Monday, March 31, 2008

4 days in Germany - Day 1

We spent 4 days in Germany, backpacking and pinching pennies to see the country during the summer of 2006. Why Germany was the first question many of our friends asked us. Europe has so many treasures and lovely places to visit was their argument. We choose Germany just coz Lufthansa gave us the best deals to India and we were counting our pennies. Why 4 days they asked, again the budget, wedding in India and holidays were our answers.

After booking the tickets we started researching. Personally we find the research part of equally exciting as visiting new places. The usual Frommers, Fodors, Rough guide series on Germany made their way home. As with all other travel planning we usually find one book which actually captures what we want to do. And for Germany, it was Rick Steves. We loved Rick Steves, off-beat suggestions and back roads and soon it become our primary book and we did use other books just for tips.

Our plans/itinerary were based on certain factors
  1. Photo-ops - when you are a photo enthusiast, every vacation you plan must have ample photo-ops
  2. Budget - we were on a tight budget
  3. Time - a tighter time frame, we were not able to spend more than 4 days in Germany
  4. Architecture - we are big time architecture and nature people and prefer smaller town to big towns.
With our preferences clearly chalked out we started fitting in places, schedules and maxing out on the 4 days.

Day 1:

Our Lufthansa flight landed in Frankfurt airport around 8.30am. We had previously looked into the airport maps and guides and after clearing the customs and a few questions in a mix of what-R-called-German and English we were able to locate the luggage storage room. It costs us around 7 euros per bag per day. We dumped our big-stuffed-India-gifts suitcases in the room and with our camera bag and one suitcase started our trip around Germany.

Probably the best thing about Europe is their rail system. We walked down to the rail station in the airport, activated our rail passes we had previously purchased online and boarded the train to Koln. 110 miles away and a couple of hours on the rail, we were in the lovely city of Koln.

Köln Hauptbahnhof is a sight by itself. The building built in 1859 right on top of the famous Koln Cathedral and across from the Rhine was our first taste of Europe beyond the airports of Frankfurt and London. We stood there a few minutes in awe at the high steel beams and arches, cameras came out and we were in element, clicking pictures and capturing memories.

We had found Hotel-Station, very close to the cathedral, the rail station and at a backpackers budget. The hotel was recommended by Rick Steves and we had booked a room with attached bath online. The walk from the rail station was just under 7 minutes and of course added to it is at least 3-5 minutes spent awing at the cathedral and the Benz taxis on the road.

The hotel is mainly a youth back-packer central, noisy with free internet and a small coffee/snack bar in the front. Our rooms were in the 6th or was it the 7th floor, clean, very small and sparsely furnished. It served our purpose, a clean place to sleep that night. A quick shower later we were out.

It was just past 11 and we went in search of something to eat. We had printed maps and picked up some from the reception desk at the hotel. But we actually found them unnecessary if there was someone in your group who has some direction sense you can survive Koln.

Like the old time, Indian cities, the Cathedral with its towering spires forms the center of the city. And around it is the main shopping district all closed to traffic and a busy bustling place for all activities. We found a lovely bakery selling fresh, out-of-oven pastries and stocked up and started walking towards the cathedral. Clicking pictures, feeding the pigeons, people watching, watching the sleek silver-red trains stream past, admiring the intricate carvings in the church. The church dating back to the 1800's has a very rich history and is known to be the only structure in Koln that survived the World War II bombings.

Walking around the perimeter of the cathedral we were treated with sights so similar to Indian temples. The only thing missing were the elephant blessing people and slipper stands. A superman look-alike, the Mozart drawing on the floors, ice cream stalls, shops selling tacky stuff like Koln famous colognes and a few good items.

August being the on-set of summer in Germany is certainly a good time to visit. Perfect weather, flowering plants all over added to the lovely architecture of the city. We spent quite a while around the cathedral and then ended up walking to the parks by Rhine for a impromptu picnic. The parks along Rhine was filled with locals carrying picnic baskets and enjoying the sun. When in Koln, picnic like the locals!

Our next destination was the Lindt schokolade museum. Lindt truffles have long been our favorite and we were not going to miss this chocolate museum. Situated in the Rhine river (in fact it looks like a fortress), the museum is a brisk 15-20 minute walk from the cathedral. The entrance fee was a little too much, but yeah V does anything for chocolate. History of chocolate, the making and free samples make up for it. It is an interesting place for any chocoholic to visit. They have a small cafe dishing out chocolaty stuff and a gift shop. Give yourself an hour to 90 minutes to visit the museum.

We walked back following the cathedral towers and some more pictures around the cathedral and a quick stop and the local bakery for some bread and rolls for breakfast next day we were set. The jet lag was getting to us and we hit our motel for some sleep. Our plan was to catch the first train to Munchen at around 5.40am. So we needed to be up early.

There ended Day one in Germany.

R's pics of Koln are here

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