1 Week Already?!

Well, Wednesday morning started off interesting.  I got to ride my first train with my pass!  That was a lot of fun, although I’ll admit it was a bit confusing to figure out which train to get on at first.  That, and then when the ticket guy checked my ticket, it turned out I was missing the travel report for my Eurail pass.  Now, I can’t remember if I ripped it off or if it didn’t come with one, but I’m pretty sure that it was marked on my pass cover that the report part could be detached.  Whoops.  Note to self: when trying to reduce the amount of stuff you’re taking, don’t skimp on the stuff that’s critically important haha.  Luckily, the guy told me to just get a report at the station in Cologne where I was heading.  That’s better than the € 50 fine for sure. 

The train itself was awesome.  I got on an ICE train, one of the DB’s high-speed trains.  It was really easy.  Shoot, I didn’t even need a seat reservation like they suggested.  I just went to the ticket counter and got my pass activated.  When I asked if I should reserve a spot, like everybody says, the lady was like “nah!”  Hey, I was just going off what other people said haha.  As it turns out, Amsterdam was the first stop, so the train was empty.  I got onboard with my pack and wobbled through the cars, looking for a spot.  I got a little confused by the placards above each seats with random cities on them.  I guess that’s where the seats are reserved (and I’d have to get up lol).  I was a little flustered by everything, since it was so new, so I didn’t even really bother trying to find a fellow backpacker to sit by.  It’s a short train and I figured that now that I have the basics down, I can explore more Thursday on my way to Berlin (including the dining car ;-).  It looks like most people are commuters anyway, heading off for business.

I do love trains, and this is probably the nicest, quietest train I’ve ever been on.  And it’s traveling at 100-200 kph, so cool!  I wish we had these back in the States.  I mean, I got on a train at 8 a.m. in Amsterdam and I was in Cologne (or Köln in German) by 10:30 a.m.  Crazy.   It’s cool to be around people that speak all sorts of languages too, although I guess I could find the same thing on a baby bullet up to SF :-P but it’s a totally different experience.  Oh, and the conductor announces everything in 3 languages (from what I deciphered it sounds like Dutch, German and English).  Man, I wish I could speak that many languages!

After I arrive, I plan on using the list that Nina gave me to explore.  It sounds like there are a lot of cool places in Cologne, especially for only a day.  I took a picture of her list because I think it’s so cool, especially her drawing for getting to the Mensa.  I just might try faking being a student and get a free meal.  Before that, though, I feel like grabbing some sushi from a place she recommended.  If I can eat Italian in Amsterdam, why not Japanese in Cologne?  Afterword, I plan on hitting up Cologne’s famous cathedral (which apparently has a larger endowment than the Vatican) and the art museum.  I grabbed a single for the night at an HI hostel, which is alright with me.  I might try and switch it when I get there, although maybe a night in a single would be nice.  Anything after the pounding clubs and bars of Amsterdam I’m sure will be fine. 

Amsterdam is a really cool, unique place, but I don’t know if it’s my fav so far.  London was a lot more fun in my opinion.  I’d say two days would probably be enough in Amsterdam next time (and add at least that many days to London!)  I guess I was more a fan of the pub scene than the coffee shop scene.  Let’s see what Germany has to offer.  I hear the free walking tour in Berlin is by far the best.  Each place has had one so far, which are offered through the hostels and give you a glimpse of the city.  I think that’s a cool idea, because it gives you a chance to see all the big sites and hear some fun facts.  Then, if you want, you can go back and cover things in more detail later.   Sounds good to me.

As for supplies, so far everything is holding up fairly well.  I’ve made use of a lot of the random items Rick Steves recommended, thanks for the tips!  My hoody zipper is broken pretty badly and my coat isn’t very good with the chilly rain, so I might need to buy something cheap to replace that stuff, we’ll see.   Other than that, all my clothes and gadgets are holding their own.

I’m sure everybody’s got one important question: what did you get me from Europe so far?  Well lol, I’ve gotten only a few things for people (and nothing for myself).  I decided to go with the more conservative buy-something-that-catches-my-eye method rather than buying some sort of token in every place I got, because usually that leaves you with a bunch of junk rather than something memorable.  I definitely plan on hitting up some more markets while I’m here; you can find tons of good stuff there!  That, and I’m going with Rob’s method and buying the most souvenirs and gifts in the cheapest place, so Poland, here I come!  Of course, if I see something that makes me think of someone, I usually buy it flat out, but that hasn’t happened much yet.  Also, I have all my pictures to remember this by too :-) so that’s good.  That and all the random tickets, maps, etc that I have collected.

After a week, I can say I’m finally used to the timezone lol.  I actually slept through the whole night last night, so that was a relief.  Running on 2-3 hrs a night for a few days wore me down a bit lol, but now I’m ready to hit Germany in full force!

Alright, that’s all folks, stay cool.  In the meantime goodbye Amsterdam and Hallo Cologne!

