Tag Archives: germany

A Very Alsatian Christmas: Day 3 – Europa Park

The ability to stay in one country and then hop over a border for a day trip is something that (as a little islander Brit) still flummoxes me. This is the beauty of Europe and the EU and… well anyway not going into those feelings.

Part of the big sell of Strasbourg for me was that it would mean a return trip to Europa Park. I was there previously in August 2018 and I have been telling anyone who asks that this is the best theme park in the world full stop. Have I been to enough to make this judgement? No, but as a package it just blows everywhere out of the water.

In December, the ways to get there are a bit more limited as we aren’t exactly in the on season. There is the traditional train and express bus route – but it’s a bit of a faff as you need to change trains and that’s not something that you want to be doing too late at night. Thankfully there is a daily coach that stops there as part of a route between Strasbourg and Freiburg – which ended up being perfect.

I think in my post from four years ago, I went into a lot of detail about the things we did on our day. Most of this still stands. Europa Park is just this perfect mix of excellent theming and variety in well made attractions. They are even starting to lean more into their own IP as part of creating an internal universe, which I think is brilliant. If some of their kids books had been in English, I would have been tempted to pick up a copy.

So, what is different between now and over four years ago? For one thing the entire park has been decked out for Christmas and the results are truly stunning. During the day, it is pretty but you wait in anticipation for the sun to set and the lights to go on. And when they did it was a unreal fairyland. Everywhere came alive. The German main streets, Spain and Scandinavian areas were especially magical with all their Christmas lights on. I would have been happy to stay longer and just walked around without getting on rides.

Being the area of the world we are in, there is also a Christmas Market here with a main concentration of stalls in Germany, but other country areas also have their own offerings. Even though lunch was a return trip to the Foodloop where we had some pretty brilliant burgers delivered by rollercoaster, there was a chance to have some actual winter snacks from the market. Namely dampfnudel and a cinnamon sugar covered Baum-striezel. Perfect for an evening before watching the parade.

As for new rides, two have opened since we were last here and one has reopened since it was damaged in a fire back in May 2018. Starting with the new (at least to me) there is the CanCan coaster – which opened very soon after we were here. It’s a bit of a batshit take on Space Mountain where you are randomly bombarded with Paris Ian imagery and then end up in the Moulin Rouge with cancan girls and fireworks – I loved it.

Second is new this year: Josefina’s Magical Imperial Journey. This is a replacement of a ride that was part of the shrinking Adventure Land, and a welcome replacement at that. What was previously a ride through ‘Africa’ in a way that smelt distinctly colonialismy, has become a fairytale boat ride in an expanded Austria area. A good move to remove racist depictions from the park and another expansion of the internal consistency of the park.

That finally brings me to the Pirates of Batavia. I bet if it hadn’t burned to the ground in 2018 it would not be anywhere near as good now. They took their time rebuilding and this current incarnation first had visitors in 2020. In many ways it’s a typical dark ride much like the similar ‘Pirates’ ride in Disney. However, the animatronics are so much better and so much is happening in every scene that second ride was well worth it.

It’s sad to leave Europa Park. It’s one of those rare places where I just have moments of the unmitigated joy that comes from being a child. Whether it’s catching air on Woden, flying through Europe on the Voletarium (which made me cry, again), or watching a T-Rex having a birthday party – Europa Park just speaks to me in ways that few places do.

I will be back in a few years to see what they are going to come up with for their new 19th land: Croatia. Will we have a similar experience today where pretty much all attractions were immediately walk on to ride? Probably not, it was pretty insane today. But I just cannot wait to see what their take on Nikola Tesla will be.

Tomorrow is our last day here and I am writing this having picked up a small dinner from the McDonald’s across the street. My rule still applies of trying to have something unavailable in the UK – so I had their version of the Croque Monsieur and the brand new McQuesadilla that is being trialed in France. I would have both of those again, but I probably won’t as tomorrow will be a final whip around of the Strasbourg markets before heading back to London.


The ABCs of Cologne: Day 6 – Bonn and Königswinter

Final full day in Germany, and we are once again making good use of the recent 9€ for a month of travel initiative. We have had some pretty bad train issues this week, but given what we are paying for them it’s not like we can complain too much. In that vein, our original train to Bonn ended up so late that we ended catching the next one in the schedule. In the grand scheme of things, no big deal but wouldn’t have rushed my breakfast otherwise. 

One thing that immediately dawned on me was just how small Bonn is. On the map where things look far apart, it is only like 15 minutes tops. So a very short hop from the station took us to our first destination, the Bonn Minster. Its currently covered in scaffolding as it has been for years, but this is part of a massive restoration which barred entry access for three years. Thankfully, it is now open. 

This is one of the oldest churches in Germany with some parts hitting 1000 years old at some point this century. It also has an incredibly beautiful choir and apse (yes I am trying to learn the terminology) which photography is unable to do justice to. But still we try because I want to be able to remember how lovely it was. 

The first of the rain arrived as we entered the cloister. This would become a theme of the day with the weather being highly changeable and unpredictable – sometimes in the space if descending a staircase or going in and out of a store. 

You know, like the Haribo store. I know that by going in here and getting merchandise (and only three bags of sweets, please clap) means I can no longer completely side-eye the M&M store in Leicester Square. Although, in my defense, at least Haribo is German and its not like I made a special trip just for a Haribo keychain. 

With Goldbears and gummy frogs bought and in my new Haribo bear bag, we headed to the Poppelsdorff Palace… to find that this too was covered in scaffolding. This time, completely covered so you couldn’t even go into the courtyard and have a shifty. Such a shame because, when you Google it, the palace is beautiful. 

Not going to lie, I felt a little defeated by all the scaffolding – but that was cured by a full tour of the Botanical Gardens. The outside gardens were nice enough, with a lot of water lilies and the sounds of frogs making their presence known. The real joy, however, was to be found in the hot house. 


