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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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”

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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

My travel FAQ’s

I thought I’d change the theme a little and do a post on some of the things I regularly get asked by family, friends and across social media platforms. So here goes:

I’ll start with the obvious one. Where have you been?

I was born and grew up in England so naturally I’ve seen a bit of my own country, there’s still plenty more I want to see mind you.

Beyond that I’ve been to Scotland, Wales, Portugal, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, Greece, Australia and the USA. Some have been one time visits, some of those I’ve been to multiple times. The USA is my most visited country with 8 trips, however I’ll be making my 8th trip to Germany before the end of 2017.

 

Where’s next?

This is probably my most frequently asked question and probably a good indication that I have a reputation for travelling. I’ve actually got three trips lined up at the minute but the next of those is to Madrid in Spain. It’ll be my first time in the Spanish capital – any tips are welcome!


How can you afford to travel so much?

There are a few factors to this and one of those are my lifestyle choices. I haven’t got my own place, a mortgage to pay, kids to worry about and so on. It makes traveling a lot easier when all of your money after bills is for yourself.

With that said whilst my lifestyle choices help, I don’t plan on stopping once I’ve settled down. Plenty of families and couples are able to travel too. Travel is much more affordable than you might think, particularly with the rise of budget airlines and accommodation.

I genuinely believe the only difference for those that travel regularly is that they’re willing to make it a priority and make sacrifices elsewhere within their lives. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to live your life, you should 100% do whatever it is that makes you happy. If you want the latest piece of technology, want to go out for dinner with friends or have to have that Sky subscription that’s absolutely fine but these are sacrifices travelers make to fund their travels. I’d love to replace my 12 year old TV but it’s the equivalent of a holiday. Whilst the TV works I’d sooner go abroad.

You might only make little cutbacks or savings but it all adds up. One less takeaway is that little bit closer to your next trip!


Where is the best place you’ve been to?

A tricky question. I’m always inclined to answer New York City when I’m asked this, however it really depends on what sort of holiday you’re in the mood for. I can’t 100% say NYC is better than a trip to Disney for example, you can’t easily compare the two as they’re completely different holidays and I loved visiting Orlando as a kid (I want to go back!).

Everywhere is different and makes it difficult to pick a favourite destination. You can even visit two cities in the same country and find that neither are anything alike.

NYC lived up to the high expectations though so I’ll go with that as a close second to London (which I still think of as home).

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I love New York!


Where is the friendliest place you’ve been to?

Lisbon. I’d go back to Portugal in a heartbeat just for the people. There are friendly people everywhere you go but the Portuguese came across as extra friendly. Pretty much any accommodation review you see reflects that too – they are the perfect hosts! Go to Portugal!

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Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go?

The short answer is no. I want to go everywhere. I think at a younger age I was a bit more wary about visiting certain places but the more you travel the more you realise how alike we all are.

In a world of “fake news” you also wonder how much Western influence has on telling me where is and isn’t safe to visit. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid when I say I’m off to Spain soon despite the huge conflict surrounding independence for Catalunya.

When you see groups / solo travelers who’ve visited every country in the world it does make me wonder how unsafe these places are but more importantly – “why can’t that be me?”

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Bratislava – “don’t go there” – please do! It’s wonderful!

I can’t believe you travel on your own, how do you do it? Aren’t you nervous?

The first time was nerve-wrecking but it’s something I’ve got used to. My first solo trip was to Australia so having gone that far everything since has seemed a little less daunting.

Travelling alone and travelling with people both have their pros and cons. I think it’s good to be able to do things in your own company though and it can help your confidence too.

Traveling solo doesn’t necessarily mean staying solo anyway. Some of my best memories travelling have been on solo trips and making friends along the way. Where you stay and what you do whilst you’re away can always give you the chance to meet people.


How do you plan your trips and where you’re going? 

There are so many different ways that my planning process begins. From a destination point of view, I think when you’re enthusiastic about travel you’ll find any excuse for a trip. I’ve traveled for such a variety of reasons. From the simple “Hey, let’s go to New York” to finding a gig to go to in another country, I’m even off to my first overseas wedding next year!

There’s a lot of fun to be had in the planning process but how it happens really depends why and who you’re travelling with.

If it’s a one stop visit then it’s easier to plan, for multi-city breaks it requires a lot more organisation and thought. If you’re travelling by yourself you can make a few more snap decisions, whilst travelling with others you require a bit more patience and compromise.

Even on a repeat trip somewhere it doesn’t necessarily mean the planning process is the same.


What websites do you use? 

Skyscanner is usually my starting point for any journey. It’s a great website for flights, particularly if you can be flexible on dates and destinations. Kayak is another decent website for finding cheaper flights.

Accommodation I usually play pretty safe and Booking.com is one of my most used as it has such a wide range of properties on it. For hostels, Hostelworld is my favourite and AirBnB is also popular although I’ve yet to personally use the latter.

It’s also worth considering hotels and airlines that offer reward programmes. They can work out a little pricier but if you’re building loyalty points towards other perks or future trips it can be worthwhile.


I’m so jealous! Take me with you?

I thought I’d end on this. It often isn’t posed as a question, more of a joke-y comment but please always feel free to come! That’s an offer open to anyone reading this!

If you can’t make a trip, join me for my next or let’s plan our own! I’m never going to pass up the opportunity of more adventure or company to enjoy it with. Stop being jealous and come with me!!

Alternatively for those already travelling – take me with you! Haha.

Anything else you’d like to know? Just leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you!

All the best!

Jason