Brühl and Bonn! March 2016

Last time out on the blog I mentioned my frequency of visiting what has quickly become one of my favourite countries – Germany! This particular post will be dedicated to the first of my three trips in 2016.

I’d not long come back from Georgia in February 2016, which you can read more about here (Georgia introduction, Georgia – Part oneGeorgia – Part two), and was quite relaxed about planning the next trip. I wasn’t in any particular rush and figured I could just save some pennies before rushing in to my next adventure. Georgia had been my first non-European trip for a while so, whilst not as expensive as I’d budgeted for, it was a good chance to get my finances back in order and think about where I wanted to go next.

Nevertheless there was an outside chance that Tottenham’s European fate might just be enough to tempt me away sooner. I got home from Georgia mid Feb and I knew at the end of Feb it would be confirmed where my beloved Tottenham would be visiting in March. My intentions were that I’d “skip a round”, gambling on Spurs progression in the competition, but that I’d make an exception for one opposition – Borussia Dortmund.

“If we get Dortmund I HAVE to go!” I told myself.

It was a dream tie. Attending a Borussia Dortmund game is one of those bucketlist items for any football fan. It’s a club held in high esteem anyway but their atmosphere is also one of the most famous in European football. I’d always intended to visit a Dortmund home game as a ‘neutral’ so to experience it as an away fan with my own club would be incredible.

The inevitable happened. Tottenham were going to Dortmund! This was the dream tie, it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. When would little ol’ Spurs ever get the chance to go to Dortmund again?

imag7238
Trip number 2 to Dortmund!

Ironically we would. Hindsight is a funny thing. Whilst the trip in March 2016 blew my mind, I genuinely thought it’d be the only time I’d get there. However Tottenham returned in November 2017 and as some of you will know, we’re going back in March 2019.

I’m experiencing my “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the third time in three years in a couple of months time. It’s nothing short of comical but let me reiterate, at the time, it was an absolute dream opportunity.

I turned to my boss and had to have that awkward conversation. “I know I’ve only just got back but..”

I need to go to Germany. To their credit, my employers have always been pretty relaxed and flexible at me booking time off at short-notice and about whatever time I request. More often than not I’ll book the flights and ask permission later. I know when our “no-go” periods are so it’s quite handy when it comes to the football trips to be able to book as soon as the schedule is confirmed.

With the green light to take yet another trip, I quickly delved in to the fun and games. A once in a lifetime opportunity for me was the same for 5,000 other fans, the majority of which were also looking to fly from London on the same dates and also looking for accommodation in Dortmund.

With flights rising and accommodation options proving to be quite limiting I had to ask how much I actually wanted to go to Dortmund. I was going to the game no matter what but was Dortmund really somewhere I wanted to visit from a travelers perspective? It had no appeal to me and surely there were other options in the region? It seemed that the trip split our fanbase with the majority deliberating between Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Köln.

The latter had the best flight prices, had more accommodation options, was the bigger city and had more to do. It was also close enough to Dortmund to be a feasible daytrip, so whilst I’d been to Köln before it quickly became the best option for me personally. The only downside was I’d seen most of what I wanted to in Köln on my trip three years earlier, with five days in Germany I needed to fill some of my time which resulted in me visiting Brühl and Bonn.

Cologne47
Köln (Cologne) again!

Brühl
I’d never heard of this town but I was looking for somewhere to visit and somehow stumbled upon Brühl. It was only 10-15 minutes away by train and was apparently home to a UNESCO world heritage site. I was intrigued and made my way to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to catch a pleasingly cheap train to Brühl.

I had made, by my standards, quite an early start to the day so perhaps for that reason I was one of few to get off at Brühl which was a sign of things to come. The ‘famous’ Augustusburg palace is an UNESCO world heritage site and pretty much straight in front of you as you come out of the station. It was stunning and had beautiful surroundings too, the garden areas were immaculate and really well presented. Better yet, there was barely anyone here.

bruhl5
Brühl!

