Mention the word Cologne, what do you think of first? A good aftershave or a German city?
Given I might have looked a bit odd spending two days in the Men’s Toiletries section of my local pharmacy, I took a couple of days recently to visit the historic German city on the banks of the Rhine.
As my grasp of the German language is not too good, I brought two translators (in the form of my two eldest kids) with me on this adventure.
My first battle started in Dublin Airport when I discovered they were quite enjoying the facilities in the Terminal 1 Business Lounge. My ever-studious son even managed to get some homework done.
However, once extricated from the lounge, we made our way round to the gate to board the Ryanair flight to Cologne. Time on the short flight flew by (groan!) and we made a bee-line for the first airport shop we saw to look at the products on offer and use some of the German they’ve learnt at school.
The airport railway station is underneath the terminal and with frequent trains in to the city centre, we soon found ourselves in Cologne Haptbahnhoff. Walking through the warren of corridors filled with shops and coffee bars, we couldn’t work out if it was a train station with a shopping centre, or a shopping centre with a train station. Either way, it is a destination in its own right.
We hopped onto the metro train and made our way to our base for the night, the DJH City-Hostel Riehl which is in a suburb of the city on the banks of the river. I must admit I was slightly dubious about staying in a youth hostel, however, my fears were allayed when we discovered a very comfortable room, much better than would be found in some hotels.
There was quite a buzz about the hostel as there were a number of youth, school and family groups there. Whilst the self-service breakfast the following morning reminded me of a school canteen, I suppose that was to be expected given the clientele. One surprise we had was opening the windows in our room to see two green parrots staring back as us from a nearby tree. I thought they had escaped from the nearby zoo, but it seems Cologne is home to this particular breed of bird and are a regular sight. My daughter was quite pleased to see wild rabbits hopping about the garden below the window too.
After check out, we retraced our steps the short distance to the metro station and a few stops later, found ourselves back at Haptbahnhoff. We used the futuristic luggage storage, which entails you putting your luggage into a hatch which opens in the wall, to store our bags. I have no idea where it goes but I assume it travels into the bowels of the station to await your calling it back up again on your return.
Given I was travelling with two teenagers, as if by magic, they found an Apple store where they would probably quite happily have stayed all day had I not enticed them with the promise of visiting the Lindt Chocolate Museum, a city bus tour and going somewhere that had free wifi.
The centrepiece of Cologne is its stunning Cathedral. It is an enormous building which towers over the city centre and is a tourist magnet. It is one of those buildings that has a genuine “wow” factor and is well worth a visit. Another major attraction is the River Rhine, which splits the city in two and watching the huge boats traversing the water is another “wow” factor worth checking out.
Plundering around the many pedestrian streets, we stumbled across some interesting coffee shops, one of which sold “Spaghetti Icecream” which was much tastier than it sounds and even a sweet factory where you can watch the confectioners at work.
Sadly our time in Cologne was short so we did not get to see the many other places to visit in the city. However it was enough to whet our appetite to ensure is it on our list of “go to” destinations in the future.