This was one of the final rooms we entered and it had a double whammy of beauty. First there’s the corpse flower. The corpse flower of Bonn botanical garden has made news over the years as a record breaker. Looking at it, I think we struck lucky as it looks like it will fully bloom very soon and we got to see it right before it starts unfurling it’s petals and then… smells like a dead body. 

Also in this room were the largest water lilies I have ever seen. Apparently one of these is a night bloomer, so it makes sense that the flowers were closed. But wow, as someone who is now trying to grow their own water lilies, one of these suckers is about the same size as my actual pond. 

After this it was a bit if a walking tour of the general Bonn Central area. We saw the Sterntor, an old city gate – the third I have seen on this trip. Unlike the other two this has been mildly integrated into the surrounding area, which is great to see as it helps to give this old piece of architecture a new lease of life. 

We had a look at the outside of Beethoven’s birthplace, which was closed (but at 10€ entry, we’d never have gone in). Then we popped into the Holy Name church, which is a beautiful small church I haven’t seen mentioned online as a place to look around. I loved what they did with the blue and columns. It’s a simple idea, but very well executed. 

It was then lunchtime and, luckily for us, there was a market going in the market square. There were so many options to be had, but I wanted something I wouldn’t get in London and haven’t had on this trip. The Hungarian langos stall was, therefore, perfect. I haven’t had one of these since I was in Vienna and this time I was able to have some toppings. I went with their special, which had garlic butter, sour cream, cheese, red pepper and paprika. It was gorgeous and made me think just how much of a hit this would be in the UK. 

That was it for Bonn, so we boarded a tram (or light railway) its hard to know what to call it, to make the 40 minute journey south to the town of Konigswinter. Its very much one of those towns that feels like it scrapes by 10 months of the year and then makes all its bread in the summer. I say this as someone who would have liked to have been able to spend time in the actual town, especially when the weather wasn’t varying between sunshine and torrential rain. 

We were here to go a up the Drachenfels, a mountain that has inspired the likes of Beethoven, Wagner and even Turner. This is where the dragon from the Nibelungen legend is from and it has some pretty spectacular views of the Rhine and the surrounding countryside. The best of these are at the top of the peak where the old castle ruins are, but we where there when the rain was at its height. Whilst there is some poetry in being in such a place of legend as the weather is this grey…  I want nice photos. 

From here, it was downhill to the current Drachenberg Castle. It only dates from the 1880s and is very much what happens when a rich German banker wishes to make his own broadly authentic castle. On the outside it looks like something you’d find in a Disney park, with its almost pink colouring and the perfectly positioned gothic turrets. On the inside though… 

… it is gorgeous. So much of what is here now is restored or made based on the original rooms (it’s had a really tumultuous history and had huge sections destroyed by artillery fire in World War Two) and a huge amount of kudos should be given to the continued work that makes this like the kind of castle King Ludwig had he been on some anti-psychotics. The rooms take the lessons learned from so many other palaces and goes very ostentatious without going too over the top with the decoration. It’s also been built with electricity in mind, which is an interesting touch. 

My favourite room was, without question, the Art Hall. This is one of those rooms that was basically destroyed in the 1940s and has only started looking like its old self in the last decade. Some of the amazing pieces of stained glass (each themed famous figures in various fields including explorers, composers and heads if state) are dated from 2020-21, so it’s a good thing we never got to go here pre-pandemic. There are still a number of windows to be replaced and I hopetey are able to secure those funds so that its complete before the centennial of its destruction. 

The grounds themselves are also lovely to walk around and, somehow, we managed to exit the castle building with there being beautiful sunshine so hot it was visibly making water vapor from they wet roads. It also made large sections smell like walking through a steaming cup of jasmine tea. 

You can walk around to get more lovely views of the valley, but it’s the Venus terrace that I liked the most. It’s another of the more recent renovations and is one of the best places to view the castle itself in the context of the manicured gardens. I can only imagine how even more beautiful this area is going to become in the coming decade. Might be a place to come back to in like 15-20 years to see it further along the renovation work, although it looks pretty near done at the moment. 

As we left the castle, the heavens let lose torrential rain again to te point where where was some thunder to scare the reptiles. Okay, getting a bit ahead of myself there. Just down the road from the castle is the Nibellungenhalle – a round hall that is set up to celebrate the Nibelungen story as well as the Wagner opera on the story. It’s a pretty simple set up with Wagner playing, a series of paintings depicting the story and some sort of flying pig font in the centre I was unable to figure out. But hey, this ticket gives you access to three attractions, whether you like it or not as they are connected. 

So after the hall comes the Dragon Cave. Essentially a long and winding “cave path” that leads you to the dragon. And a cute dragon at that. It was full rain at this point and thanks to the slightly cramped conditions, the umbrellas weren’t working to their maximum effectiveness. 

After this you enter a reptile zoo – the connection between these three attractions is tenuous but it is there – where we walked in as she was getting ready to start their feeding. As in, all the padlocks to all the reptiles were unlocked and they were expecting food. As someone who has been to a lot of reptile houses, I have never seen snakes moving this fast. If the open padlock wasn’t still keeping the doors shut…  well there are a number of snakes of various sizes who were clearly trying their best to get out and find the food. This place also had a very vocal and hungry caiman who upon seeing me, swam towards my end if the enclosure and just stared at me. It was a bizarre experience that felt like something out a 1950s B-movie.

And that was it for Konigswinter. The weather was still wet as we got back into Cologne so we didn’t want to venture too far in search of food. I managed to find a place close to the hotel that specialised in flammkuchen, a hipstery place that actually experimented with flavours. So whilst my husband went semi-traditional, I went for one with camembert and cranberry on top and was not disappointed. 

