Cologne, Amsterdam, & Bruges,

 

Now, before I left off I do believe we were about to enter into the magical chocolate museum of Cologne.
Cologne/Koeln/Köln (to the unexperienced, such a diversity of spelling may be confusing at train stations, “We’re supposed to be going to Cologne, where the heck is Köln?!” But again, that only happens to the unexperienced, those unversed in the multitude of mutations each language has for different destinations-Florence-Firenze, Lucerne-Luzern, Naples- Napoli, etc. Such mistakes are practically inconceivable for seasoned travellers such as myself…jk, I was totally stumped by these for quite awhile.)

As I said, lovely breakfast, steps of the cathedral, sunshine, cards, bridges, quintessence of European delight, and the chocolate Museum (aka Schokoladen Mueseum). Kathryn and I entered the museum, got our student discount (received sympathetic looks from the adults around us),

and began our pilgrimage towards enlightenment concerning all things having to do with the cocoa bean. We learned about the discovery, history, development, cultivation, harvesting, mass production, distribution, and consumption of this bean. We learned of the different types of chocolate, it’s health benefits, etc. some fun chocolatey facts: the largest producer in the world is the Ivory Coast, the largest consumer is Switzerland (buying a little comfort against the bitter Alpine cold), and one of the smaller consumers (in general comparison) is, America (who’d have thought?). While all this knowledge was illuminating, the best parts were the chocolate production machine, the wafers dipped in the chocolate fountain (handed out to visitors as they passed) and the personalized chocolate bars you could watch being tailored to your every whim by cheerful women in chef hats as they conducted what must be one of the happiest jobs in the world. My bar had dried cherries, caramel balls, sweet biscuit bits (biscuits in the British sense) and a toffee crumble. Mwah!

 

From the chocolate museum, we walked across the massive bridge just outside to the carnival on the banks of the Rhine. There we were immersed into the smells of sweet and savory, the crowds of people milling around, and the various sounds of enticing rides. We stopped walking when we came to the flying swings. We made the decision to ride the swings that would raise you up from the carnival, over the Rhone, and seemingly above the cathedral. We bought our coins that said, “1 Fahrt, 1 Person” (how would they know?!), and boarded our swings.

If I could have any super power, it would be flight. I love to fly. The wind flinging back your hair, the drop in your stomach when you see how high you are, the seemingly boundless horizons, the freedom and the fright; oh how I long to fly! When someone invents human powered wings, I will give my car, my bicycle, my all other forms of transportation just to have those instead (and if they could be energy friendly, EVEN BETTER!).

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We finished our ride in the swings (during which I and all the children had giggled raucously) and looked a little to our right. There we saw the Giant. It was basically a long beam with 2sets of four seats back to back on either side. The seats on either end were collectively attached to a central hinge that allowed for the group to make a 360′ turn, in the air, going upside down and all around, as the massive beam went round and round, ascending to the blue blue sky and plummeting to the concrete earth. I love, repeat, love, carnival rides (and rollercoasters, and theme parks etc). We boarded the ride and were swirled around rushing from the towering heights and plunging towards the rushing earth. Whew!
After getting our adrenaline rush we decided to grab lunch at our hostel and, after a lunch of avocado, cheese, and half a PB&J, we then went off to the Cologne Cathedral. There we climbed the steep, tiny, winding staircase (making sure to hug the center as other tourists walked down) up, up, up the tallest bell tower in Germany. With calves burning and lungs puffing, we reached the top and looked out over the twilight cityscape.

That evening Kathryn and I enjoyed the ever lengthening hours of sunlight (getting dark around 9pm/21:00) for a few hours. It was only on the way back when we realized just how tiny the Cathedral was that we better realized how far we’d walked. Needless to say, we got back to our hostel and went to bed with very tired legs.

Right now I am typing to you on a train as Kathryn and I take a day trip to Belgium.
Our past two days in Amsterdam have been delightful. Lovely canals, quirky people, and a general fashion sense to the city that allows us to blend in better than we could in either Lyon or Milan.

While most of Amsterdam makes you feel welcome and infused with fun, there are other parts that are less comforting. The red light district and the green light districts made, at least the two of us, feel less than cozy. Maybe it is because we aren’t used to the atmosphere of cannabis coffee shops with their darkened windows and hazy interiors, or maybe it is a lack of familiarity with the sex district with all its frequently advertised gadgets, movies, and costumes, or maybe it was the girls in the window displaying their bodies as wares for sale, but overall, something about the area made me feel on edge and oddly threatened. What was this feeling of being threatened? I can’t say I fully understand it myself. I think it had to do with the frequent images of half clothed or naked female bodies surrounding me in the form of erotic statuettes, women in windows, posters, etc. and the groups of men around me that made me recognize both my own body in a new consumeristic light (as something that, like the woman around me, could be given a price), and made me feel as if the individual male gazes on the street saw, not an individual, but a body, my body, as a commodity. There was something in both of Kathryn and me that hoped to find the canal that would usher us into the tulipy-windmilly part of Amsterdam as soon as possible.
The next morning we visited the Anne Frank museum, and, as one would expect, it was sobering and powerful. There is little more to say than that. I have many thoughts percolating in my mind about the subject, but nothing that need be shared here. Feel free to message me if you would like to discuss the general plight of humanity in light of WWII. But, if you are interested, I also refer you to her diary for a much better account.

The rest of our time in Amsterdam has been spent playing games at night with new friends in the hostel, wandering the streets, trying famous Dutch pancakes ( the flat ones, not the Dutch Boy pancakes yet), and avidly searching for the once abundant then elusive Thai restaurants (seriously, one moment there seemed to be one on every corner, the moment we get hungry, we find every other type of food: Irish, Argentinian, Indonesian, Chinese, Polynesian, English, American, Iranian, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, French, German, but cannot for the life of us find a single inexpensive Thai place!).

In Bruges, Belgium today we plan to eat chocolate, waffles, fries, climb a bell tower, see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, see windmills, and eat more chocolate.
Tomorrow is our last day of sightseeing (Van Gogh museum, a canal boat ride, and more pancakes) before we fly away to Mother England on Friday. It has been a whirlwind experience. My last post will probably be written on the plane.

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And since I don’t know “goodbye” in Dutch I will say the German, Auf Wiedersehn!