No herds of people, no selfie sticks in sight, little noise. It was calm and relaxed, the occasional local passed me by whilst walking their dogs but for the most part I had the palace to myself. Perhaps later in the day or in peak seasons it gets busier but I’d perfectly timed my visit and couldn’t help but admire this breathtaking palace in front of me. You can take tours of the palace and see more of the grounds I expect but I was content viewing it from the exterior.

Having spent sufficient time wandering through the gardens I thought I’d see what else the town had to offer. It was a pretty place, colourful buildings along typical European cobbled streets but there wasn’t too much to it really.

The only other thing of note in the city is the Max Ernst museum, a German artist born in Brühl. I can’t say I was familiar with the name but I figured I’d go and check it out. Unfortunately they didn’t open until 11am and it was 10:30-something. I had a little wait but figured I’d hang about until opening. It’s a relatively small museum with a nice collection of artwork. It was small though so I wasn’t there for particularly long. It’s worth a visit if you’re already in Brühl but not worth going out of your way for.

bruhl44
Max Ernst museum

I slowly made my way back to the train station, admired one last glimpse of the palace and pondered what to do next. Brühl’s train station only had two platforms. One heading North and one heading South, heading Northbound towards Köln seemed the most logical option but it was barely even midday so naturally I headed South.

bruhl14
Bye Brühl!

Bonn
I bought a train ticket to Bonn. Bonn was the former capital city of West Germany and is naturally an important city in the country’s history. I’d contemplated coming here instead of Brühl so it was quite nice to squeeze in a few hours here on the same day.

As you come out of Köln’s main train station you’re quickly blown away by the cathedral – “WOW!”. Similarly within moments of coming out of Brühl’s train station you’re left stunned by the palace and Bonn quickly delivered its own first impression that has been stuck in my brain ever since.

This was a city full of history, there’s some stunning architecture in the city and what was the very first thing to catch my eye as I walk out of Bonn’s train station? A big yellow M! That’s right, McDonald’s – how very German! You can’t rewrite a first impression and this was it. This is one of the first things I associate with Bonn now, rather than some famous bloke called Beethoven for instance who was born in this city.

It was a disappointing first sight, this wasn’t what I’d come to Bonn to see! On the plus side, I figured Bonn could only improve from here and fortunately it didn’t take long to leave a better impression on me. I soon stumbled upon one of Bonn’s bigger squares (Munsterplatz I think). Like many squares across Europe, there were some pretty buildings with the highlight being a church (the Bonner Munster) plus little cafes with outside seating which were perfect for people watching.

I wandered through the square and quickly stumbled upon a statue dedicated to Beethoven. Just beyond that was a bright yellow building which caught my eye, I looked up and read the words ‘Postamt’ – it was a post office! I couldn’t help but think why don’t our post offices look that pretty back home? Having had a bit of a wander I took seat at one of the tables in the square and grabbed myself some lunch and a beer. It was a nice spot to relax for a little while, people watch and put my German to the test in an effort to eavesdrop on the conversations happening around me.

bonn12
Standard post office in Germany?

With a “schönen Tag noch” and a “Tschüss” from my waitress I was on my way and back to exploring a little of Bonn. I hadn’t planned on being in Bonn so hadn’t done any prior research, I just wandered aimlessly through the streets seeing what might catch my eye. I walked down one street and spotted a few fellow tourists taking photos of something, I looked up to find Bonn’s famous Beethoven Haus, the house he was born in. I think it’s possibly a museum now but I wasn’t really interested in investigating any further than the exterior.

I continued my walk down which led me to the Rhein river. It was peaceful with a handful of boats passing by, It was a relatively miserable and grey day though so probably not the best day for a cruise on the river, I had contemplated the idea of going back to Köln by boat but thought better of it. Instead I went back to wandering up and down Bonn’s streets.

bonn8
Exploring Bonn!

Beyond Beethoven, Bonn is also home to another household name: Haribo! This was relatively new news to me and something I only discovered after some friends had visited recently. There’s a fairly large Haribo store in Bonn with a huge collection of sweets (candy) that I wasn’t particularly familiar with, plus the usual Haribo favourites sold in the UK. I picked up a couple of bags to take home with me as a little souvenir of my trip.

