Cologne, Iserlohn & Düsseldorf, Germany
For the first time this year, out of seemingly dozens of opportunities, we were prepared for daylight savings. It's nice being on the same page as everyone else.
With an extra hour up our sleeves we made an early start on our drive to Cologne. Our first stop once we arrived was Museum Ludwig, a modern art gallery, as Danny was keen to check out the Russian avant-garde collection. Unfortunately, this section was closed for renovations (this was becoming a habit of ours). The rest of the museum contained mostly pop art and expressionist paintings, which we both appreciated, plus a Picasso exhibit containing photos of himself and of his daily life. It took us forever to explore the massive museum, even with a third of it closed.
Next we headed to another museum that advertised Impressionist paintings, but when we arrived we found it was mostly older, relatively unknown works. This didn't really interest us, so we didn't fork out the entrance fee. Instead, we sat in a bar so that Danny could sample the local Kölsch beer, served in mini 200 mL glasses. It looked a bit odd grasping a teeny beer glass in a pub, but Danny made up for it by buying multiple beers.
I left Danny to his drinking and wandered up and down the Rhine, on either side of the river. My travels eventually led me to the enormous Cathedral, said to be the biggest in Germany. The interior was overly dark and uninviting, but the building is famous for possessing a tomb that apparently holds the remains of the Three Wise Men. Visitors can only see the tomb on guided tours. Somehow I became swept up in one of these tours and was ushered into the sacred room. It was just a small, gold, ornate coffin, which really could have contained anything. It wasn't the highlight of my day.
I randomly bumped into Danny outside the Cathedral, and from there we walked down the main shopping street. We couldn't believe how busy it was – we could barely move due to the number of people around. Shops are usually closed on Sundays in Germany, but Cologne must be the only place where they are open, and the whole country had flocked here to take advantage of it. There were plenty of stores selling cologne (of the aftershave variety), and they all appeared to offer just one fragrance. It smelled terrible. After a quick browse along the street we managed to escape the crowds (and aromas) and make our way back to the car.
We drove to the nearest campsite, located right on the river, but it was closed - we fear most will be from now on for the coming winter season. Sceptically, we tried another a little further along the river and surprisingly found it open; in fact, the place was almost full. It was a hotel and campsite in one, and some of the features were slightly more high-end than we were used to. For example, in the bathroom at reception there was a TV somehow embedded into the mirror. There weren't any edges or bumps, just a picture in the middle of the glass. Don't see that at most caravan parks.
The next morning was a lazy one for us, not leaving the campsite until midday. Today's destination was Iserlohn, about an hour away. Iserlohn is not in the guide books. There are no tourist attractions, no tourist office and no tourists. The reason we stopped here was that this was the city where Danny's dad was born. It was laid back, not too big, and deciduous trees lined most of the quiet streets. The pedestrian area seemed to go on forever, and we spent ages wandering up and down here browsing through the shops. I loved that it wasn't overrun by tour groups, although I think I received some odd looks while taking photos like an obvious out-of-towner.
Danny discovered that Iserlohn produces its own beer, which of course meant we had to stop at a pub to give it a go. The menu was in German, so Danny just pointed to the first beer on the list. It was a pilsner, and he reported that it wasn't too bad. Naturally, he then ordered the second beer on the menu, thinking it might be a dark beer. It was anything but a dark beer. What he received was a drink that was half beer and half Fanta. He didn't enjoy this one so much. Later on he found a supermarket with other types of Iserlohn beer, so picked up a couple of bottles there (sans Fanta).
With our tour of Iserlohn complete we drove to Düsseldorf, parking on a side street close to the centre. The sun sets quite early now (around 5 p.m.), causing us to feel very unmotivated to do anything late in the afternoon. So the day ended how it started, leisurely chilling out in the van and not achieving much.
The weather for our day in Düsseldorf was beautiful. As we don't see many blue sky days now, we appreciate them when they pop up. It was a long walk to our first attraction, a museum, through the middle of the very quiet city. It was closed. I have lost count how many times this has happened in Germany. Our first instinct was that maybe it was a public holiday, although our guide book hadn't mentioned it. To verify this we marched over to the tourist office, past a street full of cafes and pubs that looked like they had been hit hard by late night partying. There was broken glass everywhere and a few people dressed up in Halloween costumes still drinking. The tourist office confirmed our suspicions: it was a holiday today, but on the upside the museum would open at 11 a.m.
After walking back to the museum, we forked over the exorbitant entrance fee and ventured inside. Given the high cost we had high expectations; we were a little disappointed with what we got. The description we had read prior to arriving didn't quite match the art on display, and there weren't many works on show. There were a few big names, but only their lesser known pieces. To add to the dissatisfaction, the security guards closely followed us around and analysed our every move. It was disconcerting enough for us to speed through faster than our usual pace and leave prematurely.
From the museum we walked over to the Rhine, which was lined with cafes and jam packed full of people. It took us a while to squeeze through the crowds to actually see the water. Following the river we headed for the observation tower, where a super-fast lift carried us to the top. Generally, observation decks are great places for taking photos, but not this one – the whole place was enclosed in slanted glass, leaning at an angle that caused infuriating reflections in every photo I took. The views over the Rhine and city were outstanding though.
Back on ground level again we made our way to the MedienHafen area, comprised of old docks that had been converted into a commercial park. The main reason to visit here is to admire the modern, slightly wacky architecture. Some of the buildings were fantastic, including wonky ones, colourful ones and even one with brightly-coloured "men" scaling the exterior walls. It was a pleasant place to stroll through and a refreshing change from the usual sights we see.
On our way back to the car we passed several Asian restaurants advertising cheap meals and midday specials, and we couldn't resist stopping for a late lunch. We ordered two different noodle dishes; they both came out looking exactly the same, but there was a slight taste difference. Condiments were on every table, which of course meant we turned up the heat to the max. The plates were massive – we were stuffed full afterwards and couldn't eat anything else for the rest of the day. When we arrived we were the only patrons in the restaurant, but by the time we left the place was full. I guess 3 p.m. is lunchtime in Germany.
Then, for the third and final time, we departed Germany and, for the first time, entered the Netherlands.