kristie and the chocolate factory

A few months ago I blogged:

Never let your mark erase/’cause broken legs can be replaced

Are you ready for some serious irony?

Pauline and I decided to visit Cologne, Germany, a big, youthful college city about three hours away. We booked a room in a hostel that evening, packed a duffel bag, and just took off the next morning. One of my favorite things about Europe is how easy it is to be spontaneous. You just turn up at the train station and wing it from there.

To travel internationally, you take a more expensive high-speed train. It’s like the Greyhound of trains in that it is substantially more comfortable. Like intercity travel, it’s possible to buy your ticket up until just minutes before your departure.

If you’ve ever watched any of the Harry Potter movies, the trains out of Holland are a lot like that, with seperate cabins. We wound up in a cabin with a Dutch mother and her toddler.

Wie is dat?” she asked him, pointing to a picture of Michelle Obama on the front page of her newspaper.

“Michelle,” he said instantly. The kid was like, two and could already identify America’s first lady! I can’t even identify every state on a map of America.

I watched the countryside go by outside my window, determined to pinpoint when we crossed over into Germany. I could tell immediately: the architecture of the houses changed and winding roads through the country looked more like Vermont than Europe. I was under the impression that every country was as tightly packed as Holland, but Germany is much, MUCH bigger.

Eventually we arrived in Cologne with nothing but a hostel name written on the inside of my hand. I mean, we could have found directions if we looked hard enough, but it’s more fun to see if you can do it yourself.

After about an hour of walking, we found our place, Appartel am Dom.

It turns out that it was a four-star hotel… we just got a hostel-like price because we booked at the last minute. Awesome. We immediately noticed, though, from our first interaction with a German, that there was a much greater language barrier than we had anticipated.

After making sure the lights were all off before we dropped out of our room, we hit the street.

It’s amazing how every different city you visit has a completely different vibe. Being a Saturday night, everyone was just out for the fun of it, and you could feel the buzz in the air. Musicians were everywhere – not a lone guitarist or xylophonist like in Leiden, but full swing bands and string quartets. Totally awesome.

We realized in all the excitement that we hadn’t eaten since that morning, so we decided to consult the map for German cuisine. We wound up at a small corner bar/restauraunt called Rheinezeit (Rheine time.)

The menu, of course, was in German. I told our server, “I don’t speak any German. Can you recommend something totally German I won’t get in Holland?”

“Absolutely,” he said with a huge grin, “you are wanting beef that is marinated in vinegar for a long time. It is covered in raisin sauce, with potato dumpling and red cabbage. We call it Sauerbraten.”

“Let’s do it!”

It was so awesome, it was beyond words. About halfway through the meal I was interrupted by a silver man in a light-up top hat. No, really. He painted his face silver and was dressed in a dazzling suit. I wish I had thought to get a picture, but I was so baffled that it didn’t occur to me.

He began in German and I interrupted apologetically, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand…”

“Ah! Not problem. See, I have many wishes for you in this box. If you are supporting me with one euro, I will bestow it upon you!”

How can you say no to a silver dude?

“I shall translate,” he said, straightening up and clearing his throat. “Comes your way is success and friends that walk beside you. May you be poor in unluck, and rich in happy. May you always be loved!”

He bowed, handed me the tiny scroll, and made his way back into the street.

The sky was clear and a waning moon lit up the Rheine, and a saxophonist was wandering up and down the patio, and I felt pretty poor in unluck already.

Before we went back to our hotel, we stopped for a German specialty,spaghettieis.

After some German cable, we went to bed. Side note: the Fairly Oddparents is equally funny even when you can’t understand them. Except here, it was called Cosmo und Wanda wenn Elfen helfen.

The next morning we were treated to a breakfast courtesy of the hotel, featuring German breakfast favorites such as “meat spread.” They tried to get me to order an egg for seven euro but I wasn’t buying it. That’s like ten American dollars.

We checked out with our things and stepped into a sunny day. We had a couple of hours to kill before we caught the train back to Holland, so we walked along the banks of the Rheine until we came upon the Shockoladen Museum (the museum of Lindt chocolate.)

On the way out, we checked our watch to find that we had just over an hour to make it back to the train station and catch our train. We were a couple miles down the Rheine at this point, so I switched shoulders with my bag and began walking.

And then, just like that, I wasn’t walking. My ankle gave out on the uneven cobblestone with a wicked crunch and I was down. I struggled back to my feet and gingerly tried to put some weight on it. I couldn’t. Oh my God! Is it broken? Is it sprained? I still don’t know!

It was quite terrifying to suddenly be rendered so incapable of caring for yourself in the middle of a strange country. We had an hour to get to the station, and I couldn’t walk. If we missed that train, we’d be stuck in Germany until the next day with nowhere to stay. It was so absurd that we just stood there and laughed.

Pauline said, “It’s okay. No matter how it turns out, this is gonna make an awesome story.”

Just then, a guy pulled up with a rickshaw. Perfect! We’d pay him to take us to the train station and I could just hop from there. It was pretty cool actually, minus the part with the agonizing pain and all.

He dumped us at a station that was clearly not the station we needed. “Take the next train, and from there, go underground to the trams and take tram 18 to the HBF.”

I don’t know if he missed the part where walking wasn’t really working out for me. But suddenly he was gone, and we didn’t have a choice. We had to catch that train.

I tried a small limp forward. Then another. And another. One step at a time, we made it on the train. Off the train. Underground. On the tram. Off the tram. Up a huge flight of stairs. To the ticket counter. And finally, to our platform. We were gonna make it!

When we settled in on the train, we thought it was over.

Dreiundsechtzig,” a woman said to me rather forcefully. My German is terrible, but I understood that she was saying “63.” I looked up, and saw my seat was numbered 63.

MIEN.” She made a motion like she was shooing me away. I was in her seat. We looked, and saw that we didn’t have seat assignments. I grabbed my bag and struggled to my good foot, and moved a couple of isles back. “Sorry,” I called over my shoulder, easing myself into a new chair. Before I even sat down completely I was accosted by another angry German woman with a seat assignment. And again, and again, all up and down the compartment. It slowly dawned on us that the heartless German guy at the ticket counter sold an injured chick standing-room tickets on a three-hour train ride.

By the time I was approached by the last woman I was nearly crying. She said, “This is my seat, but there are others, so I will sit there. But if someone asks for their seat back, then I am taking mine back, okay?”

“THANK YOU,” I nearly screamed. She nodded, looking startled, and made her way to the back of the train.

When the train started moving and I was positive I wasn’t being relocated again, I leaned back against the seat and finally, for the first time in many hours, began to relax. I had just closed my eyes when suddenly a door burst open from the back of the train and huge men in black uniforms rushed down the corridors, shouting, “PASSPORTS OUT, NOW!”

Honestly, I think at that point nothing would have surprised me. There was a slight air of panic. I turned and craned my neck to try to see what was going on when a man stopped at my side and said pleasantly, “Immigration. Passport please.”

Apparently, it was a routine check, but they did it in such an alarming way that had I not been legal I probably would have lept out the window onto the tracks.

Eventually, we made it back to Holland, and I slowly limped my way into the setting sun from the train station back to the LLC where I live.

Currently, I sit with my leg elevated above my chest, pretty much houseridden for the time being.

But I’d get injured a thousand times over to experience the magic of Cologne again. This takes the cake as my most interesting trip ever!

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~ by curiouskristie on March 29, 2010.

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