The Retirees go Abroad – Cologne

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There are only a few weeks before we go home and to make the most of our last few weeks we have decided to try a bus trip to Cologne in Germany with a trip down the Rhine River for a few days. Yes it may seem odd to travel by bus but it was cheaper by far than plane, train or automobile. So our adventure starts at 5.00am with the alarm going off so we can catch our bus 100m around the corner outside the job centre at Long Eaton. It is a foggy morning and bloody cold as well but there is our bus awaiting us. On board are the driver and a couple from Chesterfield who had to get up at 3.30 am to catch the bus.

It is a bloody boring drive to Stop 24 where we meet our tour bus (they collect everyone and sort them out at Stop 24). We bought some lunch as we thought we were there for an hour and a half but no sooner do I have the subway foot long than the call comes over the intercom – passengers for bus 24 your bus is ready for boarding.

Another boring bus ride then a ferry ride with P&O. We are used to My Ferry and it is a shock to see the difference on the P&O ferry – most disappointing. We are overnighting at Lille or so we are told but it turns out that we are staying at Neuville near the Belgian/France border. The accommodation is fine the meals are shit and the walk after dinner into the village was most interesting. Nothing is open – Its France on a Sunday – but it is a pleasant village with some unusual shrines which I expect are all small chapels giving thanks for peace. After all this is one of the deadliest battle zones of WW1.

The next morning we are promised we will be in Cologne by lunch – we forgot to ask what time is lunch. Breakfast is fine and I get to teach a few Poms how to tell the difference between a boiled egg and a fresh egg. The bus ride is painful with the old biddies in front unable to shut up and Barbara behind us snoring like a trooper.

We arrive at Cologne and the bus driver cannot find the boat. This is the second driver who did not have a clue about his destination. The previous driver could not find Northampton bus station. We find the boat at the end of a bike path – I would never have guessed that the driver would have to reverse his bus up a bike path to drop us off. Two o’clock is lunch time and the food is good so we look set for a decent feed at least once per day.

We have the afternoon in Cologne. We walk for about 30 minutes past some amazing buildings and bridges to cross the Rhine and make our way to the Cathedral but we never made it.

Michael on the cycle stopped us. I bumped into an Irish man who looked my age driving a pedal rickshaw offering guided tours of Cologne and the deal; was so good we took it on. I wanted to see how this old bastard was going to pedal us around Cologne. An electric bike is how. Oh well at least I knew I would not have to push.

He took us to the Cathedral. Michael told us that the Cathedral contained the bones of the three wise men who visited Jesus at his birth. Frederick Barbarossa had stolen them from Milan and built a Cathedral to house them and here they remain. They are contained in a golden shrine in the eastern end of the cathedral.

And then to a memorial to the 6 million Germans killed by the Nazis and then to view a railway bridge and pontificate on the financing of the Cathedral by a levy on boat traffic on the Rhine. Even though the levy was raised for 300 years it took 600 years to finish the Cathedral.

From there we went to see the flood levels of the Rhine in recent history, the new docklands where the old docks of Cologne had been gentrified as apartments. We then returned along the river front to Mick’s favourite Irish pub, the old square containing the medieval city hall (Rathaus) and the Jan and Greta memorial as well as some irreverent grotesques – one poking his tongue and the other baring her bum.We left Michael and returned to the Cathedral and this time went inside.

We decided that we would return to the boat as there are free drinks on tonight. Back at the boat we dine (the food is alright again) and then go to the bar with our dinner companions for a few drinks. Great afternoon and night. This bus tour may turn out alright!

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