Recently, I was in New York City for two weeks visiting a new grandbaby. Since it was an unexpected trip, I had a lot of unfinished business back in Albuquerque.
Fortunately, I was able to track my mail with the USPS informed delivery service. It let me see what was arriving each day, so if I needed to follow up on something,I could have my husband open it, PDF it, and email it. If you don’t already have this service, you should definitely sign up. If mail is predicted, but doesn’t arrive, a quick check mark alerts the USPS to the problem.
Recently, we visited Bosque del Apache to see the snow geese and sandhill crane migrations. The ideal time to visit is at sunrise in mid November, so one can see the cranes vortex up to the sky at dawn, and when the cranes and geese are at peak numbers. Still, even in January, there were still a lot of beautiful birds to see.
The preserve leaves plenty of grain in the fields for the birds. They seem appreciative, dancing and chortling in big groups.
We stopped at Socorro Brewing in Socorro on the way back. Unfortunately, the new owners hadn’t gotten their new beer and wine license yet, so no IPAs for us, but the food us great, and the license should arrive soon.
We walked through the old city quarter (referred to as “Altsdtadt” on the city’s indispensable directional signage) in Koblenz, Heidelberg, Cologne, and Trier.
Finding a landmark that we wanted to visit was a challenge. For example, in Trier, after viewing the imperial Roman baths, we searched for Karl Marx’s birthplace.
We enjoyed wandering through the streets, admiring the architecture, and quaint squares, like this one.
However, figuring out which of several narrow byways to take out of the square was difficult. Our Android GPS kept finding alternate routes, so we’d wander one way or another and, according to the GPS, were always a mere 500 meters from Marx’s house. Frequently, we’d find ourselves re-entering a square via the portal of another street.
That the skies were overcast and frequently drizzling didn’t help the GPS, either.
The main streets in German Altstadt quarters are favored locations for upscale shops and restrict auto traffic so that pedestrians can wander about shopping without worrying about cars and buses.
During the Christmas season, holiday lights are strung over the streets…
and temporary holiday markets fill the Altstadt squares offering stocking stuffers, wurst, beer, and mulled wine for folks strolling through the quarter…
and carnival style rides for the kids.
Local shops add glitter to their windows. Germans love chocolate stores, and so did we.
Cologne re-built its Alstadt after it was leveled during World War 2 bombing raids preserving the medieval byways and replicating the architecture. (Similarly, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, Christopher Wren’s plan to straighten the streets into something more grid-like with wide major thoroughfares failed to be adopted because property owners feared losing bits of their land in the process.)
Rural villages retain their medieval streetscape, but their small size make navigating much simpler than the urban Altstaedter.
It’s almost unimaginable that this architectural masterpiece was started in 1248, long before modern building tools and equipment were available.
After being left unfinished in 1473 for hundreds of years it was finally completed in 1880. Now the most visited landmark in Germany, it survived bombing during World War II although it was badly damaged. Still, almost everything surrounding it was flattened, and it was restored in 1956. Since then, maintenance repairs are continual. The Cologne Cathedral has an extensive and interesting history.
Cologne also has a more fragrant history. Some might say that it is the birthplace of fragrance as eau de Cologne has been made here since 1709 by the Farina House. The house still has a small collection of scents, including ones based on astrological signs but it is most notable for hosting the Fragrance Museum.
The museum is only open on guided tours (currently 5 euros). While they are offered in several languages, reservations are a must. You can make them online or in person.
Since around 1799, the spicy citrus notes of 4771 have delighted fragrance lovers. It still has a flagship store in Cologne.
The eye-catching “The Golden Bird” artwork atop the Cologne City Museum arrived in 1991. The museum itself is much older, as it is housed in a former armory from the 6th century.
There are lots of interesting museums in Cologne, from Roman artifacts to a mustard museum. I’d like to come back here and spend a week exploring, and museum hopping.
One museum I took time to see was the Chocolate Museum, a well curated and informative museum for all ages. Yes, I got free samples. We also topped off our visit with hot chocolate in the Chocolate cage
They also had the option of purchasing a custom chocolate bar specifically for you. Yum. 45 minute wait for that–just enough time to drink a hot chocolate.
Another museum had a display of Oskar, the friendly policeman public relations art.
And of course there were multiple Christmas markets. The fun details were adorable.
