Birthday week is always a time for celebration, and it’s even better when we’re travelling somewhere interesting. This week definitely counted — we had a great time in Cologne and Dresden.
Monday 10/6: We’d spent the weekend in Bonn with our friend Richard, and our only task for the day was to get to Cologne — just half an hour away by train. After a sleep in, Richard prepared croissants for breakfast then took us to a favourite cafe of his, where I was given the largest coffee ever — I only got halfway through it.
We stopped off at Richard’s to pick up our bags then headed to the Münster to meet my language-exchange friend Andreas for a drink in the square. Then we said goodbye to Richard and Andreas, Craig and I caught the train towards Cologne.
I met Andreas when I was first starting to study Spanish, and he has been overwhelmingly lovely and encouraging about my efforts to learn German. On the train, he and I spoke German the entire way — it was a very basic conversation but still a conversation!
In Cologne we made our way to Hostel Köln, where we would be staying for the next four nights. We were impressed by the room layout (a double bed and a set of bunks) as well as the fact that there was a strong wifi signal in our room on the seventh floor.
We spent the rest of the day downstairs in a pleasant corner of the lobby, catching up on work.
Tuesday 11/6: After a fantastic breakfast, we made our way into the city centre to meet our contact Claudia from the tourism board. She gave us lot of useful information and tips about how we could spend our time while we were in the city; unfortunately we had to spend most of Tuesday back in the hostel working. We did head out for a walk around the nearby Belgian Quarter in the evening, but otherwise it was quite a quiet day.
Wednesday 12/6, Craig’s birthday: Stomachs full of delicious breakfast, we met our guide Marita near the cathedral and she took us on a comprehensive walking tour of the city. It was particularly interesting to see the thousands of love locks on the bridge and to hear about the underground concert hall; security guards were stopping pedestrians from walking through what looked like a pretty normal square but which was actually the roof of the concert hall — any noise above ruined the acoustics below.
Marita took us all the way down to the south gate of the city and we had a beer in the Früh bar there, which had been recommended by Claudia. We’d planned to visit a couple of galleries next, but Craig was feeling quite under the weather, so we headed back to the hostel for a nap.
In the late afternoon we visited Kolumba, the art museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne. Since it focuses on religious art, I thought it would be quite boring (I’ve seen a LOT of religious art) but it was fantastic — a great mix of old treasures and modern art.
It was time for a beer but we couldn’t find a place at the central-city bar Claudia had recommended, so we wandered towards the Belgian Quarter and chose one at random. We ended up eating dinner there too, since the food that other patrons were eating looked so fantastic.
Thursday 13/6: Neither of us was feeling fantastic, so we slept in and lingered over breakfast before making our way to the Chocolate Museum — which is, understandably, one of Cologne’s most-popular museums. Apart from continuously getting stuck behind a large group of pushy older ladies, we really enjoyed the museum — as well as telling the story of how chocolate is made, it also covered the history of chocolate use and production, with a section on advertising.
We had a lunch of Kölsch Kaviar (blood sausage) at the Fruh brewery in the city; the waiter roundly abused me for ordering apple juice instead of beer — I suppose I was asking for it!
It was starting to rain as we arrived at our next destination, 4711. This perfumery has been making eau de cologne since 1792; as well as selling their trademark fragrance 4711, they also run workshops so that you can make your own scent. We joined a public workshop but they also do private ones, which I think would be an awesome idea for a hen’s party.
The session was run in German as we were the only English speakers; instead of doing a full bilingual talk the instructor Monika explained everything to us while the others got started in mixing their perfumes. Craig and I both really enjoyed ourselves and created interesting colognes; Craig wasn’t super-happy with his but found that it had improved by the time we got back to the hostel — a win!
Friday 14/6: We had time for a quick coffee before meeting Elmar, the owner of Hostel Köln. It was interesting to hear about his philosophy and how the hostel got started; he also showed us some of the rooms. Strangely for a hostel, a large percentage of their guests are business people, while university and school groups are also well represented. Since they don’t have any dorms, backpackers aren’t such an important market, though flashpackers looking for a more-luxury hostel option are certainly looked after.
We’d hoped to meet a listener called Tristan at the station before we caught our train towards Dresden, so we had breakfast, packed up, and got to the city centre at around 11am. Unfortunately vandals had destroyed a signal box (or something) disrupting many trains in and out of Cologne, and Tristan couldn’t make it. Our train was also delayed, which meant we missed our connection at Frankfurt airport station and had to wait around for an hour before catching a slower train, which arrived in Leipzig five minutes late. This was okay since the connection to Dresden was going to depart 15 minutes late anyway. However, as we got off in Leipzig I saw another train that was just about to depart, so we jumped on that and actually made it to Dresden in time to meet our couchsurfing hosts Carola and Stefan at the time we’d arranged! Our planned three-hour stopover in Leipzig didn’t happen, and it had been a stressful journey, but we made it!
Stefan took us for a short drive around the city, showing us the main sights, then we went back to their place, where we settled in then had a delicious barbecue dinner. It was so great to sit outside in the sun — it finally feels like summer has arrived!
Saturday 15/6: After a sleep-in and a trip to the supermarket, Craig and I headed into the city to explore a little while Carola was at work. We had good luck with the buses, arriving at the stop two minutes before one was due and catching a connection with a minute to spare; unfortunately this wasn’t the case on the way home!
In the city, we wandered around the beautiful old town and checked out an outdoor shop we’d heard about, then made our way to the Big Garden — a large park that dominates any map of Dresden. There, we had a snack at the beer garden then walked through the park, admiring the central palace and man-made lakes.
Because of our lack of luck with the public transport, we didn’t make it home until 8.30, and we’d arranged to meet Carola and Stefan and 9pm to head back into Dresden Neustadt for the Bunte Republik Neustadt festival that was taking place there over the weekend. It was great — there were thousands of people packed into about four square kilometres of city streets, with bands playing every couple of hundred metres and hundreds of food and drink stalls — we tried quite a lot of both! Stefan led us to some of his favourite parts of the neighbourhood and stopped for a beer now and then as we fought our way through the crowd to back to the bus stop.
Sunday 16/6, Linda’s birthday: Since we’d stayed up quite late the night before, our hiking trip started a little later than planned — we headed out the door at 9am. (For me, that’s still quite early!) Carola and Stefan took us to the Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland National Park), where we walked for about three hours through through the forest. The highlight was the stop at Bastei with its amazing rock formations — there were quite a lot of tourists there — for good reason, though.
On the way home we stopped at Stefan’s favourite cafe to pick up some cakes, which we ate in their garden accompanied by coffee — brilliant.
In the afternoon Craig played a computer game while I responded to birthday greetings and chatted with my friend César then went for a run. In the evening we had a South American themed dinner outside in the garden — a great birthday and a great birthday week!