After a less than overwhelming time in Cologne, Monday finally rolled around and it was definitely time to escape. We had our tickets for the ICE, Germany's answer to France's high-speed train service the TGV, and by around half 7 we were up and packing at a speed normally reserved for only the biggest dumps. Perhaps Cologne kind of falls into that category – after two visits, I can definitively say I just can't take to it, no matter what! The beer's nice, but that's really as far as it goes. So it was time to leave. But not before taking the time to wake the other occupants of our lengthy office-corridor that served as our accommodation. Having successfully completed that, we legged it for the 18 tram (and associated trouble-making vending machines), only to find that, surprise, surprise – in complete defiance of the normal unspoken German rules, the tram was running late and did what Irish Rail do best; showed an approaching tram within 3 minutes, only for it to actually take around 7 minutes. When it finally did arrive, it continued its reign of terror on the great commuting public of Cologne by having the ticket machines on-board out of service, leaving us to take our chances with the rather ‘strict' (to put it mildly) ticket inspectors. Oh dear.
Anyway, we finally made it to the ICE unscathed and without facing a huge penalty. I took the TGV years ago when I was a young lad and in spite of being the fastest passenger train in the world (at the time anyway), I was less than impressed and felt the whole thing was a bit overblown. The ICE, on the other hand, definitely is overblown (it seems to border on being considered as much an icon in that Germany as the harp is to Ireland), but it has the speed to match and within significantly less than an hour and a half, we were steaming into Frankfurt. The side effect however of this great speed was my ears were popping like absolute madness and an occasional feeling of flying almost, from the acceleration and speed around corners. Considering I was also told that tickets can range from the mediocre to the absolute outrageous (i.e. Up to and including â‚¬100), I was further satisfied to know that other train users were probably subsidising my high-speed journey, having only personally paid â‚¬20!
After all this, we were in the apartment in Frankfurt and ready to head back out again by about half 12 in the afternoon! We ended up just going around the block, only to find that the bank holiday had resulted in most shops being closed – not much use on an empty stomach with no food in the apartment. So we set off in search of the city centre, doing a full block of the locale before finally finding a U-Bahn station. Just as we were beginning problem #2 with German ticket vending machines, some couple came over and told us to go find an S and U-Bahn station. We finally found it, spent a further 20 minutes deciding how to get the ticket machine to sell us a ticket, and finally made it back to the city centre. It turns out that right now, there's actually something called the ‘turnfest' (or like…gym/athletics festival) on all over the city and this means there's ALWAYS something to do – there are beer and bratwurst stands literally everywhere you go and combined with the great weather, has resulted in major crowds and a really good time to be had here! Then, to make the deal sweeter, we walked to the apartment a different way, only to discover that the S & U-Bahn station that initially required a full circle of the block, is actually only about 400m away in a more or less straight-line! Perfect!
Today then, we hit the Rhine river early this morning and took in the sights of the skyscrapers and saw one of the many stages for the Turnfest come to life, as the performers began another day of the festival. We also headed on down to the old part of the town, which is so nice and so clearly traditional German. It's also right beside the main cathedral, St. Bartholomeu's, which although not as big as Cologne's cathedral, is every bit as beautiful. After all that early morning sightseeing, it was off for a bratwurst (and a beer), which pretty much takes me to now – the rest of the day involves having a relax (our feet are falling off us) and maybe trying to locate some free wireless internet!
*Next time then, we're going to cover the last day or two of Frankfurt and getting en-route to Ottawa on the first big flight…*