We were busy, busy, busy in Cologne – the largest city on the Rhine! The second day of our river cruise started shortly after breakfast which was always delicious, by the way. (My favorite: made-to-order omelets, home-made yogurt and fresh fruit!) It was a gorgeous morning for our walking tour, the highlight of which was Cologne’s magnificent 14th-century Gothic cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With twin spires and beautiful stained-glass windows, this impressive church received little damage from Allied bombs during WWII while the rest of the city was hit hard.
The cathedral has a rather dark outward appearance, but the interior is welcoming and is laid out in the shape of a Latin Cross. Two aisles on either side help support one of the highest vaulted ceilings in the world. At the end of the gigantic naïve is a shrine to the Three Wise Men whose relics were brought to the city in 1164. The cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark.
After the cathedral tour we continued our walk, learning about the city’s Roman heritage and the ancient ruins scattered throughout. The Old Town area was painstakingly rebuilt after the war and is now quite charming with rustic alleys, famous pubs, museums, fountains, monuments and boutiques filled with chocolate and yes – cologne!
Cologne City Hall is known by art historians all over the world for its Renaissance facade built by Wilhelm Vernikken, but most tourists know it as the place where a grotesque wooden face sticks out its tongue when the tower clock strikes the hour.
On our way back to the ship for lunch, we crossed the Hohenzollern Bridge where tradition prompts couples to attach padlocks to the railing and then throw the key into the Rhine River. The “love locks” ritual is supposed to ensure their love will last forever. Isn’t that sweet?
After a quick lunch on the ship (which had a perfect docking location) we were off for our afternoon excursion to the Bruhl UNESCO Palaces. We toured Augustusburg Castle and Falkenlust Hunting Lodge, both lavish 18th-century residences which were extravagantly decorated and beautifully landscaped. Having already seen several of Europe’s finest castles, we were only mildly impressed.
We got back to the ship with just enough time to freshen up before our evening out in “Beer City”. We wanted to experience the Brauhaus culture and sample the Kolsch – a light, crisp beer brewed only in Cologne. Our fun Viking guide led us to three different brewhouses where we sipped Kolsch poured fresh from the barrel into 7-ounce glasses, small enough to finish the beer while it was still cold. Of course, the moment the glass was empty, it was quickly refilled unless you placed a coaster on top of your glass to signify you’d had enough.
We had traditional German food for dinner at Brauhaus zur Malzmuhle, popular in the Kolsch culture since 1858. It was easy to have a good time that night in Old Town… not only was it full of happy beer drinkers, but there was a wine festival going on as well! It was definitely Party City!
We cast-off from Cologne around 10:30 PM, shortly after our beer group returned to the ship. The stunning view of the city as we sailed up the Rhine – its churches and bridges drenched in night lights – is one of my favorite memories of the trip.
Next post: Beauty on the Rhine Day Three – Marksburg Castle, Scenic Sailing and Rudesheim