in which your author clears his head and finds his rainy way from ghent to germany
05.08.2016 - 06.08.2016 72 °F
Considering my late-night conversation and hang with new friends Wim and Sophie, Day 14 was perhaps my roughest-going morning of the trip. (I suppose I’m entitled one of those on a 2+ week European trip, right?) After waking up, I peered out from the window looking over Ghent, the narrow cathedral towering over the landscape. Wim kindly contributes a toothbrush to my process, and after a shower I say a fond farewell – Sophie has already gone off to work – with hopes of seeing these two in the US sometime soon!
I make the walk back toward the train station, stopping for breakfast in a supermarket, where I pick up a small bottle of Belgian apple schnapps for a friend. All is uneventful as I make it to the station, although I’m a bit annoyed to discover my round trip ticket from yesterday was only valid for the day of printing, so I have to buy another 9 Euro ride back to Brussels. My train to Cologne – the last stop on this whirlwind trip – is at 1:35pm.
When I arrive in Brussels after a short train ride, it’s raining. I can’t find a cab, and grudgingly I make the walk (probably 1.5 miles?) back to the stunning flat, slightly disappointed I only had one night to spend there. (Meeting new friends was worth it though!)
I pack up, take a few last photos, and head back out toward the train station where I just came from, at this point slightly worried about timing. It’s also near pouring now and I have my heavy bags. After a few minutes of frustration I do manage to find a cab stand, and ride in comfort to the Midi, where I pick up my train to Cologne. I have my ticket on my iPhone, but it does that utterly incomprehensible, frustrating thing where if you hit the screen wrong with an email open it deletes it forever, and apart from a PDF on my laptop (which clearly states it’s not to be used in place of a paper or e-ticket), I can’t find any record of it. I sleep half the short train trip (1 hr, 45 min) to Cologne, crammed in with four friendly middle-aged women chattering in French. Thankfully, no one ever came to check tickets!
It’s nice to be back in Germany; I haven’t been since my first trip, to Berlin, in 2010. There’s a certain efficiency and stateliness about the train stations. I lug my packed bags past the imposing cathedral, toward my Airbnb, again reluctant to take a cab. (File under: cost-saving measures one can take when one travels alone.) It’s a further walk than I would have preferred, probably about 25 minutes. The Airbnb is fine, run by a professor who (somewhat oddly and off-puttingly) makes me sign a waiver that I won’t download pirated movies. (Not that I had planned to?) It’s a room of convenience, and though she’s helpful with directions, the Professor keeps to herself. This wouldn’t be the warm environment I had in Madrid with Isabel or, especially, Mar (and Bimba!), but it will serve my needs.
After a nap, I venture out to explore a bit of Cologne, grabbing a good slice of pizza and ending up at the Piffgen brewery, known as one of the oldest and most respected breweries in the city. Conveniently it’s only a about a five-minute walk from my place. It’s packed with people, inside and out, and I find a seat at a long biergarten table, ordering a beer – they only serve kolsch! – and some tangy, soft orange German cheese and bread. It’s nice to have an actual kolsch in Cologne – tangy, crisp, and refreshing – especially considering my go-to beer at Aeronaut Allston this summer has been the “Summer in Cologne.” (I take a few pics with an Aeronaut coaster in an actual German biergarten!) The waiters carry trays of thin beers, replacing them with any empty glasses they see, and with every beer, a Sharpie mark is added to your coaster. (I read later the way to let the waiter know you’re done is to put the coaster on top of your glass!) It’s actually a pretty efficient system.
After one beer, I have to leave to get cash (they only take cash) and after 5 minutes away thankfully my place is still free. I pay up and head back out, making my way through Cologne’s boisterous and somewhat congested outdoor beer garden scene. I’m impressed by the effort Cologne puts in as a bike-friendly city; there are clear, dedicated bike lanes marked on just about every street.
I read positive things on my phone about one cocktail bar, which ends up being closed for the season, and find another, high-rated one called Spirits, stuffed to the gills. The craftsmanship and vibe there are excellent, but I’m tired, and after one I make my way through the darkened, still somewhat bustling streets of Cologne back to my Airbnb. Not a terribly exciting day, and I’m really worn out and looking forward to getting home at this point – I think two weeks of solo travel, at this pace and itinerary, is about my max!