Our plans for today were derailed, literally, by a massive rail strike in Germany. We got to the rail station a few minutes before our train was due to depart and saw an alarming amount of multi hour delays popping up on the boards. What the heck?
A nice civil engineer who was also hoping to travel explained. “It’s the strike” she said. “It will end at 9 am but the trains, especially the international ones will be all snarled up till tomorrow.” She thought our local train to Cologne (Köln) might run somewhat on schedule so we waited awhile. But soon it became clear that we weren’t going anywhere today. It also explained why last night’s train was stuffed to overflowing. Germans knew the strike was likely, and were rushing to their destinations early.
It could possibly also explained the preponderance of extremely lackadaisical conductors on that train. They probably weren’t interested in conducting but merely being sure to get home before the strike started. It was only a four hour strike but affected such key personnel that the railways were totally immobilized.
So, we went to pull Euros from the ATM, and it didn’t work either. It had been locked when we used it the night before. Since it was Sunday in the states, we couldn’t call to straighten it out till the next day. I had U.S. dollars in cash, so we went to the bank. No account, no money exchange. So we asked the hotel if they exchanged money. No, but she arranged to go with us to her bank which would do the exchange through her account. We opted to try one more thing before making her leave her post to help us. We used another ATM card and withdrew enough Euros for the rest of the trip as we hadn’t called this bank to let them know we were traveling so it would probably be locked after one use.
So we aren’t going to go hungry and it’s another rainy day in Koblenz. So we had a nice hot lunch with beer and wandered around the Christmas market.
Sometimes, our travel “disasters” are really memorable, at least when they’re over. What are yours?
Ray and I learned some lessons about German trains today. It wasn’t horrible but I want to pass on what we learned to other travelers so you don’t make our mistakes.
We were on our way to Heidelberg, when they announced the Stuttgart station. Whoops. That’s further along the train route than Heidelberg. We were at the right platform at the right time so we either forgot to check the side panel on the train to confirm our train number or Ray didn’t double-check the itinerary for that particular train to make sure it wasn’t an express. In either case, we went the right direction but didn’t stop at our city. It wasn’t a big deal. We got off in Stuttgart, did our research and were on a train that did stop in Heidelberg within about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I did not pick up a brand new Porsche while we were in Stuttgart.
Later, when we returned from Heidelberg at about 5 pm on a Sunday night (peak time), we didn’t have a seat for half the trip because having a pass or ticket guarantees one a ride on the train but not a seat. Seats are reserved separately. Normally, that’s not an issue but this was peak travel time and and an ice 1 style train (so lots of compartments, fewer seats, and most riders had reserved seats (a separate process.) So if you’re traveling on Friday or Sunday evening, it might be worth booking a seat on the train you’ll be using.
Despite those minor glitches, we had a great time in Heidelberg. Coming out of the railway station, there was an ocean of bikes. In the distance we could see a cool statue.
There were also done huge wall murals but I spotted them on the way back when we we’re getting drenched so I didn’t try got pictures.
But I got pics of the pens in their windows. Drool.
After a quick walk to the train station, we hopped on the first train to Cochem. Once on, we showed our 7-day rail pass to the conductor, who stamped it with a start date. He was supposed to check our passports as well but I guess we looked sufficiently foreign so he skipped that step.
After a day in the rain, we picked up wine and headed home.
We picked up wonderful fresh German bread and had a supper of Rhein spätlese wine and bread.
Ray and I overslept and missed breakfast at our hotel. So we compensated by rolls and coffee at a nearby candy/cafe shop and cafe. The marmalade was great and the rolls were incredible. My coffee was a hot chocolate with espresso, drizzled with chocolate. The shop was a chocolate lover’s delight.
As part of the Christmas celebration, they made an ice rink with these little pelikans to help beginning skaters
We went back to the hotel for a while, and then, because it was raining pretty hard, went to an Italian restaurant a few doors down for pizza and beer. Their door had a master card logo on it but when we went to pay, they said no credit cards. Fortunately, we had euros. And the pizza was excellent.
Not only are we in Germany for the Christmas markets, as these pictures attest, but we were here for a very important holiday recognizing Sinter Klass, a German version of Santa Clauss who arrives on December 6 and puts treats in the freshly polished shoes of little children. I’m not sure how the popularity of athletic shoes affects the custom, and my seat mate couldn’t tell me.