S’trip’15: Aachen & Cologne

Back in June, I was still slugging through the final draft of my university project when I began to plan this trip. There’s nothing like a fast approaching deadline to stoke up that wanderlust. That, and the barrage of beautiful beach photos posted on social media by vain, narcissistic braggarts, aka. my friends. I was one look-at-me-sitting-on-an-elephant-photo away from hopping on the next plane to India… I jest – elephants aren’t really my thing.

I’d worked out where I was going to be for which dates and where I was going to stay, but left the details to work themselves out. I figured I would turn up to each city, pop into the tourist office and find my way from there. A good plan all in all. I did, however, book my transport from France to Germany in advance – it cost me £25 from Paris to Cologne with Megabus, a very good price. And for Caen-Rennes, Rennes-Paris I used blablacar car-share which was much cheaper than taking the train*.

Memories of my previous Megabus journeys were hazy at best and I convinced myself that an opportunity to save on time and money was not to be missed. I mean, it was an excellent deal. On the overnight bus, I would go to sleep in France and wake up in Germany. I was already patting myself on the back for my excellent planning.

I forgot how painful waiting can be. If I’d been able to sleep, all would have been well. Eight hours would have passed in the blink of an eye. But that was the problem right there – I could not for the life of me find a comfortable sleeping position. Luckily there were few passengers so we each got two seats to spread out on. I ended up curled in a foetal position on both seats (following the good example of the girl across the aisle). I do like to travel in style.

I eventually arrived in Cologne and then took the train to Aachen. I was staying with a student friend of mine in her university accomodation. Well, there I was in Germany, land of wurst and pretzels and beer. I was excited, I wanted to start eating.

We had a barbecue one evening, the German way of course. I learned that the most important components of a German barbecue are: wurst, garlic butter, curry sauce, baguette and real meat cuts (none of that beef burger stuff from frozen). We had it outside in a nearby park, in the warm summer evening. Germany seems to have a lot of public barbecuing spaces.

There was a small incident with some officers who came along to tell us we were barbecuing in the wrong spot. I, of course, had no idea what was happening since they were speaking German and could only stare politely hoping that they would go away soon because I really was getting very hungry and the food wasn’t going to magically cook itself. They did leave eventually, after asking to see identification and issuing a 30 euro fine. Oops. Turns out the designated barbecue area was only twenty metres away… In our defence, we missed the warning sign. It wasn’t in an obvious place. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a special squad always on the prowl for unsuspecting barbecuers.

Being a student town, the food in Aachen is cheap and the restaurants are plentiful. There is one street with all the restaurants you could ever want for as a student. There’s the place for all your deep-fried needs two doors down from a nice cocktail bar. The cocktails are a steal at around 5 euros, and strong.

Aachen also boasts sharing a border with France and the Netherlands. You can stand on the spot where the three countries meet. We popped over to the Netherlands for a short half an hour where we picked up some flav and stroopwafel. The flav was like a thick custard dessert, tasty, but the real star was the stroopwafel. Never did I think I would be so enamoured with a biscuity good. The caramel between two layers of waffle made it a delightfully chewy affair. I think this discovery was one of the highlights of my trip (I found out they stock a Sainsbury’s basics version here in the UK, hooray!).

The last day I spent in Cologne. They have a very impressive, gothic cathedral which I couldn’t fit into one photo. That’s one difference between France and Germany, the churches and cathedrals are built in very different styles. The houses too for that matter. I didn’t do much that day – just strolled around the city centre and along the river. The city was big and busy and modern. I thought it was lacking in charm. Maybe I missed it, there were some nice vine covered buildings though. I was only passing through after all, waiting for my evening bus to Berlin. Yes, another Megabus journey and another episode of foetal-curled insomnia. I was looking forward to it.

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*Car-sharing is pretty popular in France. It’s good for booking at the last minute. In fact, you probably can’t book more than a week ahead for most journeys even if you wanted to. There’s also a degree of flexibility for the meeting and drop off points. The driver might drop you off somewhere convenient if they’re nice.

The downside is that it’s not as reliable as public transport. The driver might cancel the journey last minute (it happened to me when I was travelling back from Clermont-Ferrand with friends, luckily we managed to quickly book places with another driver). Also, it would probably be tricky if you don’t speak French since all the users of blablacar that I’ve come across are French (and the French are famous for their reluctance to speak anything other than their beloved mothertongue). I imagine some hilarity might ensue when organising the meetup point.

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Summer trip ’15: NormandyBrittany – Aachen & Cologne – BerlinMunichPrague