Cologne, Germany

We headed off in the morning with no problems.

Sister and I arrived around 11 with no plans; I barely knew anything about the city. We were headed to Zurich next on an overnight train, so we were only spending the day in this beautiful German city. After we stored our backpacks in the lockers at the train station, we walked outside and right into the middle of town. To our left was a grand cathedral and to our right were several restaurants. We picked one at random and sat outside. I ordered some soup and Sister had wienerschnitzel. We were totally German. To our awesome surprise, the city had free wifi available to everyone. I logged on, and we started doing research on what to do in the city. Lots of museums came up, and the main attraction appeared to be the large church that loomed behind us.

Unfortunately for us, after walking to a nearby museum, we learned they were closed on Mondays—the one day we happened to be there. We peaked inside the church, tried some more internet searches, and then just decided to walk down the busy-looking shopping street. The first store we stopped in was called Pylones, and it was full of creatively made everyday products. I was intrigued by the adorableness of it all.

We saw lots of global chain stores and some smaller ones we had never heard of before, just paroosing. We returned to the city square and found a bridge that sister had read about online jutting off the city square. This bridge was absolutely covered in locks. Honestly, I’d estimate a million locks. The bridge seemed to go on forever, and it was completely covered in various love locks. They were beautiful to look at and read; some engraved, some written in sharpie. Some massive bike locks, some turtle-shaped locks, some little tiny combination locks… The view from the bridge was beautiful and so was the sight of all that love.

We snuck back into the restaurant we had eaten at for lunch to use their bathroom (which had an attendant with a small money tray—for tips? She didn’t make us pay), and then sat on the massive church steps to figure out what to do next. Online, I read about a garden that was outside the city center that I was interested in. Sister figured out how to work the subway system (this quickly had become her speciality) and we hopped on after a quick debate about whether or not it’d be wise to get so far away (throw caution to the wind!). One thing that was both amazing and odd was that you didn’t have to swipe your subway ticket before getting on. You just got on. No one checked it; they just trusted you. I looked around, wondering who had bought a ticket and who hadn’t, and if we’d ever be checked. Going to the garden ended up being one of our very best choices.

This place was free to get into, and it was absolutely full of different types of flowers. Paths connected different areas, between the lake and the greenhouses and the play area and the massive venue building in the middle. It was stunning, and the perfect relaxing afternoon that we needed after our travels. We got some healthy, organic gelato from a stand. “Do you speak English?” Sister asked the server, and he replied, “Yes, of course!” like we’d be silly to ask a German man if he knew English.

Around 3:30, we headed out from the gardens and back to the city center. Again, we paroosed the shops. I decided I needed nail polish, and that I wanted to get a second piercing in my ear. A quick internet search revealed there wasn’t a minimum age to do that in Germany, so we skipped on over to Clair’s. Unfortunately, the kind lady at the counter (who, of course, spoke English) said you had to be eighteen. Sister volunteered herself, and she ended up getting a second piercing in her ear. All I got was nail polish and a new pair of earrings. When we left, it started pouring down rain, so we rain to the big cathedral to get out of the rain. This time, we opted to buy the paper guide of the tour (just drop a euro in the jar; they trusted us as much as the subway did). The church was beautiful, albeit boring, so we ended up sitting for a while, trying to decide what to do.

I was craving pizza, so we found directions to an Italian restaurant. On the way there, a group of giggling girls about my age stopped us and asked me to take a picture with a flower for them. I was confused and hesitant, since that’s traveler rule number one (never trust a stranger who approaches you), but they seemed so nice. I asked why, and in broken English and giggles they explained something about a teacher and a message they had to send for a hunt. I agreed (still wish I had gotten the picture), and I got to keep the flower.

The restaurant we ate at was interesting, and I’d never seen anything like it. You got a card when you walked in, sort of like a hotel key card. Then, you went up to individual counters and ordered what you wanted. They swiped your card. At the end, you paid for your food after they read your order from the card. It was smart and efficient. I didn’t like the pizza I got at all, but Sister really enjoyed her spaghetti. On our way out, we noticed a protest in a large open square, but couldn’t see or understand what it was about.

Sister and I hung out in the train station until our overnight train was set to come in. We rested in a cute coffee shop and called home for a bit, watched a bit of the Eurocup in he center of the station with fifty of our closest friends, and checked out some of the shops. Our train was a little late, but we got on and figured it all out.

Cologne, Germany