Oh, de Cologne

Here I am in Germany! Hubby, son and I arrived bright and early this morning after the overnight trans-Atlantic flight. We went from Indy to Atlanta, then an almost 9-hour jaunt into Frankfurt, followed by an hour-long train ride to Cologne and a taxi to the hotel. The flight itself was made ultimately much more bearable by hubby working some voodoo magic on the gate attendant in Atlanta and somehow managing to get us upgraded to first-class seats. Which kicked ALL kinds of ass and set a good tone for the beginning of the trip.

Something you should know before I say any more – I am not a good air traveler. You’d think after living in L.A. for nearly two years and all the back and forths from there, not to mention 10, count ’em, 10 trips to Europe, I’d be well over any flying fears I might have harbored. Not so. If anything, my flying anxiety is just as intense now as it ever was. Once we actually get underway and in the air, I’m not too bad, but the anticipation of the trip in the days just prior leaves me frantically checking turbulenceforecast.com and making sure I’m stocked up on Dramamine.

I am sad to say that while the extra space and attention in first-class were HEAVENLY, especially considering we were traveling with a very busy and curious 18-month old, the food was wasted on me. I rarely eat on airplanes. I have a sneaking feeling that eating an airplane meal en route would not sit well on my already-nervous stomach. I can’t imagine hitting turbulence just after downing a nuked lasagna would really be a good idea. And I definitely do not want to be THAT girl.

Hubby is a frequent flier, to say the least. He may even hit diamond/platinum/master of the universe status this year when it comes to frequent flier miles on Northwest/Delta. He crosses oceans like he’s crossing the street. I have lately begun telling him he’s turned into a travel snob, but after getting the first-class treatment on such a long flight, I am shutting my mouth. No wonder he whines like a stuck pig anytime he doesn’t automatically get upgraded and has to sit in, sniff, coach.

Hubby has no problem eating while flying, and I must admit, the menu in first-class was tempting. But I refrained, content to observe hubby with his meal of choice. First course was spinach salad with feta, roasted pepper soup and a scoop of hummus covered in toasted pine nuts. For the main, he had a surf and turf deal with a filet, shrimp, risotto and sugar snap peas. Oh, and free Heineken. It all looked tasty enough, but when it comes to my tummy, I usually try to follow a better-safe-than-sorry mantra if there’s any doubt.

Once we landed in Frankfurt and my feet were back on solid ground, I was hungry. We hit a cafe in the airport where we fed the baby and I scarfed down some scrambled eggs with ham, fresh orange juice and some of my son’s strawberries. Nothing spectacular, but it certainly hit the spot at that moment.

Jet lag has taken its toll on all three of us today. Neither hubby nor I got much sleep on the plane in spite of our lux accommodations, as we took turns baby-wrangling and trying to shush our son anytime he roused, which was often. Have you ever seen footage of those guys who try to wrestle alligators and the alligators end up twisting and rolling about a thousand times a second to escape roping? That’s what it’s like trying to hold our son while he sleeps. He eventually dozed off soundly, thank God, but didn’t get nearly enough rest. By the time we caught the train, made it to our hotel in Cologne and took a quick walk out for some much-needed coffee and a croissant, the sleep-deprivation was really catching up with all of us. A nap was definitely in order.

Hubby spent a month in Cologne last fall, so he knows his way around pretty well. The baby and I were supposed to join him then, but one thing after another went wrong and we never made it. I’ve been to Cologne once before for a weekend when I came over to visit my then-boyfriend, now-hubby five years ago (he was living just outside Frankfurt at the time).

Cologne is an interesting place. The architecture is very old and Gothic, although the city was all but destroyed during the World Wars and much has been repaired. In stark contrast to the cobbled streets and the awe-inspiring Dom that dwarfs everything around it, the city is highly modern, a media capital full of state-of-the-art shopping and hopping nightlife. The city nestles along the Rhine River, providing a scenic viewpoint and a home for charming riverside hotels and restaurants. Cologne is about the same size as the Indianapolis metro area when it comes to population, and I believe is even paired with Indianapolis as a sister city. You’d never mistake the two in a million years, though.

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the massive Cologne Dom (Cathedral)

Post-nap, the baby went into the stroller and out we went to get some air and get reacquainted with Cologne. It looked pretty much the same as I remember, and I was able to recognize some of the quaint streets, pubs and restaurants we’d been before, once upon a time. One particular establishment we decided to revisit was Papa Joe’s – a kitschy beer hall kind of place whose main claim to fame is two animatronic musicians, one playing an accordion and one playing some sort of small tuba. These two robotic creatures “play” upon their perch anytime a patron drops in a coin and makes a song selection, much like a jukebox. The figures are a big draw, but it’s vaguely creepy to see their eyes roll your way as they bang out polka classics.

the Papa Joe's animatronic house band

When hubby and I stopped in this place five years ago, the smoking ban hadn’t yet been instituted and it was like a wall of smoke when you walked through the door. We somehow managed to stay for a drink and watched as a group of Japanese tourists entered, then quickly exited, coughing and gagging. Thank goodness, it’s now smoke-free, so we were able to bring our son in for the fun.

Tonight, a small group of rowdy beer-swilling men had taken over the bar, singing loudly along with the traditional German tunes the animatronic duo cranked out, glasses raised and waving proudly. Picture a German bar version of “Piano Man” and you sort of get the idea. And it isn’t just German songs either, there are even a few little ditties in the catalog that I recognize. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a bunch of drunk middle-aged German men belting out John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road.” This amusement was followed up by a polka version of, I kid you not, “Billie Jean.” I could hardly believe my ears. It was good, clean fun, and we stayed for a glass of Gaffel Kolsch, the local quaff of choice. The waitress took a shine to Michael, even going so far as to snatch him up out of my arms and whisk him behind the bar for an up-close look at the robot musicians and a  few wafer cookies. He blew her a kiss on the way out; now I know we’ll have to go back.

More wandering built up our appetites and after being shut-out of a German pub/restaurant hubby wanted to go to (they were full, apparently), we ended up at a crepe place. These were not your ordinary crepes, though; they were more like large square hot pockets stuffed with a whole menu of tasty fillings. Hubby got one wrapped around a meaty tomato sauce, almost like a spaghetti Bolognese, without the spaghetti. It must have been good because he even tolerated a few specs of onion he spied in the filling. My crepe housed a medley of veggies heavy on the broccoli and onion, with cheese and tomato sauce holding it all together.

Full and tired, we managed to wind our way back to the hotel, where we are trying to prop our eyelids open for another hour or two before finally succumbing to jet lag and sleeping the sleep of the dead. I want to write more, but at the risk of becoming incoherent, I think I’ll save some for tomorrow.

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