Köln with friends new and old
It started with a possibility to meet up with my dear God Sister, Alice.
For those who know her (and those of you who don’t) Alice is one of the most singularly wonderful people I know. She carries with her a nature perfect for spending any length of time with, the longer the better. She is passionate about learning, for travelling, and for challenging herself (although somehow, they are part of the same thing) gregarious, intelligent, kind and ambitious woman. There is no one quite like her.
In Köln (the name and spelling of which painted a thoroughly discussed and debated and garbled picture between Alex and I, even after being given the certified pronunciation to practice before our arrival) we were in chill-out mode. Each day was coloured with a gentle yellow hue – even the lack of sunshine didn’t detract from the clear invitation from Köln to explore its sprawling streets and bask in the almost oppressive presence of the Dom. For five nights we stayed in a city central hostel and met many playful personalities.
Our first night was spent exploring – the day had been balmy and the bluestone, steel and concrete all sang in wavering atonal remembrance of the heat. That evening we happened upon hundreds of thousands of love locks, fastened along the main bridge over the Rhine – a tradition of dubious origins: perhaps traceable to the early 1900s, where, in world wars and in Literature, love locks began appearing physically and figuratively along bridges to signify everlasting love. We were charmed by these locks to the point of almost kinda sorta wanting to be involved (an event which hasn’t actualised itself yet, but I hold out hope that it or something equally as lovely will occur sometime along our travels, I’m a bit of a romantic and a traditionalist at heart sometimes).
The continuation if our journey was framed by a camera – Alex’s eyebrows furrow and the tip of his tongue protrudes when he is studiously setting up a photo, each photo is inspected with discerning eyes and deleted without even an inkling of attachment: if it’s not right, it’s not right. Needless to say, this fastidious manner in which Alex involves himself in taking photos produces some beautiful shots and in the end, the practice of framing with body and soul is worth the wait.
Our Köln adventures were enhanced when the action of ‘joining’ was tried – we’d not been quite enthused enough to get involved in the goings on of the hostel, (a shame perhaps for the first night, but, as we are forever learning on this trip, there is no need to do anything we don’t feel like immediately) After dining during the German-dubbed Olympics on unbelievably cheap food (Germany is the cheapest country we’ve been to so far, amazing Aldi continues to surprise us with both its name-brand and not-so-name-brand offerings) – we were caught observing and enjoying a game of celebrity heads on the table in front of us and were immediately invited to join. Without trepidation we licked our foreheads and had stuck there names unbeknownst to only ourselves and verily began the fun. By 9 or 10pm the ever lovely Alice had endured a flight and train trip from Italy to join us – you see, the joining is key here, there was such an uplifting feeling in being introduced to people with completely different life circumstances from us – and connecting with these relative strangers after being thrust together in a simple Hostel. We played long into the night (I think I climbed in to bed after 3:30 without even so much as a hangover predicted for the next morning – drinking in new people and their stories along with a few draughts of whiskey and cola (as per drinking games rules) was enough social lubrication for many hours of fun and friendship.
The next few days were spent luxuriating in one another’s company – spending time climbing the 509 steps of the Dom, chatting, going on long rambling walks around the city, talking, spending time with new friends, bantering, trying not to disturb others already asleep in our hostel room at 9:30pm and saying heartfelt and heart-heavy goodbyes.
Left to right: Kat, Facundo, Alice, Norman and Mickaël
The woman who slept.
There was a fixture of our room whom was quite fascinating. Ah, a fixture with a personality you inquire, not all that likely? Well actually, I’m not all that sure about her personality – only so much can trickle through when you talk with someone without a common language, but very little can make sense when the observations of that person come almost exclusively through sleep. Not my sleep or Alex’s sleep, she wasn’t a ephemeral being or imaginary friend, but a woman who slept. We observed her the first morning, upon returning to room 211 to retrieve more breakfasty items and discovered that even our late re-entry into the room was too early for some. This woman remained determinedly asleep until well after 1pm. It’s all very well to sleep in one’s own bed for such a lusciously long time, to fall in and out of quiet slumber, perhaps awoken by an occasional bell of a bird or chirp of a text message, but it would have taken absolute resolute determination to stay asleep in a room of eight noisy people. She was a sleeper who wanted to sleep, and remain that way. She slept fully clothed and like a small child: curled up tight, almost balled up and steadfastly resistant to the light. She didn’t change clothes at all the whole time we there (five nights) and they weren’t particularly sleep-appropriate clothes; a collared shirt tucked into big blue jeans and fastened heavily with a waist-encompassing leather belt. We spent some brain change on pondering her situation and for our expenditure we came up with supposing that she lives in the hostel – maybe at a discounted rate with meals thrown in…the situation was rather interesting and very different from what we’d usually consider normal, but now, given that we live as veritable nomads, it seems like a fairly reasonable manner in which to exist.
