Monday, February 18, 2013

I Go To Germany For the Spas. Wait, What?


Cologne, Germany in 9 Pictures (and one big picture)

Destination:  Cologne, Germany
Dates: February 16-17, 2013


We went for the schnitzel, the suds, and the spa?   Wait, what was that last one, German spas? Unbeknown to me, Germany has some world renown spas.  Thanks to TripAdvisor, we discovered this fact and penciled in a visit to a one during our Cologne "City Break" vacation.

Our journey to Cologne, was luckily uneventful; considering this cheapskate/logistically challenged individual booked us on a train that had 3 transfers and a total journey time of 3 hours.  Just for some perspective you could have driven that distance in under 2 hours.  But who wants to drive, it's bad for the environment, right?

We arrived in Cologne, around 10:30am, exhausted given our early morning start and the vigorous cardio workout of  trying to catch train connections with just minutes in between. Forget P90X try running from platform 1b at the Nijmegen Station to platform 4b in less than 3minutes with luggage.  (I realize that for folks not in the Netherlands, these details probably mean nothing to you; so just trust me, it's tough)

As we exited the Cologne train station, we marveled at the grandeur of the Cathedral (German: Kolner Dom)  welcoming us to the city. Then the rain started. So, we made the decision to go right to the spa.  Along the way, we crossed the Rhine River and discovered Cologne's "love locks".  If you're unfamiliar with this "art," lovers buy a lock, attach it to a fence together, usually located on a bridge, then the two star-crossed lovers turn a key to lock their love. This loving gesture continues as the couple tosses the key into the flowing water below the bridge. Awe, how romantic.  But what about the padlocks on this bridge? I'd be a little uneasy locking my love with someone who could come back the next day and reuse it.  Wouldn't you?


Can you spot the padlock?

After a 40 minute walk we finally arrived at Claudius Therme Beauty & Wellness Spa.  The place was huge.  Luckily, they equipped us with an English map of the facility (see picture below.)  The first thing we had to navigate was the complicated maze of lockers and dressing rooms. But once we figured out how to get out of the changing rooms which had this crazy locking system, we had our robes and were ready to relax, or so we thought. Our next vital task was interpreting the German signage marking various locations, directions and RULES of the facility.

Why was this task so vital and why did I capitalize RULES?  Well, I'll give you one guess.  Still stumped?  Let's just say, that Europeans and especially Germans are very comfortable with the art of the human body.  Yeah, you guessed it, necked people.  The main area of the spa housed a very large network of pools. I was wondering why it said swimsuits were REQUIRED in this area.  Oh, that's because in the other areas, swimsuits were PROHIBITED. So depending on your comfort level you may have wanted to avoid those other areas.  I'll leave it up to you, the reader, to guess what areas we spent our time.


Don't I look relaxed?
Relaxed and refreshed we said goodbye to Claudius Therme and headed back to across the Rhine.  But we decided we should have a quick drink from the Trinkbrunnen, why not right? 

Bottoms up

 Vicki's expressions says it all here:




We stayed at the Dom Hotel, right next to the Cathedral.  INCREDIBLE location and spectacular views of the Dom.  Editor's Note, if your name is "Dom" get used to seeing your name everywhere and at night in lights!   A TripAdvisor review on the Dom is in the works.           
I wanted to wash that awful tasting mineral water out of my mouth. So, I ordered Cologne's famous drink, Kolsch.  However, I was puzzled when the waitress brought me over a glass of Dom Kolsch.  I examined my libation meticulously   Funny, I remember the beers in Germany being a bit larger? No?  

Left: Me and 4 Maß at Oktoberfest 2012.  Right: Me and a tiny Kolsch February 2013.

I'm just messing.  I know that glass is the proper method to enjoy this easy drinking and deliciously refreshing brew. My favorite had to be the Päffgen Kölsch on tap (right out of the barrel) at Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass.  If you're ever in Cologne, check this place out, great beer, great service and English.  

