I’ve studied a lot of art history and architecture throughout my schooling. I’ve always been fascinated by architecture and design, even have a degree in interior design. One of the places that came up so often in my studies was the Cologne Cathedral, a breathtaking display of gothic architecture that took hundreds of years to finish. When we started planning our trip to The Netherlands and Germany, I looked how close we would be to Cologne to see if we could make it by. It was just a few hours from Brussels and Amsterdam, so it was an easy journey.
We spent two and a half days in Cologne. Arrived via the right train around 4:00pm to the city’s main rail station, which is right next to the cathedral. We walked out and there it was. A dark and imposing structure that exudes everything about the gothic style. They’re doing restorations on various parts but not too much that it obscured your view of it as a whole. I stared in awe for a few minutes before we caught a cab to the hotel. There were lots of cars and people everywhere, and our cab driver informed us that there was a demonstration in the city today–something about the American and German governments not agreeing with each other–so we would have to take the long way. We arrived at our hotel–Ibis Koln Centrum–about 20 minutes later and checked in. Our room was tiny but it had a bed and a bathroom so that’s all we really needed.
While Zeus showered, I searched for a place for dinner. We wanted something typical German–sausages, schnitzel, and potatoes. We also wanted to stay away from the demonstration crowds downtown, so I found something close to our hotel. One of the top nearby places on TripAdvisor was the Brauhaus Putz, only one metro stop away. All the reviews were great, the only “complaint” being that the beer glasses were too small. If that’s the worst thing, I can live with the rest. We took the metro, but couldn’t figure out how to buy tickets, so we never did. No one checked, there weren’t things blocking your way in or out, and we didn’t see a place on the actual trains where you could scan a ticket. Such a strange system they have. Maybe we’ll figure it out in Munich.
Anyway, we arrived to the restaurant and sat down. A server arrived showed up quickly and asked if we wanted a beer; there were no varieties besides light and dark so the easy answer to this question was yes. Sometimes no choice is easiest. The beer glasses were small, like Taco Lu’s glasses, but the beer tasted good. The server was very attentive so we never went without a drink. With each beer, he would make a mark on a coaster and leave it on the table. For food, you order by the number of dish you want. I ordered a pork schnitzel with pepper sauce, steak fries, and a small salad that tasted like cole slaw. Zeus meant to order a meal with grilled bratwurst and potatoes but said the wrong number and ended up getting a giant pork chop type thing with potatoes and sauerkraut. It was also a good choice so he didn’t mind. My schnitzel was interesting. At first, or along the edges, it kind of tasted like liver (which I am not a fan of). Just the taste, not the texture. But I think that was the pepper sauce because I tried just some of that a few days later and that was the flavor it had. The middle had a different and better flavor though, so it was definitely enjoyable. We both ate most of our meals because we were so hungry, had three or four beers, and left in search of the next place.
Normally, I would never do this in a foreign country, but it was Saturday and football was on at an American-style bar. So we went in and sat at the bar for a drink. We ended up staying there for a few hours drinking beer and watching whatever college game was on. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and went to sleep.
The next morning, we headed downtown to the cathedral and Old Town area, all now free of protestors. We walked right into the cathedral (no lines!) and just looked around in amazement. The ceilings were so high. So high that you can’t fathom how they built it without modern technology and equipment. I just kept saying wow and trying to take a picture that captured the beauty I was seeing. All the windows were stained glass of every color, with such interesting designs and stories. It was stunning. There were also multiple tombs for past priests throughout, and we even got to go into part of the crypt below. I wonder how far those tunnels go.
Reluctantly, though with multiple looks back, we left Dom (what the locals call it) in search of lunch. We walked around the Old Town area a bit and went into the Gross St. Martin church, one that pales in comparison to the Cologne Cathedral but is still impressive nonetheless.
Afterwards, found a German restaurant called Brauhaus Jum Prinzen (I think that’s how you spell it) in a square that had an English menu and sausages to make up for Zeus’ wrong order the night before. I ordered a pork “steak” with vegetables and potatoes and Zeus ordered a sausage with potatoes. My pork “steak” was the thickest piece of pork I’ve ever seen on a plate, and it was so good. I was also so happy to be eating actual vegetables (green beans, zucchini, cauliflower, carrots) instead of just fries (not that I don’t like fries, you just need something green once in a while lol). My veggies were cooked in some sort of white sauce, not sure what though, and served with a dollop of herb butter. The bitter melted into everything after a while and added a lot of flavor. It tasted great on my pork chop as well.
Now how to describe Zeus’ meal without being dirty… I don’t think there is a way so I’ll just say it. His sausage was huge; it sat on top of the potatoes in a spiral. It tasted great as well. The potatoes were cut in circles and either sautéed or lightly baked.
Given that apple strudel is a German specialty, we made room for more. This dessert was not what I expected. It was a rectangular-shaped pastry whose top and bottom were light and fluffy, with apples baked in the middle. It had powder sugar on top and was sitting in a vanilla cream with some shaved almonds or a similar nut. It was light, just the right amount of sweet, and we finished every bite.