So that’s the end of my exploration of the Cologne region and my first proper holiday since December 2019. The travel bug is back and eyeing up options for October. So I guess I’ll be back blogging once I am back from wherever I end up. If anything, this trip has reminded me of a few things, that pretty much everywhere I’ve been to has better food than the UK and that I need time out of the country so I can escape whatever political cluster fuck is occurring. Thank you Germany, I’ll be back soon

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 5 – Aachen

Next time I go to Germany, I really should check about bank holidays such as having the Monday after Pentecost off. I mean it’s the same in the Netherlands so it’s not like either my Dutch husband or myself were shocked by this, but it does make things that much more closed or infrequent. Lesson learned I guess. 

So with half the trains due to both engineering works and a Sunday timetable, we spent today in the nearby city of Aachen. As the city of Charlemagne, and the site of his burial and shrine, it is incredibly significant. Not that you would know it growing up in the UK where nothing related to him comes up in any sort of history class… because why would we learn things outside our borders. 

Anyway, aside from being the city of Charlemagne, Aachen has some significance to me as well. When I first started working on exam papers back in 2014, one of the first papers I was involved in was an ICT skills paper where Aachen was the central theme. So I have been weirdly looking forward to actually see the things from that paper in person. 

The walk from Aachen Central Station to the main area with all the historical joy was a bit far and windy (yes we took a few wrong turns) but we found our way and settled for some light breakfast in front of the Rathaus. Simple, but very nice to have to get you going. 

Rather than start at the Rathaus, we went north a bit to see one of the remaining original city gates, the Ponttor. It’s interesting to see how a city deals with these, like you see some (e.g. Freiburg or York) where they are integrated with the current buildings or exist as part of the original walls. But here, like in Cologne, it is very much standing alone an viewable at all angles. Shame we couldn’t go up, but probably wouldn’t have added too much I guess. 

We then made our way back to the Rathaus, at which time the weather had clearered up so much that, as we went up the staircase, I was able to take some really wonderful photos of the cathedral through the window. 

The interior of the Rathaus are grand and really reflect the status that the city, and therefore the mayors of the city enjoy. The red and white rooms downstairs were particularly beautiful and could have been plucked out of a noble’s palace. Going upstairs, we saw the coronation hall completely decked out with frescos honoring the deeds of Charlemagne. It’s a pretty beautiful hall, would love to be given an award here as they do every year. 

As it’s Pentecost, the cathedral was still closed for additional services. So, to keep ourselves occupied we went to the Treasury museum. Some of the stuff here is spellbinding. I talked yesterday about liking church art, well there was some things that went well beyond what I was expecting. 

Reliquaries have the chance to be spectacular as they try to be adequate vessels for the hair, bones or cloth fragments belonging to ‘saints’. Well, at least three of these amazing pieces have good provenance as they contain bones belonging to Charlemagne himself. Weird to look inside one of these gold artworks and think that you are face to face with a thousand year old king’s remains. 

Then it was time to go into the cathedral itself. Now yesterday I made some claims off the back of being a bit spoiled by Italian churches and maybe it’s a cultural thing that German ones don’t quite match up. First thing, I forgot about the rococo explosion of the Asamkirche in Munich. But also, I had forgotten that this was meant to be the better cathedral in terms of decoration (after all, Cologne Cathedral ran out of money during construction because it is so massive) 

The silver, blue and gold mosaic work in the aisles floored me when I first saw them, especially as they were glistening in the blazing sunlight. Then there was the golden artwork in the interior of the dome, again spectacular. Its a pity so many of the windows were blown out during World War Two though. As nice as these were, it would have been great to have seen the originals. 

Also here, at the front of they cathedral, is the Karsschein – Charlemagne’s current resting place. We’ll, for most of him anyway. Again, weird to have such an almost mythic figure just… there. I know I have seen the tombs of English kings and queens at Westminster Abbey, as well as Tutankhamen when I went to Egypt, but this feels a bit different. Maybe it’s the Saint thing I because I just saw his arm bones in a golden hand. 

For a late lunch we stayed and ate near the cathedral where we, once again, swapped dishes halfway through. This was a wurst place, and I am still not sick of these German sausages. First was the currywurst, which is something my husband is really enjoying whilst we’re over here. Then there was the Thuringer sausage with mashed potato and red cabbage. This was perfect fuel for, what would become, an unexpected hike. 

To end the day, we wanted to finish off at the Dreilanderpunkt – the tri-point where the borders of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. To get there was a bit of a bus journey followed by a half hour uphill hike through German forest. I was able to enjoy this a lot more on the way down, you know, when I was expecting a forest hike to be on the cards and could enjoy the trees and wild flowers. 

Things like this tri-point are why I love Europe and the EU so much. This would have been almost unthinkable 60 years ago, now here you can skip a circle and be in three countries in a couple of seconds. Now this is nowhere near the only border meeting like this in Europe, but it is the most inspirational. 

Not content with just having the monument and flags, you have a full attraction here. On the Belgian area is a souvenir store, a frites stand and an observation tower (back to that in a moment). The German side is steep sloped forest… so there’s hiking trails and a restaurant where things are a bit more level as Germans are practical like that. The Dutch area is a full blown event with a maze, the parking lot, playground and so many food places – gotta love the Dutch and their entrepreneurial spirit. 

As we could, we had some frites in the Belgian area. I mean, I’ve been to three countries in one day. I deserve some fries. We then went up the observation tower, to truly get the scope of being able to see into three different nations as you move around the top floor. Like… this isn’t like seeing three different words, there is not a lot of clues which direction you are looking in – except for part of the German side being quite heavily industrialised. 

That was it for the day, we made our way back to Cologne and grabbed some sandwiches for dinner. Like we’d eaten a lot today, so some nice sandwiches are just the way to finish off. Tomorrow, I will be completing my ABC of NW Germany as we hop a train and see what it is like in Bonn. 

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 4 – Cologne’s Churches and Museums

So, the day of thunderstorms that has been predicted for the last week may have been greatly overstated. Not a complaint as such, because it’s better to see a city when it isn’t tipping it down all day. Although, to be fair, there were some incredible downpours that threatened to derail a few things. But it all worked out as we completely wore out the shoe leather on this full day in Cologne. 

