Dancin' In The Street
I haven't really thought this through, have I?
So I had a think about things I wanted to do in this part of Central
Europe before my planned return to the UK later this year. Cologne, I
thought, there's some famous cathedral there that I really oughta see.
'Ooooh!' said one of my work colleagues 'Cologne's great at
So I booked a hotel, and headed off for Sunday and Monday thinking... mmmm Cathedral, museum, Carnival parade, nice restaurant on the Sunday night... my kinda weekend.
Beautiful train journey from Luxembourg to Koln2 - the first part follows the Moselle river, so it's hugging the river as it snakes through vineyard clad slopes, passing charming hamlets enroute, till we get to Koblenz. Here, the Moselle meets the Rhine, and the train 'turns the corner' and ploughs through a more industrial landscape, where factories and industrial parks take the place of the quaint villages, and flat brown fields replace the steep wine growing slopes.
We get to Cologne at 3 pm.
- Plan a
Get a taxi from the station to the hotel.
Not an ambitious plan, you'll agree, but as we exit to station to be met with the massively impressive facade of the Dom, and the equally unavoidable sight and sound of many drunk Germans dressed as clowns and being determinedly jolly, we feel that perhaps we have entered a parallel universe. The cathedral is suitably stunning, however and, as
we pick our awestruck way across the forecourt avoiding broken glass and discarded food, we declare ourselves looking forward to seeing the interior and climbing the belltower. Now, those of you who know me, are
aware that my biggest phobia is crowds, with drunken crowds being the
nadir. I resolve to inquire more dilligently from future advisors what
exactly they mean by 'great'... We agree on
- Plan b
Find a road that hasn't been closed to traffic and, from there, hail a taxi.
Hmmm... all roads appear to be blocked. We complete the first of what turns out to be many circuits of the Dom3 and hit on
- Plan c
Ask those gorgeously hunky Polezei where I can find a taxi
'Certainly,' he says, 'Just down there, 100m away'...
and takes us back to the station, the exit that we HADN'T come out of. We successfully hail a cab, but I'm slighly unnerved by the 'scheisse' uttered by the cab driver when I show her the hotel address. She takes us on a few laps of somewhere nondescript, before announcing that, no, she can't get us any closer, because the centre's all closed off due to the parade, you see. At least, that's what I guessed she was saying, but my German's fairly poor so she may well have been admitting that she, too, was bearing David Blunkett's love child. And so to...
- Plan d
Head vaguely in the direction that the taxi driver appeared to be indicating, and hope to stumble across the hotel.
Unsurprisingly, this wasn't a great plan. We did get to see lots of parading escaped convicts, tigers, monks and spacemen, though. Time for...
- Plan e
Ask that group of ridiculously handsome Polezei where the hotel is
Well, I was assuming they were real policemen - they could well have been just in fancy dress. Much consultation, map reading, phoning back to base etc followed, before they were able to scribble me a map, and wish me a pleasant stay in Cologne. We'd kinda been hoping they'd take us there on their big motor bikes... but back to reality! And
- Plan f
Try to make sense of the scribbled map
Sadly, none of the roads we passed had the names of any of the roads on the little scrap of paper. But, ever resourceful, we soon concocted...
- Plan g
Find a map of the city and work it out for ourselves And so we did! Arriving at our hotel a mere hour and a half after leaving the station, about half a mile away. Ah me, we'll laugh about this one day, I joked. Nobody laughed, though.
No, I really really haven't thought this through....
We'd better go and experience some of the merry-making, since we've come all this way. So off into the teeming melée we set. 'Minimalism' seemed to be an alien concept here - there was no such thing as too colourful, too noisy or too kitsch. Even with souvenir scarves and compulsory Hawaiin luas we still looked conservative and under-dressed. I abandoned any idea of a quiet civilised dinner in a nice restaurant and, instead, Cologne joined the illustrious company of Surfers Paradise, Reykjavik and... erm... Belfast on the list of 'Hard Rock Cafés we have visited'. A post prandial stroll to see the Rhine by night, followed by the Dom by night, but the noisy crowds were starting to panic me, and we headed back to the hotel. Every bar we passed was full to bursting and they all seemed to be playing the same music 4 and it was with not a little relief that we closed our bedroom door behind us and tried to find something watchable on telly. And so that's how we ended up in bed at 7.30 pm watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In German. Well, a lot of the gags are visual and most of the dialogue we knew off by heart. Fun night out, eh?
Through-thinking completely noticeable by its absence
After breakfast on Rose Monday, we set off for the cathedral. Firstly, we wisely left our bags in the left luggage at the train station. Now, this was almost so good that it warranted the trip! You put your 3 euros into one of 6 kiosks, about the size of a phone booth. A small shutter opens to reveal a space. You put your bags inside. The shutter doors close and your luggage magically disappears, and the machine produces a ticket. Where the luggage goes, I do not know. Presumably to some underground storage system, but there could well have
been a wee man hiding in the innards of the machine. When you reinsert the ticket into ANY of the 6 booths, the shutter doors open and there's your luggage. Marvellous. Vorsprung durch tecknik, indeed.
And so we braved the colourful throng streaming constantly out of the station and completed a circuit of the Dom looking for the entrance. We enquired in the souvenir shop only to be told that no, it was closed today because of Carnival you see...
We stood rather forlornly amidst the sea of jollity. And then said that line from the movies that everybody really wants to utter at some point: 'Let's get outta here!' and caught the next train to Koblenz.
There is no escape!
We passed through Bonn, where another parade was just starting, and got off at Koblenz, snce it had looked rather pretty on our outward journey. Yeah, there was a parade there too, but not nearly on the same scale as in Cologne, and we did actually enjoy strolling through the cobbled streets of the Aldstadt5 before finding a nice restaurant that served wonderful schnitzel with great beer.
Next year I'll just stick to making pancakes...
In next week's thrilling installment, I'm under the surgeon's knife (well, laser) so you, too, can share in the joys of smelling your own burning flesh...
the Boys in the Backroom will have...5Old town.