Thursday May 8 -- Cologne
Our morning was very leisurely as we were not due to dock in Cologne until after 10:00, so we had plenty of time for breakfast and to watch the scenery along the river. We have seen many, many barges going both ways along the Rhine. Sometimes there have been two or three rafted together. It is a busy river.
Our Rhine River guide books have a kilometre by kilometre key, and the river itself has kilometre markers on the shoreline. As a result, we (usually) know exactly where we are and what is coming next. At breakfast, we briefly met a few other folks, then we went up on deck to watch our entry into Cologne. The gothic cathedral was visible from a long way off and we took plenty of photos. Unfortunately, the weather was still grey, overcast and threatening rain.
We left the ship around 10:30 and were part of the first group to leave the dock for a tour of Cologne (Koln, in German). Our guide, Julia, was quite good, humorous and informative. She told us about the beer or " kolsch" and noted that the term was used not only to describe the beer that was unique to Koln, but also was used to describe the "feeling" of Koln as well.
We would learn more about the beer later on the evening "pub crawl" that we were booked to take part in. Julia took us via a circuitous route around towards Koln cathedral, the "Dom", Germany's largest cathedral. It is quite awe inspiring to see. While it was possible to climb the 509 steps to a viewing point in one of the cathedral's twin spires in order to view the city and surrounding area, we decided that it was not worth the effort on such a dull, cloudy and rainy day. Instead, we walked into the cathedral to see the interior. We were unable to get very far as there was a mass underway. Nevertheless, the interior volume and the magnificent strained glass windows were impressive, as was the huge filigreed twin spires that tower above the city.
Our tour ended in Dom Square. We walked along the major shopping street for a while looking for a second memory card for Gary's camera (lots more space for photos now). On the way back to the boat, we stopped at the original Cologne fragrance shop where eau de Cologne was first created. Gary bought a small bottle for Heather, then it was back to the ship for lunch.
After lunch, we went to the Schokoladenmuseum (a chocolate museum operated by Lindt Chocolate) just along the shore from where our ship was docked. We spent over an hour looking at the process from start to finish and learning more about chocolate than we have ever knew before! It was very interesting and, of course, we could not leave without a small purchase or two to keep us going.
Back at the ship we were just in time to hear a presentation by Marcus Pohl from the city of Koln on "Germany Today". The talk was very informative and well worth the dash back to the ship in the rain to hear it!
After another wonderful dinner, where we joined again with Jan and Dave from BC and Sue and Tom from New Mexico, we disembarked with a small group for an organized pub crawl. There were, in fact, two groups of around 14 people each. Our guide was Wolfram who explained that the word "kolsch" was originally from the Cologne area and that all beers made in the area are referred to generically as "kolsch". Our tour took us to four "brauhaus"es (beer houses).
The first brauhaus served Paffgen Kolsch which most folks seemed to like the best. The routine in the brauhaus is that you place a beer coaster in front of you, and that tells the server that you want a beer. The beer is served in small glasses of 200 millilitres.
If your glass is empty when the server comes around again with another tray of beer, he or she replaces your glass with a full one, and makes a pencil mark on your coaster to indicate the number of beers consumed. If you have had enough to drink, you place your coaster on top of your glass. This indicates that you are finished drinking, and you wish to have your bill. All very straightforward.
Most folks had two beers at Paffgen Kolsch. Then we walked to the next brauhaus which served Sion Kolsch; quite nice but a bit sweeter. We stayed for a glass, then walked about ten minutes to a brauhaus that served Peters Kolsch. This brew seemed to have a more hoppy flavour, but some of us could not really tell the difference.
We were, by this time, beginning to run a little late as we had to be back at the ship by 10:45 to sail at 11:00. We entered our last brauhaus to taste a Dom Kolsch at 10:40 and a few of our fellow travellers were getting anxious. We downed a last beer very quickly and walked briskly back to the Ship. We were on the ship just at the strike of 11:00 and by the time the last of our group was on board and Wolfram had said farewell, the Viking Idi was pulling away from the dock.