Day Zero - 29th April, Friday.
Sat 30 Apr 16 - Sat 30 Apr 16
Day Zero - 29th April, Friday.
So long, New York!
We were ready: all bags were packed yesterday, I checked, double-checked and re-checked everything from passports to cell phones - those things that cannot be replaced if lost in a trip. Actually, one can do without a phone, but it has long since become an extension of my arm, so without it I feel amputated....
Our flight was scheduled at 9:30PM and, because we live 20 minutes from airport JFK in New York, we planned to leave around 6:30 PM. But then we arrived at the airport and saw the line to the security check which reminded my years growing up in the USSR, standing in endless lines in the department stores: it was long, it was wide, it had multiple turns, apparently frustrated people standing there more than an hour and no end in sight. I thanked God and Lufthansa one more time for putting us to the business class so we could wait in much shorter line! Nevertheless, we still spent about an hour to get thru security check. Looking ahead I add that upon return I read a series of articles in The New York Times about the "opening of the holiday season," many hours of queuing, delays on flights, etc. Anyway, let's not talk about sad things, let's talk about three weeks of vacation ahead of us!
Day One - 30th April, Saturday.
Out flight went well: we had a surprisingly good dinner, watched a movie and slept through the night. Our ticket was to Cologne and included one-hour trip on DB BAHN train from Frankfurt Airport to Cologne central railway station (Köln Hauptbahnhof). The first thing that caught our attention looking at the train window was unusually bright beautiful yellow fields. We immediately googled and found our it was canola fields that bloom only a few weeks in May, so that is another plus in favor of the chosen timing for our trip ! It was a good sign for a start of our journey.
As soon as we arrived to Cologne we confirmed the right decision to make a half-day stop in this city: entering the rail station lobby you immediately can see the famous Cologne Cathedral right behind the glass on the station plaza.
We put our luggage to the locker, and without further ado went to make a first acquaintance with Cologne, and indeed with Germany. Our plan for several hours in Cologne was to see the Cathedral, of course, walk around town, have a dinner and return to the station to get on the 11PM night train to Berlin. I must say that weather was not cooperating, it was cold and there was that pesky drizzling nasty rain, when you hesitate either to open an umbrella or not to bother.
Therefore, after taking must-do pictures of us with the cathedral on the background, we hurried inside. Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in Germany and you can feel it: the height and power, both outside and inside cannot be described in words neither do a justice in pictures. Insanely beautiful stained glass windows (my favorite element in Gothic architecture), sculptures, details of the cathedral was the best introductory to what we should expect to see in Germany.
Unfortunately we missed the English-speaking tour, and remaining tours for the rest of the day were in German, so we just walked around Cathedral, sat on benches and, finally, decided to climb the Cathedral tower.
I would not say that the climb was easy, it was not, the steep spiral staircase was quite long, but worth the effort: a view of the Rhine River, the bridge and the city was really good.
Going down, we took the city map in the info center and went for a walk around the city. I must say that besides the Cathedral we were not impressed much with Cologne: dirty, a lot of shady characters and beggars, and it says a lot considering that we were from New York! We walked a central shopping area where but did not buy much, the prices were steep, and I repeat: it says a lot considering that we were from New York! The only thing we bought was an electrical converter for our phone chargers.
But our first introduction to German cuisine, when we stopped for dinner at one of the restaurants, was a success: Dmitry ordered a large pork knuckle with a giant glass of beer, and I had a delicious soup with liver dumplings. But the part was a dessert named "Bavarian cream", that was super yummy: something similar to a mousse with cherry and raspberry compote.
After such a calorie-packed dinner, we needed to walk: my ongoing battle with extra weight could not sustain Bavarian cream attack that greatly undermined my position in the war against weight gain.
We walked to the waterfront, which was much nicer and cleaner than the area surrounding the Cathedral, and went on bridge to cross over to the other Rein river bank. Here on a bridge we learned about German tradition of 'locks of love" when couples confirm their feelings by chaining padlocks on the fence or a bridge. There were thousands of different padlocks on the bridge: huge and tiny, highly decorated and plain, golden, copper, wooden, you name it! If we knew we would've brought our "Lock of love" as well.
After enjoying city view from the other side of the river, we were back to the town. It was already 8PM, still a long time before our train, but there was nothing much to do anymore in Cologne. It was too cold to walk and there were even more suspicious characters than before. AS we had a first class train ticket, we decided to go to the VIP area in the railroad station. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and the VIP area was open only till 9PM. There were no regular waiting areas or benches in the station, and when we asked a question where we are supposed to wait for the train, we were politely advised to visit station's cafés and hinted that this not their problem. Here for the first time we encounter what we would call "service without care": politely, according to the rules, but the stone-faced and unwillingness to go beyond to help.
After enjoying city view from the other side of the river, we were back to the town. It was already 8PM, still a long time before our train, but there was not much else to do in Cologne. It was too cold to walk and there were even many more suspicious characters than before. AS we had a first class train ticket, we decided to go to the VIP area in the railroad station. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and the VIP area was open only till 9PM. There were no regular waiting areas or benches in the station, and when we asked a question where we are supposed to wait for the train, we were politely advised to visit station's cafés and hinted that this not their problem. Here for the first time we encounter what we would call "service without care": politely, according to the rules, but the stone-faced and unwillingness to go beyond to help.
Followed advice, we went and sat in the cafe, I had a cup of hot tea, Dmitry read, but at 10PM they closed. In addition, the locker where we left luggage storage was also closing at 10, so we had our bulky luggage and nowhere to sit and wait an hour for a train. I just do not understand how everything is closed that the one of the biggest railroad stations in one of the biggest cities and passengers has no place to wait for the scheduled train going to the country's capital!
Eventually, we have found some nook for smoking with benches, where we huddled until our train arrived.
I grew up in small town in rural Kazakhstan, and, until there were an airport built nearby, it usually took our family a 3 days trip by train to reach our vacation destinations. I have always looked with envy at the people who were riding first class sleeper cars, and dreamed that one day I will definitely take a trip in such car. This day has come! The compartment in the car was rather small, but cozy and comfortable, with shower and toilet. There was not much space for our luggage, but for one night it was OK. The train last stop was Warsaw, the conductor was a very friendly Pole, with whom we spoke on the mixture of English, Polish and Russian. In the morning he brought us hot coffee and surprisingly tasty breakfast, where we immediately fell in love with German yogurt.
I guess, that is it for today. Tomorrow we are arriving to Berlin!
<- Instroduction *** Day 2: Berlin by feet