Riding the Romantic and Rhythmic Rhine
We spent six days ambling our way along the Rhine River. We followed its floral flexous footsteps practically on top of the water’s surface from Köln to Speyer (a small town almost to Offenburg). The majority of the time we walked hand in hand with the river, getting a feeling for one another, developing a bit of connection really. Germany is usually generous with its bike paths: there were lengthy sections we were able to ride unaware of any traffic other than fellow bike-tourers (Germans love their cyclotouring!). There was very little to struggle with, simply point your bike along the smooth Tarmac and spin those pedals. As we rode the Rhine, taking the scenic route (as the crow flies distances between towns were 80 kilometers or so whereas the Rhine route for that connection would be closer to 120. There was an occasional hiccup – either in the stilted form of traffic and bridge crossings or random extensions of the route, diversions through paddocks and parks, into town centers and out again.
From Köln we lost our way until we reached the right Rhine Bike path…which was on the left, for the first day until it was late in the afternoon and the bike path and the figuring out where to go took us to Rolandswerth a little longer than we’d planned. We crossed to the right side of the Rhine (instead of the left) and navigated our way to a little Aussie-style camping park. Lots of grass and laughter and bikes and children running free and families sitting around enjoying one another’s presence.
The next morning we remained on the right side of the Rhine and rolled with the gentle hills through the sunshiny day to Koblenz where the Rhine meets the Mosel. We stayed at the intersection of these sister rivers, at the point where they ran into oneanother, uniting in strength that made boats’ progress an enormous struggle: barges full to the brim with building material already sunk low in the water were made to put up a fight and push as hard as possible against the sister-strong current. We set up camp in a caravan park where the grounds were dominated by squat igloos on wheels. They sat basking in the sunlight, yawning and stretching every now and again as their occupants went about their close business. Koblenz provided many sweet experiences beginning as we ventured across the Rhine on a little ferry with a male dog called Miss. On the other side we were greeted with beautiful buildings new integrated into old, sculptures to admire and climb on (of course) and pistachio ice creams to lick while watching the Olympics on a big screen next to a wondrous water park for whippet-thin kids unable to contain their shrieking enjoyment. After having alighted on Koblenz we decided to remain there another night (admittedly one of us was having knee pain) and after the recuperation efforts we moved along our merry way, getting ever closer to our meeting with the praiseworthy peachy-keen professional MTBer Paul Van der Ploeg.
Mainz camping ground contained an interesting mix of extreme bogans (I didn’t think they were quite as thoroughly skeezy outside the Australian ‘burbs, but there you go) and bike/car/caravan tourers. We found our way there after losing it through the car-centric roads of Mainz’s outer suburbs and extraordinary lack of landscaping and urban planning.
The right side of the Rhine was still our preference, despite the bridge crossing to the camping ground, and 120 kilometres further along the less Romantic Rhine (apparently that loved-up section finished at Mainz) Altrip awaited us. My knee was again the cause of the seemingly random stop-off and unfortunately our middle-of-nowhere-ness meant some serious backtracking and accidental exploration of private caravan grounds (think perma-vacationers with fences and dogs and manicured lawns and apple trees) in order to locate a suitable, if allusive, camping site. Very little English was available to negotiate with so we did our best impressions of German, and through our veritable molestation of their language the campsite owners were able to understand we wanted to stay for one night. That night was begun with a massive – read taller than Alex – bonfire and was curtailed by a flooding downpour in which our washing was re-washed. The next morning after chatting with 62 year old Sven (we named him, he might have been called Brian for all we knew; isn’t it strange how sometimes you can learn so much about someone and not afford them your name or learn theirs?) we loaded up but only managed it as far as Speyer due to a 120 kilometer future for the day and a knee swollen out of shape, making its owner feel just a little nauseous. Negotiations were held and training it to Offenburg to meet Paul on time seemed to make the most sense, and with a heavily discount ticket (I think the vendor felt sorry for me, the pathetic German-less knee-retard) and on two tightly treadlie-packed trains we landed in Offenburg signaling the end of our riding for a moment or two and the beginning of friends and fun in a slightly different fashion. More on the f***ed knee later.