If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in places for just a few months at a time, it’s that you can’t really pack your suitcase for more than one season. With that in mind, at the beginning of the year I booked a week-long trip back to Germany in March to exchange my wardrobe and take a bit of a vacation (which, it turns out, I occasionally need when working full-time and being an adult and stuff).
To be honest, with the Copenhagen weather as it is, switching from a winter to a spring wardrobe in the third week of March was a bit of a gamble. But I’m happy to say that it’s been more than two weeks since then and so far I feel adequately prepared for the weather – which is really saying something.
It turns out I had booked my clothes-swapping tour during the same week my dental hygienist mom and her colleagues were planning on attending a major biannual dental conference in Cologne. While I could have used the time to finally get through a proper Gilmore Girls binge-watching session and maybe build my Tower Bridge LEGO set, I admit it would have been pretty silly to be sitting home alone for two days in the week I was supposed to be spending time with family. Luckily, my mom’s boss generously invited me along, giving me the opportunity to explore a new city while everyone else collected an outrageous amount of free toothbrushes.
We drove for around four hours (plus obligatory McCafé stop) and arrived at the conference hall just before 11, whereupon I set off out into the city with a good old-fashioned paper map.
I wasn’t yet hungry for lunch, having feasted on multiple Nutella Swirl Banana Muffins and some chocolates that came along with my latte macchiato, so I set off for the most iconic building on Cologne’s skyline: the Kölner Dom.
The Kölner Dom is a really old church in an old European city. Yes, there are a lot of churches over here, and unfortunately I think much of the Dom’s distinctiveness and notoriety lies in its schmutzig (dirty) exterior. I’ve been to a lot of big old cathedrals and there wasn’t anything inside this one that was very unique, though I did find the stained glass windows striking.
What you can do at the Kölner Dom that you can’t do at every other church is climb the stairs up the tower. On my 20th birthday I went up 343 stairs at the Stephansdom in Vienna, and a few weeks later I was given a certificate for climbing the 311 steps in London’s Monument. (I did also take the stairs up to the first level of the Eiffel Tower once, but the openness of the stairs caused me to chicken out before going up to the second level.) This time I got to destroy those statistics by tackling 533 stairs to 100 m up in the Dom’s South Tower.
I accidentally timed my descent so that I happened to be walking around the tower’s bells when noon struck. The bells are surrounded by a few viewing platforms that are connected by narrow tunnels of stone, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when the first small bell rang out and I realised what time it was.
I spent the rest of the first day shopping and trying to find lunch, a surprisingly difficult task since all of the bakeries insisted on serving the same sandwiches (why do I have to choose between meat and cheese? I want both!). When I ran out of energy I settled outside a bar off the main shopping street and ordered myself a nice glass of the local brew, Kölsch.
That night my mom, her colleagues, and I were in for a treat. We checked into our hostel in Bonn and headed out to a little local Spanish restaurant where we had almost never-ending plates of tapas. It was like a dream come true after my pitiful little lunch and intense stair-climbing workout.
I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels, but our accommodation in Bonn was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. BaseCamp Bonn is like an indoor campsite made up of old trailers decorated in themes, VW buses, a Trabi with a tent on top, a ski gondola, and the sleeping wagon of an old train, which was our home for the night. The wagon was as authentic as could be, though the personal service switch next to my bed sadly didn’t actually do anything.
The next day back in Cologne, after a hearty German hostel breakfast where I indulged in a peanut butter-Nutella bun (it’s like eating a giant Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup), I set off towards the bike lock-covered bridge once again. It was a bit earlier in the day since the travel time was much shorter, so I popped back into the cathedral to have a bit more of a peek around – the day before I hadn’t been able to explore the nave because a service was about to start.
I didn’t spend long in the Dom because the sun was shining and I wanted to soak up as much of it as possible. I mean, you never know when you’ll get a glimpse of sun in Copenhagen, so I wanted to ensure I got a healthy spurt of vitamin D while I had the chance. I walked south along the Rhine, trying to find any sign that I was walking through Cologne’s Altstadt (Old Town) as indicated on my trusty map. (When consulting the map with my mom later in the day and tracing the route I had walked, she deduced that I had walked in a square around the Altstadt and it was no wonder I didn’t see any old buildings.)
I headed towards the Schokoladenmuseum, or Chocolate Museum, on the waterfront. I’ve had a lifelong chocolate addiction that’s only gotten worse since I moved across the pond, and I’ve been working hard to resist temptations to eat it by trying not to expose myself to it at all. Of course, the allure of a museum dedicated to the stuff was just too strong to fight – plus I was genuinely interested in what could be included in such a large museum dedicated to one particular treat.
I do not regret my decision to visit the museum one bit. From the moment I was handed a Lindt chocolate smiley face with my ticket I fell in love with the place. I usually don’t take many pictures in museums because I find there’s too much to see and it’s easy to forget most of the item descriptions. But everything in the Schokoladenmuseum was just so fascinating, there were so many things I wanted to remember.
At this point in my trip to Cologne I’d only spent money on food, beer, and admissions, but I wanted a bit of a unique souvenir from the experience as well. I assumed I would be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of chocolate in the museum gift shop and that I’d be unable to make a decision of what to buy in this rare moment where I allowed myself to indulge on my weakness. Luckily, partway through the museum you have the option to create your own chocolate bar: you pick your desired chocolate colour (white, milk, or dark) and top it with up to four different nuts, fruits, or other candies or spices, all for the same price as any other chocolate bar in the museum. Naturally I couldn’t pass up the chance to create something truly unique – what are the chances someone would pick the exact same combination as me? (If you do the math, please let me know; I’m genuinely curious.)
After my tour of the museum I popped back into the city for a sandwich and beer to bring along to the sunny waterfront.
Before heading back to the car for our journey home, I walked around the Lanxess Arena in the hopes of finding a fan shop for the Kölner Haie so I could get my hands on the first German addition to my hockey jersey collection. Alas, even though the arena was surrounded by fans hoping to get a glimpse of Ed Sheeran before he played there that night, I didn’t bother to ask anyone for help and it turned out the fan shop was a few hundred metres past the stadium, out of my sight. Guess my old-fashioned paper map wasn’t as trusty as I needed it to be.