I get along with Germany very well!
Ryanair is a necessary evil. That's the airline we used to fly to Germany. Tickets are so cheap, 40 euro round trip, but you get what you pay for. The seats don't recline and they don't turn the lights off for night time flights. Also, the destinations they fly to aren't exactly what they claim to be. For example, the flight into "Düsseldorf" is actually a flight to a small airport an hour outside of the city. So we flew, then took a bus to the train station, then took a train into town, then took a taxi to the hostel. It was like Richard Scarey's book on transportation. I was expecting a boat ride at some point, but luckily we did not have to go that far.
We are so accustomed to Spanish hours that we assumed things would be open at one o'clock in the morning when we got there. However the area around our hostel was completely deserted. We thought no one lived there! It was dark and cold and we could not tell how beautiful the city was quite yet. We went to bed relatively early and got plenty of sleep for the next day.
It was snowing when we woke up. Germany is absolutely frigid cold right now. Looking at the map, I realize that Düsseldorf is the highest latitude I have ever been to. It's more or less at the same level as Quebec. The city is wealthy and everyone was wearing fur coats and shiny shoes. Most everyone was tall and beautiful and blonde and so German looking. The language is so fun to listen to, so strange and funny even. It is like hearing English, but harder and smooched together, and pronounced wrong, or something. We kept reading signs out loud just to hear ourselves trying to speak it. We walked though the Hofjardin, which is the oldest public park in Germany. Germany is very green and very gray this time of year. Giant trees and statues and lamp posts throughout the park. Ponds and tons of birds, swans and ducks, and other little colorful birds. Winding pathways around drooping green trees. We walked through the park to the Altstadt (Old Town). A lot of the city was destroyed during WWII, but this part of the city is preserved. Picturesque, movie-set-like, Germany. We walked all around, trying to stay warm, and we stumbled, more or less, on the Rhine. The mighty Rhine! It flows quickly and quintessential German towers and houses line the opposite shore. How surreal to have been standing on the bank of the Rhine.
We ate a bratwurst! I covered mine with Sarachi sauce! It was VUNDERFUL. The Altstadt is known for being the "longest bar in the world"; there are over 500 pubs in a small area. After lunch and resting we went to the Rheinturm, a 240 meter high TV tower. At the top you can see for miles and miles, with factories in the distance; the Rhine bisects the panoramic view. The glass is slanted outwards and it is quite terrifying to lean against it. We grabbed refreshments and relaxed up in the sky for a while. Afterwards, we walked through the city to the ritzy shopping district. Germany's Next Top Model is filmed in the city and hosted by Heidi Klum. There are pictures of her scantily clad on every corner. It made you cold to look at her in the frigid weather. We wandered upon an open air market with flowers and flowers. German tulips! Some man gave us a free truffle and I bought honey soap. We rested up at the hostel in the evening and went out on the town that night. Some of us got Thai food for dinner. My system was craving the spice, and green curry hit the spot. There was a surprising amount of Asian influence here, many restaurants and Asian themed bars. I saw the image of Buddha many more times than Christian images. That night we ended up at a really incredible club that used to be a train station. It was lined with aquariums and the music selection was incredibly fun. They played Motown (??) and The Roots.
The next morning we packed our things and checked out of the hostel. We got on a train to Cologne, which is only about 30 minutes away. We accidently got on the express train, so it took us about 10. We lucked out! Right when you get out of the train stations, you see IT. The cathedral. The imposing, terrifying cathedral. It took six centuries to build. It miraculously survived 14 bombings during WWII, but it was not completely unaffected. The entire facade is charred black. The towers were topped with snow and the sky was dark. Literally breath-taking. The structure is massive. The main room inside is a giant arched room with stained glass lining every wall. One has to look straight up to see all of the ceiling, your eyes follow the curved arches for seemingly miles. The sun was shining through a particular stained-glass window. It had thousands of squares in rows and columns, each of a different rich color. It looked like candy. The colored light on the opposite wall danced when the sun was out, disappearing for minutes at a time when the sun went behind a cloud. Ashley and I watched for a long time, waiting for the sun to come out so we could take pictures of the ocean-like lighted wall. I sat at a pew for a long time, soaking in the spirits.
We paid the 1 euro to climb up the main tower of the cathedral. A claustrophobia inducing winding staircase, over 500 stone steps depressed in the middle from centuries of patrons. Up and up with an occasional glance out of a window at the tiny people below. Up and up and up. We got to an outdoor platform and looked around. Through the gothic stone cathedral parts you could see the incredible city below. In the middle of the platform was a metal staircase, slick with ice and snow. The frigid wind was blowing and you could see the earth forever below you. We challenged ourselves and climbed up. I am not usually affected by heights, but I was gripping HARD on the railing and I got jelly legs. It was completely worth the skipped heartbeats to be on top of the tallest cathedral in Europe.
We bought tickets to get on the touristy bus that would take us around Cologne. It's "Hop On, Hop Off" and their is a headset telling you all about the various attractions and history of the city. Oh, there is the oldest Protestant church in Germany. What's that? It's the remains of the ancient Roman fortress that surrounded the city. Surreal, surreal, surreal. We hopped off at the Chocolate Museum, Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. There was a large factory and chocolate tasting and drinking hot chocolate white sitting on the Rhine. Just lovely.
We hopped back on the bus and crossed over the Rhine at sunset. The bridge we crossed over was the original site of the first bridge built in Cologne, in 300 AD. 300 AD!! 300 AD!!!! I can't believe it. Ancient Roman houses remained, narrow because the people were taxed based on the width of their house. 90% of the city was destroyed during WWII, but what remains was enough to give me a pit in my stomach from the feeling of ancientness. The sun would occasionally line up perfectly between the two towers of the cathedral.
We rested at a pub where a bachelor's party was taking place. Drunk Germans are entertaining and even more friendly than sober ones. He was dressed in woman's leiderhosen and a giant blond wig. He has a tray around his neck with tiny scrolls of paper. He told us to pick one and open it. Some of them had a winning message, in which case you had to take a shot with the groom-to-be. We got back on the train/bus/taxi/airplane combo that night. We had to spend the night in the airport because the last train was at midnight, but our flight did not leave until 7 in the morning. Honestly, it was was pretty miserable. There were hardly in seats in this tiny airport and the floor was cold and their was this obnoxious kid's ride that played a creepy melody every three minutes. We were all entirely exhausted and I think I died on my bed for about 9 hours straight on Sunday. I woke up to eat dinner and to write in my journal, then slept straight through this morning.
Germany is wonderful.