My afternoon flew by pretty quickly which meant all there was left for me to do was find a nice dinner spot to round off my day. Following on from dinner I made the slow walk back to the station and got on the first available train back to Köln. I arranged to meet up with my friend who’d spent the day exploring Köln (his first visit) and we finished off the day with a few drinks at one of the bars in the city.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable day and two places I’d recommend seeing if you’re in the area. I figure half a day probably is about right for a trip to Brühl, I could have probably spent a little longer (maybe a full day) in Bonn but overall I left with more memories than just the McDonald’s and was content I’d seen enough of it to leave a positive impression.

Anyway that wraps up this particular daytrip. The following day I was embarking on another so next up on the blog: Luxembourg City!

Stay tuned!

Jason

The annual Germany trip!

1988-2012!
For 24 years Germany wasn’t on my radar. Berlin’s history was something that fascinated me but beyond that it wasn’t a country that appealed to me, I had no reason to want to visit Germany. In reality it was just a country that I knew very little about and perhaps society plays its part in that, it’s a country I was more accustomed to hearing the negatives of opposed to the positives.

So when I was in school and had the choice of learning Spanish or German, it was a no brainer. For one I didn’t really plan to visit Germany, secondly I knew Spanish was one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world but perhaps most importantly the playground rumours were that Spanish was the easier language to learn – which was music to my ears as a relatively lazy student.

IMAG0090
Berlin, Germany!

2013!
I’d been infected! I had the travel bug and I needed a fix! I started looking in to flights for the Easter weekend but they were inevitably pricey so plan B was to take a train somewhere in to Europe. It was by no means my first choice but somehow I found myself going to Köln (Cologne – read me).

It was a city I knew nothing about, in a country I had little interest in, and additionally I couldn’t speak a word of the language. It’s a mystery to me how I ended up here.

I did have a nice weekend in Köln but truthfully it had been long enough. It was the first time I’d ever really felt like I was abroad and by the end of the trip I was quite happy to be returning home to the sound of English accents and a common language. It was a good introduction to the country but I hadn’t quite been sold yet.

Cologne47
Köln

2014!
Me and a friend were talking about a European getaway and Berlin was somewhere that particularly appealed to us. I can’t say Köln had made me fall in love with Germany but nevertheless, having gone my whole life without visiting the country I was now returning for the second year in a row – madness!!

I was pretty optimistic about Germany though, it’d be a little more touristy than Köln and easier to get around without speaking any German. Plus it was a city I’d genuinely wanted to visit. If any city could make me fall in love with Germany, surely Berlin was the one.

I loved it! Berlin had won me over and I was sad to be leaving. It was a city I fully intended to return to, something I haven’t actually done yet but is very much on my list to do!

JasonBerlin
Cycling the streets of Berlin!

2015!
“Three years in a row? Surely not Jason?”

Spurs were going to München (Munich) and if there was any reason to visit Germany, football was as good as any. My brief romance with Nicole had also sparked some motivation in me to learn the language.

Obviously things didn’t lead anywhere but whilst Nicole had been the reason to start, it reminded me that I love languages and this time I was learning on my own terms. I wasn’t learning to pass an exam or for a good grade, I was learning German because I wanted to and it’s a language I’ve really enjoyed learning.

For this particular trip I was still at a relatively novice stage but it was nice to be going to Germany for the first time with some understanding of the language, even if it was only minimal.

Better yet it was another of Germany’s big cities. Köln, Berlin and München are three of the biggest cities in the country but miles away from eachother and I was starting to see the similarities and differences between Germany’s different regions. Berlin hadn’t been a one-off, I loved Bavaria – I’d been converted in to a Germany-lover! “Ich liebe Deutschland!”

Munich21
Watching Spurs at Munich’s Allianz Arena

2016!
“No way! Not a fourth consecutive year?”