Breakfast was a roll from the Kamps in the train station. I know this is going to probably make some Germans cringe, but I am a sucker for a Kaiser roll no matter what it in it. The fact that it was fleischwurst just sealed the deal. As I ate this outside the currently shut museum of Roman-Germanic artifacts, I couldn’t help but think that I would be happy to have this for breakfast everyday. 

I mention this museum as being closed as, on another visit, this would have been our first proper destination. Instead, we boarded the light railway to where part of the collection is being held in light of the museums refurbishment: the Belgian House. 

The collection here is a fraction of what the main museum has. For one thing it has none of the column fragments that you can see in the closed museum. Still though, this is a good stop-gap and allows for some of the things to still be enjoyed such as some brilliant glasswork and a rather ominous depiction of Medusa. I mean, thanks to this I learned that the name Cologne dates back to Roman times – as it is a corruption of their word for colony. Cool, right? Definitely something to include the next time I make a quiz for the work newsletter. 

Our next destination was, luckily enough, opposite us: The Schnutgen Museum. This museum, partially housed in the old church of St Cecilia, specialises in medieval religious artwork. That alone, for me anyway, is interesting enough. However, it is the they are displayed in this museum that really gives them a new life. 

Stained glass windows especially shine here as they are brilliantly back lit and at eye level. There is also an selection of impressive wood and stonework. A piece depicting the raising of Lazarus is especially haunting, as are the many smaller pieces depicting the danse macabre. It was a little bit weird that, alongside this, was a temporary exhibition about a graffiti artist from Geneva. Like…  talk about opposites colliding. We’re not even talking really complex pieces of street art, like vague doodles of skeletons mostly. I prefer.my skeletons medieval, carved and as a memento mori. 

It was starting to rain a bit now, plus we had a little time to kill before the churches were set to allow onlookers in (given it was a Sunday and these are working buildings). So a quick lunch at Merzeich it was. As the husband had salami for his breakfast roll, I couldn’t not have a salami pretzel roll for lunch. By golly I love the food of my ancestral land. 

Next on the list was a visit to the Great St. Martin church. This is one of three places of worship on the list for today. It is fairly typical on the inside, although there are a lot of good examples of mosaic work to be found on the floor. Also, if you pay 1€, you can go downstairs to see the remaining foundations of the Roman temple that used to be here. 

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 95/100Sight: Cologne Cathedral
Location: Cologne, Germany
Position: #297

Now it was time for the big dog: Cologne Cathedral. The towering black outside (which I was later informed was not dirt, but how the sandstone has reacted to acid rain) can be seen from anywhere in the city and, the closer you get, the more imposing it is. It was a bit of a queue to get in and, once inside it was absolutely heaving. 

We may have chosen a bad day given the number of people inside. Didn’t help that there were tourists taking selfies next to shrines and religious artwork, including one which had someone praying nearby. Like, these are places of worship and, whether or not you believe, there are people there who do and… like have some respect. Never saw it this bad, even in Notre Dame before the fire. 

As someone who has seen a lot of churches and cathedrals in their lifetime, I have to admit that Cologne Cathedral on the inside left me a little cold. Like it was really grand with beautiful stained glass from different eras, had stunning pillars and some exquisite pieces of artwork. But, the outside alone makes you think the insides are going to be less reliant on the architectural grandeur and have something a bit more ornate. I sound like such a church snob, I know, but I guess this is what happens when your formative experiences in Catholic churches are those found in Italy. There’s a very different feel to it. 

We dropped some things of at the hotel before making our way to St Ursula’s, the final church of the day. Sadly though, whilst technically open, the interior gates were closed so all we could do was have a sneaky peek at the insides. They were fine. Nothing compared to the spire that has a literal crown on it. 

Final museum of the day: Wallraf-Richartz Museum. This is the oldest museum in Cologne and, over the three open floors, had some pretty varied pieces of artwork. What is really neat about this museum is that, on each floor, the rooms are arranged in some sort of chronology with a lot of interesting back story to explain how styles and fashions developed. 

Starting at the top was the Baroque collection, whose first room contained two amazing pieces – including a piece by Rubens depicting the myth of how the peacock for the eyes in their tail feathers. As the floor progressed, it started to go further into the type of art that I don’t like as much – mostly portraits and Baroque landscapes. However, it was so interesting to see how art moved from grand mythological paintings to those smaller pieces. 

The next floor down as Middle Ages art, which I would have had more time for if we hadn’t spent a lot of time at the Schnutgen Museum. It was interesting to see some of the more experimental pieces, like an odd one combining painting with sculpted heads, but for me the best floor was the final one containing 19th century art. 

I am a bit of a sucker for good Pointilist artwork, and there were some beautiful pieces by Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce on display. These were towards the end of the floor because, again, the museum was trying to explain how Pointilist and Impressionist art developed from the then status quo. We spent so much time on the bottom floor that we missed a major rainstorm and closed out the museum. 

As we saw some blue sky, we decided to make one final stop for the day: Cologne Triangle. Like with nearly all city trips I want to get a high up view, which for Cologne is this particular building. After riding an incredibly fast lift, you are greeted with the best view of the city landmarks – as they are all across the river from you. The way that the signs are, it sounds like on a super clear day you’d be able to see Bonn from up here…  but I remain unconvinced. Still though, this was the best way to finish off the day.

We made our way across the river via the Hohenzollernbrucke – their iconic bridge which has now become totally inundated with lovelocks. As I am not sure I’ll be crossing this bridge by train, I wanted to make sure to cross it somehow before leaving the city. 

It was getting late and we were getting hungry. We found ourselves near the town hall for dinner again and did my dream thing when dining out on holiday: both order different mains and swap halfway through. So as the rain began to beat down on the parasols, I started out with a half plate of käsespätzle before swapping over to an order of (literal translation) Heaven and Earth. In brief, this is mashed potato with fried onions, blood sausage and apple sauce. Both dishes worked surprisingly well together, like a full plate of either would have gotten samey – this way I never got bored of either. 

