With our medium-term plans changed, Diana went to Colombia to be with her family. We decided that I'd stay in Stuttgart for a while longer to deal with work-related stuff before going to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving and then onto Bogota myself. But, I had one last weekend left and I wanted to go somewhere that I hadn't been yet. I considered Prague (only four hours away) and looked into some options but, in the end, I decided to take my friend Katharina up on her previous offer to have me up to visit with her and her family in Köln (Cologne in English).
Köln is located a little over three hours (via car) north of Stuttgart and is about twice the size. My ride dropped me off on the other side of the Rhine river from the center of the city and it's about a 15 minute walk to the main square/cathedral, which was very scenic. On the way, I crossed the main train bridge going into the city and was amazed to see millions of Locks of Love attached to the fence that separated the tracks from the walkway:
I couldn't believe how many were there. Even in Paris and the other places that I've seen them, there were not nearly as many. They are so popular, apparently, that local businesses sell customized locks that you can buy for a few Euros and attach to the bridge with your honey.
Köln's been around for a couple of thousand years (!!!) and was once a Roman city. The center of town is very scenic especially when you consider that it was completely destroyed during the war and rebuilt over the years. The highlights are the narrow winding shopping streets, the glass-and-steel Hauptbahnhof (main train station), and the Köln Dom (cathedral):
Honestly, I wasn't super fired up to see another church. Europe's full of them! Although, there are a couple of amazing ones...
Let's be honest though, all I really wanted to know was if Cologne smelled like, well, cologne. Unfortunately, Hamburg didn't smell like hamburgers. Would Cologne live up to its namesake? Well, it turns out that the city of Cologne is a bit older than the smelly stuff of the same name. Cologne (the smelly stuff) originated in Cologne (the city) during the early 1700s and continues to be manufactured and sold today in the oldest fragrance factory in the world - this building in the city:
Another padlock display this time at the train station. I don't know about you but 2 Euros seems a bit cheap to "secure" my love...
I got up to Köln on Friday afternoon and walked around until Katharina met me after her classes. We climbed the cathedral tower stairs to check out the views, walked around the city center for a while, and then went to eat at a place called Früh. Früh's is a lot like the Hofbrauhaus that I went to with John John when we met in Munich. Katharina was even able to get me to drink a (very small) beer! I won't be switching from wine to beer anytime soon but it was not too bad. After dinner, we went to her house to meet mom. I think mom and I hit it off because we stayed up at least two hours after Katharina went to bed drinking wine and speaking a very convincing English-German mix.
On Saturday morning Katharina's old high school was having an open house and she wanted to go visit the old stomping grounds. I got the tour and then we met up with mom again for a visit to...wait...wait...wait!!!
The Haribo Gummy Bear Factory (store) in nearby Bonn:
Yes, the Gummy Bears you know and love! But, I have to admit that I was a bit confused as I thought that we were going to visit the actual factory (damn German language skills!). I didn't know we weren't until we pulled into the store parking lot and I saw them tearing down the factory! 8'-(
But wait!!! Don't panic like I did! Once my heart rate dropped back down below 240 bpm, Katharina and her mom reassured me that there was indeed a new factory nearby and that the world's supply of chewy-deliciousness would not suffer. The store was quite impressive and, like the Ritter Sport Chocolate Factory, you can buy as much candy as you can carry for ridiculously low prices. I ended up spending about 20 Euros (~$25 U.S.) and I left with a TON of candy. The surprise score of the trip was finding packs of spicy gummy bears, which are quite the treat!
Random, semi-related story that I just thought of... Back when I was in high school, we (at least I think it was we) would put gummy bears in our mouths to get them wet, take them out without chewing them, and then through them up in the air so that they'd stick to the ceiling...during class. I can hear my mom and my aunt both asking themselves if we were animals and shaking their heads... Gummy bears, delicious and many good memories!
From there, it was back to downtown Köln again to visit the city's World Of Chocolate Museum. Can I just say "wow"? Like churches, I'm just not that into visiting museums but every once in a while, like with churches, one just blows me away. It wasn't just because it was about one of my favorite edibles (the others being things like coffee, wine, and Mexican food), but because they had a mini FUNCTIONING chocolate factory set up on site. Yes, that's a real operator running that packaging machine! Can you say "sexy museum"?
In addition to the production line, they've got an excellent history-of-chocolate museum as well as a green house where they've even got a flowering cacao (chocolate) tree! I was amazed that they could get the tree to bloom and my hat's off to whoever's maintaining that green house.
Oh, and they have a kick-ass, on-site chocolate shop too. (Maybe this should have been called the chocolate museum story???) Anyway, from there we walked across the street to the Kölner Senfmuseum (mustard museum).
The mustard museum's more of a mustard shop with some historical displays set up. What'd I expect, right? Even though it's not that exciting, it's location across from the chocolate museum and their free entry and samples make it worthwhile.
Katharina's mom chose an Italian restaurant overlooking the Rhine for our dinner. I have no idea what it was called but the food was top-notch and I left very full. We then headed back to their house for some more wine and conversation. It's funny but I went to visit with my friend Katharina but I left feeling like I now had two friends in Köln. A big ole hug and a kiss to Katharina and her mom Susana! You guys were great hosts and I can't wait to see you again. Maybe you need to come visit me and I can repay the favor???
And with that, my nine months of living in Stuttgart came to an end, or maybe to a brief pause. The future's open and we may very well find ourselves back in Germany after the new year. For now, it's off to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving and then on to Bogota to reunite with Diana and hang out with Juaco, Fidu, Rises, and Pepe for Christmas and New Year's.