I think learning the language was the game-changer, by this point I was really beginning to appreciate the country. Not only was 2016 my fourth consecutive year visiting Germany but this year even had multiple visits!! I went to Germany in the March, September and October. Twice visiting the Köln / Nordrhein Westfalen sort of area for football and the September trip was a return to Bavaria.

Three visits to Germany! Four years ago I hadn’t been to Germany and now I’d been here six bloody times! That’s insane! My German was much improved, returning to the same places in Köln that I’d been to three years earlier and couldn’t speak a word of German in was mind-blowing to me.

Cologne49
Back in Köln!

2017!
Another two trips to Germany saw 2017 become five years in a row! FIVE YEARS IN A ROW!

I fancied a long weekend away for the May bank holiday and laughably one of the best deals I could find was for a trip to Hamburg, one of Germany’s remaining big cities I’d yet to visit and was increasingly rising to the top of my bucketlist. I wasn’t really intending to go to Germany but it was too good an opportunity to pass up on.

Six months later Tottenham were playing in Germany again. Spurs 4th visit in three years themselves! I was a little reluctant at first because I’d grown rather sick of trips to Western Germany for football so compromised a little and decided I’d split my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf, before visiting Dortmund on the day of the game.

I didn’t really have enough time in Düsseldorf but was sad to head home to London and leave Bremen behind. I hadn’t gone with high expectations but it really surprised me and I quickly fell for Bremen’s charm. It was an 8th trip in 5 years but I really wanted another day or two to enjoy Germany. Who am I?

IMAG5985
Myself and Hamburg’s Rathaus!

2018!
“Where this year Jason?”

Nowhere! I ended the calendar year without a single visit to Germany! The month long trip to the USA (read me!) consumed a lot of my annual leave for the year and consequently I had fewer overseas trips last year (albeit longer ones).

The realisation that I wouldn’t be visiting Germany hit me towards the end of the year and there was definitely a temptation to just book a short weekend getaway, moreso with everyone on Instagram seemingly visiting the German Christmas markets. Nevertheless I was sensible and saved some pennies, having to settle for a Bratwurst at a Christmas market along the Thames instead. Not quite the same!

IMAG7264
Christmas markets close to opening in Bremen, 2017

2019!
Fear not though because normality is resumed this year and I WILL be returning to Germany at least once this year.

I promised to provide an update following December’s Champions League draw (European uncertainty) and despite my prayers to avoid a trip to Dortmund, those prayers fell on deaf ears and the merciless “football gods” are sending Tottenham back to West Germany!

I’m trying not to be too pessimistic about it, I’m staying in Köln AGAIN and this time the trip overlaps with the Kölner Karneval (Cologne carnival) which at least offers a fresh experience to my time in the city. Rather bizarrely though it will mean that I’ve been to Köln in March 2013, March 2016 and March 2019. Where this three year rule came from I’m not sure but on the plus side, at least I now know where I’ll be in March 2022!

Cologne29
Köln, my second home?

Will this be the only Germany visit of 2019? Who knows? However I think I needn’t worry about those imminent blue passports, I must be due German citizenship soon, right?

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up here but this nicely leads me in to my next series of posts. Just before Christmas I finished up my series on Georgia (Feb 2016) which was soon followed by a trip to Germany in the March. Stay tuned to hear all about that!

Jason

Visited Cologne, fell in love with Köln!

Trip 1: Discovering Cologne (Mar 2013)

In an older post I wrote about Sydney which I visited in February 2013, it really enhanced my love of travel and more importantly it also gave my confidence a much needed boost. After two weeks in Sydney I arrived back in England and my thoughts immediately turned towards the next trip. I now had that travel bug.

Easter was coming up, it felt an ideal time to get away without having to take time off work. I’d also had a little booster as I’d received a decent little sum through a tax rebate to fund a weekend trip somewhere. I explored a number of options before eventually deciding to catch a train to some German city called “Cologne”.  Why Cologne? Honestly, I don’t really know. A combination of it being expensive to fly Easter weekend and Cologne not being too far away on the train somehow led me to one of Germany’s biggest cities.