Dessert was another visit to Kamps at the station as it was to late to find somewhere that would do a bit of German cheesecake. I picked the apple cake whilst my husband had his eye on something literally translated as a ‘nut corner’ –  think of it as a chocolate and nut covered shortcrust pastry. Both really good and would go over well in the UK. 

As you can imagine, this was an exhausting day. But I can say that we did our best to see a lot of Cologne before we start to venture off to other cities on day trips to see what they have to offer.

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 3 – Cologne Zoo and Gardens

One thing I need to remember when on holiday is that I need breakfast and caffeine, else my depressive streak comes out. Sounds so first world considering here I am on holiday post-pandemic, but the bratwurst we had at the tapir hacienda helped to set me up for a nice, long and sunny day.

Since today was the final guaranteed day of blazing sunny weather, we moved a bunch of things around. This meant that today we explored Kolner Zoo and some of the city’s green spaces, all just two stops away from our very conveniently placed hotel. 

The first, and major, stop of the day was the city zoo. Going to zoos around the UK has been a way I’ve dealt with wanting to travel whilst still having the safety net of being in the same country – also they have an enclosure featuring probably my second favourite animal: tapirs. This maybe the first zoo that I’ve visited that truly gets why tapirs are special. I mean, they are one of three animals to have a named eatery (the other two named after flamingos and tigers) and they even have some tapir merchandise. 

However, good luck seeing tapirs who are not asleep. Which is what happened on the first, second and third visit to their enclosure. Oh well. Thankfully Kolner Zoo has plenty more to offer. 

Firstly, they have the largest elephant enclosure in Northern Europe. It really is something to behold as you can watch elephants being elephants. We were transfixed for a good while as a pair of adolescents play-wrestled in the water. Given all we know it could still stand to be bigger, but this is how zoos and breeding programs should be. 

This zoo has a great variety of animals considering it isn’t even a capital. Most of the big cats you’d ever want to see, sun bears, sloths, hippos, orang-utan, capybara and a wide array of birds. I dont think I’ve seen so many birds in a zoo outside of an aviary. Not sure how I feel about it as it means flight feathers being clipped…but also aware how hypocritical this is given I have fewer misgivings about meerkats and otters. 

They also have okapi. I don’t think this animal gets near enough love, so here it is being its beautiful self. 

Anyway, we checked in on the tapirs a fourth and final time before leaving and… well reader my cheeks hurt from the smiling. We arrived the moment the keeper entered the enclosure and started to lay out food. So for the next 10 minutes I was just snapping photos, taking videos and just enjoying seeing these beautiful creatures have lunch. I could have been there longer but… I have a husband to think of and he had been more than accommodating with my tapir love. 

The zoo ticket also includes access to a separate building with an aquarium, reptile house and an insect house. Compared to the zoo itself, these suffer being separate as you expect them to be a bit more extensive than a typical zoo aquarium or reptile house tends to be. Still not too bad as an extra feature of the ticket, the aquarium having some cool fish like a very inquisitive porcupine fish. 

For a very late lunch, we quick marched to a nearby Rewe to get some baked goods and Mezzo Mix Zero to eat in the botanical gardens. So impressive was the haul that a garden worker, who noticed me pose them for the above picture, stopped his bicycle to comment that he was jealous of our lunch. About £6 for six bakery items and two 1 litre bottles of drink. I love the continent. 

If I lived in Cologne, I would be by the Botanical Gardens so often. For one thing they are free, which seems normal on the continent whereas the UK makes you pay for them. But also, on a warm summers day, they are the perfect place for a stroll. Even better when they have finished the works on a bunch of the plant houses. This initial visit was a flying one as something else on the itinerary was going to close in a few hours. 

That thing was the Rhein-Seilbahn – a scenic cable car that goes over the river and between two major green spaces. The queue to get on was a bit nuts, but it does allow for some good views of the Cologne skyline…  whilst also being a bit of a sweatbox when in direct sunlight. 

The cable car drops you off at the Rheinpark, which is a city park in the vein of London’s Green Park, except with a little train and a number of water features that can be played in when it is as hot as it was today. I can see this being a perfect picnic park – although the number of wedding photography sessions going on did confuse me a bit. 

Back over the river we went so we could finish off going around the botanical gardens. There was a really lovely part we came across that reminded me a bit of the gardens around Versailles. You had this large lily pond and next to it was some overgrown “ruin”. Very much like a fairy tale and beautifully done. 

It was getting well past dinner time and we were in need of a proper meal. So we walked in the shadow of the medieval gate on Eigelstein to find something filling and German. We found just the place and got one of the few remaining tables. I was close to ordering the sauerbraten, but that would have just been to check off an imagined list. So I went with the Krakauer with fried potatoes and sauerkraut. It was delicious and I have no regrets. 

Tomorrow will be interesting as it is Sunday in Germany (so a lot is closed) but also a day where the forecast is an all-day thunderstorm. We have postponed the original plan of going to Bonn and will instead remain in Cologne. If it gets too bad, at least the hotel is nearby. Hopefully we won’t have to resort to that. 

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 2 – Phantasialand

Hands up time. There was one big reason for Cologne ending up at the top of the list for this experiment in a post-COVID(ish) mini break. Their name is Phantasialand and I have been craving a visit to a theme park. Could I have gone local? Sure, but it is infinitely more fun this way. 

The trip there was pretty painless via a train and a shuttle bus. I am being very specific about this and will get back to that later. Much like our trip to Europa Park, we got there before the attractions got going, which allowed for a little bit of an explore before picking our first ride.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 18/25

The thing that is really striking about Phantasialand is just how all in they have gone for their theming. In terms of square footage, this isn’t too big a park and you can cross it in little over five minutes. However, there isn’t an inch in the themed areas where they haven’t tried to make it better. Whether that be a lamppost in a specific area looking like a robot frog or a bit of region specific vegetation. 

