Wednesday 18th September: Cologne to London
Train Ticket: 1st & 2nd Class – £79, bought a month before at http://www.eurostar.com
Scheduled departure/arrival times: 12:43 to 18:12
Actual departure/arrival time: 12:43
I’d arrived in Cologne early in the morning as the sun was starting to rise. As soon as you exit the station you’re confronted by a magnificent black cathedral, which dominates the skyline. It is a true wonder of a building.
I attempted to get a photo which fitted the whole of the building, but couldn’t do it. I needed a wider lens or a better vantage point. After a bit more gawking I decided to go and find my hostel to get rid of my bag.
Walking across a large bridge which spanned the Rhine, the cathedral behind me and the sun rising in front. Along the length of the bridge thousands of padlocks had been locked on to it as declarations of love over the years.
I’d fancied a bit of luxury agin as it was my last night but was surprised to find that according to booking.com that 94% of all rooms were taken. This left the places miles away from the city, the extremely expensive 5 star suites and the places rated as awful. Back to hostelbookers, but found there was only one place left there too. I was told that one of the largest conferences was taking place that week, so everything was full.
The place I found was a proper youth hosteling place, which was full of children or German business men going to the conference but had left the hotel booking to late. It was the least welcoming hostel I’d ever stayed at and clinical as a hospital. Not a place you wanted to relax.
I soon dumped my bag and got out of there, back over the Rhine to the old town where I wandered for a few hours, having a coffee or pretzel or currywurst here and there. Drawn back to the cathedral, I went for a closer inspection.
Cologne Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church, World Heritage Site and Germany’s most visited landmark. Attracting an average of 20,000 people a day. I can understand why, I’ve seen some great buildings on this trip the Forbidden City, St Basil’s cathedral, great colonial buildings in Penang or the Winter Palace in St Petersburg but none (in my opinion) have the same impact.
The quality of the workmanship and detailing all around the building is terrific but once you get inside it really takes your breath away. The height of the towers (157m) are easier to grasp. The vast stained glass windows all round the building come into play, with multi coloured light pouring through them. The sheer scale of the space is tremendous.
If you can’t tell I really liked this building, it was awe-inspiring to say the least! I spent a lot of time there wandering around saying “wow”.
In the evening I hit a beer hall and was laughed at by some locals, which was nice. I ordered a Munich dish and not one from Cologne. Which was cause for much scorn and laughter. The dish was a massive piece of roasted pork with a couple of sides as well. In complete contrast the beer they served in glasses about the same size as Russians serve there vodka shots in. Very strange.
The next day I was heading back to Blighty with a mixture of emotions, really excited to see family and friends but a bit sad that it was all over so quickly. I left on the Thayles lunchtime train taking me to Brussels for the Eurostar connection taking me back to London.
I did get my bit of luxury, I’d forgotten I’d upgraded to 1st for a few euros which meant some time in the lounge with free drinks, wifi and snacks. Followed by a big comfortable seat, waiter served lunch, alcoholic drinks and wifi all included. Well worth the six euros I think.
Jumped on the Eurostar which was full and the most cramped train I’d been on since Thailand. I was reminded of an episode of Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days, when he arrived back in the UK and wasn’t impressed with his reception.
On my table was a male and female Brit, let’s call them, MB & FB.
MB: “Is that the 650d?” (in reference to my camera)
MB: “First DSLR?”
MB: “Happy with it?”
Tom: “Yeah, I bought it because I was going on a big trip and wanted to try to take some good photos”
MB, accusingly: You’re a gap yearer?
Tom: No just a month and bit. I work in Singapore.
MB: I see. (back to newspaper)
FB: What was your trip? (emerging out of her phone)
Tom, excitedly: Singapore to London without any planes, I finish today!
FB: oh right. (returned to phone)
MB: Are you flying back to Singapore?
Tom: Yes, back in 13 hours.
MB: Well that’s much more sensible than taking the train. (returned to his paper)
I didn’t ask to take there photo’s. Every other person about I spoke to about my trip at least feigned interest and mostly it was genuine (I think).
Arriving in St Pancreas on time is great, it’s a fantastic building. Probably the best looking station of the trip. However, one last gripe, the queue to get through customs takes 20 mins and is reminiscent of an airport! Not good. This could all been done on the train, as it is on every European train.