A Cathedral, Cologne and Chocolate in Köln.

The beautiful cathedral is a landmark that stands out even among the Christmas markets
It is hard to capture it in a viewfinder
The detailing is stunning

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.

Cologne shop and 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.

Cologne is also home to the classic German 4771 cologne.

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.

Instead of “when pigs fly”, “when cars fly.”

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.

The mustard museum

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

Giant chocolate bears
Chocolate molds
The chocolate mascot guides kids to kid friendly displays
An early chocolate butter press
Modern high tech equipment
A chocolate fountain where the lady dipped wafers in warm chocolate for guests

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.

A polar bear and his elf
Elves riding their own ski lift
Traditional market fronts
Lots of Christmas tents in front of chocolate museum

Strike Season in Germany

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?

The departure board filled with delays

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?

Train trip to Cochem

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.

Cochem is a picturesque town

A cute train for the children’s Christmas

Gnomes in the garden
High water marks for two horrible floods. Now flood protection prevents this sort of devastation.
Everything was decorated for Christmas
Gingerbread houses to go
Weird little figures on the fountain in the square
The squares (several) are all decorated

Waffles with fruit (in this case, cherries) and sherry whipped cream or ice cream are a big hit here. After trying one, they’re a big hit with us!
Ray had a pressed ham hock terrine and potatoes with his beer. It was served cold in a gelatin.
Hot cocoa is always nice on a rainy day
Goat milk cheese with red peppers and parsley on a thin cracker crust was my lunch choice
Interesting mosaic mural

After a day in the rain, we picked up wine and headed home.

A castle along the route home

We picked up wonderful fresh German bread and had a supper of Rhein spätlese wine and bread.

Sweet Misnamed Treat

What would a stay at the Omni Parker House be like without trying their famous Parker House Boston cream pie? So we tried it! By the way, don’t get your taste buds set for a pie; that is definitely a misnomer. This is a fluffy light sponge cake filled with a thin layer of a light custard rather than the heavy custard associated with eclairs and donuts. There is also no crust, but there is a lovely chocolate topping.

For those who are interested in savoring this treat without traveling to Boston, you can have a 10-12 serving pie/cake shipped to you through Goldbelly for $89. We can verify that these are the original Boston cream pie from the Parker house as we saw crates of them being loaded onto a truck outside the restaurant. Hotel staff also confirmed that Goldbelly only uses their pies.

Boston History and Fun

Breakfast was good but limited seating.
The park was lovely and peaceful
A one man band entertained the kids
Frogs outside the tadpole play area
Ray and I being silly
The tadpole playground
Massachusetts state house
Park Street church
Cathedral church of St Paul

Bike rentals
Solar powered pay station for bike rentals
Historic map in sidewalk
Freedom trail signs are everywhere
There was a big flash mob in front of Fanueil hall marketplace
Time for lunch
This place is popular!
Ray is contemplating the menu
Yum!
Ray’s yummy lunch
At the fresh air market
Oyster shucking is hard work
Lots of great produce. Blueberries are 2 boxes for $1!!
This sounds tasty
Quincy market
Loved some of the fun signs inside Quincy market
I wasn’t hungry but. . .
Cool decorations
Christmas in Boston
Cheers bar Christmas decorations
Map for the freedom trail

A little sticker shock. Glad we don’t have a car here
Old Courthouse

Wasn’t this a fun walking tour of Boston? It’s one of my favorite cities, especially since the food is amazing.

No taxis needed for Boston

Boston has a wonderful metro system so if you’re heading to downtown from the airport, and want to save big bucks, take the metro. There are shuttles for the blue line (shuttle number 22), the red line, and the silver line. The red line shuttle was free. I suspect the others are too. Although the #22 shuttle was only labeled on the outside as the bus for other terminals and rental cars, it definitely stopped at the airport metro station–before going to the rental car sites. At the metro, it cost us a whole $5.50 for two of us to get within a couple of blocks of our hotel.

One caveat. If you buy 2 tickets together at the machine, it’ll spit out a receipt and one pass. Both people need to use the single pass to go through the turnstile. The receipt is only for your records.

At your subway stop, let Google maps take over.

If you can’t walk a few blocks or have heavy luggage, Lyft is another affordable option. Reddit users claim it’s much more affordable than taxis.

But if you are able to walk a few blocks, the Boston metro can get you anyplace you might want to go in Boston, affordably and quickly.

By the way, Boston, including our hotel, is all dressed up for the holidays. And the Omni Parker House is the birthplace of Boston Cream Pie and Parker House rolls. Want to try them?

By the way, if you’re planning an Omni hotel stay, sign up for Omni select so you don’t get charged a big (about $10/day) internet fee.

Project Fi coverage is travel heaven

The Google project fi network makes finding maps for foreign locations, subway train schedules, and other minutia of travel a breeze. Because the network works in 170 countries without additional fees, a happy traveler doesn’t need to search out Wi-Fi hot spots, buy sim cards, or rent a mobile phone to stay connected.

Seriously, if you’re a frequent international traveler, switching to the go network may be the smartest move you could make. Going to Japan and don’t speak Japanese? Google translate and google navigate to the rescue.

While most countries are open to Google, China is the notable exception. Also, a few countries have restricted access to some Google services (YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, Maps). Those countries include: Crimea, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria. In those rare cases, you’ll want to use these travel tips.

Also, although the excellent Google pixl phones are the best known equipment that can be used on the project fi network, there are a host of other unlocked phones that work. And right now, Google is offering deals on it’s latest pixl models.

The project fi pricing scheme is great for either heavy data users like me or lighter users like my husband. Plus, the coverage is great. Ray almost always has better coverage with project fi than my t-mobile phone, and t-mobile has good coverage.

So are you ready to make the switch? As we’re anticipating more foreign travel, I’m making the changeover.