An Update for the Day:

Wednesday was a lot of fun, I’m really glad I took a random trip down to Cologne.  It started off a bit stressful, however.  At the train station, I waited in a long line to get a replacement cover for my rail passes, since the ticket guy said I needed it or my pass was useless.  Well, after butchering some German, the lady and her manager decided that I didn’t need it and I never got one.  I was so confused, even though it didn’t look like I ripped it off.  Then I remembered: I cut it off!  I went back to the counter and got a new person.  This time I just pointed to the cover of the pass (which has the report) and got two new ones.  Success!  As it turned out, the reason I cut off this whole section in the first place was because it had dotted line that said to cut here to remove the survey.  Well, below THAT was the train report attached, kinda stupid.  Whatever, I was all set.

I took a short train ride over to the hostel to dump off my stuff.  Cologne is a very pretty city, especially the church.  I got to the HI hostel, which was a huge institutional-style place with little character, as most are.  And of course, it was full of screaming kids running around.  That’s what I expected, so I’m happy that I went with a double.  That night, nobody showed up so I had the place to myself.

My first mission was to find the sushi place Nina recommended.  I had little trouble navigating the tram and street map I grabbed from the hostel and I found it in no time.  With some simple words and pointing, I was able to get the cheap lunch special, so good!  I wanted to get Nikki a take-out menu in German as a souvenir, but they didn’t have one :-(, I should’ve stolen one like Rob haha.  Check out the pics online, there’s of course pictures of all the happenings from my trip.

After words, I wandered around the town, just taking it all in.  So far, I have been able to get by in Germany with a relatively small vocabulary: “hallo”, “danke”, “ja”, “nein”, “bitte” and of course “beir”.  Not to mention all the charades, pointing and thumbs up to go along with the words.  Actually, even my English had to change so that I was using British-English, which is what is common here in Europe.  The most common words so far: “photo”, “mobile”, “holiday” and “toilet” (that’s “picture w/ my camera”, “cell phone”, “vacation” and well, you get the last one).  Anyways, I continued following my map and Nina’s directions for the rest of the day, and it was so fun!

Next stop was the church, the center attraction of the city.  It was my first one, and I’ll admit quite a site.  The décor and stained glass windows were amazing.  Shoot, the sheer magnitude of the structure itself was astounding.  I took Nina’s advice and clambered up the 100s of stairs to the top of one of the belfries.  What a view, check it out if you’re ever there!

After that, I went to the Ludwig Modern Art Museum. They have a quite a collection of Warhol, Picasso, and other great pop art that I have never seen before, and it was pretty cheap, especially compared to the Van Gogh Museum for what you get.  I wandered around for about 2 hours before I started to get a little sleepy (yea, I’m a wuss when it comes to museums).  I went searching for a little coffee shop, but since I was in the center of town where all the trendy shops were, I had to settle for a Starbucks.  Oh well, at least I could have a chai and use the Internet.  I figured out my route for the next day to Berlin and got directions to the hostel.

Next up, I walked part of the rail bridge into town, which has 100s of locks on it.  As Nina explained to me, they represent love, each having an engraving or writing with a couple’s names on it.  Several chains were also locked onto the fence in the shape of the heart.  It was quite a site.  I considered putting one of my locks there, but frankly I wasn’t sure who to put.  “Matt + ? 2010”, yea that’ll look really good.  Once I got back off the bridge, I wandered up the Rhine to take a look at the newer buildings along the shore, including the funny “L” shaped ones Nina mentioned.

My final destination of the night on Nina’s list was the Mensa (eating hall) at the university to hang out with some local students and help them with their English.  She said I could just play the dumb American exchange student who forgot his ID card and get a € 3 meal.  Sounds good to me!  Unfortunately, it was closed (sign said at 2 p.m.?), so I just took a few pics of the university buildings by me and headed back to the area where she had mentioned there were some bars.  I grabbed a Kölsch beer, which is a type of beer that by European law can only be brewed in the Cologne area by select breweries.  It’s very light and clear, and Wikipedia describes it as having a fruity taste.  I found it to be pretty good. 

As for my meal, well you get what you butcher the name for.  I was pretty proud of saying “Ein Kölsch bier, bitte.”  For my meal, I got something that was called “Weiner Art” I believe, which I figured would have some sort of sausage.  Oh no, it was definitely this HUGE tenderized cut of veal (or pork) that was fried and served with potatoes.  It was really good, but after sushi and coffee, I only tackled a third of it.  I took it home, although I figured I won’t be keeping it.  That’s the fun with restaurants; you never know what you’ll get!

I walked back through town to the hostel.  I grabbed a seat reservation to Berlin for Thursday, since I wanted to try that method this time on the train.  That, and I kinda wanted a seat at a table in front of a window, so I figured I’d pay the money.  On Wednesday morning I was good without a reservation, but I had to move because I sat in a spot that was reserved on the way to my stop, and by then the train was pretty full.  Just be weary of that, you can probably get by without a reservation most of the times, especially if the train starts the day at your stop.  Just be sure to take a seat that’s either not reserved or says it’s reserved for a leg that isn’t in your trip.  Now, if you think it’s a busy train, you could reserve a seat, but I’m pretty sure you could literally buy it the second before you hop on the train.  I mean, there’s just trains ALL the time lol, it’s so amazing.

Now I’m back at my place, without Internet (thanks HI) writing this up, so it’ll be a day late (thus the few random day corrections).  I took a nice shower and plugged in all my gadgets, since I have the place to myself.  Shoot, I even got to watch some Spongebob and Family Guy on my little TV in German, so cool!

Thursday is Berlin, so until then, auf wiedersehen!

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