Thursday, January 24, 2008



I am no longer updating this blog. Please see my new blog, Free Pants, which chronicles my journeys during my Big Year Off.

However, if you want to read about the older trip that's described in this blog, then go ahead and keep reading.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Friday December 8, 2006

So call us crazy, but Matt Lausch and I decided to go to Cologne, Germany for a weekend. With a super cheap airfare available, we just couldn't say no!

(Matt has also written about this trip in his blog, so check it out.)

We wouldn't be flying to Germany directly, but would be connecting through New York City. We left Toronto early on Friday morning. Our flight was short, but VERY turbulent before the landing. It left me feeling pretty queasy. Some kid in the seat behind me actually vomitted.

Our layover in NYC was 7 hours long. Instead of kicking around the boring airport for that long, it was pretty obvious that we needed to head into Manhattan. So we jumped on the AirTrain that would take us from Newark Airport in New Jersey and to Manhattan.

Here's a picture of the airport from the AirTrain. Those buildings way in the background are Manhattan!

My impression of New Jersey is... it seems like a stinky industrial wasteland. It's sort of like Hamilton, Ontario, but bigger.

The train took about 40 minutes to get to Penn Station in Manhattan. From there we walked up to Times Square. I quickly learned that pedestrians in NYC are even more aggressive about crossing the road then they are in Toronto (not surprising, really). I hadn't been in crowds this dense since I was in Tokyo (though the Tokyo crowds are definitely a level above NYC when it comes to the number of people).

Times Square is pretty cool! Lots of flashy lights and big signs. I love it!

We were looking for lunch. We checked out a deli in Times Square. I figured it would be expensive, but we were getting pretty hungry, so we decided to take a look. Holy Crow! The sandwiches were US$14! That place was quickly rejected. We'd stick it out and look for some food on some side street somewhere.

There was a super cool Toys R Us store in Times Square. We had to go in! They had a big Tyranosaurus inside!

There was also a big Captain Jack Sparrow made from Lego!

There was also a Ferris Wheel in the store, too. It was about three stories tall!

After we were finished looking at toys, we kept going. We found some pizza from a place on a side street. It was much more reasonably priced. And tasty!

The next stop was the Empire State Building. We were running out of time, so we made an executive decision to get the express tickets to the top floor. We got to skip all the lines. We were probably able to save waiting for 2 hours, I think. We headed up to the 86th floor observatory. The view from up there was incredible!!!

Who let these rats-with-wings up here? This is the 86th floor! Come on!

It was quite cold up there... and very windy! It was hard to stay outside very long without wanting to go back inside to warm up. After a while, it was time to go, so we headed back downstairs. Here's a picture of the very cool art in lobby.

We stopped off at the drug store in the lobby to grab some snacks and drinks. After walking around the streets a bit more, we walked back to Penn Station and hopped on a train back to New Jersey. I was really proud that, as a tourist, I was able to explain the train schedule to other tourists in the train station. I was able to explain to some people how to find the train to get back to the airport! I'm a master of public transit!

The next step was the 7.5 hour overnight flight. I managed to sleep for part of it, which was nice. Apparantly Matt could not sleep. Doh.

On the way to Cologne, the plane flew over England. I was so lucky to get this amazing shot of London from the air! You can totally see the outline of the River Thames in this picture.

The plane also flew over Belgium. I think we flew right over Brussels, too. That's where I would be going next year!

Activities on the flight included sleeping, eating, reading, and, of course, playing Cooking Mama on my Nintendo DS Lite!

As dawn broke over The Continent, our plane touched down in Cologne...


Saturday December 9, 2006

So we found ourselves in Germany. Wierd! Three countries in two days... and we'd be leaving in only two days. It was a bizarre feeling, to be sure.

After disembarking the plane, negotiating passport control, and claiming our luggage, it was time to head into town. Conveniently for us, there was a train station located right in the airport. Here's a picture of me trying to decipher the train schedule.

It was the weekend, so trains weren't running very often. We had JUST missed one (typical!) and had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one. Taking a train from the airport to town was only €2.20. It's a good thing that I had change left over from my trip to Portugal and Spain a couple of months before. Having change was super convenient!

The hostel was right across the street from the train station.

We had to wait until 2 PM before we'd be able to use our room, so we dumped our stuff in a locked room downstairs and went off to explore. By this point, it was about 10 AM.

The hostel is located really close to the centre of Cologne. We just had to walk up a footpath and over a bridge -- the Hohenzollernbrücke. The bridge was a train bridge, but it had a pedestrian walkway. The bridge spanned the River Rhine, which is the largest river in Germany. It was a little wierd to be sharing a bridge with trains. That's not something you see in Canada.

Just on the other side of the bridge was the huge cathedral... we would be exploring that the next day. But here's a shot just to keep you interested...

We wandered past the cathedral into an adjacent square where we found a Christmas market just opening up!

We were really interested in seeing the Christmas markets of Cologne. But since it wasn't really fully opened yet (since it was still too early in the morning), we stopped off at a nearby cafe to get some coffee, hot chocolate, and a croissant!

After that, we wandered back to the Christmas market and bought our first glühwein -- the glowing wine! It's made from spiced wine (and brandy, I think). Served steaming hot in nifty collectible mugs, its very satisfying to drink on a chilly winter's day. It's like medicine!

