Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Small Beers in Cologne

So, R464 Express train at 9:16 to Munich, passing through Domazlice, George’s hometown, across the border, Schwandorf, and to Regensburg at 14:47, where I will change to ICE26 to Dortmund, hopping off at Cologne. I have a bit of a panic before the train pulls out, as another train pulls out at exactly the time ours is supposed to, then we leave twenty minutes late. I’m glad I went for this choice of trains, as the alternative was two changes each with about five minutes connection time, which was never going to work!

For most of the journey a pretty German girl in my carriage occupies my attentions, along with the Torygraph and snoozing. We pass through Plzen, the home of pilsner beer! I’ve visited with George many years ago, but was possibly more hung over than I’d ever been before in my life, so wasn’t especially keen on a brewery.

At Regensburg, I spend the hour’s wait looking about the shopping complex adjacent to the station, with a slice of pizza and a 2 euro 50 phone call to Ralfy – the damn T Mobile phone refuses to return any change. IC26 train comes in at 14:33 – German high-speed trains are very sexy, though the Czech booking lot have managed to reserve me a non-existent seat, rather unhelpfully.

The train whizzes up through Nürnburg (Nurenburg), Frankfurt to Köln (Cologne), arriving at 20:05. On board it’s smart, clean, busy, there are power points, in-seat entertainment, and they hand out Journey Plan leaflets listing the route, what trains you can change on to at each station, map of the train, etc. I work my way through an impressive number of King of the Hill episodes!

At Cologne, Ralf picks me up at the station and we head back to the his place which he shares with his girlfriend, Ilka. He’s well-stocked for beer, and we do our best to finish it!

Breakfast the following afternoon!

The gothic Cologne cathedral is the obvious sight, towering high above the city from its position next to the main station and so we have a walk around it inside. Gets us out of the rain if nothing else.

Supposedly the Three Magi (Wise Men) are somewhere in here. Not that we can find them. It does have some spankingly good stain-glass windows though,

the only brightness in an otherwise very simple but big cathedral – much like Canterbury Cathedral in my home town.

We then head back to a coffee shop to meet Jens, another former colleague from COLT in the UK who is now working for a small security firm here. I detect some tension in poor old Jens than Ralfy and I, not having worked for a year and a half, seem to be missing! Coffee over, we walk back to his office, he grabs his things then after a quick game of table football we head off to a traditional restaurant bar called Früh.

It’s noisy inside, but upstairs we find a table, sitting next to a group of Chinese who eat continuously the whole time we were there, an impressive feat!

Ralf and Jens

The beer they drink in Cologne is called Kölsch, which is also the name of the local dialect, so the joke is that Kölsche is the only language you can drink. They drink it out of small glasses, but serve them fast, so you end up drinking vast quantities!

They also serve up good hearty German nosh.


They keep track of how many beers you drink by scrawling notches with a biro on one of our beer mats. We have 34 beers in Fruh before heading off to the next bar!

By this stage, Ilka has joined us too, and after a bite, we head off to another place, one of her favourite bars.


The next bar is called Low Budget. Classy!

But actually inside it was nice, friendly, and had a barrel of tequila on the bar to which we availed ourselves, in addition to the small glasses coming at our table as if we were in a factory with the end of the production line being our bellies! Ilka’s friend Ina joins us, and we end up at her place, though by the end of the night, I was dozing off. Still, the training programme for my homecoming drinks is going well!

Next day, the weather is miserable, and after having breakfast mid-afternoon, we do precisely nothing! I do blog, and call up Inland Revenue demanding my tax back from 2006! Tomorrow morning I’ll take the train through to Brussels and straight on to the UK. The end of the Travel Blog, hallelujiah! I received an email from my brother Hedgy saying he'll see me tomorrow in the pub and how strange it was to be saying that. For you and me both, Hedge!

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