Last Saturday morning Aaron and I rose (somewhat reluctantly) at an early hour to drive to Cochem and take the train from there to Cologne via Koblenz. I tried to remember what I had learned from our guide in Trier, but apparently did not select the right tickets because the only option the machine gave me was for a ticket costing 300 euro. Deciding I needed help, I walked over to the information booth where a young German man was sitting. Thankfully he spoke excellent English and soon had us sorted with the right tickets and an awesome schedule detailing when and where we would need to be to get the train home. Praise!
We boarded the train with a few other student-aged Germans a few minutes later, and were soon speeding towards Koblenz along the Moselle river. When we first boarded the train we noticed how many of the passengers seemed to be in a very jovial mood. They were sipping alcoholic beverages out of glasses (where they got the glasses, or if they brought them along I guess I’ll never know!) and talking to each other in loud voices. We caught a glimpse of a young woman in a white dress, holding flowers and surrounded by other young women in red dresses some way down the train. We shrugged our shoulders and Aaron said: “Wedding, I guess?
We seated ourselves and before long we heard laughter and loud German voices coming our way. The “bride” and her party came up to us and amid laughter breathlessly said something in German. I responded with my ever-handy “My German is not good, do you speak English?” phrase and one of the young woman who spoke some English took over. “We have choco-balls” she pointed to a bowl one of the red dress-wearing woman was holding, “roses for your wife” she said holding up her bouquet, “and also shots of alcohol!” With this last triumphant display the woman in white pointed to her belt where, ammo-like, she had little glass shot bottles strapped to her waist. Aaron bought me a rose and I got two choco-balls to share, but we declined the alcohol: it was after all, 10am.
We were confused as to why on earth the women were selling these things, or whether or not this was a normality on German trains. When we switched trains in Koblenz we did see lots of people wearing the white and red colors of a local soccer team, so we think the women might have been selling concessions to raise money for something having to do with the game. Anyway, we made the switch at Koblenz Hauptbahnhoff and had a longer ride to Cologne. As we neared the city, the train became increasingly crowded as more people hopped on. By the time we arrived, we were rather squished and eager to get off.
The whole reason we went to Cologne was to meet up with one of Aaron’s college friends who was studying theoretical physics at Oxford, and was doing a research project for his PhD in Germany. The last I had met him was at a nice burger joint in Columbia. I was struck by his charming eccentricity, but he did not seem to make sense in the context of Columbia. Here however, he was perfectly at home. “I’m sitting on the steps of the cathedral right outside of the station.” He texted Aaron. “I am wearing a violently blue toboggan. You can’t miss me.” We walked out of the station and sure enough there he was: sitting on the steps in front of the massive Cologne Cathedral and wearing a very blue hat.
Here in Europe, Jim seemed right at home. Aaron once told me one of their mutual friends had described Jim as “A 30s actor playing a theoretical physicist.” Looking at him now, I could see why. Jim personally reminded from a character out of Brideshead Revisited and I could easily pciture him walking along the stone cloisters of one of the Oxford colleges, chatting about physics with an Oxford Don.
As we walked we talked about everything from the state of current American politics (an inevitable item for Americans abroad), Germany, school, plans, and philosophy. We walked a little ways until we had found a restaurant that looked pleasant from the outside, and went in.
It was crowded, but we were able to find a place near the window. A waitress arrived soon bearing a huge wooden tray with glasses of pale yellow Kolsch beer. Incidentally, one should never order Altbier (the beer made in the nearby city of Duseldorf) at a restaurant in Cologne: these cities are as proud of their beers as American colleges are of their football teams. We all ordered schnitzle (when in Rome…) and were soon feasting, talking, and laughing in the leisurely European style.
After a lunch that lasted over two hours, we made our way back to Cologne Cathedral and went inside. I have seen several cathedrals now, and a few abbeys. This one topped it all – pun intended. Cologne Cathedral was by far the largest cathedral I have been in, and one of the tallest in the world. The church I was married in could have easily fit inside it. It was very dark – much more dim than any other churches I’d seen, and not just because of the cloudy day. The candles, however, burnt more brightly because of the gloom, and the effect was not at all unpleasant. After roaming around and viewing the restored stained glass (the original was almost all destroyed in the World Wars) we decided to climb the belfry.
For some reason we had to pay several euro to do this. Considering the feat, I think we should actually have been paid to do it. Half-way up the narrow winding steps I was already out of breath, and by the time we reached the top, my legs felt like noodles. The view from the top was worth it though: miles upon miles of city stretched below us, and we could make out most of the 12 Romanesque churches scattered throughout the city, as well as the long brown Rhine stretching away below.
Our next stop was the museum of modern art, and we spent several hours on a self-propelled historical tour and philosophical conversation as we meandered past Surrealism, Dadaism, and Postmodernism. By the by, I am not a huge fan of modern art, but I really enjoyed talking about the movements, the artists, and the philosophy behind them with Aaron and Jim. We finished around five and had time for a quick coffee in the nice restaurant attached to the museum before Jim had to leave. I hope we shall get to spend more time with him in the future, he was an admirable fellow-adventurer.
Aaron and I had time to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant before we left, but soon enough we were also speeding through the night, past the German countryside and to our home. Two train rides in three days, and I must say that I am a fan of this mode of travel.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below with your favorite train experiences – I’d love to hear from you.