After lunch, we walked down to the river and were greeted by the sight of a ton of people. There was some sort of festival going on because there were tents, food booths, and balloons everywhere. But it quickly became apparent it was a children’s festival given the amount of them around. They were singing songs, playing games, and just running around having fun. We walked around a bit then headed out of the crowds. We walked around a shopping district but everything was closed, except for Hard Rock Cafe, so we went in there for a drink. While there, we decided to go to the botanical gardens. We mapped out our route and left.
The Cologne Botanical Garden is situated in a residential neighborhood, and there weren’t really any signs directing to you to it. We basically just walked in a general direction of where we thought it should be and hoped for the best. We found it eventually. It was a large park with multiple different gardens and a large greenhouse. There were all sorts of trees (lots of pines), flowers (so many kinds in so many colors), and vegetables (some of the biggest purple cabbage I’ve ever seen). We spent most of the time trying to capture pictures of all the bees flying around on the flowers. Some were fast and some weren’t moving at all, like they were drunk on pollen or something. There was a small pond covered in lily pads; we walked to the edge and a bunch of fish came up to greet us. They are obviously used to being fed despite the signs saying not to.
After exploring the garden, we went back to the area where the sports bar was in search of dinner. We walked and walked and walked and couldn’t find a menu in English so we kept walking. Eventually, we walked past a Thai restaurant and the woman working there handed us an English menu so we sat down. We ordered and were served in less than 20 minutes, and it was the cheapest meal yet. I ordered pad Thai with chicken and Zeus ordered a dish with chicken, rice, and broccoli. It was delicious and filling and perfect because we were starving.
The next day, we slept in, packed all our things, and checked out. We left most of the luggage at the hotel in storage because our train wouldn’t be leaving until 11:00pm that evening. We had laundry to do so we waited until it was washed and in the dryer and then went to lunch.
We stopped in this modern-looking burger restaurant named Burgerlich. The manager greeted us and handed us two cards and explained how the restaurant worked. There are tablets built into every seat at every tables; you select everything you want, press the card to the screen, and then it all comes out accordingly. It certainly solves the lack of service problem, although the staff here is very attentive anyway.
They had all sorts of burgers–regular beef, veggie, quinoa, chicken, etc. Zeus ordered a double cheeseburger and some fries and I ordered a chicken sandwich with bacon and a salad. We also got a bottle of wine, because of course. Zeus’ burger was giant and looked amazing. He ate every bite so I assume it was delicious. My chicken looked a little thin but was surprisingly filling. The sandwich had lettuce, tomato, onions, bacon, mayo, and ketchup. Usually I am not a big fan of ketchup, but this one was homemade and it tasted amazing. I even dipped some of the fries in it. This seems normal for most people, but I think fries are perfectly fine by themselves–no dipping sauces necessary (unless we’re at Cruisers or Mojo’s because their ranch is the sh*t). And speaking of the fries, they were the homemade, fresh-cut type, with skins still on. So so good. My salad had a balsamic dressing and each piece was bite size (no cutting needed and no getting the dressing all over your face). This meal was a 10 out of 10–in Zeus’ words, “That place was f*cking delicious.”
We finished up with our laundry after lunch, dropped the other bag off to storage at the hotel, and then headed back down to the Old Town area. This time, we walked around the river and enjoyed it without all the children running around. Cologne’s Old Town is very colorful and quaint. Each building is a different pastel shade and window flower boxes add even more vibrant colors. Most of the buildings are hotels with cafes or shops on the first floor. We stopped into a cafe that was right on the water for some wine and dessert (we’re on vacation, we do what we want!), and to just waste some time. Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc have been our go-to wines on this trip, so we ordered one of those. Also ordered another apple strudel because we had to compare. This one came with ice cream but had the same texture and taste of the one from the day before. But because this one came with ice cream, it was better ;).
After finishing our wine, we left to explore some more. Went into a few shops and then found a place for dinner–Bierhaus am Rhein. This place was cozy and very historic looking. The ceilings were ornate and the lighting was dim with lots of portraits on the wall of important-looking people, or at least beer lovers lol. I ordered a glass of wine and another schnitzel with pepper sauce and potatoes (trying to compare again), and Zeus ordered a beer and bratwurst with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. The beers here were small as well, and the server marked them on the coaster as well. Must be a trend here. My schnitzel tasted the same as the one from Brauhaus, though less livery (so better?). The potatoes were awesome, though Zeus’ mashed potatoes were better. Mashed potatoes are always better.
After dinner, we just walked around some more. It was nearing time for us to get on our train (yay!) so we started the trek back to the hotel, got a cab to the train station, and waited for our train.
This was a night train and we had our own private cabin with two beds (bunkbed style) and a sink. It was a tight fit with all our luggage but it was so nice having a room to ourselves that we could lock. Last time we were on a night train, it was in a cabin with 3 other people. Better than sitting in a chair all night but still a little nerve-wracking. We had bought two bottles of wine so we drank those while watching Justified and just winding down for sleep. The sleep wasn’t perfect because the train made a lot of noise and stopped frequently but it was better than sitting in an uncomfortable chair all night. Plus, someone traveled for me! They even brought us breakfast–just a few bread rolls with some jam and coffee and tea. We arrived in Prague around 12:00pm the next morning, and enjoyed some pretty gorgeous mountain views along the way.