Cologne and Utrecht
We’ve been moving much faster and decided to combine these two destinations.
We were supposed to take a short metro ride, with one quick change, to a bus depot in Paris, hop on a bus for a quick six hour trip to Utrecht and then take a leisurely stroll through town to our new accommodations. So what happened? (Definitely not that! – Red)
A bunch of heads of state decided to have a climate change conference in Paris. No big deal, right? Wrong. The only thing they succeeded at with this conference was shutting down half of Paris; thanks Obama. The station we needed to change trains at: closed. Next stop: might as well be in El Salvador. Screw it, just grab a cab. Nope. Streets are shut down in a 10,000 block radius. Time to walk really, really, really fast… for miles (I thought I got out of the Army). We eventually made it without starting any major international incidents (I may have flipped off a heavily-armed French cop when he yelled at me for jay-walking; there are no cars, you shut down the streets, calm down, Frenchie).
(Fortunately our limited understanding of French allowed us to notice the name of our first original stop being announced over the loud speaker and two friendly French girls noticed our distress and quickly informed us of the “change in plans”. My epic brilliant husband, really turned on his land navigation skills and jumped into high gear with his beautiful, albeit physically exhausting backup plan. – Red)
Unfortunately, the bus had to drive to China before turning to the Netherlands, as several highways were closed due to the conference (I wonder if they discussed the increased emissions due to the conference itself…) (HA! – Red). After an interesting nine hours (instead of six) (NINE HOURS! – Red) we arrived in Utrecht to pouring rain and epic winds. Our leisurely stroll turned into a muddy, soaking-wet trudge against the wind across the city of Utrecht. We arrived at our new accommodation soaked the bone and laughing about one hell of a travel day.
After two awesome trips to Strasbourg and Paris to stay with friends, Red wanted to take advantage of a little quiet time and get some work done the first couple of days we were in Utrecht, so I went out for a little solo adventuring. I decided to go for a “cup of coffee” (when in Rome…), but I was unaware that, upon entering the coffee shop, I walked into a time machine that would transport me two days into the future. It was awesome. Sometimes it’s okay to watch Star Wars and eat gummy bears.
Once I remembered where I lived and what day it was, Red and I met some friends of a friend (a huge thank you to Matt Zumwalt for hooking us up with his friends here). We met Rene, Eric, and Gary at an awesome bar called Café Derat, where we were guided through the sampling and tasting a numerous incredible beers. We learned all about several beers that we had never tried before, the history of pub cats, and refereeing professional wrestling. Eric even let me climb down into the centuries-old pub cellar beneath the floorboards. What an awesome place to drink some great beers and meet some new people. Thanks guys!
We departed Utrecht on the first sunny day since our arrival; bummer. At least we didn’t have to fight against a hurricane while walking to the train station. (Seriously! Refer to above video if you’ve already forgotten what we’re talking about. – Red)
This was definitely our easiest travel day. We boarded a train and arrived in Cologne two hours later. We walked a little ways and arrived at our destination. The most eventful thing to happen was the conductor changing languages when we crossed the border into Germany. It almost sounds like I’m complaining.
We stepped out of the train station and bam: one of the most incredible architectural feats in the world, the Kölner Dom. An absolute monstrosity of Gothic architecture. I have been here before, about ten years ago, but it still blows my mind when I stand beneath the spires with my head tilted all the way back. Just beautiful.
Later that night, after dropping off our bags, we found the Christmas market next to the cathedral. First of all, a more epic background for a party could not exist. Secondly, I love Christmas and they do it right in Germany. (We missed the opening day of the Christmas markets in Strasbourg, which in my eyes looked like the Santa’s personal headquarters. So we were seriously ready for some Christmas! – Red) I’m a huge fan of Christmas being an entire month long celebration. The lights and decorations, the Glühwein (mulled wine) and hot chocolate, and the mass quantities of bratwurst, Käsespätzle (like mac and cheese, but with dumplings), and apple strudel would put anyone into the Christmas spirit.
After weaving our way through the market near the cathedral (so many people!) we followed the trail of holiday revelers and discovered a few more. Each market has a very unique feel; from the construction of the booths, the decorations (a couple really liked gnomes), to the different handmade crafts sold by the vendors. In one market, we went ice skating around a giant statue, got super romantic while dodging wild children and drunk teenagers. Red even sang some Christmas tunes. It was an absolute blast.
To Wrap It Up
Cologne is a very interesting city. It was mostly destroyed during World War II and most of the city is less than eighty years old; giving it a very unique feel from all the other cities we have visited. It seems that in most areas of the “old town” part of the city, they tried to rebuild the structures that were there in their original styles, giving it a modern yet traditional look. A few buildings were intentionally not destroyed by the British Royal Air Force during the bombings spanning from 1940 until 1945 when the city was finally taken by American forces. In the image below you can see the Kölner Dom still standing amongst the ruins of the absolutely devastated city of Cologne.
Next up, ENGLAND! And the concert we’ve both been waiting for… Mumford and Sons!!!