“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” -Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
So for any not keeping up with my blog, here’s a quick summary. I’m living in France for a year to teach English and now am on my fall break. So… what to do with two weeks without classes… how about travel?
Therefore I decided to purchase a Eurorail ticket and travel across Europe by train.
I’ll post another time on the ticket itself, because I think that deserves a blog, but for now I want to update friends and readers on what has been happening so far.
So first part of the journey was to head to Cologne, Germany. I’d tried to pick a large city not too far from my hometown, but far enough away that I likely wouldn’t do a weekend trip. Besides, I had some kind of an idea of grandeur when it came to Cologne, so I figured it was worth a shot.
My friend Chrystal and I started a tradition of doing a selfie at each train station you stop at, therefore commemorating the great European train route. So here’s the first one in my hometown!
I started my journey with a 6:30 AM train from my home town of Armentieres, to Lille the next major city. I have a train pass, so no need to use my Eurorail yet, which was part of why I’d left so early. See, if a Eurorail pass isn’t stamped it’s not valid. So I needed to ensure I had enough time to get my pass stamped before boarding my 8:08 train to Froyennes, Belgium.
Well, I arrived in Lille with no problems and headed straight for the train office. And it was… dark. The doors were closed and no one was in there. I stared at the sign listing the hours and noted it didn’t open until 9:30! My train would have come and gone by the time I could get my pass activated.
Feeling a little panicked I decided that if the station I was at wasn’t open, maybe the bigger “mainline” station would be. So I hopped on the metro and rode to the next stop (they are very close making it easy) and sure enough the office was open.
Walked back to the station with my pass in hand, only to walk by the office again and notice it was open! Looks like I misread the times and if I’d waited just a little longer I would have been fine. Oh well.
So my first train was to Froyennes about 30 minutes away. I sat back and relaxed for a bit with some coffee. I was surprised to see that a large crowd gathered at the doors when we stopped. I didn’t think Froyennes was very big, but I happily followed after them.
They all headed confidently down the railway platform to a door and disappeared inside. Assuming it was the train station, I followed after, delighted by the thought of going inside since it had begun to rain. I followed them through the door into…
It looked like a door but it was more like a gate. Walking through it simply led to a field with trees and small dirt path.
I looked around and tried to figure out where all the people were going. I didn’t see any train station anywhere nearby, and beyond the trees simply seemed too far.
It began to rain harder.
I did my best to keep my calm. The rain was pouring down and all the people had long since disappeared into the trees. I looked around and saw nothing. No buildings. No cars. I wasn’t even sure what part of Belgium I was in and whether I could use French with the people or would encounter Flemish speaking ones instead. I did my best to breathe as I fought for a solution.
I looked on my map on my phone and it provided no clues as to whether there was an actual train station building or not. I walked back to the platform, wondering how people could possibly know when to come to catch a train without at least a reader board.
And that’s when I saw it.
A dusty old plaque listing the various trains and when they would come and what platform to wait for them at. I crossed my fingers and headed to the first platform, huddling in a concrete shelter out of the rain and hoping the train would come.
Thankfully a few minutes later a train pulled up. I stepped on, figuring if nothing else maybe it would get me to a bigger city. I sat down and took a deep breath.
The hard part wasn’t over. On the right train or not, I had one more transfer in order to make it to Cologne for the night. And this was the tricky one. Ten minute transfer time.
I’ll write a post on Eurorail passes, as I said, but the thing to know is that you cannot get on just any train with a Eurorail pass. You must only use trains that do not require reservations, unless you book an extra reservation yourself. As a result, some of the means of getting to and from places can be tricky. But I was willing to try.
I arrived in Brussels and bolted for station to try to see where I should go. Thankfully, unlike the little rural station, this one had a reader board and I saw my train and the platform where I should go. I made it with a few minutes to spare!
The next challenge was finding seats. Some trains have a reservation “option” therefore, you must find a seat that is not reserved. But how do you tell? Most of the seats had the word Reserviert above them. Thankfully, a British couple behind me was struggling as well, so we figured it out together. As long as it doesn’t say a city name on it, you’re good.
So I sat down for a long ride, munching some snacks I’d brought along. It was nice to know I was on my way to Cologne and the hardest parts were over.
I arrived in the city and walked out to find the most amazing site. The Cologne Cathedral sits right in front of the main station. And there it was in all its glory. It was pouring rain, but I snapped a few photos nonetheless, promising to come back later to see inside. For the moment I simply wanted to get my luggage to my hostel, because even with packing somewhat light, lugging a backpack with all your clothes around just doesn’t make for good sight seeing.
I arrived at the Cologne Downtown Hostel a little early, but they let me sit and wait until my room was ready to check in. For anyone looking for a hostel close to the city center, I highly recommend this one. Friendly staff, good level of cleanliness, and a good atmosphere!
So with umbrella in hand I set out to see more of Cologne.
The cathedral was my first destination. I walked in and enjoyed gazing up at the high ceilings in awe with the other tourists. It’s a very beautiful church, one I highly recommend seeing if you’re in town.
After that I tried going to the perfume museum. That seemed appropriate given the location. However, they required a scheduled tour, and the only ones they had available for the day were in Portuguese or Chinese.
So it was off to Plan B. Wallraf-Richartz Museum.
It’s nothing fancy, just a decent sized collection of art work from medieval times up until the 20th century. It has a few Van Gogh and Rodin pieces, and was one of the better ranked museums on Tripadvisor. Besides, it was raining…so anything to get inside for an hour or two.
Honestly, I don’t know if it’s worth seeing if you can find other things. In better weather I might have just stuck with wandering around the old town instead. Not highly recommended in my books, but this is coming from someone who has a fair amount of museums tucked under her belt.
After wandering around until exhausted, I headed back to my hostel to rest up for a bit before finding dinner. I’d asked for recommendations, but when I went by the places my hostel recommended they looked far too local for my tastes. What’s bad about local? The fact that I sadly only speak about three words of German… anyhow so if you’re looking for a good local place supposedly Papa Joe’s is good, but don’t take my word for it.
So I was bad and went to a place that clearly had an English menu. It was right on the square in the old town, though not good enough weather to actually sit on the town. I’m definitely looking forward to spring break at this point so I can actually enjoy eating outside in some of the places I visit.
I went to dinner at Keule’s if anyone is interested. Decent food. Kind staff. Cute atmosphere and a mix of tourists and locals.
Afterwards I went and walked around the old town a little and went to see the cathedral all lit up before heading back to the hostel for the night. Had a great chat with a British girl and an Australian couple about the differences in all of our cultures and about good places to travel. This is what I love about hostels, being able to meet new people from all over the world. Sure, it’s uncomfortable at times, but this makes it worth it for me… well and saving some money for good food and seeing the sites as well.
So that’s my review on Cologne. Was one day enough? Probably not. But I feel like I saw some of the main sites and had a good time exploring. As I’m writing this in semi-real-time I cannot say how Cologne compares to other places. Will have to sum up my thoughts at the end I guess. For now off on the next stop of my tour… Hamburg!