It’s also pretty cool how much some of their bigger rides form the scenery. When you are in the medieval themed mystery area, both of the area’s roller coasters are rattling around you as you look for a drink or a bathroom. This was especially cool in the steampunk Rookburgh area, where the rollercoaster just works as extra scenery. 

Rather than talk about the visit in chronological order, let’s continue with the themes. If you are looking for a part with an excellent selection of thrill rides, then Phantasialand is the park for you. Even the river rapids ride, usually a gentler ride, has some extreme drops and leaves you totally sodden. It’s a good thing that it was 27 and sunny today, else I would have gotten the trench foot. 

There are so many coasters here that it would take ages to talk about them all, so let’s talk highlights. As a one of a kind experience, F.L.Y. ranks as one of the most extraordinary rides I’ve been on. This is as close as I will come to feeling like I am actually flying. Its little wonder that they included ankle supports, else you’d probably hurt something and it would ruined the experience. 

Then there is Taron, this is the signature coaster of Phantasialand for a reason. It is an amazingly done thrill ride to the point where I was so adrenaline fueled that, much like when I rode the T Express, I fell into a giggling fit. Albeit a worse one this time; took me a very long time to stop laughing. 

Whilst not a coaster, Chiapas is worth a special mention for how to do a well themed and original log flume. We even bought the photo from the kiosk afterward, that’s how much fun we had. 

I could go on about the rides as we pretty much rode all the ones we wanted to. This was another trip like Europa Park or Hong-Kong Disneyland, whilst not empty we rarely had to queue more than 5-10 minutes to get on a ride. In fact so many of them, including Black Mamba (one of their major coasters) we just walked straight on. 

As spoilt as this sounds – this was too much of a good thing. I don’t think my insides had any idea what was going on. Usually you have these 20-60 minutes between rides to get the inner ear back in order, here we were able to do 4-5 rides an hour. Which was amazing, but also took its toll as both of us got to about 4pm and our synapses had all but fired out. 

When we did take breaks, they were good ones. There is a foccacia stall where Mexico and Berlin worlds meet, the food of which was great. Looked good, smelt goods and got all over my face as I tucked in. We even had time to take in one of the shows – Nobis. Ignoring the sudden appearance of a Gangsta’s Paradise cover, it was the kind of a circus skills show that fits well into a theme park day. 

The only downside to the park was the lack of more chilled out rides that weren’t just for young children. Even those they had didn’t meet the standard of the thrill rides. The ghost train needs to be scrapped, its clearly ancient and doesn’t completely function anymore. The shooter game had a really cute theme around rats in a bakery, but the 3D glasses gimmick with the pastry bag guns you had to repeatedly pull and release just didn’t work for me. 

Still though, Phantasialand is truly a world class theme park. The theming and thrill ride count are amazing. If you are there with young children, there is also slot for them to have fun with. Would definitely recommend it to someone who likes amusement parks. 

Rather than head straight for the station, we went for a turn about the gardens of Brühl Castle. Well, think its more a palace, but I don’t name these things. After all the high-octane of the amusement park, this was a nice change of pace and relaxed us to deal with the travel problems getting back. 

You see, we ended up waiting for nearly two hours for a train that is meant to be half-hourly. There was issues thank to a mix of engineering works and a forest fire, so passenger trains were being stealth cancelled or drastically delayed for the sake of the freight trains. This would have been more manageable if the station had bothered to mention any thing – instead it was radio silence as the platform got fuller and fuller. 

Luckily there’s another way to get back to Cologne on public transport, it just takes longer and requires a hike across town. Which we did, and thank God because it turns out we arrived before any train from Brühl. It was actually kind of nice taking the light railway through Cologne’s suburbs, but we arrived tired. 

Neither of us could stomach being all social in a restaurant, so bought filled pretzels and some hot sandwiches from the station and topped them up with some Lays and Mezzo Mix from a nearby supermarket. Tomorrow should prove to be quieter as we are actually remaining in Cologne. But first a lot of sleep. 

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 1 – Arrival and Schnitzel

I ended this blog a year ago (although thanks to my buffer it only looks like 5-6 months ago) and here we are with some travel posts.  I have ended up reminiscing about holidays in the last two years has been by going through my travelogue posts. I cannot overstate how much of a comfort this has been in the COVID times. Also, both me and my husband end up referring back to them when people ask us for some recommendations on things to do… which is usually accompanied by our shock at how much we’ve actually forgotten.

So here we are, almost a week’s worth of blog posts about my trip to the Cologne region. I ended up with the title for this series thanks to some of the day trips that are on the itinerary. It’s nowhere near me claiming that I am writing anything definitive, just the fun I has along the way.

Since closing down my blog, I have moved to a house in a new town. Yes a house, don’t know how we pulled that off. This move meant that the first travel leg was actually pretty cool as it allowed us to ride on the recently opened Crossrail. Yes, I am writing this on the first day of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations back in the UK and, yes, I am being stubborn about calling it the Elizabeth line.  

Anyway, as people may remember, the airports have been bedlam this week with hundreds of flights being cancelled across the UK. As we were flying Ryanair, we managed to be unaffected… other than getting to the airport three hours before our flight left. For little reason really, it was busy because everyone was getting there early but otherwise it was pretty normal. 

The flight from London to Cologne is only an hour, so as long as your flight isn’t late thanks to refuelling, it’s a quick and pleasant enough journey. It was made all the sweeter as, for some reason, Booking.com gave us a free car ride to the hotel. Meant I could really enjoy watching the city come into view, knowing I was being ferried straight there. 

A mishap at the hotel also meant we seemingly got a room upgrade. Sounds like they put someone in our room by mistake as they had a similar name. I’m not going to complain as it means we have something akin to a suite. It’ll come in useful when I want to make some breakfast sandwiches later in the week. 

