For my first day in Germany, I opted to venture out from the bustling streets of modern Dusseldorf and hop on a train for the quick ride to Cologne, a much more aesthetically pleasing city (so I had been told by the experts at Lonely Planet). Besides being known as the birthplace of Eau de Cologne, it's also the fourth largest German city, and boasts both Roman ruins and the extremely impressive Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). Construction began on the immense cathedral in the 1200's, and it was completed sometime in the late 19th century. It apparently survived World War II against all odds, only sustaining a minor amount of damage from the air raids.
I determined that the Dom and a bit of walking through the Alstadt (Old Town) would be on my simple agenda for the day. I'm not really an art museum type, and I would much prefer exploring the homes that used to belong to favorite authors or parks with aged memorial statues where those famous authors once strolled or Gothic churches where my favorite authors were buried...you get the picture. I'm a literature girl! Needless to say, what I was most intrigued to see in Cologne was the cathedral, and I find the cobblestoned streets and outdoor cafes of the old towns to be absolutely perfect for mid-afternoon cups of cappuccino (somehow, so much better in Europe!) and a good book.
Much to my disappointment, I emerged from the train to a grey sky that was misting rain. Yes, I know that pouring rain is so much worse, but it was still discouraging, particularly when one is attempting to navigate in a new and unknown place. I needn't have worried about the Dom, however. It loomed beautifully right next to the train station. A few steps outside and I would find myself in its dark, shadowed, and yes, CROWDED recesses.
The cathedral itself is massive, a colossal giant of a church, and certainly much larger than any I've ever visited, including Westminster Abbey and the Notre-Dame in Paris. I quietly made my way all around it, carefully observing the Shrine of the Three Kings (believed to hold the remains of the three magi) and the magi-inspired art. I even sat for a few minutes to hear the beginnings of a mass, drinking in the rich, glorious sound emerging from the organs.
In preparation for my visit to the Dom, I read about the South Tower, which can be ascended, revealing incredible views of the Rhine River and the city of Cologne itself. There are approximately 540 steps to the top, but I quickly scoffed at the warning from Lonely Planet hinting at the climb's strenuous nature. "Please! 540 steps? That's nothing! The reward will be so worth it!," I thought, making a note to be sure to stop by the bells on my way to the top. The world's largest free-swinging bell hangs in the Dom.
Let's just put it this way: One should HEED the warnings one encounters in travel guides. It was no light and easy trek. I. Thought. I. Might. Die. And yes, I'm a bit out of shape, BUT STILL! Even the group of young teenage boys that I could hear cackling and making obscene jokes (yes, I ran into a few Americans in Cologne) could barely stand up by the time we finally reached the bells, which wasn't even at the top!
I didn't spend too long up on the top of the South Tower, partially because I was, unfortunately, getting rather soaked, and also because it was crowded and I wanted to get down to see the bells in peace. I managed to take a video for my SH while one of them actually rang!
I miraculously arrived at the bottom of the tower with no injuries, a miracle considering my tendency to falling down stairs and the fact that said stairs were damp from the rain. The rain persisted outside, so I headed to a cafe in the Alstadt and ordered a delicious Belgian waffle with a steaming, creamy cappuccino. I spent an hour or two there, reading my fascinating book (Drood) before heading back to the train station. In spite of the poor weather, it was a great first full day in Germany.