The market also had lots of food vendors. We found a hut that was selling potato pancakes deep fried in lard... complete with apple sauce for dipping. We had to have them! THEY WERE SO GOOD!! Clearly, lard makes everything taste better.

Satisfied for now, our next goal was to buy some CDs. I needed to pick up the new albums for my favourite Swiss band: Lunik, and my favourite German band: Juli. We walked up to a big music store that I visitied the last time I was in Cologne. I found my CDs there and we kept going on.

We walked along one of the cities ring roads and went to Rudolfplatz, where we found another Christmas market. This one was located beside a tiny castle (under renovation). By this point in the day, the market was much more crowded.

I found myself some more glühwein here, too.

Matt found some cool Christmas decorations that we had seen as a child. They were wooden windmills with fan blades at the top. They had candle holders at their bases. You'd put candles in them. As the hot air rose above the lit candles, they fan blades at the top would rotate, which would cause the figures inside the tower to move around. They looked fascinating. The ones we saw there were very large. Some of them had two levels of candles and five levels in the tower. They were also very, very expensive. This one was €215 (about CDN$300)!!

We bought some Christmas presents here and kept going. The markets were getting progressively more and more crowded and it became to harder to navigate them. But we pressed on! Even pretty sights like a merry-go-round could only distract us for mere seconds before we faithfully pressed forward!!

We all know that Germany is the fabled "Land of Chocolate". We sampled our first chocolate at this Christmas market, too. But it was fancy! It was fresh, juicy pineapple dipped in chocolate. It was a crazy combination of both yummy and delicious!

By this point in our wanders our feet were getting tired, and we headed back to the hostel for a recharge. We found our room and dropped off our loot. We each had showers. I wrote a couple of postcards for my grandmothers in Canada and Poland. We rested for a very short while and decided where to go next.

The choice was clear. If Germany was indeed the true Land of Chocolate then we had to go to the Chocolate Museum to explore Germany's tasty heritage.

We walked over to the Chocolate Museum. The museum was beside the river so we got some more neat pictures on the way there.

The River Rhine is an important trade routing and shipping channel for Germany. There are many boats that ply its murky waters. Here we see a classy garbage barge working its way down river.

In front of the museum was the Medieval Christmas Market. There we saw people practice their archery by shooting at a stationary boar station. Contrary to popular puninion, it was not very boaring.

Look! 3 shots! Only 1 and a 1/2 Jalers!

Finally we had reached our destination! The Lindt Chocolate Museum! We could only anticipate (and salivate) at the wonders we'd find in those walls!

Inside the museum we learned tasty facts about cocoa plants and their cultivation. We found a steamy greenhouse filled with living cocoa plants. Since we were bundled up in our winter gear, we couldn't comfortably stay in this room very long! We had to pass through airlocks to get into and out of this room.

We pressed on further and saw exhibits about the history of the creation of chocolate. It seems that much of the machinery for processing chocolate was invented in Germany. Germany really was the Land of Chocolate! Amazing!

Eventually we reached a big room with a working chocolate production facility. We watched many fascinating machines. There were turny things that turned! There were spinny things that spinned! There were conveyor belty things that conveyed things (er, on belts!)!

Being the rascals that we are, who can fault us for acting like children let loose in a candy factory? No one, that's who!

At the end of the factory we discovered a magnificent chocolate fountain shaped like a golden tree, backed by the fast flowing waters of the River Rhine. The liquid milk chocolate was served to us on crisp biscuit sticks. All I can say is... WOW. Wow. WOWOW!

The factory was staffed by Lindt employees in full chef garb, including those awesome poofy white chef hats. I was determined to get a hat like that for myself from the gift shop.

We saw how chocolate truffles are made and we sampled some fresh ones. We continued upstairs and found more machinery and displays. Is there anything that those good folks at Lindt can't do?

We passed through the upper floors of the museum quickly... the sugar rush was fading fast. Here we learned a fascinating fact:

World chocolate production and consumption are both always increasing. However, in recent decades, people, especially women, report that they eat less and less chocolate than they did in previous years. The conclusion is, that women must be eating more and more chocolate IN SECRET!

Women of the world! If you truly do eat chocolate in secret, you don't need to keep your secret safe from me. I will guard your secret with my bestest abilities. We can be chocolate buddies, after all.

Finally we found the gift shop. We had been looking forward to this place! Alas, I did not find a poofy white chocolate hat, but we did find copious amounts of deluxe and premium chocolates of all sorts. We loaded up on all kinds of yummy chocolate. I intended to give most of my haul away for Christmas of course!! Don't look at me that way! I had the best of intentions!

By this time it was getting late and we wanted food. Specifically, non-chocolate-sort-of-food. We wandered around until we decided to get some currywurst and french fries from a vendor at a market. Matt was impressed by currywurst! It's a simple dish: sausage, ketchup, and curry powder... but its surprisingly delicious!

On our way back to the hostel, we took some charming pictures.

Oh Tannenbaum!

Your friendly neighbourhood town crier?

The River Rhine at night...

It was getting late and we were very tired. It was a long day! We drank some beers in the hostel common room. While there, we observed some bizarre sights. There were school groups in the hostel that were going out on the town together. We were assuming that they were going out to drink. We watched several large groups all assemble in the lobby area before all heading out. The most amusing thing was that almost everyone was dressed up! Here's a pack of men all dressed up in skirts. It was less than fun to see them bend over.

Five beers later, it was all over. It was time to pass out. Hopefully tomorrow would be as fun as today was!

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