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Day 15: Locks of Love to You, Cologne

in which your author bids farewell to another lovely european sojourn

sunny 80 °F

"Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen."
–Benjamin Disraeli

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Posted by coolmcjazz 16:19 Archived in Germany Tagged germany cologne Comments (0)

Day 14: A Summer Evening in Cologne

in which your author clears his head and finds his rainy way from ghent to germany

semi-overcast 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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Posted by coolmcjazz 06:14 Archived in Germany Tagged cologne kolsch Comments (0)

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