 21, 2014:
Cologne, Germany to Brussels, Belgium:
It turned out that breakfast was not included with our hotel room, and it cost a whopping €20/person! We went with option B, breakfast from the gas station. I had a pretty decent croissant with a Nutella filling and an iced coffee (the can had coffee beans on it, so I assumed it was coffee). Thankfully we also still had snacks left over from the day before. The Haribo sour gummy fries were delicious; the white chocolate Lion bar was not as good as the original.
The rain had let up while we ate breakfast. Rather than try to figure out the lockers at the trains station we left our bags at the hotel front desk. After buying our train tickets to Brussels for the afternoon we set off in search of the Locks of Love Bridge. We knew it would be near the train line, we had seen it when we first got in. we could not find a path to it from the side by the Dom Cathedral, so we cut through the train station to the other side of the train tracks, logically we should be able to get to it from there. After wandering past the bus terminal and through a parking lot, all the while able to see the bridge we finally found stairs leading up it, rejoice!
The locks were very dense in the middle of the bridge. Some people had put bike locks; there were even a few broken hearts. The locks were all different sizes, colours and quality. Some had been etched others drawn on with marker. Some even had photographs stuck on them. We crossed under the bridge and to the other side. Walking back we had a great view of the entire Hohenzollern Bridge and the Dom Cathedral in the background. This was clearly the more popular side of the bridge, given how many more locks there were. Some people even added chains to make more room, others were double-locked. I sort of regret not having planned ahead and brought a lock.
The Dom Cathedral was packed, partly because there was a mass going on. I quickly figured out that there was a separate entrance to the belfry for the stair climb. We managed to get ahead of a giant group of tourists. The sign by the ticket booth said that there were 509 steps to the top: oh my god, I thought, this sounds terrible!! There were a lot less look-out stops on the way to the top. The only stop was the room with the bells. Just as we were leaving it, the bells started to ring. We ran back but it was too late, we had missed it. We had to circle around the room again (it was a one direction hallway, circling the bells).
There were little open slits of windows throughout the tower, letting in a breath of fresh air that was desperately needed. I was sweating so badly. I really needed that cool air. The view from the top was obstructed by metal grating that had been put up to prevent people from further graffiting the church. All available surface in the cathedral had been scribbled on, not just the walls of the belfry but also the gargoyles at the top, the buttresses, everything! It was appalling.
On the way back down there was a stupid lady who was counting all the steps. We stopped at the bell level again. We waited 13 minutes for the bells to ring and one bell only rung twice. It did not even move, just a little unseen hammer dinged the bell. It was rather unsatisfying. I wondered if the upper windows had once had stained glass in them, now they were just frames like stained glass windows without the stained glass. Back on ground level mass was over and we were free to wander the cathedral without being a nuisance. The cathedral was gorgeous with lots of beautiful stained glass windows and high vaulted ceilings.
For lunch we tried the nearby McDonalds again, but it was crammed. I remembered seeing a McDonalds in the train station so we went there instead. My salsa beef burger had much more salsa this time, it was a lot spicier. I regretted not getting a drink. The Bounty McFlurry was not as good as the Daim one. My back-up dessert plan had set sail: the yogurt boat was gone.
At the archaeological dig site there were only three people and they were on lunch. We got to the train station with 45 minutes before the train. I wandered around the giant concourse below. The Dunkin’ Donuts had a huge line-up, so much for my coffee fix. I ended up buying an iced coffee, but decided to save it, unsure of what the breakfast situation would be the next day.
This was by far one of the worse train rides of the trip. We did not have reserved seats, every other time we had managed to find seats. Not so this time. Even more infuriating was the fact that there were unclaimed reserved seats that were empty. The train was very crowded; there was luggage and people standing around everywhere. The ride was bumpy and twisty. Making things worse, I ran out of podcasts to listen to. Thankfully I had downloaded another book on the iPad, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. It is not comfortable to read a book while standing on a moving train. I eventually resorted to just staring out the window. This was all well and good until I saw a terrifying sight: a row of military tanks on the highway taking the offramp. WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON?! I thought to myself in a mild panic.
At the hotel shuttle at the airport we met another couple from Toronto. They were old and they were talkative. I was too tired for their banter. The upside to staying at a hotel near the airport is that you are close and there is a shuttle. The downside is that your dining options are limited to what is available at the hotel (unless you drive/take a cab somewhere). We were staying at the same brand of hotel as the previous day, but thankfully today the restaurant was open.
Dinner at the hotel restaurant was the same stuff that was on the room service menu, sans the room service charge of course. The Belle-Vue Framboise beer was nice and refreshing. The curry chicken with rice hit the spot, it was a nice change. I was still kind of sick of Belgian frites. The tiramisiu we had for dessert was ok, but I would have rather eaten candy and Ben & Jerry’s. The TV was finally really good. I watched a few episodes of The Simpsons but then Bones came on and I did not like that it was filmed like a reality TV show (visually clearer, no filter?). We realized we would have to do breakfast at the hotel. There was nothing good at the airport.