By the time we left the hotel it was about 6pm local time. Usually that just means a walk around town before grabbing dinner. However, this is the first Thursday of the month, which means the Museum Ludwig is open until 10pm. Also, its half price after 5pm. Talk about a result. 

On the way, we had our first close up encounter with Cologne cathedral and, my word, it is a presence. Like, sure, it could use a bit of a clean, but that won’t make me less eager to explore it in a few days. 

The Museum Ludwig is a modern art museum that could probably be worth going around a bit longer than the few hours we did. It’s exactly how a lot of modern art museums tend to look, white and cavernous – yet it still smells like Germany. This isn’t meant to be a read, but there’s a comforting smell that a lot of German buildings have, and the museum Ludwig is one of them. 

Alongside works by a lot of artists I’d never heard of, but still found some pieces I really enjoyed, was something I hadn’t expected. 

Turns out the Museum Ludwig, alongside some Warhols and Lichtensteins, has the third largest collection of Picasso works in the world. Most of then aren’t even out, but it still made fora better experience than the dedicated Picasso museum I visited in Barcelona. Hell, I didn’t know he dabbled so much in sculpture and ceramics. That was a really fun discovery. 

A few hours of art led to some hungry tourists, so we went for a late dinner in a place near the city hall. I am sure we ended up somewhere that is vaguely touristy, but with schnitzel this good I really don’t care. Some of the best I’ve had, and all washed down with Spezi. It sure feels good to be back in Germany. 

As the sky turned pink, we took a walk north along the Rhine to get back to the hotel. As rivers go, it sure puts the Thames to shame. Then again, I don’t want to get too far into that game right now… not really great being a Brit right now. 

It’s odd to be back in the position where I am writing blog posts at 11pm in a foreign country. It would’ve been nice to get this back as some sort of normal. Really want to make up for all that lost travelling time. 

Christmas in Munich – Day 1: Palaces of Ludwig

It’s been 13 years, but I’ve finally gone back to my roots and am spending some time in Germany. This will be my fourth time visiting as well as being my fourth time in Munich. Why Munich? Well it’s December and that means one thing: Christmas markets!

More on that later. We arrived late on a Saturday night which meant an early night because, on our first full day, we were doing a palace tour. Why am I mentioning this? Well, I had the weird pleasure of satisfying a goal of being the first person to walk onto a plane. I know it sounds bizarre, but seeing the plane completely empty with my being the first to board made me feel incredibly important.

List item: Be the first person to board a plane
Status: Completed

Anyway, onto more interesting things.

The older I get, the happier I am to do tours. As a bit of a control freak in my everyday life there is something soothing about having an entire day sorted for me. Of course this meant an early start (5:30 when adjusted to British time) so we could get onto the coach.

So there’s me bringing a bunch of things for entertainment for these long coach stretches and then I see it: snow. When we booked ourselves onto this tour of the palaces of Ludwig II, I really hoped there would be a bit of snow for the sake of pictures and atmosphere. I did not expect to be greeted with forests and mountains covered in a blanket of snow.

If seeing this from the coach window didn’t make me feel Christmassy enough, getting out at Linderhof, and feeling that first crunch of snow beneath my feet, was just something else. Then came the walk from the parking lot to the palace itself. Bright sunshine, glistening snow and a whole lot of crunching.

With this visit to Linderhof I have now visited the three palaces of King Ludwig II (the first I visited being Herrenchiemsee back in 1999). Interestingly, Linderhof is the only of his three palaces that ended up being completed and actually lived in by the king. Sadly the grotto and the fountain of Neptune were under restoration work, but we still had a tour inside.

Since no pictures are allowed to be taken I’m going to move on to our next stop after a few thoughts: I want a gilded peacock statue, this may be one of the most consistently ornate palaces I have ever seen and I don’t think I have ever seen so many vases in my life.

After Linderhof was a quick hop to the village of Oberammergau – most famous for their tradition of holding 6-hour long passion plays. It’s also well known for having buildings painted with Germanic frescoes and traditional woodcarvings.

It’s definitely a beautiful village to walk though, and that’s all we could really do. You see, today was the first Sunday in Aadvent… meaning that nothing was open except for cafes and restaurants. I mean there was a weird wood carving place open… but they were selling very offputting crafts of babies for €60 so I kinda want to leave it at that.

From Oberammergau it was time to head to the village of Hohenschwangau – the home of Neuschwanstein Castle. This is my second time here, but my first time inside the actual caste. At least I don’t think I went into the castle 16 years ago. I honestly cannot remember… so let’s just go with this being my first time.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 73/100Sight: Schloss Neuschwanstein
Location: Hohenschwangau, Germany
Position: #159

The walk from the Hohenschwangau to Neuschwanstein should take around half an hour, but that doesn’t take into account just how often we stopped to take pictures. At this point we must have taken nearly 100 pictures of various views of the castle. Kinda wish I was kidding, but the castle is just that magnetic. Little wonder that it is one of the big inspirations for the castle in Disneyland.

As you get higher up the mountain, you also find yourself starting to peak above some of the tree line. With the entire landscape covered in snow, this view you get from near Neuschwanstein is just out of this world. Like something I can imagine Bob Ross painting, just with less mountains.

As with Linderhof there is no pictures allowed inside of Neuschwanstein itself. Considering the number of people that we were being herded around with this makes a lot of sense on the level of just getting people in and out. Still, it’s a pity I couldn’t get anything of the inside. Makes me wish that Google Glass had taken off and been more affordable. There’s so much in both of these castles that I didn’t really get the opportunity to completely digest – like the little grotto room in Neuschwanstein that seemed to make no sense other than being pretty.

The fact that there is so much in Neuschwanstein to see and yet it remains unfinished is absolutely mind-boggling. Then again, there was no way that Ludwig could complete this due to the extreme cost. Same with Herrenchiemsee, another of his unfinished palaces. To think that a man like Ludwig could be so out of touch with reality and had a high enough of a position to actually carry out his fantasies probably goes a long way to explain why few countries have a monarchy. Still, makes for some excellent landmarks.

