in which your author bids farewell to another lovely european sojourn
06.08.2016 - 07.08.2016 80 °F
"Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen."
It’s a quirk of my travel blogging persona that I don’t seem to compose my final entry for a given trip until some time after – in this case almost one month – the conclusion of the trip. (If I post it at all, which I never got around to doing on my last trip. Let's hope this one actually makes it to print!) You get back home and so instantly swept up into routine, and the rhythms and energies of a trip, like the lands where one experiences them, seem so distant. As I start teaching tomorrow, I thought I’d close the chapter on this trip as a way to neatly wrap up the Summer of 2016, in hopes of clearing the way for new, homegrown adventures.
[UPDATE! Although I composed this text in early September, I'm finally posting this all the way in October (!), seated at the AERONAUT bar. I suppose with our Allston biergarten finally wrapping up a week ago, the Summer of 2016 is officially officially officially over.]
Now, let’s see what details I recall of this last day, a month later? Day 15 (and its minor satellite, travel day Day 16, which I’ll subsume into this entry) began in Cologne, at Herr Professor’s rather clinical-feeling flat, housed in a tidy-gray building (very German?) adjacent to FitnessFirst for Women. I walk a short distance to a highly-rated, inviting coffeeshop where I sit and compose an entry for Day 10, enjoying a delicious slice of cheesecake and a couple flat whites. I chat up a few locals for recommendations. Like my refuge spot in Lisbon, the café is playing the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack: it definitely makes it to the soundtrack of this trip.
I walk in the direction of the cathedral, stopping for a serviceable margarita pizza at an Italian joint along the touristy shopping thoroughfare, after a few minutes arriving at my immediate destination: Köln Opera House.
Keith Jarrett has been a major influence on my life for about as long as I can remember, so much so that I wrote my master’s thesis in musicology on his aesthetical philosophies on music. By far his most famous album, The Köln Concert, was recorded here in January, 1975. It’s a thrilling musical experience, and the top-selling solo piano recording of all time. (And I believe noted musical connoisseur Dave Matthews’ favorite recording?) I put it on over headphones and walk around the building, sadly completely cordoned off due to construction. Still, it’s a moving experience to be there, all these years after the performance. I’m reminded of what it felt like to listen to Mahler’s Second Symphony sitting at the composers’s grave outside Vienna. I text message a friend who I associate with the album, and continue on my way.
On the way to the Cathedral I stop into a cozy bookshop and have some nice banter with the proprietor. I walk out with two gorgeous books: one, a stiff binded book of German poetry called Das Wandern (feels appropriate, and of course reminds me of the Schubert song from Die schöne Müllerin), and an old, beige, tattered edition of Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.
Cologne Cathedral is massive and imposing, yet still serene on the inside, even with hundreds of tourists milling about. I’m impressed by the inclusion of a small boat by the entrance, adorned with a story about how Christ is an immigrant on a boat, in need of compassion. (Would that our right wing so-called “Christian,” “build a wall” Americans could begin to realize this. Too subtle by half, sadly.) I take some photos, exit, and walk toward the water. The cathedral is lovely, but after cathedrals in Toledo and Ghent I’m a bit cathedralled out.
Passing through a tunnel and a somewhat barren, touristy hotel district, I reach the Rhine and call home, catching up with my folks for a few minutes and arrange my pickup time in Boston the next day. It’s so nice to hear their voices halfway across the world – when my father lived in Rome in the mid-1960s, he had to book a semi-annual phone call home weeks in advance.
The bridge over the Rhine (which I elect not to cross) is a “love locks” bridge and it’s a bit overwhelming to see the thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands? so many) of locks attached with messages of love scrawled on them.
I walk back toward the flat and grab a nap; I’m set to meet an old friend of my friend (and co-producer) Robin’s for dinner on my last night in Europe.
Dorothee is the epitome of lovely and kind, and we stroll through the busy streets of Cologne in search of a perfect dinner spot. She selects an Italian place with outdoor seating, and we eat delicious risotto and have great conversation about work, life, family, relationships and travel. (I suppose I don’t typically eat at posh places like this; it feels very grownup.) We end up walking in search of a cocktail bar and even though it’s a bit of a walk, I sell the idea of visiting the place I had been to the previous night. The drink is delicious and Dorothee tells me stories about working with George Clooney and Bill Murray; the film Monuments Men was based upon research she helped to compile in a book. It’s such a relaxing and grounded way to end my trip. We part ways – where’s my blue tweed tie, Dorothee?! Please visit the US!
I pack everything that night so as to make my trip the next morning easier, and the next day goes off without a hitch, as I navigate the subway to the airport, where, as is my custom, I pick up a bit of duty-free booze. On the flight, I chat with Patrica, a native of Dortmund with excellent English, who is coming to the US for the first time and taking a month to explore about a dozen cities! We exchange information, and as it turns out I see her not only the next day, but she crashes on my couch at the end of her trip almost a month later. (We take a day trip up to The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, which I’ve been reading in a gorgeous 1894 edition, so that’s kind of special.) The yellow Dortmund magnet on my fridge (her gift for the exchange of a pull-out couch) is a reminder of the last person I met on this trip. I also bought a nice frame for the Bosch exhibit photo from the Prado, certainly one of the highlights of this trip.
I don’t know when I’ll get back to Europe again, or when I’ll travel again at all. (I suppose one never does?) I’ve been thinking about upping my level of domestic travel, as there are still so many parts of the US I’ve never seen: San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, the Grand Canyon, even Chicago. I’d also very much love to get to Nova Scotia soon, home of my Scottish ancestors prior to their emigration to the US. And yet there’s something ever-alluring about Europe. As distant as many of these cultures feel from the US, I feel we could learn a lot about the pace of life and, perhaps, its meaning.
And so, it was a charm to get back to Europe this go around, especially given that it had been a few years since my last solo trip, a style of traveling that in a way suits me. That said, I’d love to find opportunities to travel with (the right) person/group of people. I also want to reassess the best use of this blog, apart from documenting the minutiae of my days overseas. I love that six years past my first, lifechanging solo trip (see the masthead!), I can click back to entries posted years ago, over a number of trips – but I wonder whether spending the amount of time it takes me to write these entries is worth taking time away from tourist and/or scholarly adventures? Writing longform, I suppose, is the only way I know.
In any case… I’ll remember this trip as one with an ambitious, loopy itinerary, mixing familiar and brand new spots and cities, meeting new friends and catching up with old ones, and rekindling that adventurous travel bug I first picked up years ago. Serious question: is it possible to rekindle a bug, or to kindle one in the first place? Alas, it’s late and I’m mixing metaphors.
Here’s to the next… whenever that may arise!