On the 30th August Mrs B and I set out for Germany for a five-night stay in Cologne. Mrs B had been there once before on a school trip but, for me, this would be my first visit and my first real taste of Germany. Armed with the words for “Hello” and “Thank you,” the Fawlty Towers motto of “Don’t mention the war” and the desire to immerse myself in a new city, I experienced what may easily be my best holiday so far.
Our holiday did not get off to the best of starts when we received a call to inform us the first of our two flights had been cancelled! Our intended flight path was to Amsterdam then onto Cologne. Instead our first flight was rearranged for later in the day and it would be a trip to Hamburg before a quick changeover for Cologne. Looking at the map of Europe I found myself puzzled about the need to fly off to the east when we needed to be heading south, but so long as we arrived safely I wasn’t going to let it get me down.
No one wants to read about airports and I don’t wish to regale you with tales of our perils in negotiating the two flights. We reached the Cologne-Bonn Airport without too much incident and found, on our arrival, that the train station wasn’t the easiest of things to find. Once we had discovered the elusive railway the rest was easy. As soon as we were on the train, Mrs B and I relaxed for the first time that day. Up until then our journey had been about watching the clock carefully, and hoping for no more drama with delayed trains and cancelled planes that we had had in the UK.
It was a short journey to Cologne by train and once there I relied on Mrs B to find us the exit. She’s been to Germany a few times in the past and has a decent grasp of German so I knew I’d be relying on her frequently, hopefully not to the extent that she wanted to throw the travel books at me. Thankfully, that didn’t happen!
Leaving Cologne’s train station will always be a memorable moment for me. No sooner had we stepped outside than Mrs tapped me on the shoulder and pointed towards the left. When I followed her directions I was greeted by the sight of Cologne’s and indeed Germany’s main tourist attraction – The Dom – that attracts 2 million visits a year. Among the tallest cathedrals in the world, the Dom is a magnificent architectural achievement that due to much stop-starting took 600 years to build. Ongoing renovations mean it will probably never be properly completed but Mrs B informed me some superstitious locals believe the world will end if construction ever stops on the Dom. My first sight of the cathedral was with the setting sun basking down one side of its gothic body. It was a jaw dropping moment to say the least and a great way to start the holiday.
Mrs B and I then headed for our hotel. Along the way I had my first experience of German traffic. Thankfully, there was nowhere near the amount of cyclists as we saw in Amsterdam, back in July, but another need for caution awaited us at every main road. Germany has a strict law on pedestrians crossing the roads properly and abiding by traffic lights. Mrs B warned me not to step into the road unless the green man was showing. The law is a bit more relaxed in Cologne but in some areas of the country you can find yourself in a spot of bother even if you cross an empty road before the lights say you should. I’m generally a careful and considerate pedestrian in the UK but in Germany I was exemplary.
We soon reached our five-star hotel, The Renaissance, a place that made me very self-conscious though it wasn’t as posh as I initially feared. There was some confusion during our stay in that Mrs B was told we were entitled to free breakfast as gold members and various other privileges, only when we tried to take advantage it seems we should have gone to the club lounge rather than the restaurant, something we were never told! The curse of the small print methinks. Before this became known to us, we enjoyed our first night in Cologne by partaking of room service and having some tradition German food – a pizza for me and burger for Mrs B! Unadventurous I know, but it had been a tiring first day. Although we had seen little of Cologne so far, we more than intended to make up for that during the rest of the week. I can assure you, we more than stuck to our word.