The reality though is that it was such an illogical choice. I knew nothing about Cologne, it wasn’t a city that I’d ever thought of visiting, I couldn’t speak a word of German so how I ended up there is a bit of a mystery.

I hadn’t ever been to Germany before so  I went to Cologne with no idea of what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite a nice city and one I’d happily recommend to people looking for a European weekend break away. The standout landmark of the city is its cathedral (the Kölner Dom), you can see it from miles away and all over the city. Seeing it for the first time blew me away and it doesn’t get any less impressive several viewings later. It is an incredible piece of architecture, a World Heritage Site and a reason in itself to visit Cologne.

Cologne29
Kölner Dom!

Once you’re done admiring the cathedral (this could take a while) you’ll find plenty else to keep you entertained. The Rhine river runs through the heart of the city so you can take cruises along the river, get tickets for the theatre or a show, discover the museums (the Lindt chocolate factory particular popular and has some great views on the roof!), walk through the large shopping district in the city or just wine and dine your way through the pubs and restaurants scattered along Cologne’s cobblestones.  Along the waterfront you’ll find some particularly enjoyable spots to enjoy the local delicacies and have a few Kölsch beers.

Cologne49
Overlooking the Rhein river

It’s a good city break. It’s not the greatest city you’ll ever visit but I do think it’s worth a visit. I’d personally recommend spending 2-3 days in Cologne and not much more. I think any longer and you’d soon run out of things to see and do. My trip was 3 days long and I left with thoughts that I’d seen all that I wanted to. It’s a nice city, I’d had fun and it was a good first impression of Germany. I’d never rule out returning somewhere because you don’t know what might happen but I didn’t envisage I’d be going back to Cologne.

 

Trip 2: The return to Köln (Mar 2016)

Three years earlier I couldn’t see myself returning to Köln – nice city but “been there, done that” would be an apt description of my visit to Köln. I struggled explaining how I’d even decided upon Köln so you’re probably scratching your head as to how I ended up back here.

Luckily it’s a little more straight-forward on this occasion. I am a huge football fan and one of my big bucketlist items was to attend a Borussia Dortmund home game at some point. Famed for its incredible atmosphere and “yellow wall” it’s something that any football fan would want to experience. Unbelieveably the situation arose where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur had been scheduled to play in Dortmund. I had to go! The game was announced Friday lunchtime and by Friday evening I had booked flights to Germany! A “once in a lifetime” opportunity to watch Spurs in Dortmund – I’m going again next month.

Dortmund18
Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur

Easy to laugh in hindsight but it genuinely felt like a “once in a lifetime” chance and a “must not miss” game. I wasn’t alone in that thinking though and by Friday afternoon the, normally cheap, flights to Dortmund and Dusseldorf had started shooting up. What was plan B?
Flights to Köln are still really really cheap and it’s not that far away. Book the flights asap, worry about the accommodation later.

Accommodation in Dortmund was fully booking up, neighbouring cities had no real appeal to me and Köln was appearing the most sensible and cheapest option. I could still travel to Dortmund on matchday, right? It does mean returning to a city you’ve already been to though. I was a little reluctant but committed to Köln. I could take the odd day trip, see some of the remaining bits and pieces Köln had to offer and at least I had friends with me this time which would be much more fun than my previous solo adventure here.
Oh, one other thing. I could also speak the language! Admittedly nowhere near fluently but I really can’t understate how much of a difference this made.

German Idioms
German phrases translated directly to English. 

I arrived Wednesday morning and come lunchtime I had spoken more German than the entirety of my previous trip. Only something as simple as asking for a table, reading a menu and ordering some food / beers in another language but to me it was mind-blowing. I’d been in this same restaurant three years earlier and knew nothing. Here I was complimenting the food ( “sehr lecker” ) and asking where the toilets were because I’d ordered a beer or two too many. It made me feel proud and definitely felt like I was acclimatising a bit better than my previous trip to Köln.