Let's see, I covered the Spa (did they, didn't they?), the Suds, (delicious), and now onto the schnitzel.  Sadly, I do not have any pictures to share with you, from our dinner at Brauerei zur Malzmuhle.  So you'll need to go there for yourself and experience the revolving door, the friendliness of the staff, the delicious Kolsch (they even had a walnut flavored brew, Vicki's personal favorite), and great food.  Plus they had a menu translated into English, French, Spanish, and even Russian.  I know this turns some folks off, and classifies a restaurant as a "tourist trap," but hey, I was a tourist and Bill Clinton ate here too.  See there website.




On Sunday morning, we woke up and grabbed breakfast from the McDonald's across the street.  Don't judge, the MickeyD's over here are on a whole different level than the ones back in the States.  Besides, I needed an sausage egg & cheese McMuffin after eleventy of those tiny beers from the previous night.  After breakfast we did what every good, upstanding Catholic does on a Sunday morning; visit a Chocolate Museum.

The walk from the Dom Hotel to the SCHOKOLADENMUSEUM KÖLN was about a 15 minute walk along the Rhine.  It was nice and sunny on Sunday, so it made for a nice trip.  Here's the deal, for €8.50 you get access and a self guided tour of the museum and a free Lindt chocolate (plus one more chocolate snack inside).  Do I recommend it?  I guess, but only on a rainy day.  To be honest the first few exhibits (in both German & English) were really sad, both in presentation and in content.  The overall theme seemed to focus on the poor conditions of the cocoa farmers and how we all need to buy fair trade chocolate.  NEAT!  Just what I was hoping to experience from a chocolate museum.  The tour did improve and get less depressing as we entered the sample production facility.  The machines were all operating and you could following the chocolate throughout the entire process from the ingredients to the foiled finished free sample you get with your ticket.

Our last stop, was the majestic Cathedral.  I highly recommend a guided tour.  English tours are offered on Sundays at 2:30pm for €7.00pp. (Click here for tour information.).  This was a much better deal than the Chocolate Museum if you ask me.  The tour lasted approximately an hour and you get to learn about aspects of the cathedral that you might have over looked if you went in on your own.  I had no idea that this Cathedral held the relics of the Three Kings, well supposedly held these relics.  A little Faith goes along way when you hear these types of stories. The tour concludes back in the Cathedral visitor center with a  movie.  You could skip that part, not worth the 20 minutes in my opinion.

Highlights from the Cathedral

After the tour we wandered around the outside of the Cathedral and waited for the Sunday evening service to begin at 5pm.  Okay, I have to rant again on the topic of the Catholic Church being "Universal"(See this post)  During the Mass, people seemed to be doing their own thing. Sit? Sure whenever you want. Stand right in the middle of a reading, why not? Bless yourself, leave, then come back to your pew a little later, of course you should!  Then it was time for Communion.  I've always read and heard about German efficiency.  Well, apparently that does not apply to this sacrament.  In a mad rush the entire congregation surrounded the entire altar, some even flanking the sides.  Vicki and I didn't know what to do, no line down the center aisle?  So we just went with the flow and stood in the massive Communion mosh pit.  But, I will say, it was a unique feeling of community as we all stood around the altar waiting to receive the host.  
  
That about finishes up our whirlwind tour of Cologne.  Beautiful city, plenty to do, see, eat and drink. Definitely recommend a visit and a tour of the Cathedral.  Cheers!

Oh, and since you read to the very end.  Here's a picture of me riding a giant rabbit.  Have a great week!























2 comments:

  1. Sounds like an amazing trip! I love Cologne. Don't you just love European rules...we have some wacky ones here in Switzerland.

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    1. Adjusting to Euro rules sure has been interesting. Cologne has been added to our "favorite cities" list. I'd be interested in going back when the weather is warmer or at Christmas time for the markets. Thanks for reading.

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