…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 6
[Wednesday] 8/31/1988—I was able to get up rather early yesterday morning, by 8 AM I was on the road. I had some apprehensions about bicycling into West Germany, I envisioned the bicycle trails ending and riding on the side of narrow, winding roads all the way into Cologne. Although not quest as nicely laid out as in Holland, the bicycle trails in West Germany are still adequate, and my fears were unfounded. I crossed the border immediately after leaving Venlo, and I had a little trouble getting headed in the right direction, but a passing bicycler pointed the way and I was OK from then on. The main differences are the lack of signing on the trails, the trails always follow whatever highway is headed that direction (except the interstates of course), the trails are normally on only one side of the road, and the trail quality is lower. Most of the trail is constructed of asphalt, which could make a very nice surface except for the action of tree roots. The roots grow underneath the asphalt and push it up, resulting in transverse ridges across the trail that can be quite jarring, especially with a heavy load such as mine. The trails are also narrower, and the usually “Ende” as the highway passes through towns, forcing one to hug the curb as motorists zip by.
Despite all the difficulties with the German bicycle trails, I still managed to find my way to Cologne without any real problem. I was at the tourist information center by 1:30 PM so I had most of the day left to spend in Cologne. I stopped in Grevenbroich to exchange some money, I had no Deutsch Marks at all, and this little, harsh, German lady at the bank made me feel like I was going through the Spanish Inquisition. I think she was speaking English to me, but her accent was so strong I still didn’t understand her. I just nodded and say “yah” a lot. The weather was great, mostly sunny, a little cool early on but warming up nicely. The countryside that I passed through, however, was not all too interesting. Very little of it was forested, lots of crop and rangeland. The terrain was not really flat anywhere by now, but the grades were still very gentle so biking across it was not strenuous. I encountered very little headwind, and even had some tailwind in places. That was nice for a change.
The hiway into Cologne took me straight to the Cologne Cathedral, with the tourist information center right next to it. A long stretch of the road was being reconstructed in the metro area, but Cologne has nice bicycle paths along its major roads so there was no problem getting into the Centrum. The first time you see the Cathedral is an incredible experience. It is truely the most awe-inspiring structure I have ever seen, perhaps rivaled only by the Golden Gate Bridge. Its immensity is one thing, but what really struck me was the way it literally dripped with detail over its entire surface. The plaza around the Cathedral is a real gathering ground for tourists and residents, making the whole scene seem very alive. I just stood there a while and took in the experience, then went into the tourist information center. They booked me a hotel about three blocks away for 42 DM (about $23 US). I was really surprised when I arrived there, this place was first class compared to the other places I had stayed in. Everything was so clean and nice and well kept. I wondered how I got such a nice place right smack in the center of the city for such a good price.
I got cleaned up and headed for the city. I ended up in the main shopping district and found a store that sold Henckel knives. I had bought a few knives in Amsterdam, they were about half the price of what they cost in the US. I wondered if I would see them for even cheaper in Germany but hated to take a chance on passing them up and then not seeing them again or seeing them only they were more expensive. I should have waited. The knives here were about one-third of the US cost. I had bought only the minimum of what I wanted in Amsterdam, so I decided to go ahead and make a full set, complete with a block holder with the Henckel logo on it. I ended up with a total of 6 knives, a sharpening steel, utility scissors, and the wood block for $160 US. What a steal! Not only that, but I selected the pieces individually instead of buying preselected sets (the former is much more expensive, but its the only way to get exactly the pieces you want and only those pieces). If I had done the same thing in the US, it would have cost around $400. And remember, the price I paid included sales tax. So I had my souveneir for the trip and I felt pretty good about it.
I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, just snacked on some fruit and pastries, so I decided to forgo the formal lunch in a restaurant and sample the various food stands. There are hundreds of them all throughout the city. I did the same thing for dinner and it turned out being much cheaper that way too. The bockwurst, bratwurst, and mettwurst are great. There are also an incredible number of pizza stands around too, but they lacked the spice that I grown to expect from good pizza. And the bakeries!! There must be a bakery on every block, each with a slightly different selection of breads & pastries. I really almost overdid it on the pastries, but I figured how often will I get to do this? [I still take this approach whenever I travel.] I spent the evening in the old part of the city, by the Cathedral. I was really struck by a feeling of similarity between the old part of Cologne and the old part of St. Louis. Both sit on the west bank of a major river. The Rheine and the Mississippi Rivers are about the same width at the point they run through the city. Both have a massive, world-known structure on the river at the city center, with an old-style bridge on the north side of the area and a newer, hiway bridge on the south side. Both have the oldest section of town adjacent to the main attraction and have been refurbisheed into an entertainment center with bars, cafés, and restaurants in addition to the shopping. Both have park-like areas along the river. There are two major differences, however; the rivers flow in opposite directions and the east bank of the Rheine is much more attractive than that of the Mississippi. Still though, I couldn’t help feeling that it was all so similar.
To be continued…
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 1988, 2013