Returning to Köln was an interesting experience. It felt so familiar but different at the same time. I’d walked these streets, been in these bars before but because of the improvement in my German it felt like I was seeing things with new eyes and my ears were definitely picking up on things I’d missed out on last time. The friendly chit-chat of the locals and German mannerisms that were easier to notice.
I didn’t spend all of my days in Köln, I took the odd day trip to nearby places such as Brühl and Bonn but overall I left Köln content.

There had been a twinge of disappointment at returning but by the end of it I was thankful I’d gone back with more of a local experience. Two trips over eight nights though felt plenty. Would I return to Köln? Maybe but certainly not to soon. Two trips in the space of three years was plenty for the near future.

Cologne35

Trip 3: “Where is Leverkusen?” (Oct 2016)

Köln wasn’t my only option for Dortmund, I could certainly have picked other German cities that were slightly nearer but Köln at the time seemed like a logical choice. With hindsight maybe I would have gone somewhere else in March.
After a few trips in 2016 I’d saved my last few days of annual leave for one more away trip with Spurs. All I had to wait on was the destination. Where would Spurs be playing?

Leverkusen11
Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur

Leverkusen, Germany. Germany again! Alright, I quite like Germany. Where exactly is Leverkusen though? Oh, it’s a tiny town outside of Köln. That’s bloody convenient. Nearest airport? Kôln/Bonn. Nearest city? Köln. So.. Köln.. again.. really? Third trip, second of 2016.

I was gutted. Similar to a spoilt little child I was eyeing up all the incredible European destinations Spurs could potentially be going to and I’d “only” got West Germany again. This wasn’t meant as a personal attack on Köln because it is a nice city but I think I would have taken ANYWHERE else. I’d seen enough of the city on the first visit, a second was definitely enough and just over 6 months later I was going back. What was I going to do for five days on my third trip to the city?

I’m an optimistic and positive person so my childishness had evaporated come the day of my flight out there. I love Germany, what was I so miserable about? Most people would love to travel as much as I do and I was having a little tantrum. Good friends, German beers, a day out at the football – what was not to like? It certainly beat being at work or stuck in the rain in England.

Cologne63
Köln looking pretty. Not so bad, right?

It wasn’t ideal but just make the most of it. I took a couple of day trips again, this time including a day in Belgium. That gave my German so much confidence. I’d spent Sunday in Germany, speaking a good level of the language, before visiting Belgian city Liege on the Monday. Liege is a French-speaking city and it wasn’t until I went to grab lunch that it occurred to me I hadn’t entirely thought this through.

A friendly greeting of “Bonjour” accompanied with a French menu. Panic! My French is rubbish! Take me back to Germany! I can do this no problem whatsoever.
I’ll talk about Liege another time but it dawned on me how good my German is at this point. Sure, amongst fluent German speakers I might struggle but I was better than 90% of foreigners.

Back to Köln! Tuesday was simply a day of football and German beer – wonderful. The game was dreadful and another wonder-save from Hugo Lloris in Europe spared us from defeat but what a fun day and fun atmosphere.

Wednesday my mood had switched completely. I was in complete admiration of Köln, I seemed to have Köln rose-tinted glasses on. Everywhere I looked I could only see the things I loved about the city – it’s beautiful cathedral, walking alongside the Rhein river and just wandering up and down it’s cobbled streets. I felt happy here, I felt at home with such familiar surroundings. Maybe a third visit does that to you?
Part of me didn’t want to leave and part of me was questioning if I’d come back to Köln for a 4th time and of the opinion I probably would.

They say “third time’s a charm” and it couldn’t be more apt to describe my love affair with Köln. It’s such a strange city for me. It was never a city on my radar, I couldn’t quite tell you how I ended up there, had no real intention of returning on either of my first two trips and yet ended up falling in love with it on the third visit.

Am I in a rush to return to Köln? Not so soon but oddly I see myself back there at some point. It took a while but you won my heart Köln and all three trips certainly have some wonderful memories.

I don’t know when I’ll see you next but “Bis bald Köln, ich liebe dich”

Cologne22
So much love spread in Köln.

So tell me, have you ever grown to love a place more after several visits? Have you been to Köln yourself? Leave me a comment and tell me what you thought.

All the best!

Jason