This was the end of the tour and meant a two hour ride back to Munich. En route we caught a glimpse of a blood red supermoon and it started to snow. King Ludwig would have really been in his element tonight. I only wish I was sitting on the right side of the coach in order to capture this scene on film.

On our way back to the hotel we took out first proper browse through the Munich Christmas Market. Whilst it isn’t as large as the one in Vienna, this holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first one I ever visited.

The falling snow made the walk home so special that I was feeling giddy (or that might have been the hot chocolate). This isn’t the clumpy snow we get in the UK, but proper beautiful powder snow that crunches beneath your feet as you walk through the street.

I’m sure we’ll have a proper go at the market in the next few days when we are less tired from a long day being guided around. I’ve seen a few decorations that I want to purchase, but I’m going to just see where the days take me.

The Great EU Quest – Catch-Up

It’s a new year, and I realise that, since I am only a few months away from the post marking the end of my second year of posting, I really should be playing catch-up on writing these up.

Without a further to-do, I am going to go through the three EU countries that I have been to to date (because, as of writing this, I have booked a trip to Luxembourg) which have yet to receive a write-up.

Why have I not written any of these up yet? Because I have no photographs…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 12/28
Country: Portugal
Year first visited: 1998

The sad thing about this, is that the reason why I remember the year of visiting Portugal (The Algarve to be specific) so clearly is because of Steps. As in, I brought the CD single of Steps’ ‘One For Sorrow’ with me and I would do the dance routine in the living room of the villa.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about this holiday. I have ‘One For Sorrow’ playing as I right this as a way to try and bring back some memories… and there is not much. I remember we had a pool there with a yellow and green inflatable shark. I remember a drive down a really bumpy road late at night which freaked me out. I remember a lot of beach trips and, being the ginger that I am, having to wear a t-shirt at all times because of the paleness.

The main memory that comes to mind (thank you Steps) took place in a restaurant where I ordered scampi. Being a Brit I expected something deep fried and instead I got the whole prawns with the heads still on. They were massive and they were just staring at me. I may have freaked out slightly and the poor waited took the dish back to have the prawns decapitated. Bit of a dumb memory really.

I do plan to rectify this with some real memories of Portugal. I have wanted to go to The Azores for years and now, thanks to a new flight path, it’s gotten cheaper to go. So, who knows, maybe in a year or two I’ll be heading that way.

Country: Czech Republic
Year first visited: 1999

Right, so I have technically been to the Czech Republic twice. The first time, in 1999, was during a trip to Austria when we went to Český Krumlov for the day. I remember it being really beautiful and my mum scouring the shops looking for a good matryoshka doll set. She still has that, and I still have the wooden chess set that I bought from there.

The major visit I made there was a long weekend to Prague in 2002, I only remember the year because I was making “get off the road” jokes wake of Fellowship of the Ring. As a pre-teen I know I probably was not the target Prague audience… it needs a revisit.

Country: Germany
Year first visited: 2000

I am so sad that I don’t have any pictures of these visits. I’ve been three times, and each time was to Munich for the Christmas market (although the third time did also include a visit to Nuremberg). I have been wanting to go back there for a long time, but the stars have yet to align.

And why would I not want to go back? German food, Christmas coming out of the wazoo, possible re-visit to Neuschwanstein and the surrounding areas. I also need to see Berlin. Still not sure how I have not been there…

Around The World in 100 Films – Start Point

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 22/100

Time for me to open up the second of my three film bucket list items with a rather arbitrary goal of seeing films from 100 different nations. Unlike the Oscar list item this is something that can be permanently crossed off unless I suddenly get the urge to add another batch of countries to keep this going.

Now, I have decided to count countries as long as I watched the film after I put this onto my bucket list which was (yes I made a note) on August 5th 2013. This means that some countries (e.g. Finland, South Africa, China and Israel) are not on the list yet despite me having seen them in the past. I figured using this cut off point would serve as a way to make this more challenging whilst also keeping Burkina Faso (still stoked about that one).

Whilst I was preparing this list I saw there were 21 countries on the list and instantly envisioned doing a really cool triangle number diagram as you can see below:WorldCinemaTriangleNotice the problem? Well in making that list I had forgotten that I saw a Polish film at the end of January which means poor Hungary (my most recent nation) has to lay on the outskirts since I decided to do this in order of seeing them. My inner math-geek is not impressed with this. It was later pointed out to me that a film I thought was Australian was from New Zealand, now my inner flag-geek is unhappy too.

Still 22 countries down, 78 to go. Not a bad place to start with, although there are not many of the big film nations left which will make this interesting.

Any film suggestions for yet unwatched countries will be VERY much appreciated. Bear in mind re-watches are not allowed here so films like Tsotsi, Drifting Clouds and Waltz With Bashir will not count.

  1. Germany – Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
  2. U.S.A. – Robocop
  3. Netherlands – De Vierde Man(The Fourth Man)
  4. Czech Republic – Kolja (Kolya)
  5. Italy – La Strada
  6. Burkina Faso – Sarraounia
  7. Argentina – El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)
  8. Japan – Zatoichi Monogatari (The Story of Zatoichi)
  9. Brazil  – Cidade De Deus (City of God)
  10. Denmark – Melancholia
  11. United Kingdom – Blowup
  12. Norway – Flåklypa Grand Prix (Pinchcliffe Grand Prix)
  13. France – La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game)
  14. New Zealand – The Piano
  15. Poland – Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds)
  16. Spain – El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive)
  17. Sweden – Viskningar och Rop (Cries and Whispers)
  18. Belgium – Ernest & Célestine
  19. Greece – Kynodontas (Dogtooth)
  20. Canada – The Sweet Hereafter
  21. Algeria – Z
  22. Hungary – A torinói ló(The Turin Horse)