Where should we go this weekend?

Germany Travel Blog

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I don't know. Let's just go to the train station on Saturday and see where the trains are going.

A conversation similar to this one took place in the beginning days of last week when discussing plans for the weekend. Feeling spontaneous, that's exactly what we did. With no reservations, both train or accommodation, we arrived at the train station in the wee hours of Saturday morning with minimal expectations and maximum enthusiasm. Feeling inspired, I wrote the following journal entry on my way to the train station:

I've Got a Ticket to No/Anywhere (The "no" was crossed out)
Not physically (yet!) but in my heart. I am especially excited for this trip because it truly is one of my first traveling "adventures." No known destinations (though we have some in mind), no reservations, no plans.
Koln backdrop
Just us, a train, and a yet to be known city. I have my coffee, ipod, journal, Bill Bryson, and stack of biographies to grade. I can't wait to get started! (with the trip of course, not the grading). Here goes anything!

Upon arriving at the train station, we anxiously glance up at the list of destinations to see which we felt the desire to visit.
Amsterdam? Mmm, another weekend perhaps.
London? Too expensive.
Paris? Ditto.
Cologne? What's in Cologne? I don't know. A cathedral? Well, that sounds nice.
And so Cologne it was. At 40 euros round trip, we knew it was our most financially practial option, and with the next train leaving in 20 minutes, we decided it was probably our best timed option as well.
The cathedral in Koln

We arrived in Cologne, Germany with high hopes and hungry tummies. Cologne (or Koln if spelled in German) boasts the largest Gothic structure in the world, a cathedral located literally a stone's throw away from their central station. After doing the obligatory tourist gawking and photo taking, we then steered away from the cathedral in the direction of the nearest pretzel stand (we were in Germany, afterall). With pretzels in tow, we then headed through the commercial downtown in the direction of the Old Town and Rhine River, located perhaps 1-2 miles away from the cathedral. On the way we passed not one, but TWO weddings taking place in the same, we presumed to be, town hall. This experience gave us a glimpse into the German wedding ediquette spectrum. While one wedding party was dressed with upmost poshness and sipping champagne, the one celebrating outside right beside it was accompanied by two men, one playing clarinet and the other playing the saxophone, playing along with a boombox to the tune of Careless Whispers.
View of the cathedral from across the river
As if that wasn't interesting enough to watch, one of the men left the other to walk around with his hat requesting donations. It was all very...intriguing.

So with that taste of Cologne...um...culture, we wandered the streets of Cologne in search of quaint Germanness, which came somewhat in the form of it's Old (and might I add small) Town. It was altogether pleasant, but by 3:00 we were wondering how else we were going to spend our afternoon. I raised the suggestion of visiting another German city, and due to its proximity and affordability, we soon found ourselves on a train to Dusseldorf, Germany, on yet another unexpected adventure.

We arrived in Dusseldorf without so much as a clue as to what could be found there.
Our first impressions were rather grim, as the part of the city directly in front of the train station has that whole high-rise, busy-street sort of feel, not at all like the pleasant image of Germany we all had in mind. Of the four of us, two wanted to head back to Brussels that evening, which gave us an hour to spend in Dusseldorf. We were just starting to get the feeling of "Come on, Germany, you can do better than this", when we stopped a local to ask "If you had an hour to spend in Dusseldorf, how would you spend it?" He directed us to Dusseldorf's version of an Old Town, to which we walked quick in step and low in expectations.

As soon as I saw the cobblestone I knew our feelings toward Dusseldorf would change. As soon as I saw the lines of cafes and restaurants I knew we would end up staying more than an hour.
And as soon as we walked around it's quaint shopping, pedestrian streets after checking into a perfectly young traveler-friendly hotel, I knew I was in love. Dusseldorf's Old Town sits just on the Rhine River and is filled to the brim with lovely shops (all decked out for Christmas) and authentically German pubs, cafes, and restaurants. We dined on authentically German cuisine (four varieties of pork, potatoes, and saurkraut) and sampled authentically German night-life (in fact, one of my friends and I learned the dance moves to a very interesting and popular German song about a lasso). We had an AMAZING time and I only regret that we gave ourselves only one night to spend there. I can't wait to return.

I wrote the following journal entry waiting for the train back to Brussels in a sweet cafe right by the train station:

Letting Fate Run its Course
Perfect, perfect, perfect ending to this trip. Thank you, God, once again for putting me in a situation that makes me realize that I am right where I am meant to be. I am ending this trip relaxed, drinking tea, and writing in my journal. How utterly perfect. Though Koln offered nothing extraordinary, Dusseldorf was everything I wanted out of this trip: spontaneous, exciting, and altogether perfectly German. The perfect German hotel led to the perfect German street on which rested the perfectly German restaurant and bars. Hooray for another city I will look back on with sincerest affection.

So who's to say planning ahead is always best?

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Koln backdrop
Koln backdrop
The cathedral in Koln
The cathedral in Koln
View of the cathedral from across …
View of the cathedral from across…
1,441 km (895 miles) traveled
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